The monastery of Zygos is an old monastery of Mount Athos which was founded in the middle of the 10th century and was destroyed just before 1198. It is located about 2 km east of Ouranoupoli, just outside the boundaries of Mount Athos, in a place known as Frangokastro just 40 meters outside the current hillside of Mount Athos). According to evidence, it seems to be one of the oldest monastic foundations of the Athonite peninsula. It came to light from the excavation of the archaeologists, led by Ioakeim Papaggelos, after a survey in 1984. The 10th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities is responsible for archaeological research.
As the scientific director of the excavation says, “Mount Athos has been constantly renewed since it began to be inhabited. So if one wants to study the monasteries within Mount Athos in terms of archaeological, building and organization of the cult, they have to look elsewhere. Zygou Monastery was founded in the 10th century and in 1198 it was already deserted. It has been minimalized – yet there is the ancient Mount Athos. “
In the excavation the visitor will see the castle, the towers and, above all, the katholikon of the monastery of Zygos, which archaeologists bring to light. The castle consists of five building phases, all of them older than 1211. The wall area reaches 5.5 acres and the walls have 11 towers – some of which are being restored.
When Athos Athanasios the Athonite, founder of the monastery of Megisti Lavra, first came to Mount Athos around 958, he settled in the area of the Zygos monastery and made his first ascetic test under the supervision of an elderly monk in the area. However, the first mention of the place Libra is made in a document of 942, which does not specify whether this name refers to a site, monastery or settlement. The first clear reference to the existence of the monastery of Zygos is in 992, when it was already an important monastic center, with a clear role in the operation of the Athonic state.
In 1018, when the abbot was the Nyphon, the fort of the monastery increased with the allocation of land by the Mount Athos community. At the same time, the building complex was extended and the new Katholikon (central temple), which has been identified and is at the center of the excavation and restoration effort, was built.
In the 11th century the monastery of Zygos was one of the most important monasteries in Mount Athos, with a high position in the hierarchy of monasteries. It seems that within a century the building complex was completed as it is distinguished today after the excavation. It is a five-sided castle, reinforced by ten or eleven towers. For reasons we do not know, at the end of the 12th century the monastery was deserted and golden-eyed by the emperor Alexios Aggelos Komnenos was conceded along with its metochia in the restored monastery of Chelandari.
Around 1206 it seems that a Francos prince who settled in the fortress of Zygos rushed to pillage the Holy Mount – a man who stopped in 1211, with the intervention of the Pope of Rome. That is why the ruins of the monastery were known in the area and are often referred to – as well as maps – as Fragokastro.
The abandonment and removal of stones for building material turned the monastery into a sad pile of ruins, which continued to be a source of building materials for the inhabitants of the region until 1980. Six lime kilns were operating in and around the monastery. Typically it is mentioned that here came the lime needed to build Xenia in Ouranoupolis in 1960.
Valuable information on the monastery we draw from the archives of the 10th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, which is responsible for archaeological research. With the latest excavations, it was discovered that the monastery was built in a place where there existed facilities from the 4th century BC. until the 6th AD. century. The building complex consists of the old core (the western), which doubled with eastward extension.
The Katholikon is in the expansion and began to be created in the first half of the 11th century. It consists of four distinctly distinct building phases: Originally a complex four-nave temple was built, with its narrow narthex. In second phase was added the northern chapel with the tomb, in the third the exonarthek and the fourth the south single-chapel chapel with the tomb, also a tomb. The construction of the three official tombs followed the south wall of the Katholikon. It is a cruciform registered church, with two burial chapels.
The masonry of the temple is saved at a height of 2-4 meters. Its marble architectural members, elaborate works, were partially plundered at a very early stage, and most of what they left was dismembered. The four columns that held the dome are missing, but the marble septum of the northern double opening of the main church is maintained almost intact. The interior of the temple was finely coated plaster paste and it was frescoed. In the narthex there were parts of the great representation of the Annunciation and dials crosses. Two layers of frescoes with the same representation of an entire hierarch, probably of St. Nicholas, were revealed in the niche of the intention of the southern chapel.
On the floors of the Katholikon and the northern chapel there are excellent marble artifacts, presumably works of the 11th century, which are preserved in a satisfactory condition. During the 16th-17th century, when the Katholikon was half-confined, an olive mill complex was set up in the narthex. A second oil mill was installed at the same time in a dilapidated building in the courtyard of the monastery, but their operation ceased before 1858.
The archaeological excavation has brought to light many finds, while the excavation and restoration works are in progress. The most important movable finds of the monastery of Zygos are the marble architectural decoration as well as the marbled mosaic floors, typical of the Byzantine architecture. Also, from the excavations, there are three 11th Century bulbs, book closures, a gold-plated medal with an engraved representation of Agia Paraskevi, a tiny stamp, a chalice with a representation of the Archangel, glass mosaics of a mosaic, bronze needles and thimbles, knives, 11th and 12th century coins, glazed ceramics and glass vases of the same era.