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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Cave of Panagia Sarantaskaliotissa (or the Cave of Pythagoras) in Samos


On the southeast side of Mount Kerkis, in the wild ravine of Kiourka, at an altitude of 350m above sea level, is the cave of the Panagia Sarantaskaliotissa (Gr: forty steps) or the Cave of Pythagoras, with an impressive view to the southeast, which reaches the sea.

At the front of the cave is a chapel, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which in addition to the name Panagia Sarantaskaliotissa is also known as Panagia Phaneromeni (Gr: revealed one) and celebrates on September 8th every year.

Inside the cave there is a small tank that is filled with water from the stalactites and then begins a dangerous abyss with a great depth.

ATTENTION: It iss forbidden to enter inside the cave, beyond the railing, due to danger. The entry requires permission from the Ministry of Culture: tel. 0030 23520 43888.


The name “Sarantaskaliotissa” came from the forty steps that are carved in the steep rock, before the entrance of the cave.

These steps were probably created at the beginning of the 10th century, by order of that time of the lord of Samos Theophanes, when Saint Paul of Latros, who lived in asceticism in the area, asked him to go up to the cave of Pythagoras. Later, Saint Paul of Latros, together with his disciples, built the Church of Panagia Sarantaskaliotissa.

The nickname “Cave of Pythagoras” came from the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (580-495 BC), who, according to tradition, either used the cave as a seminary, or hid in it when he was chased by his enemies which had been revolted by the Milesian philosopher Anaximander (611-547 BC), or he isolated himself in the cave, unable to reconcile with the regime of the tyrant Polycrates.

Is Sarantaskaliotissa the Cave of Pythagoras?

There is the claim by some and the recording on some maps which say another cave is the cave of Pythagoras, and is located further north near the cave of Sarantaskaliotissa.  But if Pythagoras really used one of these two caves, it is undoubtedly Sarantaskaliotissa cave, as evidenced by research and folk tradition.

Yiannis Giagas, in his 1959 book “Pythagoras the Samian and Saint Paul the New“, after a series of arguments concludes that the cave used by Pythagoras is that of Sarantaskaliotissa, since it basically had water, it was hidden in dense bush of that time, inaccessible due to its steep location, secure and spacious. For whatever reason Pythagoras used the cave (either to hide, for contemplation, or as a seminary), Sarantaskaliotissa has a comparative advantage since it could serve every possibility.

Also, the Archbishop of Samos, Joseph Georgirinis, in the middle of the 17th century, in his book “Description of the Current Situation of Samos, Ikaria, Patmos and Mount Athos”, records that Pythagoras used as a seminary a cave with a chapel called Panagia Phaneromeni. It follows that from that time the inhabitants of the area, from whom the Archbishop had the information, believed that the cave that was used by Pythagoras is Sarantaskaliotissa.

This view is reinforced by a relevant reference in the book “The Church of Samos” by the Metropolitan John of Sidirokastro. According to him, when Saint Paul of Latros was an ascetic (about 9th century) in the area of Sarantaskaliotissa, he had an unexpected meeting with the lord of Samos island Theophanes, who was impressed by Saint Paul, and asked him how he could thank him, and he asked Theophanes to help him climb to the Cave of Pythagoras crossing the steep rock, and so τhe lord Theophanes gave the order and made the forty steps that are carved on the steep rock. Later, Saint Paul and his disciples built the Church of Panagia Phaneromeni, or Sarantaskaliotissa, as mentioned in the same book.

Why Pythagoras Used the Cave

The reason that Pythagoras used this cave is not clear.

Epamineondas Stamatiadis in his book “Samiaka” mentions that he took refuge because he was persecuted by his enemies, who had been revolted by the Milesian philosopher Anaximander. He also states that he probably left Samos voluntarily because he could not reconcile with the regime of Polycrates.

Metropolitan John of Sidirokastro describes approximately the same in his book “The Church of Samos“.

Archbishop Joseph Georgirinis of Samos, in his book “Description of the Current Situation of Samos, Ikaria, Patmos and Athos”, states that he used it as a seminary.

Edward Bren in his book “Pythagoras” wrote that “Immediately after his return, they say, he began to teach again. He taught on a natural plateau, while he and some of his select students lived in caves.” They seem to have used the caves according to their needs, purpose and occasion.

Therefore, it is most likely that the Cave of Sarantaskaliotissa was used by Pythagoras as a seminary, as a residence and a place for meditation and not as a hiding place. This is reinforced by the publicity that the event received from ancient times. Because if it had been used only as a hiding place it would have been for a short time and few would have known about it, the very trustworthy.  On the contrary, if it was used as a seminary (school), it would be known to many more, and as a result, it would remain with the people as a tradition.

From all the above it becomes clear that the tradition for the use of this cave by Pythagoras comes from the depths of the centuries and tends to prove that it is a real historical location. After all, most of the references to the life and work of this great philosopher of Samos are based on tradition.

Edward Bren writes: “We have not received any stories about Pythagoras from eyewitnesses. He did not leave his own writings." But also the professor of the University of Athens, G. Sakelariou, in his book "Pythagoras the Teacher of the Centuries", writes that “for 100 years after the death of Pythagoras nothing was written about him.”

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