Less than 1 km further down the road from Pachia Rachi, a track signposted to the Church of the Taxiarchis leads to the right towards the slopes of Mount Oros which dominates the landscape at this point. The small church with its red roof and octagonal drum is visible from afar, now totally isolated in the barren and rocky hillside, but once the centre of a monastic community. It is only as one begins to get nearer that the massive, ashlar-masonry retaining walls on which its stands, come into view.
The terraces created by these impressive walls, and the monumental flight of steps which separates them, are what remains of the sanctuary and Temple of Zeus Hellanios, ‘Zeus, giver of rain' – a cult which was brought to the island by Dorian settlers around 1000 BC. The scale of the construction here and its imposing strength have a calculated appropriateness to the mightiest of the Olympian gods. What is visible today is the last phase of the site's development – mostly Hellenistic construction of impressively dressed and cut stone (in particular on the left of the flight of steps), which dates from the 3rd century BC when, during the Pergamene domination of the island, the whole mountain was held sacred. A place of cult had already been here for a long time before, however.
The 7 metre wide, processional staircase gives the site an unexpected monumentality. The building material here came from the cutting away of the hillside when the terraces were first levelled, and it may have been during that process that the springs behind the sanctuary were opened up. Today there is little more than a black, Stygian rock-cut hole with standing water in it, just above the site; but the presence of neatly cut conduit channels for flowing water, along both the south and east sides of the terrace under and against the hill, suggests that the water here was once far from stagnant. Nothing remains of the temple which was here, and which a combination of earthquakes and early Christian zeal has deleted. But the massive quantity of rubble would suggest that the buildings were of imposing size. Many of these large, regularly-cut blocks have been incorporated into the Church of the Taxiarchis, which sits on the northwest corner of the temple's crepis. The present church appears to be a 13th century structure, although it probably replaces an earlier foundation on the same site. The contemporaneous wall-paintings in its interior are impressive, though damaged. Again, the iron-oxide reds and yellows predominate, as observed at the Omorphi Ekklesia on the edge of Chora: here, however, there is greater sophistication in the painting of the magnificently detailed armour of the Archangel Michael, and of an unusual and graceful scene depicting the dream of Jacob's Ladder with angels flowing between Paradise and Earth, in the southwest segment of the drum of the dome.Wikidata ID: Q110302685Trismegistos Geo: 60761
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)