Strofades is a remote cluster of islets that few know of their existence. For centuries it has withstood the raids of conquerors and the successive blows of Enceladus. These are two small islands in the Ionian Sea, 27 nautical miles south of Zakynthos, “across” from Kyparissia. The largest and southernmost of the two islands, Stamphani is home to the historic castle monastery, a unique monastery, with a 25-meter-high wall, dedicated to the Virgin Mary of “all joy” and to Saint Dionysios, while further north there is also the smaller island of Arpyia.

Strofades from above

Looting by Saracens and Agarines

The island complex, difficult to access, has few visitors-pilgrims, who travel by sea to worship the cenotaph of Agios Dionysios. Saint Dionysios lived for years on the island, until 1622 when he fell asleep, at the age of 75, with his last wish to be buried on the island.

The monastery was built in the 13th century by the Emperor of Nicaea, Theodore I Laskaris. It was dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior. In the 16th century the monastery was attacked by Saracens, who killed all the monks. In 1717 the islet was again attacked by Agarines, who captured and murdered the monks again. However, two monks hid in the grove and escaped. When they found an opportunity, they took the remains of the Saint and took them to a church in Zakynthos to protect them. They remain there to this day.

Strofades Castle

Strophadon Castle Photo by R.McCabe/ Benaki Museum

The last inhabitant of the island

The last resident of the island, from 1976 to 2014, the monk Grigorios, who passed away in 2017. As recorded in the book “The last monk of the Strophadis. Report from an Unknown Ionian Island” by photographer Robert McCabe and journalist Katerina Lymberopoulos, the monk went through many hardships. When he got sick, he took care of himself. When the winter was severe, it might be fifty days before he saw another human being.When weather conditions permitted, a boatman would visit the island to leave provisions for the monk. Until 1985 there was also a lighthouse keeper on the island.

The last monk of the Strophadis (1937-2017)

Father Gregory. The last monk of the Strophadis (1937-2017) Photo Lampros Kalofonos

At the mercy of earthquakes

The island is located in the “heart” of the Greek arc. It is the border of contact and convergence of the African and the Eurasian lithospheric plate that is the main cause of most earthquakes in Greece. At the westernmost end of the Hellenic Arc, the seismic “devil’s triangle” is located, an area with special tectonic characteristics that rank it in first place on the list of areas with the highest seismicity in the Aegean and in Europe.

Over time, the historic monastery has been hit by major earthquakes that have caused major damage to the buildings. Initially in 1886, when on August 27, a strong earthquake of 7.5 degrees hit Ilia and Messinia with huge damages. 123 villages were destroyed, 326 people were killed, while the monastery was also heavily damaged. The earthquake was strongly felt as far as Ioannina and Heraklion, while people felt it even in Malta, Syria and Cairo according to the newspapers of the time.

The damage from the 2018 earthquake

The damage from the 2018 earthquake

On November 18, 1997, a magnitude of 6.6 shook Zakynthos. The monastery of Strophades again receives terrible blows from the “engelados”, while a series of earthquakes followed, the strongest of which were also strongly felt and caused slight damage to structures as well as secondary effects such as burglaries in the area of ​​the port of Zakynthos and small-scale landslides .

Another earthquake, in 2018 with a magnitude of 6.4 hit the area. The result is the collapse of part of the historic Monastery of Agios Dionysios in Strofades, making even more intense the demand for immediate interventions in the protected complex.

In recent years, the Ministry of Culture has been implementing a large and difficult project, that of restoring the castle monastery in Strofades. Already in 2021, a contractor has been installed, preliminary works are being carried out to remove fallen stones, cleaning, while a special jetty has also been set up, in order to transport cranes for the completion of the project.