Yet these cats live in their own peaceful world…
The monastery is an oasis of greenery compared to its arid surroundings. It’s a tranquil corner of paradise where they can sleep in the sunshine and enjoy the quietness that is so typical of remote monasteries (at least outside of the tourist season; the site livens up in July and August due to the voices of tourists).
It is believed that the building was founded in the 7th century by a monk who fled from Syria. Unfortunately, only fragments of the original construction of the Byzantine era have survived to this day, and very little is known about its early history.
What we do know is that by the end of the Byzantine period, the monastery was abandoned and destroyed. In the 16th century, the building was restored, and for some time it flourished, after which it was consumed by fire and rebuilt again.
It is not uncommon for religious sites to provide shelter for stray cats (also check out the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani on Mykonos, the Jumping Cat Monastery of Myanmar, and the Arkadi Monastery of Crete).
The feline newborns of the Monastery of Ypsilou are probably amongst the luckiest of Lesbos since they live far away from any danger and have enough drinking water thanks to the fountain in the courtyard.
They would be even luckier if someone could give them a real home (My boyfriend and I seriously considered adopting one or more of the kittens, except that they were still too young to be transported let alone be taken away from their mom. We had even given them names: Ouzo, Mythos, Retisina… just like the Greek drinks.).
If you want to meet the cats of Ypsilou yourself, you have to take the car and drive up the steep and narrow road toward the top of the dormant volcano Ordymnos, on which the monastery is built.
By the way, the name “Moni Ipsilou” was assigned to the monastery in the 18th century due to its location (“ypsilo” means “tall” in Greek).
A visit to the Ypsilou Monastery and its kittens can easily be combined with a trip to the nearby Petrified Forest Geopark and the Natural History Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest in Sigri.
Will you be visiting the Monastery of Ypsilou on Lesbos island? Would you consider adopting Ouzo and his brothers and sisters?
Text and photos by Vanessa Morgan