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Toplou Monastery near Sitia

Place description

Located at the northeastern edge of Crete, near the base of Sidero Cape, Toplou Monastery is situated 10km east of Sitia and 6km north of Palekastro. This historic monastery, one of Crete’s most significant, is known for its extensive real estate holdings. In religious contexts, it is referred to as the Monastery of Panagia Akrotiriani, while locals simply call it the Great Monastery.

Although Toplou is a 2.5-hour drive from Heraklion, it is worth visiting, as you can combine the trip with visits to the area’s beautiful beaches, the ancient Itanos site, and the renowned Vai palm grove. This part of Crete is one of the most arid and inhospitable, and the persistent strong winds have led to the establishment of one of the island’s first wind farms.

The monastery is secured by a 10m high wall that has protected it from enemy invasions. It covers an 800 square meter square area and features three floors, 40 rooms, and a 33m high bell tower. Legend has it that the monastery has 100 doors, but only 99 have been discovered. A well with water, which sustained the monks during various sieges by Turks and pirates, is located in the center of the monastery. Opposite the well is a two-aisled basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and John the Theologian.

The entrance to the monastery is on the west side of the fort, and its robust door is mounted on wheels. Above the main entrance, there is a hole known as the “killer” where monks would throw stones or pour boiling hot liquids onto anyone attempting to break through the door.

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