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Monasteries in Heraklion

The Paliani Monastery is located 20 km away from Heraklion. It is one of the most ancient monasteries of Crete and dates back to the First Byzantine period. Its first reference as Palaia dates back to 668 A.D. At first, it was a stravropegic monastery and was affiliated with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but was occupied by the Latin archbishop of Crete in 1304, probably due to its great wealth. The Monastery was burnt by the Turks in 1821 and 1866. According to the oral tradition, the icon of Panaghia Myrtidiotissa was found at the roots of a great myrtle tree located at the southeastern end of the island. A fair in honour of Panaghia Myrtidiotissa, which you should not miss if you are around, is organised on September 24th.

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios Gorgolainis, 22 km away from Herakleion, is situated about 1 km W of Kato Asites village. The exact date of construction is still unknown, but it is considered to have been built at the end of the Venetian occupation in Crete, as in the precinct there is a Venetian lion bearing the inscription "MDCXVII" (1617). During the Turkish occupation, the monastery was destroyed three times by way of reprisal for the rebellions against the Turkish occupation. It was rebuilt each time. The two-aisled church of the monastery is dedicated to Aghios Georgios Gorgoeleimonas and Aghios Nikolaos. Finally, in the courtyard you will find the grave of fighter Fragkios Mastrachas, who was killed there during the 1866 rebellion.

The Odigitria Monastery is located 65 km away from Herakleio, after the valley of Messara, on the west slope of Asterousia mountain range. It is a stavropegic monastery, where you can find remarkable icons and canonicals. In 1862, the Holy fathers Parthenios and Evmenios took their monastic vows here and reconstructed the Koudouma Monastery.
The Karas or Kardiotissa Monastery is located 50 km away from Heraklion. It is a Stavropegic monastery and its first written reference dates back to 1333. In Kardiotissa there was a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary (Panaghia). In 1415 Florentine priest Cristoforo Buontelmonti writes about the monastery: "We arrived at Panaghia Kardiotissa Monastery that performs innumerous miracles for the believers".

However, the icon was stolen in 1498 and ended up in Saint Alfonso church in Rome. The one that can be seen today in the Monastery is considered as much miraculous as the other one and dates back to 1735.

The male Monastery of Agkarathou is built on a rocky hill, probably in the place of an older monastery, between the villages of Sgourokefali and Sampas located 23 km SE of Heraklion. It dates back to the 15th century, when it belonged to the Kallergis family. The construction of fortifications which began in the middle of the 16th century transformed it to a fortress. Remains of these fortifications have survived up to date.

It is believed that the name of the monastery derives from "agkarathia", a common bush of the Cretan countryside, as according to the tradition the icon of Panaghia, to whom the church of the monastery is dedicated, was found at that location under a bush of that kind. The Agkarathou monastery was a major cultural center of Crete during the Venetian rule. Scientists of that time studied there, while some documents dating back to 1559 and nowadays exhibited at the British History Museum prove that it housed an extremely remarkable library. Patriarchs Kyrillos Loukaris and Meletios Pigas went to school there. During the Turkish occupation it experienced decline, as the Turks imposed heavy taxes and prohibited its reconstruction.

At that time the most important heirlooms of the monastery including the icon of Panaghia were transferred at Kythira, homeland of several abbots and many monks of the monastery. They remained there until 1970, when the authorities of Kythira handed back to the monastery the heirlooms that had been preserved including the icon of Panaghia, known as Panaghia Orfani while it was far from the monastery. Nowadays, this icon decorates the sanctum of the church, which is dedicated to it.

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