Νέα Μονή

The Nea Moni (New Monastery) of Chios clings to the western slope of Mt Provateion, in the middle of the island. Its position offers unparalleled views of both the western and eastern shores towards the Anatolian shoreline. It’s located just 12 kilometres from the island’s capital, right in the middle of a pine forest that’s in the process of reforestation. Towards the southern slopes of the mountain, higher and to the west, visitors can find the Skete of the Monastery of Agioi Pateres, the founders of the Nea Moni. Thanks to its exceptional Historical, Architectural and Artistic significance, the Nea Moni has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to a monastic tradition relating to its founding, three Chiote ascetics discovered a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary hanging from a myrtle branch and erected the monastery’s katholikon there. The monastery’s construction and flourishing are both intrinsically connected with the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos.  
Another monastic tradition relates that the emperor funded the monastery in gratitude to the three Chiote monks, who had foreseen that his exile on Lesvos would only be temporary and that he would ultimately rise to power. The emperor endowed the monastery with estates and special sources of income, a tactic that subsequent emperors would emulate. Thanks to these imperial privileges, the Nea Moni developed into one of the most prominent and wealthy monasteries in the Aegean.

The monastic complex is protected by a sturdy curtain wall complete with a defensive tower that anchors the north-western corner, and largely adheres to the standard structural layout of Byzantine monasteries: the main church, the katholikon, stands freely at the centre of the complex. In form, it’s an octagonal “island-style” domed church. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it celebrates its feast day on 23 August. The katholikon itself is made up of a naos, an esonarthex and an exonarthex, all erected in the 11th century. The naos and esonarthex preserve traces of orthomarmarosis, a form of marble revetment decoration that once covered the vertical sections of the walls, while the 11th-century mosaic decoration survives almost unscathed, with the exceptions of the dome and the eastern conch. The church as it stands today is a far cry from its original 11th-century construction, as numerous reconstructions and additions have been made through the years. The monastery was torched in 1822, while the katholikon suffered extensive damage from the destructive earthquake of 1881.
The Trapeza (refectory), where the monks would take communal meals in accordance with the cenobitic system, stands a short distance from the katholikon. Inside, visitors can admire an original built table from the 11th c. measuring 15.70 m. in length; its surface is decorated with marble inlays and frames similar to those used in the flooring and revetment decorations of the katholikon.
The other structures of the monastery are common-use areas and the cell wings, all of which date to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Unfortunately, the priceless relics of historical and archaeological value once kept at the monastery, as well as its wealth, were lost over time as it was repeatedly looted and plundered. The items currently on display at the small Museum maintained on monastery grounds are modern-day donations. The small church of Timiou Stavrou (the Holy Cross), where the remaining bones of the victims of the Turkish Massacre of Chios are stored, stands just next to the monastery’s main gate.

Nea Moni - the structures in detail

The Trapeza is a single-nave structure covered by a slightly pointed dome. A small semicircular apse rounds off its eastern end, possibly a section of the initial building that could date to the 11th century. The building as it stands today is the result of constant interventions and reconstructions. Inside, an original built table from the 11th c. measuring 15.70 m. and decorated with marble inlays and frames still stands.
The Trapeza was renovated thanks to the II Community Support Framework. It was converted to a museum through the project “Trapeza Museum of the Nea Moni of Chios”, funded by the III Community Support Framework of the Regional Operational Programme for the Northern Aegean (2000-2006). In addition to the main exhibit, the built table with its marble decoration, the Trapeza currently hosts 11th-century Byzantine sculptures originally placed in the katholikon, vessels from the roof terrace of the cistern and sections of frescoes originally from the exonarthex of the katholikon and the Trapeza itself. The museum exhibition is rounded out by support media, such as informative diagrams and photos that discuss the historical context and architecture of the Monastery, the mosaic and painted decoration in the katholikon, and the timeline of renovation works on the marble inlays of the built table.
The Tower
The Tower stands on the western end of the Monastery’s fortifications, ninety metres from the katholikon. Similarly to other monastic complexes, the tower served as the final refuge for monks in case the monastery was attacked. It’s a notably tall, rectangular two-storey structure, which stands atop the highest point in the area. The surviving remains of the Tower date to the 11th century and the Genoese period. It’s laid out according to a rectangular floor plan and initially also had a second floor, but currently only the ground floor and the roofless first floor survive. It is constructed with rubble masonry interlaced with brickwork and has been hypothesised to have once stood 20 metres tall.

The Bell-tower or Belfry, a rectangular three-storey structure erected in 1900, stands close to the katholikon. The top floor was once decorated with arched openings, one on each side, where four bells, each facing a point on the compass, once hung. Two large clocks once decorated the faces of the belfry, one with all twenty-four hours and the other twelve. The largest of the bells would ring every hour, with a sound that carried far and wide. The belfry was as tall as the katholikon and possessed a lead-sheathed roof topped with an iron cross.
The Monastery’s original Semantron, only part of which survives, is kept at the northern entrance to the esonarthex. The stone-built benches indicate that this structure was meant to protect the entrance to the katholikon from inclement weather while also providing a place for people to rest and gather in a semi-open space. As oral tradition has it, this was where the monastic community once made its commercial exchanges. This part of the monastery is called Simantir or Simantaras, indicating yet another use. Semantra made of wood or metal, tools whose rhythmic sound defined the daily life of the monks in Ottoman times, used to hang from the arches.

The churches
    In addition to the other structures, the monastery courtyard also hosts two small churches: the church of Timiou Stavrou (the Holy Cross) just south of the main gate and the church of Agios Panteleimon to the west of the katholikon.
    The former was built in the first decade of the 20th century, after the 1881 earthquake. It was likely erected to serve as an entry chapel, but it may also have served as a part of the monastery accessible to women who wished to honour the relics kept there and make blessings or supplications. The monastery was off limits to women until after the first quarter of the 20th century.
The main church is rectangular, with the bema and semi-circular apse attached on its eastern side; it is a classic example of rubble masonry. Two gates crowned with pediments allow entry from the north and south sides. The whole structure is capped by an octagonal dome supported by four squinches. On its northern side, the church has been decorated with marble slabs.
The church of St Panteleimon was erected to service the liturgical requirements of the monks until the damage caused to the katholikon by the 1881 earthquake could be repaired. It sits just west of the katholikon, in the corridor that opens onto the tower. Architecturally, the church is a barrel-vaulted single-nave structure with a semi-hexagonal apse. Internally, blind arches decorate the entire length of the side walls. The naos is separated from the bema by an unassuming wooden iconostasis.

The cistern was constructed north-west of the katholikon. This eighteen-by-twelve-metre underground reservoir was used by the monks to collect and store water. It is covered by a domed roof supported by smaller domes, each of which stands on two rows of columns. Its façade has been inlaid with decorative brickwork and protective crosses. Back during Ottoman times, the Turks called this structure the underground palace, and indeed, it’s a truly unique monument.

A large number of cells and other auxiliary structures are preserved, in
rather poor condition, on the northern flank and outside the walls of the monastery. These structures served as storage rooms or living quarters for monks and artisans. The artisans, which included tailors, cobblers and others, provided their services to the monks back when the monastery housed a flourishing community. In fact, some of these spaces were dedicated to the processing of agricultural products. For example, the presence of a large olive press stone shows that one of these structures served as an olive press.

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