In the years 1993-1996, with the prompting and blessing of St Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, the community of Chrysopigi reconstructed the small monastery of Saint Kyriaki. Itself a historical site of the 17th century, St Kyriaki is one of the oldest monastic dependencies of Chrysopigi, lying approximately 10km to the south-west of the city of Chania.
The Monastery of St Kyriaki is closely connected with the local history. During the 19th century it served alternately as a base of operations and as a refuge for the freedom fighters. During the mobilisation preceding the Cretan revolt of 1866, the Monastery hosted the revolutionaries of the first great pan-Cretan assembly, at which a memorandum to the Great European Powers, with a demand to unite Crete with Greece, was signed.
From the beginning of the 20th century, this historical monastery, as well as the surrounding area with its numerous caves and hermitages, was abandoned and gradually declined into a state of complete collapse due to local shepherds using the ruins as a sheepfold.
Today, with the help of God and despite all adversities, the monastic area of caves continues its centuries-long tradition and spiritual life and has become again a place of asceticism, worship, and prayer.
Along with its historical and religious importance, the Monastery of Saint Kyriaki and the wider monastic area of caves surrounding it, is of great environmental value. This beautiful wooded area has not only a small gorge, through which a winter torrent passes, and many cave chapels that can be accessed via stone-paved footpaths, but also is a place of characteristically rich biodiversity. At the distance of approximately 10 km from Chania, it indeed serves as the “lungs of the city”.
The community of Chrysopigi puts great effort to preserve this monastic area with its biotope. Working together with the Department of Forest Service, the biodiversity of the wooded area is protected and, keeping the parallel balance of the ecosystems, the constant regeneration of bushes and plants is ensured. The existing species of plants are preserved and, depending on new needs and prospects, some other species are added at a small ratio. At the same time great efforts are made to protect the rare biodiversity of flora form illegal grazing and to preserve the local fauna. As part of the wider environmental education programme, wild birds that have been tended in animal sanctuaries are released in the area on a regular basis.
In collaboration with the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, a botanical garden of aromatic and medicinal plants of Crete has been created within the monastic biotope.
The regeneration of the natural environment around St Kyriaki now gives a chance for pilgrims to walk around in the area, to visit the caves and hermitages, to participate in the Divine Liturgy at the cave chapels, and to experience the sacredness of creation.
Every day children and students from Crete and the rest of Greece as well as from abroad, who come as pilgrims or visit the Environmental Education Centre of the Monastery (housed in a restored monastery building next to St Kyriaki), walk the stone-paved pathways of the monastic area.
The community of Chrysopigi takes great pains to ensure that this sacred monastic area with its rich biodiversity and rare flora and fauna is protected. For this reason, on the basis of environmental studies, legal protection of the land is pursued. The goal of the legal establishment of a protection zone is to safeguard this particular precinct of caves, as well as the wider area, from unauthorised building which is destroying the natural environment irreparably.
“The area of Saint Kyriaki is, first of all, of special aesthetic interest. The valley with its brook and the dense vegetation of kermes oaks, bay laurels, myrtles, carob trees etc., steep rock formations enveloping the landscape, and the many caves are the natural elements which give a special aesthetic value to the area.
From the ecological point of view, the area is also of great interest. The 335 Cretan plant species that grow there, but mainly the 21 species of endemic plans of Crete or of Crete and Karpathos – which are unique in the whole world – give the valley a distinctive ecological value.
To this we must also add the 9 species of the diurnal predatory birds and the 3 species of the nocturnal ones, as well as the Cretan badger, the spiny mouse, the Cretan dormouse, and the four species of bats, all of which are included in the Red Book of the Threatened Vertebrates of Greece and are among the species protected by the EU directive 92/43 concerning the natural habitats.
The natural elements are strengthened by the recently man-made ones. The nicely paved stone pathways and sets of steps which lead to various caves, as well as the icon stands and the chapels, all of which are repaired, tidy, and clean – are waiting to welcome a weary visitor.
To all of this we must add the wonderful views of the surrounding hills with their endless olive groves and of the Sea of Crete, the singing of the birds and, in springtime, the Cretan flora with its host of flowers.
In short, the valley of Saint Kyriaki serves as a refuge and is a true natural paradise in the midst of the wider mountainous area which has been aesthetically degraded by overgrazing.”
From the “Report on the vegetation, flora, fauna, and the biotopes of the valley of Saint Kyriaki, Chania” by G. Sfikas, Naturalist -Honorary President of Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature