The earliest traces of habitation on the island have been identified on several sites, like Kastelli, Kalikatsou, Aspri, Kampos, Leukes. These consist in pottery finds and stone tools dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Age (2000-1100 BC). No Minoan or Mycenaean findings have been unearthed to date. Remains from the Geometric and Archaic periods are mostly found in Kastelli, an important settlement of the island, which was fortified with a strong defensive wall in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC; this site bears signs of continuous habitation during the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Very few ancient sources mention anything about the island, and even these testimonies are insubstantial. Patmos was first referred to by the historian Thucydides in the 5th cent. BC: Paches, the admiral of the Athenian fleet pursued the Spartans, “…as far as the island of Patmos.” It is later mentioned also by ο Strabo, Pliny and other writers, but they do not offer any detailed information either. Together with its neighbouring islands, Patmos was dependent on Miletus, at least until the Hellenistic Period. One of the patron goddesses of Patmos was Artemis Patmia, connected to Artemis Skythia, and it is thought that her temple stood at the site where the monastery of St John the Theologian was later built.
During the late Roman Period, it appears that Patmos was used as a place of exile and seclusion, where the political adversaries of the Roman emperors were dispatched. According to the Christian tradition, the Apostle John, the “beloved” disciple of Christ, was exiled here in the last years of Domitian’s reign (around 95 AD). During his stay, aided by his loyal student Prochoros, John composed the Apocalypse (Revelation), preached Christianity and baptized the locals.
- BYZANTINE PERIOD - KNIGHTS HOSPITALLERS
Later on, during the 4th – 6th centuries, Christianity spread and became predominant in the Dodecanese. Many architectural members today incorporated in the Monastery as well as in residences of the settlement testify to the existence of Early Christian basilicas. An inscription also mentions the existence of an altar (and possibly a basilica) dedicated to the “glorious Apostle and Theologian John” on the site today occupied by the Monastery. In the following centuries (700-900) the island was devastated by the onslaught of the Arab pirates, which resulted not only in the destruction of Patmos, monuments but also in the capture and sale of its inhabitants on the slave markets.
Patmos acquires special importance during the Middle Byzantine Period, when, in 1088, osios Christodoulos Latrenos, one of the most brilliant figures of Byzantine asceticism, founded there the Monastery of St John the Theologian. The Emperor Alexius I Komnenoi ceded to him the island in its entirety, the islets of Narkioi (today Arki or Arkioi) and Leipsoi as well as two suburbs of the city of Leros, Parthenion and Temenion, and granted the Monastery the privilege to own a flotilla, which was used to maintain a steady flow of supplies, but also for conducting trade.
On this barren island, Christodoulos was accompanied by some faithful companions, a few monks and the artisans who built the monastery. Initially these artisans settled on Cape Eudelon, on the north, so as to not disturb the quiet life the ascetics wished to lead. Soon though, they were forced to relocate close to the fortified walls of the monastery for safety considerations, to protect themselves against the frequent pirate raids, thus creating the first settlement nucleus of Chora. The monastery, inasmuch as it enjoyed “absolute, inalienable and perpetual ownership and every authority” over the island as a result of the imperial donation, acted as an arbiter, controlling the life and social behaviour of the settlers. In their majority, these made their living by catering for the monastery’s needs by farming, tending the cattle and manning its ships, while gradually new settlers were added coming from the nearby islands and the opposite coast of Asia Minor. The settlement retained its form virtually unaltered up to 1453, when refugees from Constantinople created the “Allotina” (literal. ‘of yore’) quarter. A couple of centuries later, following the sack of Candia (1669), Cretan immigrants created the “Kritika” (Cretan) quarter.
Patmos suffered greatly, mainly on account of the incessant pirate attacks, which during the 12th century had created an atmosphere of grave insecurity, largely stemming any financial and commercial pursuits. The monastery’s –and by extension, the island’s– position was ameliorated in the 13th century, with the development of renewed intellectual activities accompanied by a partial or total reaffirmation of older privileges. The 14th century is also a period of hardship, for the Ottoman captures a large part of Asia Minor, while the Dodecanese are seized, in 1309, by the Knights Hospitallers. Patmos lies on the borders of these two powers. In the period of the wars between the Ottomans and the Venetians (1451-1481,1491-1512), however, the monks maintained a policy of equal distances, and managed to obtain privileges and protection from the Ottoman and the Knights Hospitallers, laying the foundation for economic growth and prosperity.
