Vrontisi Monastery is a 14th-century Eastern Orthodox monastery situated between the villages of Zaros and Vorizia, on the south slopes of Mt. Ida. It has a panoramic view of the Mesara Plain and the Asterousia Mountains.
Venetian archives contain several documents referring to the Vrontisi monastery. The earliest written reference dates back to 1474. However, it is older than that but the exact year of its establishment is unknown. Vrontisi was established as a metochion of the nearby Varsamonerou Monastery. The former fell into decline after 1500 whereas Vrontisi began to flourish and reached its apogee as a regional monastic and spiritual centre during the 16th and 17th centuries. After the fall of Crete to the Turks, Arkadi Monastery was deserted and its monks fled to Vrontisi. According to tradition, Michael Damaskinos, the renowned painter of the Cretan School, is believed to have served as a monk at Vrontisi. Six of Damaskinos' best known icons were kept at the monastery until 1800 and are nowadays displayed at the St. Catherine of Sinai museum in Heraklion.
Owing to its fortified position, Vrontisi was used as a revolutionary centre during the Cretan uprisings of the 19th century. During the great Cretan revolt of 1866, Michael Korakas used Vrontisi as his headquarters. In reprisal, the Ottomans slaughtered the monks and burned all crops, which resulted in the monastery being deserted and most of its heirlooms destroyed. During the German occupation of 1941–44, Vrontisi provided shelter to resistance fighters.
Similarly to most monasteries built during the Venetian period, the monastery used to be heavily fortified and surrounded by thick walls. However, only parts of the west wall remain today. In the middle of the court stands a two-nave church (katholikon) dedicated to St. Anthony (Antonios) and St. Thomas. The church was painted with frescoes of which very few remain in the southern nave. An arched bell tower of Italian influence rises besides the church. At the main entrance of the monastery there is a marble fountain dating to the Venetian era, featuring Adam, Eve and four faces from which the water flows that symbolize the four rivers of the Garden of Eden. Due to this fountain, Ottoman Turks used to call Vrontisi Santrivanli Monastir, i.e. Fountain Monastery. According to the Italian architect Giuseppe Gerola, the fountain dates from the 15th century and was created by an artisan that could skilfully use the chisel, something that was uncommon in Crete at the time.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.