The castle of the Knights in Mandraki, which includes the most prominent worship center in Nisyros, the Holy Monastery of Panayia Spiliani, is built at the western end of Mandraki, on the top of a steep rocky hilltop that enters the sea like a small peninsula. The first thing you see when you reach Nisyros is the castle with the Monastery, which loom over the modern capital of the island and the rest of the region.
The castle of the Knights is considered the most important among the medieval fortresses of Nisyros. It was built by the Knights of the Order of St. John, rulers of the island during the period 1314-1522, on the site of a Byzantine fortress, in a naturally fortified location that overlooks Mandraki and the wider land and sea area.
The fortress, known from medieval reports, is most probably identified with the castle mentioned in a decision written by the Great Council of Venice, according to which the noble Venetian Jacomo Barozzi failed to conquer in 1306 and which the Knights of the Order of St. John finally conquered in 1314 when they occupied the island. It could also be identified as the castle on the coast of Nisyros, which was encountered by the Italian traveler Nicolo de Martoni in 1394, while the Florentine monk Cristoforo Buondelmonti refers to it in his travel diary in 1420 as one of the five fortified settlements of Nisyros.
Subsequent alterations have changed the interior of the castle considerably. Although the wall of the Byzantine period could not be easily visible, however, a section of this, located at the northern extension of the 4th c. BC Palaiokastro of the ancient walls of Nisyros, is still preserved. The castle of the Knights is surrounded by a series of walls, which follow the brow of the hill, made of stones of various textures, shapes, and sizes. The entrance of the castle is located in the east, less steep side looking towards Mandraki. Eighty-one steps lead from the central neighborhood Lagadi of the modern village to the gate of the castle. A second entrance, located in the interior of the castle, strengthens the defense of the fortress. Since the other sides of the hill are almost vertical and inaccessible, bastions were added mostly at the eastern side. At the south-eastern part of the walls, the only section with a polygonal plan, developed into a bastion which was reinforced by a now ruined machicolation. An ammunition depot, in use even during the Ottoman occupation, was constructed there, where is the highest location of the castle. Within the walls, we can see building remains of unknown use, which probably had underground cisterns.
Scattered coats of arms – some of them in second use, are embedded in the castle’s walls, bastions, and interior entrance. The oldest one belongs to Saffredo Calvo-Crispo, inheritor of Dragonino Clavelli, a wealthy banker and benefactor of the order, who became the lessee of Nisyros in 1401-1402, a status sustained by members of his family until 1427. This coat of arms was built before 1427. There are also coats of arms of Fantino Quirini (1433-1453), the governor of Leros, Kalymnos, Nisyros and later Kos and the Grand Masters Jacques de Milly (1454-1461), Giovanni Batista Degli Orsini (1467-1476), and Pierre d’Aubusson (1476-1503). These marble emblems are associated with the construction phases of the fort and reveal a constant concern of the Order of St. John to continue to preserve and improve this structure.
The walls of the Knights surround the famous monastery of Panayia Spiliani, the worship center of Nisyros, and one of the most important Orthodox pilgrimages in the south-eastern Aegean. The katholikon of the monastery, dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God, is located at a cavernous rock formation, where the miraculous icon of Panayia Vrefokratousa (Holly Mary holding Child) is kept. The Monastery is celebrated on the 15th of August with the procession of its palladium and a great fair that is the most important religious event of the island and gathers the immigrant Nisyrians of the Diaspora, as well as a large number of locals and visitors.
Mandraki, Nisyros, Postal code 85303
Means of access:
Visit after consulting with the Holy Monastery of Panagia Spiliani, Summer:
Until the last ten days of October:
MONASTERY 10:30 -15: 00 and 18:00 – 20:00
CHURCH MUSEUM 10:30 -15: 00
August 10:30 -15: 00 and 18:00 – 20:00
Full: €2, Reduced: €2