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Our Lady of the Rock (Nemea)

The monastery is located on the east side of the rock called Polyfeggos, in the mountain of Panagia (Our Lady), at the entrance of Nemea. The ruins of a medieval settlement are on the south part of the rock. The relics of the settlement indicate that the houses were detached. On the foothill of the rock there is a water reservoir, probably for the water supply of the settlement. On the top of Polyfeggos, there are ruins of a huge wall with loopholes. It consisted of the small fortress of Polyfeggos that once controlled the narrow entrance towards Nemea. It is mentioned in the list of fortresses of the Principality of Moreas, 1377, as “Santo Georgio de Polifengno”, while in texts that date back to the Turkish rule, it is referred to as Saint George, the then name of Nemea.

At the same area, in the rock, lie the remains of the old church of Our Lady of the Rocks. It probably consists of the katholikon of the old monastery that covers one fourth of the length of the cave.

Mural paintings of an exquisite art style that date back to the 11th or 12th century can be seen on a rock wall of the abandoned church. Among them, a depiction of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and a depiction of Saint George stand out. Some believe that the church was the seat of the Diocese of Polyfegos referred to for the period between 1292 and 1458. Then the castle was occupied by Mohammad the Conqueror leading to its decline and definitive cessation in 1608.

A manuscript of the french Pouqueville (1730) indicates that Polyfeggos ‘is nothing else but a high rock with 36 churches, 60 caves and a water tank’, by church he possibly means the monks’s hermit cells.

The late byzantine monastery of Our Lady of the Rock was built after the destruction of the settlement of Polyfeggos and it is hewn on the east side of the monolithic rock. According to the local tradition a small boy, Leo, later found intact, had fallen from the rock to the point where the katholikon of the monastery was built. The date of foundation is unknown because the archives were burnt in a fire put by Turkish Albanians in 1770. Only the icons on the screen altar remained intact, along with some liturgical vessels and the brass circular seal of the monastery. The seal depicts Our Lady holding infant Jesus and contains the inscription “Monastery of Our Lady Polyfeggos of the Rock, 1633”. The monastery is also documented in Venetian documents that date back to 1698.

The monastery of Our Lady of the Rock was at its peak since the beginning of the 19th century until the period of Kapodistrias. During the Greek War of Independency it contributed a lot to the cause.

The monastery is located only one kilometer away from the town on Nemea. The road leads through the stone, arched entrance to the narrow courtyard next to the rock. Higher to the right lie the cells and the katholikon, while at the end of the courtyard is an abandoned part of the two floor building. On its wall, towards the edge there are turrets. Near the entrance, a stone staircase with 70 stairs mounts vertically onto the rock and ends at a small paved platform protected by a wall with turrets. In the center of the platform stands a stone arched belfry. On the other side, there is a small church dedicated to Our Lady. The external side of the trilateral conch of the church is a slab with byzantine ornamental elements. The church contains several byzantine ornaments probably coming from the old monastery.

The cells are scarcely lightened and they communicate through internal doors. They have a stone, vaulted roof that reminds of catacombs. The katholikon of the monastery is dedicated to the Dormitorion of Our Lady. It is a simple basilica, with a vaulted stone roof externally covered with tiles. The roof reaches the height of the cave, which is integrated to the main church, forming a typical example of a cave church. The entrance to the church is possible through a side door. Opposite to that there is another door leading to the platform. The internal size of the church is 5.60 ×2.70 meters. The walls of the built side bear mural paintings that date to the 17th century, most of them damaged by the humidity, the smoke and vandalisms. The mural painting over the bema is of great interest. It depicts Jesus Christ and on the four corners, instead of the depictions of the four Evangelists, as usual, there are paintings of animal of the apocalypses. At the back of the cave there is a natural water tank.

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