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Vrontissi monastery in Vorizia

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The Vrontissi Monastery can be found 49km southwest of Heraklion, situated near Vorizia Gorge and nestled between the villages of Zaros and Vorizia. From this vantage point, one can enjoy panoramic views of Vorizia village and the Messara plain. Dedicated to Saint Anthony, the monastery is among the oldest in Crete.

While the exact date of its construction remains unknown, it is believed that the monastery’s name comes from its founder. Initially, Vrontissi was a dependency of the nearby Valsamonero Monastery, but it eventually grew so wealthy that it surpassed its parent monastery and became one of Crete’s most significant monastic centers.

According to tradition, Michael Damaskinos and El Greco, two prominent figures in the Cretan School of Iconography, lived and worked at Vrontissi Monastery. In fact, six of Damaskinos’ icons, now on display at the Museum of St. Catherine in Heraklion, were once housed at Vrontissi. The surviving 14th-century frescoes in the church, which show influences from the Renaissance, demonstrate the high level of artistic expression that developed at the monastery.

The church itself is a two-aisled structure dedicated to St. Anthony (celebrated on January 17) and St. Thomas (celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter). Its bell tower, built in Venetian architectural style, stands as a separate structure. Several frescoes are preserved in the south aisle, including the Supper at Emmaus, the Apostles, Minologia, and Saint Symeon holding baby Jesus. The church also houses the 16th-century icon of Ambelos, created by Cretan artist Angelo.

Despite once being fortified, the monastery’s walls were eventually demolished in the name of modernization. The most striking remnant of the monastery’s former glory is the impressive 15th-century fountain that features depictions of Adam and Eve. At the feet of these figures, four others release water from their mouths, symbolizing the four rivers of Eden. This fountain is considered the most beautiful provincial example of fountains in Crete. The Turks referred to Vrondisi as Santrivanli Monastir, meaning Fountain Monastery.

Today, the Vrontissi Monastery serves as the International Village of Cretan Youth.

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