Above the gorge of the Kalarrytikos river in the Tzoumerka Mountains and at the entrance of the cave of a vertical rock lies one of the most impressive monasteries of Epirus. This is the Monastery of Kipina, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Passing from below by the car, we did not suspect what the sharp cutting of the rock was hiding. Looking up, many meters above our heads we saw a wonderful monument of Christianity, nestled there for centuries. Made of the same materials of the mountain itself, buried in the rock, it is difficult to notice it from the road.
The history of the monastery began in the 12th century. Some of the monks of the nearby monastery of Vyliza disagreed with the choice of the abbot and left. Looking for a place in the area to establish their own monastery, they saw a hole in the mountain. There was a steep cave in the rock. They climbed the steep slope, but when they reached near the entrance of the cave, they found that access was impossible, because there was a ravine with a gap more than 6 m wide. Then the monks bridged the ravine with long sticks and passed across. They were surprised to find that the cave continued deep into the cavity of the huge rock.
Ιn fact, the hole high in the rock was once the bed of an underground river, which after an earthquake or subsidence changed its course. During the 12th century, the greatest danger to the monasteries was the robbery raids. Thus, the monks built a high wall and secured the opening of the cave to the ravine, constructed a durable door which they reinforced internally with pillars, and bridged the gap of the ravine with a wooden sliding bridge. When there was danger, they dragged the bridge to the cave, sealed the door and were completely safe.
Arriving at the monastery, we prepared to climb the path carved into the rock. We sat down to drink cool water from the fountain located at the entrance of the gate and to gather strength for the uphill ascent that awaited us.
After a while, we started to hike the paved path. Looking at the cliffs we realized that here humans prevailed over natural laws. We crossed the wooden bridge over the ravine. As we pushed the heavy door, a soft dim light enveloped us. The church of the monastery is housed by the rock, which has been carved so as to form a dome. Every last centimetre of the pit of rocks has been utilized.
Many tens of meters above the ground, the monastery exuded humility and sanctity.
A staircase dug into the rock leads to the monks’ cells. A soft light came from above. Following the light, I found an opening between the rocks. From there, I saw the peaks of the green Tzoumerka Mountains and heard the sound of the Kalarrytikos river flowing between the large white pebbles at the bottom of the gorge.
Passing under a low door behind the church, we were surprised to see a dark cave with stalactites and stalagmites reaching 240 meters in length.
During the Turkish occupation, many inhabitants of the surrounding villages who had been chased by the Turks, managed to find shelter in the monastery.
Until 1920, the monks who lived here maintained this miracle of human technique and will. Today, the monastery celebrates Zoodochos Pigi Day. On that day, the priest of the neighbouring village of Kalarrytes, together with its inhabitants open the monastery.
Leaving that holy place, we let our gaze wander to the vastness of the valley and the enchanting volume of the Tzoumerka Mountains. I remember that I read in the monastery guestbook:
“I have been told that God has chosen the most beautiful places in the world to live in. I think that is true.”
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