The Greek island of Patmos is anything but a crowded Greek party island with a harbor packed with yachts and a hot spot for the rich and famous. Patmos is a small, quiet, laid-back island famous only because it was here that one “John of Patmos” wrote the book of Revelation.
The municipality of Patmos with a population of 2,984 also includes the island of Arkoi [pop 54], Marathi [pop 6] and several uninhabited islands. Patmos is a tiny island 13 sq miles [34 sq km], which to answer the question which inevitably gets asked by people who take the elevator from Deck 5 to Deck 6, does not mean that you can walk around the island. Walk around on the island, yes, walk around the island itself, no. The earliest settlements here date back to 2000 BC. By the 3rd century BC the Greeks had an acropolis, or high place here, and fortifications. The Ottomans, Italians and Germans would all traipse through Patmos before it eventually made its way back to Greece.
Also known as the “Jerusalem of the Aegean“, Patmos was formally declared a Holy Island in 1983 by the Greek government. Patmos has been an island of pilgrimage for Catholic and Orthodox faithful who come to the island to absorb the spiritual heritage and bask in its beauty and serenity. So, no nude beaches, and all our “50-something” passengers [Right!] had to leave their thong bikinis on the ship. Oh yes, you wouldn’t believe what some people convince themselves they look good in.
In Greece we have to use local tenders which are not always as efficient as our own tenders, so yesterday it took quite a while to get everyone ashore, longer than when we use our own tenders. The tenders drop you right in Skala, the port town which is a cute little village with restaurants and shops.
Patmos’ original name was “Letois,” after the goddess Artemis, daughter of Leto. It was believed that Patmos came into existence thanks to her divine intervention. Mythology tells of how Patmos existed as an island at the bottom of the sea. The Greek goddess Artemis, with the help of her brother Apollo, persuaded Zeus to allow the island to arise from the sea and gradually the island became named “Letois” in honor of Leto the mother of Artemis as a way to honor Artemis. I always encourage folks to make connections between the places they visit, and this cruise also visits Kusadasi and the ancient city of Ephesus. In ancient times Ephesus was a city of pilgrimage for folks to visit the Temple of Artemis, one of the largest buildings in the ancient world.
Interestingly the Artemis myth about the creation of Patmos is pretty much the opposite of the geological theory. Greece has the twelfth longest coastline in the world and over 6,000 Greek Islands and islets. There are about 1,400 that are islands and of these only 227 are inhabited and only 78 of these have more than 100 inhabitants.
The geological theory is that the Aegean area today is part of a micro tectonic plate lying between the Eurasian, African and Arabian tectonic plates. Tectonic movements caused the Aegean plate which originally was an exposed landmass to weaken and sink below sea level, so that what were once the peaks of its mountains gradually became what we know today as the Greek islands.
The main tourist interest in Patmos is because it is mentioned in the Book of Revelation. John of Patmos, who may or may not have been John the Apostle, wrote Revelation while on the island of Patmos, supposedly while in the Cave of the Apocalypse.
The earliest remains of human settlements on Patmos are pottery shards date to the Middle Bronze Age or around 2,000 BC. Patmos is seldom mentioned by ancient writers so we know very little about its earliest history. During the Greek Classical period these people identified themselves as Dorians. During the 3rd century BC, in the Hellenistic period Patmos developed an acropolis, or high place with a temple, and created fortifications with walls and towers.
After the death of John of Patmos, probably around 100 AD, a number of early Christian basilicas were built on Patmos, one of which was built around 300-350 where the Monastery of St John The Theologian stands today.
Early Christian life on Patmos, however, barely survived Muslim raids from the 6th to the 9th century. During this period, the Grand Basilica was destroyed. In the 11th century the Byzantine Emperor gave permission to build a monastery and construction was begun in 1101. When Constantinople fell in 1453 many Byzantine immigrants came to Patmos fleeing the Muslim invaders.
The island was controlled by the Ottoman Empire for many years, but it enjoyed certain privileges, mostly related to tax-free trade enjoyed by the monastery.
In 1912 the island was occupied by the Italians and the Italians remained until 1943 when Nazi Germany took over. In 1945, the Germans left and the island of Patmos remained autonomous until 1948, when it, joined the independent Greek state.