- OTTOMAN PERIOD - MODERN TIMES
With the retreat of the Hospitallers from the Dodecanese in 1522, begins the period of Ottoman rule, during which the monastery flourishes, and with it the island. This period is marked by a booming of seafaring and maritime trade and new social realignments. The 16th and 17th centuries see the building of the first lordly mansions, i.e. of large, autonomous agricultural complexes; it also appears that during this period we have the emergence of an agricultural aristocracy, probably of non-Patmian origin which, owing to its control of large estates, gradually begins to curtail the monastery’s power. The recent settlers and the Cretan refugees brought with them a new level of culture and an urban lifestyle, comprising, together with the old Byzantine families, a new ruling class. This first period of growth comes to an abrupt end with the pillage and destruction of Chora by the Venetian admiral Morosini (1659), in reprisal for the monastery’s attempt to improve relations with the Ottoman, for the monks had diagnosed the Venetians’ difficulties in maintaining control of Candia, and, in general, over the Aegean. This important turning-point in the history of the island was one of the reasons behind the gradual decline of the agricultural aristocracy and created strong currents of class realignment. This deep transformations in the social structures afforded opportunities to the bourgeois class and to the burgeoning class of ship owners to free themselves from the authoritarian and interventionist politics of the monastery, which for hundreds of years represented the fundamental controlling factor of economical and social activities on the island, allowing them to unfold their full potential and contribute to the transition to the new capitalist era.
Thus, since the mid-18th and during the 19th century, the island, especially after the foundation of the School of Patmos (1713), enjoys strong intellectual, maritime and, concomitantly, financial growth, as well as intense phenomena of urbanization, which altered the shape of the Chora settlement. The old agrarian landholdings are now divided and many new residences and churches are built. Furthermore, the character of the urban quarter begins to take shape and the urban fabric expands over new, extended boundaries, mainly through the creation of the “Aporthiana” quarter and the construction of buildings on the north brow of the settlement’s hill, which acquires, more or less, its present layout.
Due to the advanced urbanization and the intellectual prosperity, the Patmians acquired national consciousness relatively early, and by the time of the 1770 Revolution, they were ready to take up arms accepting the Russians as liberators, although the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarça (1774) restored the revolted lands to their former rulers. This consciousness manifested itself clearly during the Revolution of 1821, wherein the island’s participation was direct and substantial: Patmos was the second island after Spetsai to fly the flag with the Revolution’s colours. Three important revolutionary figures who contributed all their resources to the struggle for liberation came from Patmos. These were Theofilos Pagkostas, Patriarch of Alexandria, who, after 1820, actively participated in the preparation leading up to the Revolution and supported it throughout its duration, and Emmanuel Xanthos, one of the three founders of the Philiki Etaireia (Friendly Brotherhood) and Demetrios Themelis, the apostle of the Philiki Etaireia, who assumed command of the struggle in the Aegean. Other Patmian patriots were particularly energetic, like M. Pagkalos, an officer of the Greek Army, Emmanuel and Georgios Kalos, and Emmanuel and Theodoros Xenos, who with their ships supplied provisions for Karaiskakis’ army and to the beleaguered city of Messologi.
In 1832, with the Constantinople Treaty, Patmos, together with the other islands, was restored to the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the Italians capture the Dodecanese. Liberation finally comes in 1948, when the island is incorporated into the Greek State.
The architecture of Patmos was determined essentially by the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. The total number of houses that were built around the monastery forms a labyrinthine settlement, which thanks to the terraces of the buildings creates a transportation network. Thanks to this network the residents had the ability to quickly access different points of the settlement and support points at risk. The arrangement of the external buildings was such, that created a kind of defensive wall without any opening. Even the rich buildings were made of simple materials and didn’t distinguish externally so as to be difficult to get identified by pirates and get plundered. The safest point of the settlement was the monastery, which -strongly fortified- was the refuge of the inhabitants in case of high risk.
The mansions of the country can be classified into three categories. Initially those who were rebuilt in the 16th – 17th century outside the village, housed the feudal lords and had many open or semi-covered areas, as well as the characteristic “mantomata”. The Cretan refugees settled in the area east of the Monastery and were the first to develop an urban center: the square of Saint Levias (homonymous church) around of which they gathered.
Then, in the 19th century, wealthy merchants and captains built townhouses with view of Skala so they could monitor their ships. Finally, the houses of the 18th century that were rebuilt during urbanization are the third category and one can see them in Aporthiana and south of the monastery of St. John.
With Byzantine “ospition” as a construction model, one can find rectangular houses with bilateral internal division, while outside a small courtyard, which contains the underground cistern and the oven, is a necessary complement. With the passage of time, some houses became two-story by rebuilding on the already existing building. A characteristic feature of the houses of Patmos is the stones around doors and windows, which are usually painted gray or ocher, are called “mantomata”, and vary from simple stones in poorest homes to carved “mantomata” in richer ones. The “kantouni” that exists in certain corners of the houses is a sort of “mantomata”. The prevailing hues are green, brown and ocher, while blue is a more recent addition. From the Venetian period the appearance of Gothic and neoclassical influences is also observed.