Toplou Monastery is located at the northeastern tip of Crete, about 10 km east of Sitia and 6 km from Palaikastro, on the way to the palm forest of Vai.
Toplou Monastery or Monastery of Panagia Akrotiriani (Our Lady of Akrotiri) is one of the most important and beautiful monasteries in Crete.
The monastery with its imposing belfry, 33 metres high, stands in a harsh, almost desert landscape with giant wind turbines turning in the background; this is one of the first wind farms in Crete.
Toplou Monastery is impressive from afar, looking like a small fortress surrounded by a 10-metre-high wall.
How to get to Toplou Monastery
From Sitia to Toplou Monastery. The monastery is approximately 10 kilometres or 15 minutes’ drive away. The road is winding but easy.
From Agios Nikolaos, Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania to Toplou Monastery. Take the National Road to Sitia. The road as far as the Ierapetra crossroads is good, but the last bit up to Sitia is narrow and winding.
It should take you about 1 hour to drive to Toplou from Agios Nikolaos, 2 hours from Heraklion, 3.5 hours from Rethymno and 4.5 hours from Chania.
Toplou Monastery on the map
Toplou Monastery today
After many attempts at restoration and renovation, today Toplou Monastery has become an exceptionally interesting Cretan monastery, well worth the long trip there.
There is another good reason to come here: just a few kilometres further on is the famous Vai Palm Forest with its wonderful beach.
Toplou Monastery is the only surviving example of the many monasteries, large and small, that once stood in the Sitia area - all eventually destroyed by war and pirate raids.
Abbot Philotheos Spanoudakis has been active in organising and promoting the monastery. Among other things, he has established a Museum of Copperplate Engravings and Greek Folk Engravings produced by the monks of Mount Athos in the 18th and 19th centuries. The monks created images of everyday life as accurate as photographs.
Toplou Monastery houses 15th-century icons which, along with other, later examples, are of great artistic interest as they show the stages of development of the Constantinople School of art, which influenced Cretan art.
The icons of Toplou Monastery are priceless and demonstrate the monks’ truly impressive level of education.
The unique icons on display in the monastery today include works by Ioannis Kornaros, the icon “Great Art Thou, O Lord, and Wonderful Are Thy Works” dated 1770, the “Unwithering Rose” dated 1771, and the icon of St Anastasia Pharmacolytria (“Deliverer from Poison”).
Apart from the wonderful icons, other objects on display in Toplou Monastery include ecclesiastical items such as Gospels, silver-gilt crosses, Patriarchal Sigils, Sultan’s Decrees, seals, revolutionary banners and vestments.
The monastery dining hall is decorated with wall paintings by Manolis Betinakis, while in the courtyard is a recent sculpture by artist Manolis Tzobanakis.
Set into the façade of the monastery church you will also see the ancient inscription of the “Arbitration of the Magnetes”, referring to the rivalry between the cities of Itanos and Ierapetra over the island of Leuke (Κoufonissi), a major sponge-fishing and murex-processing centre of ancient Crete.
Toplou organic wine and olive oil
Today only four monks live in the monastery, but it owns a great deal of land and has great influence in the area. The charismatic and creative Abbot has brought a breath of fresh air to the monastery, which produces excellent organic products such as wine, raki and olive oil, marketed under the brand name “Toplou” and available from the monastery.
The monastery produces 30,000 bottles of white wine and the same amount of red, with a fine aroma and soft, sweet taste.
Toplou Monastery Opening Hours
Toplou Monastery is open to the public daily, from 09:00 - 13:00 and 14:00 - 18:00.
As with other Cretan monasteries, you should be appropriately dressed. Photography is not permitted inside the museum and the church.
- History of Toplou Monastery, Toplou Monastery in the Venetian period, the Turkish occupation, resistance to the Germans in the Second World War