The small Dodecanese island of Patmos is a place of pilgrimage for Christians who believe that The Book of Revelation, the final book of The New Testament, was written here by Saint John at the end of the 1st century AD. It is considered one of the most sacred places in Greece, along with Mount Athos and Meteora.
The main tourist attractions are the Cave of the Apocalypse, in which, according to tradition, Saint John lived during his exile on the island, and the fortress-like Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, built in 1088, with a library and treasury museum which contain ancient manuscripts, icons and holy relics.
The hilltop monastery is surrounded by the charming village of Hora, the island's capital, with its medieval, whitewashed houses, churches and narrow, cobblestone streets.
The largest settlement on the island, however, is Skala, the main port where all ferries land, and where you will find the most shops, hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars and bus connections, as well as the Orthodox Culture and Information Centre, which acts as the local tourist information office.
Other monasteries (such as Profitis Ilias) and churches are scattered around the island and surrounding islets. There are also a number of attractive villages, small farms and vineyards, numerous bays with good beaches and clean, clear water, a couple of small forests and even a wetlands area.
The island was continuously populated from Middle Bronze Age to the Roman period and appears to have been quite prosperous at various times. The main deity here in antquity was Artemis, and an inscription kept in the Monastery of Saint John describes Patmos as "the most august island of the daughter of Leto" (Artemis and Apollo were the twin children of Zeus and Leto). It is thought that her temple here may have been a place of pilgrimage for her worshippers. The monastery was built over the remains of the temple. The scant ruins of the island's ancient acropolis, known locally as Kastelli (Oros tou Kastelliou, Castle Mountain), can be seen just to the southwest of Skala.
Because of its long history as a religious centre - "the Jerusalem of the Aegean" - Patmos has acquired a quiet, conservative character, especially in contrast to other brash, noisy tourist islands. This, plus the island's remoteness (there is no airport!), small size and population, its unusual topography which affords spectacular views from many places, and the clear Aegean light, all lend the place a very special atmosphere which many ascribe to its spiritual heritage.
Patmos is shaped a like a seahorse (see map below) floating on the South Aegean Sea. The head and upper body, at the north of the island, are joined to the lower body by a narrow isthmus. The centre is also connected to the tail to the south by a thin strip of land.
From the ground the topography consists of low rounded, treeless hills, none higher than 269 metres, of hard volcanic rocks such as basalt. This means that much of the landscape is rather arid, and much of the water supply is brackish. Drinking water has to be imported by tanker ships. It is therefore surprsing that there is a wetland area around around Groikos and Petra, some woods of arbutus, pine and cypress trees and a ravine.
Somehow the farmers manage to grow cereals (wheat), fruit, vegetables, olives and grapes, and there is wine and honey production on the island.
There are currently plans to build two new desalination plants on Patmos. The total cost of this project is estimated at 857,240 euros. The government believes that this will completely solve the problem of water scarcity. Anybody who has tried to drink water desalinated by such plants may not agree. Some years ago the construction of a dam and the creation of an artificial lake in the north of island was supposed to solve the problem. Unfortunately, Since the government is also determined to increase the numbers of tourists visiting the island, it seems inevitably only a matter of time before demand once again outstrips supply.
The landscapes of the island make it a wonderful place to walk, cycle or drive around. But hikers and cyclists beware! Many of the roads and footpaths are steep, and strenuous, especially in the summer heat.
The main road, which runs roughly north-south between the main settlements, and a few smaller branch roads are paved, but little provision has been made for pedestrians: there is often no sidewalk, hard-shoulder or space to get out of the way of traffic. There are many dirt track roads and footpaths away from the main roads.