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Kaisariani Monastery

By Corinne Chandler

Kaisariani Monastery, AthensThe monastery of Kaisariani stands on a site that has been a place of worship since antiquity. It’s thought that a shrine to the goddess Aphrodite once stood here among the pine-clad slopes of Mount Hymettos and that the first Christian church to be built here in the fifth century was constructed over the remains of her temple.

Interestingly, the monastery was also dedicated to a female (the Virgin Mary) when it was first built in the 11th century. Its small size belies its success, as it remained an important Orthodox religious enclave even during Ottoman times.  

It seems that life was not at all Spartan for the early monks of Kaisariani, who had a sophisticated Roman plan bath-house with hot and cold baths and a warm water heating system for their cells and refectory.  

Kaisariani Monastery, AthensLater, things got a little tougher during the Ottoman occupation and the luxurious bathhouse was transformed into a more utilitarian oil press, parts of which have been preserved.

Kaisariani was a rich monastery, in its heyday hosting many significant spiritual leaders and thinkers.  The library was legendary as a great repository of knowledge but many of its books and manuscripts were unfortunately destroyed or lost during Greece’s fight for independence in 1821. During the Turkish siege of Athens some of its rare ancient texts were sent to the Acropolis where they were used to ignite fuses and others were used to light kitchen stoves or sold off to English traders.

Throughout its long history, the monastery was not just home to scholarly study, it was a hive of activity too. The monks supported themselves through income generated from beekeeping, large olive groves, and fertile vineyards. They were also renowned for their medical knowledge and skill at concocting herbal medicines.

Kaisariani FrescosThe original eleventh century church houses some beautiful frescos, most of which date from the late seventeenth century.

There are rules for the position of painted subjects in the Orthodox church, and this church follows them strictly. Christ is in the dome; the prophets are around the windows, while the mother of god is enthroned in the apse with the angels and apostles below her.

Possibly, the name “Kaisariani” comes from the spring (part of the river Illissos) that still runs from an ancient spout on the monastery’s grounds. Legend has it that a Roman emperor deemed the spring to be 'imperial’ or kaisairan (from Caesar).

Myths abound round this ancient spot, and many believe that Aphrodite herself blessed the stream. In fact, Greek brides who wished to become pregnant often journeyed here to drink, as the waters were believed to speed conception. Nowadays, however, this romantic notion is dampened by a sign from the ministry reading, “Non Potable Water”.

It’s well worth mentioning that if you visit Kaisariani in Spring, early Summer or Autumn it’s a great idea to bring a picnic and walking shoes. The surrounding area up the slopes of Mount Hymettos is truly beautiful, offering a great deal of shade and many handy picnic areas. There is also a nice little cafe that is in the forest right by the monastery.

Getting to the monastery from the centre of Athens takes about ten minutes by taxi. If you are doing an Athens tour with George the Famous Taxi Driver this is a nice place to stop for a respite from the city. Adventurous types can try taking the 224 bus from Syntagma Square, but remember to check the bus number and route as these can change!

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9:00-15:00

Contact details: 210 7236619

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