Monastery of Toplou
The sacred Monastery Panagia Akrotiriani and St. Ioannis Theologos Toplou Sitia, is situated in the north-east of Crete and is one of the oldest and most historic Monasteries in Crete through the centuries. It was built in the 14th century in the east of Sitia, towards the palm-tree forest of Vai and it is the biggest castle Monastery in the east Crete.
The monastery is fortified with a 10m high wall, which protected it from enemy attacks. It spans a square area of 800 square meters and has three floors, with 40 rooms, a 33m high bell tower. According to the tradition, it has 100 doors, but only 99 of them have been found. In the center of the monastery, there is a well with water, which ensured the monks during the various sieges by the Turks and the pirates. Opposite the well there is a two-aisled basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and John the Theologian. The entrance is on the west side of the fort and its sturdy door was rolled on wheels. Above the main entrance there is still the hole called "killer", from where the monks threw stones or boiling hot liquids to anyone attempting to breach the door. At the entrance of the main temple there is the inscription of 132BC of the "Arbitration of Magnets", which refers to the friction of ancient Itanos and Ierapytna, found in the ruins of the (near) ancient Itanos. The dispute concerned the island of Lefki (current Koufonissi), which was an important production center of the red dye, known as purple, and the island was eventually owned by Itanos.
The monastery stores some great and very old icons, such the Jesus Lord of John Kornaros (1770), the Unwithering Rose (1771), Santa Anastasia and Virgin Mary (which was found in a nearby cave where holy water flows). Moreover, there are several well-preserved frescoes dating back in the 14th century. Besides the icons, the monastery operates a museum with several old and historical religious objects, such as bibles, crosses, archbishops, sultan decrees, seals and revolutionary flags. The monastery celebrates on September 26, when a big fest takes place with pilgrims arriving from all over Greece.
The Monastery was at the top of its glory in the middle of the 14th and 15th century, which is shown by the very important icons of that period. These icons represent the development of Byzantine hagiography which influenced Crete gradually after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks. The great artistic value of these images suggests the high level of education of the monks of that period who helped to upgrade the cultural level of Crete during the Renaissance period.
The sacred Monastery Panagia Akrotiriani and St. Ioannis Theologos Toplou Sitia, is situated in the north-east of Crete and is one of the oldest and most historic Monasteries in Crete through the centuries. It’s built in the east of Sitia, towards the palm-tree forest of Vai and it is the biggest castle Monastery in the east Crete. It was built in the 14th century according to the remainders of mural art in the first temple.
The Monastery was in the height of its glory in the 14th and 15th century, judging by the many and very important Byzantine icons of that period. These icons represent the development of Byzantine painting which came to Crete gradually after the conquest of Kostantinoupolis by the Turks. The high artistic value of these icons indicates that the monks in Toplou were highly-educated and we also know that they helped to rise the cultural level in Crete during the Renaissance. Unfortunately, the rise stopped in 1612 because of a disastrous earthquake in East Crete.
The Monastery was rebuilt in the form of a castle with the financial help of the Cornari and Mezzi families. In 1646 the Turks conquered Sitia and put an end in the glory of the Monastery. It was then that the name of the Monastery which had been “Akrotiriani” changed to “Toplou”. The name “Toplou” probably comes from the Turkish word “top” which means “metal ball” because of cannon that used for the defense of the Monastery. During the Turkish domination the Monastery was restored and great painters of the time, like Ioannis Cornaros and Stamatios, were asked to paint new icons. The contribution of the Monastery in the Greek revolution against the Turks in 1821 was important both in the social and the national field.
During the German domination, lots of Greek fighters found shelter in Toplou and were also allowed to hide a radio there. One more restoration of the Toplou Monastery took place in recent years, originated and surveyed by the Abbot Philotheos Spanoudakis. Furthermore, a museum was founded for the exhibition of the very carefully preserved, precious things in the Monastery. In addition, there is a library in the Monastery, which includes rare books. The Temple is decorated with murals and frescos painted by Mr. Emmanouil Betinakis. Flocks of sheep and goats graze in the barren land owned by the Monastery, whereas in the fertile parts there are biological vineyard and olive trees cultivations.