Sign up for Your Places: Extreme Weather. Get notified about extreme weather before it happens with custom alerts for places in the U.S. you choose. Get it sent to your inbox.
THEY CALL IT the Island of the Apocalypse, for it was here on Patmos, in the southeastern corner of what’s today Greece, that John the Apostle foretold the end of the world — or at least the version recorded in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. John had been exiled in A.D. 95 to this speck of land not far from where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean by the Romans, who weren’t only threatened by the rising influence of Christianity but believed it to be a cult. The Byzantine Empire nonetheless took hold, and with it Greek Orthodoxy — and then, in 1088, rose the monastery dedicated to St. John, a fortified structure of marble and native andesite (a volcanic rock), built on one of the highest points on Patmos, that would forever change the island’s fortunes.
For a few hundred years, money poured in from the church, which was eager to expand its influence in the Dodecanese, this group of islands so close to Turkey that on a map it looks like a jeweled choker wrapped around the country’s southwestern coast. Pilgrims seeking either enlightenment or refuge — from the fall of Constantinople, the waning influence of Crete — soon settled this island’s Chora (“town” in Greek) in the shadow of the monastery. Patmos continued to grow into the modern era as a locus of cross-cultural currents and commerce: Prosperity and geography made it ideal for seafaring, as boats brought back wooden furniture from Venice and crafts from Istanbul and Cairo. By the 15th century, both immigrants and rich merchants were building the small churches and blocky mansions that still crowd Chora’s narrow, steep pathways. Although throughout history various interlopers — pirates, Ottoman expansionists and Nazis among them — have claimed this territory as their own, Patmos has belonged to Greece since the late 1940s. Greeks and tourists alike appreciate it not only for its preserved architecture and Christian traditions (dozens of monks and nuns still worship here) but also for its pebbly coves and quiet beaches, goat-thronged hills and seemingly infinite blueness, where sky gives in to sea.