According to tradition, there are about 999 churches and chapels on the island. Most probably, Panagia Krimniotissa (also referred to as Kremniotissa) is the most famous of them all. Admiring the sunset from the cliff where the church is located is one of the mandatory experiences of a holiday in Samothrace.
As you drive south from Kamariotissa, before reaching Pachia Ammos beach, you'll make out in the distance a little white building on top of a cliff. A few minutes later you'll stumble upon a sign indicating a narrow dirt road to the left. The road is about 2 kilometers long and it is not recommended for scooters. It is pretty windy and it will take you in no time to 311m above sea level.
Once you're up there look to your right and enjoy the wonderful view of the endless Aegean blue, interrupted only by the Turkish island of Gokceada (the former Greek island of Imvros).
Panagia refers to the Virgin Mary to whom the church is dedicated. Krimnos means "abyss", so Panagia Krimniotissa could be translated as "Holy Mary by the Abyss".
Between legend and history
As the legend goes, in the beginning of the 18th century, during a storm, a boat was about to sink close to the shores of Samothrace. The storm only stopped when the captain found an icon floating on the heavy seas. The same night Virgin Mary showed up in his dreams and told him to take the icon ashore. Apparently it had been thrown into the water centuries ago, during the Iconclastic period, to avoid being destroyed. The priest of Samothrace placed it in a church, but every morning the icon would disappear from there and reappear on top of a cliff. As a result, the inhabitants understood Virgin Mary's will and built a chapel in that place to house the icon.
Another version of the legend says that the icon was found in the Pachia Ammos bay by fishermen who took it into a cave and lit a candle beside it. The next day it was gone, but some shepherds who were tending to their sheep discovered it on the cliff where it is now located. They took it back to the cave, but it disappeared once again. This happened over and over: wherever it was placed, it came back on top of the cliff.
Many of the locals believe the icon to work miracles and pray to it in hard times. The old women refer to it lovingly as "grandma Krimniotissa".
According to an inscription, the present church was built in 1887. It was renovated in 1999, after a fire caused some damage.
The chapel is situated at the end of a 50 step staircase carved into rock. There's a small garden with a bench where you can sit and enjoy the surrounding silence. The building itself is very simple, painted in white. The bell hangs from a nearby tree.
There is a small taverna right where the stairway begins. Treat yourself to a break and enjoy a drink or the local food.
If you decide to pay a visit to Panagia Krimniotissa don't forget to take your camera. You'll most certainly want to capture these moments.