The mystery & legend of the fortified monastery of Kyra Psili – “hidden in the mountains”– its rampart frontage built into the entrance of a cave on the rock face of Mt. Koukoúla.

 This ancient structure, shrouded in myths and tales of yore, has captured the imaginations of locals and travellers alike for centuries. The monastery’s remote location and the journey required to reach its gates add to its mystique. Pilgrims and travellers must navigate a steep pathway, winding its way through rocky terrain and steep gullies. The pilgrimage to Kyra Psili is not merely a physical journey but also a spiritual one, a quest for enlightenment and mythical understanding.


The history of Kyra Psili dates back to a time when legends mingled with reality, and the line between fact and fiction blurred. Tales of mystical beings and divine intervention have been woven into the fabric of the monastery’s story, enhancing its allure and captivating the curious minds of those who venture near.


 According to  local lore, the monastery was built “by a Kalymnian who had emigrated and changed faith, when he returned to the island, he remembered his religious roots, and ‘believed in God again’ ”: personally, I prefer another story told:-


“In ancient times local people  observed  a light shinning, which they thought was a star in the sky. One day, a goat that had escaped from the herd, returned, its muzzle all wet. This happened several times & the shepherd decided to follow the goat, and eventually found a cave where water immerged from the rock face.. In one corner he found an icon of the smiling Madonna: the icon of Panagia Kyra – Psili. He picked it up, went down & took it to the priest, who placed it in the Church; in the morning the icon had disappeared. When they went back, up to the mountain cave, they found the icon back in the same position that the shepherd had discovered it: this happened three times, they then realized that, the Holy Virgin, Mother of God, wanted the icon to stay there, so they decided to build, in that spot, a church.


The difficulty, however, was how to carry up the materials to build. A monk, in a vision,  saw a woman, who suggested the place to dig to find sand and lime, so they dug, and found materials just as the monk had foreseen in his dream: This solved the problem and the monastery of Kyra – Psili was built, which since has become the most visited place of pilgrimage in the island.” The icon was taken to the church in Vathi, from where, on August the 15th,    every year, it is taken back to Kyra Psili, where an overnight celebration is held.”


Historically, the monastery appears to have been built in the 18th century within an older medieval Byzantine castle fortification. In the second half of the 20th century there were building alterations and additions partly in concrete.  Over the years, the monastery has grown in size and significance, becoming a centre of religious devotion and cultural preservation.


One of the most enduring mysteries surrounding Kyra Psili is its remarkable architecture. The monastery is a testament to the ingenuity of its builders, who managed to construct a formidable fortress on a seemingly inhospitable cliff face. The walls of the monastery are made of sturdy stone, meticulously chiselled and fitted together with astonishing precision. The battlements rise proudly, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape and the distant horizon. The monastery’s layout is labyrinthine, with narrow passageways and hidden chambers, adding to its enigmatic aura.


Over the centuries, Kyra Psili has become a symbol of resilience and endurance, standing as a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to overcome challenges and transcend the limitations of the material world. It has inspired poets, artists, and thinkers, fueling their creativity and imagination. The monastery’s legends have permeated the cultural fabric of Kalymnos, becoming an integral part of the island’s identity and heritage.


When the sun sets behind the cliffs, of Mt. Koukoula,   casting long shadows over the fortified walls of Kyra Psili, the air is filled with a sense of awe and reverence. The mystery and legend of this ancient monastery continue to captivate the hearts and minds of all who encounter its enduring charm. Whether viewed from a distance, silhouetted against the evening sky, or explored up close, with each stone and corridor whispering tales of the past, Kyra Psili stands as a beacon of fascination and wonder, inviting the world to unravel its secrets and experience the magic of its enigmatic aura.


Story:  Brian Glanville

Photographs: Stathis Klimis


The Final Climb

                             The Beginning