Nestled on the Strofades Islands (two small Greek islands of the Ionian Islands) are the ruins of a once-great monastery. It was once a fortress-monastery built almost 800 years ago in 1241. Most people think of the Greek islands for sunbathing, but there is much more to this ancient country than beaches and sun.

Greece's most remarkable and UNESCO-listed monasteries are the precariously perched monasteries at Meteora on the mainland. Many of these historic monasteries are still working and some are dedicated monasteries for monks, while others are nunneries. Meanwhile, the holiest site in Greek is Mount Athos which is home to around 2,000 monks and is a place where women (and female animals) are strictly forbidden.

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What To Know Of The Strofades Islands

The two islands are Stamfani Island (the larger island with the monastery) and the smaller and lonelier Arpyia Island.

Today the islands are uninhabited except by many birds (including Cory's shearwater and migratory passerines and turtle doves). Or rather they are almost deserted, there is reportedly a single monk living on the main island. A report in 2018 suggested that the monk may have passed away and it is not clear now if there are any monks on the island.

  • Islands: Stamfani (Larger One With The Monastery) & Arpia Island
  • Population: Reportedly A Single Monk
  • Known For: The Fortress Monastery, The Migrationary Birds, The Stunning Cedar Trees
  • Migratory Birds: The Islands are Known For Their Migratory Birds Including Turtledoves, Cuckoos, Hoopoes, Swallows

Both of these small islands are flat with the highest hill only rising 20 meters (60 feet) above sea level. The islands are sandless and rocky with sparse vegetation with cedar trees.

While most folks drawn to the Strofades islands are pulled in by the remarkable fortress-monastery on them, they are known for more. The islands are considered national Greek monuments for their rich vegetation, stunning cedar trees, and many bird species.

Related: Meet Akrotiri: An Ash-Buried City Much Older Than Pompeii

The Monastery and Monastic History Of The Islands

The past was very different for these small isolated islands. In times gone by, they were some of the most fertile islands in Greece boasting orchards that produced bounties of food that fed over one hundred monks who used to live there. Some of these fruit trees can still be found on the island.

  • Built: In 1241
  • Fortified: The Monastery Was Fortified To Protect Against Pirates

The monastery was built around 1200 at the request of Princess Irene, daughter of the Nicea Emperor who, thanks to those islands, survived a shipwreck.

The monastery was fortified to protect it against the frequent pirate raids on the isolated isle.

The monastery's notable monk was Saint Dionysios who was buried on the island. He is the patron saint of Zakynthos - the island to the north. But his remains were taken off the island to the island of Zakynthos after a brutal pirate attack on the monastery.

In recent times the monastery has been damaged by earthquakes that have rocked the region. The monastery holds the scars of many years of seismic activity and damaging pirate raids.

Related: Your Ultimate Guide To The Greek Islands (And How To Choose The Right One For You)

The End Of A Way of Life And Glimpse Into The Past

The monk was Father Grigoris who lived on the island for an impressive 38 years. Most of that time he was completely alone on the island.

An American photographer called Robert McCabe and a Greek journalist Katerina Lymberopoulou managed to visit the island and document it before its way of life was lost. They published a book called “The Last Monk of Strofades: Report from an Unknown Ionian Island.”

Father Grigoris:

  • Last: The Last Monk On The Island
  • Lived: He Lived On The Island for 38 Years

In their work, they tell how they managed to meet Father Grigoris and even track down the islet’s last lighthouse keeper and the boatman who used to bring in supplies. The book offers insight into a world that has now been lost.

In their book, they also plea for the monastery to be salvaged for its too late for the historic monument.

Visiting Strofades Monastery

To get to the deserted fortress-monastery, one will need a  private boat (or charter a private boat). The island of Stamfani is not a regular destination for tourists and so one will need to short out getting there by oneself.

  • Getting There: By Private Boat

If one does reach the island, one will see that the fortress-like medieval monastery is the only building on the main island.

It is more difficult to approach the smaller island, Arpyia, because of the shallow waters surrounding it.

While getting to the island may not be easy, the solitude and ambiance of the experience are sure to be worth anyone's effort.

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