So, you’re in Athens and you’ve seen your fair share of ancient sites, museums and stuff. You’re tired of the bustling city and you want to see something different. You’re in luck because I know just the place for you! Near the centre of Athens, on the north side of Mount Hymettus, you can find Kaisariani Monastery, a beautiful medieval monastery in the woods!
The monastery complex
Kaisariani Monastery, known as “Moni Kaisarianis” in Greek, is a Byzantine Christian monastery of the 11th century AD. It’s one of the oldest monasteries in Athens and it still has its high stone walls and gates. The site was considered sacred in ancient times as well, as there used to be a shrine to the goddess Aphrodite in the area.
The monastery flourished in the 12th-13th century and its important book collection attracted many well-known philosophers and scholars of the time. The monks cultivated the land surrounding the monastery and produced olive oil and wine. They became known especially for their top-quality honey and also for their medical skills.
Kaisariani Monastery went through a lot during the Frankish conquest and later during the Ottoman occupation of Greece; however, it survived. During the Greek War of Independence, many Greek fighters found refuge there. In the 19th century, it was abandoned; nowadays the monastery is open as a monument to visitors, but the church is still active.
Kaisariani Monastery has the main church (called Catholicon) and a small chapel, dedicated to St. Anthony. The cross-in-square church is a characteristic example of Byzantine architecture. The internal structure is shaped like a cross, forming a square in the middle, and bears a dome on top. In addition, the church incorporated pieces from an ancient temple, as well as from an early Christian Basilica church. So, what you see today is like a living memory of the area’s different past time periods! How cool is that?
The cells, the rooms where the monks lived, are a large two-story complex on the south side of the monastery. On that side, there’s also a small three-storey tower, called the Tower of Benizeloi. There are six similar small cells on each floor. The rooms are minimalist, modest and beautiful.
A simple, rectangular building was used as a kitchen and a dining room. This is where the monks stored their food supplies, cooked their meals, and ate all together.
Yes, monks used a bath house. Why wouldn’t they? Following the long Greco-Roman tradition, going to a bathhouse was an important part of everyday life in the Middle Ages in Greece. So, the monks built one on a natural spring and they had heated water and everything! Later, however, it was turned into an olive press, so this is the equipment that you see in there today.
A medieval cultural centre
The monastery was also a cultural centre, known for its library. It used to have a rich collection of manuscripts and ancient scrolls. During the Greek War of Independence, the library was transported to the Acropolis of Athens for safekeeping. However, that proved to be unfortunate, because it was entirely destroyed during a siege.
Visit Kaisariani Monastery
All in all, Kaisariani Monastery is an ideal nature escape in Athens! It’s about a 30-minute drive from the city centre, easily accessible by car or taxi. You can also reach it using public transportation (224 bus), but you’ll have to walk the last part of the route (about 20-30 min).
The Monastery is open to visitors and has a small entrance fee. Make sure to check the official website before your visit, because the opening hours might vary.
When you visit, keep in mind that the surrounding area has various hiking trails and many picnic areas, so you can explore Mount Hymettus, get some fresh air and enjoy a green area in Athens!