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Pyrgos, at the foot of Mt Profitis Ilias, is an example of a settlement that was fortified in the Middle Ages; it is the only village in Santorini where the medieval features and atmosphere have been so vividly preserved. Its streets, which follow the contours of the hillside, divided the village into zones. The walls of the outermost houses were an integral part of the village fortifications. When the danger of pirate raids diminished, the inhabitants started to build homes outside the walls, giving the village its present form.

There are many churches worth seeing in Pyrgos. The oldest, known as the Theotaki, is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin. It was erected in the 11th century a little after the church at Episkopi Gonia. Between 1537 and 1650, other churches were built: the Transfiguration of Our Lord, St Theodosia and the ‘dug-out church of St Nicholas ‘Kissiras’. The church of the Presentation of the Virgin, with its carved screen, dates from between 1650 and 1664. Later churches include those of St Catherine, St George, the Archangel Michael and St Nicholas. Near Pyrgos, crowning Mt Profitis Ilias, is a monastery dedicated to the Prophet Elijah. The solid facade of its exterior walls, perforated with just a few windows, is reminiscent of a fortress. It was founded in 1711 and built in two phases, 1711 to May 1724 and November 1852 to March 1857.

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The monastery was subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Until I860 it was cenobitic, while until 1853 no women were permitted to enter it. In earlier times, the monastery of the Prophet Elijah possessed considerable wealth. It even had its own ship which conducted trade for the benefit of the monastery. At the same time, it was also an active intellectual and patriotic influence. From 1806 to 1845 it ran a school where Greek language and literature were taught to children. The monastery’s decline began in I860. Its buildings suffered serious damage in the earthquakes of 1956.

Today the monasteiy has an important collection of ecclesilastical treasures, manuscripts and old and more recent books, as well as ethnographic material. The carved wooden screen in

Near Mesa Gonia, a farming village with a wine production and storage plant, is the most important Byzantine monument on the island, the church of Our Lady ‘Piskopi or Episkopi Gonia. Founded by the emperor Alexius I Comnenus in the 11th century, it is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin. At some point in its history it may have been used as the main church of a monasteiy and it also served as the seat of the bishop of Santorini. It has undergone many alterations and additions, however, since the 11th century. The only thing that has remained intact from Byzantine times is its carved marble screen. The frescos have been dated to ca. 1100.

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