Mount Athos -commonly known as the Holy Mountain- is the spiritual capital of the Orthodox Christian world, consisting of 20 monasteries, 12 skites, and about 700 houses, cells or hermitages and approximately 2,000 monks. The “Garden of Virgin Mary” is the paradise of the eastern peninsula of Halkidiki! The Monastic State of the Holy Mountain is known to be the main carrier of Orthodox Christianity and holds spiritual glory and great history. It is a religious community with 1.000 years old monasteries, cells in caves or between the rocks, towers, domes, belfries, chants, etc. It is listed in UNESCO’s WORLD HERITAGE MONUMENTS.
Boat cruise to Mount Athos
Even though women are not allowed inside Mount Athos, all visitors (men and women) can admire the magnificent monasteries by cruising along the west coast of Athos peninsula. Daily Boat Cruises, depart from Ouranoupoli (East Coast) and Ormos Panagias (Sithonia).
Following the Protocol of the monastic state, that says that only men are allowed visiting Mount Athos. Visitors should contact Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos Pilgrims’ bureau offices in order to obtain a written permit, prior to their visit. This is a mandatory procedure since the number of visitors is limited to only ten permits a day for non-orthodox visitors (foreigners) and 100 for Greeks and Orthodox visitors. Women can cruise along the west coast of Mount Athos and admire that beauty of nature and the monasteries.
According to the written rules of Mt Athos, it's forbitten for women to enter by any means or stay anywhere in the monastic state. This prohibition is called Αvaton in Greek. Ant breach of the rule is a punishable offence, because Mt Athos is dedicated to one woman whom all the monks honor and pray to; the Blessed Mary.
Mythology - History
According to Greek mythology, the name Athos belongs to a Thracian giant. During the battle of Gods versus Giants, Athos threw a huge rock against Poseidon. The rock slipped through his fingers and fell into the sea creating a huge block of land which is now known as Mount Athos. However, on a different version of the story, it was Poseidon who threw the rock against Athos. The rock crushed Athos and buried him underneath. This rock is now called Mount Athos.
Up to the 3rd century B.C., there were quite a few small Greek towns in the peninsula of Athos however as years gone by these cities decayed. Thus, the area remained deserted for many centuries.
Tradition indicates that Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist encountered a stormy sea, on their way to visit Lazarus in Cyprus and they were forced to seek a shelter in a port, which is now the Holy Monastery of Ivira. The Virgin Mary, admired the wild beauty of the place and asked God to give her the mountain as a present. Then our Lord responded: “Let this place be your lot, your garden and your paradise, as well as a salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation”. Since then, Mount Athos is called "The Garden of the Virgin Mary". The first monks arrived in Mount Athos during the 5th century AD, looking for a secluded place to worship God and find their peace on Earth.
Mount Athos state
Mount Athos is a self-governed territory of the Greek state (regarding its religious aspect it is subject to the Ecumenical Patriarch), following the old customs and the bill of rights. The executive authority is exercised by four members of Holy Supervision and the legislative authority is exercised by twenty members of the Holy Assembly, to which all monasteries are subject. The Superior of the Holy Supervision represents the first monastery in hierarchical order and is called “Protos” (First) or “Protoepistatis” (First Supervisor). All members are elected by the monks with democratic procedures. The political leader of Mount Athos is elected by the Greek State and is subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Karyes is the administration of Mount Athos. It is the capital of the monastic community of Mount Athos, home of Proton (First), Holy Supervision, Holy Assembly. Karyes is a picturesque village, in the middle of the peninsula and has a magnificent view over the eastern Aegean coasts. It’s a community of residences (konaki) with workshops, shops, hostels and restaurants as well as a police station, a local clinic and a post office.
The monks follow the old Julian calendar (13 days later) and the Byzantine time (O during the sunset, apart from the monks of Monastery Iviron, who count the hours based on the sunrise). Monasteries are closed by sunset and open again at sunrise. Before sunrise, the bell of every monastery rings the bell calling his brothers to the matins.
Mount Athos’ s architecture & art
Monasteries are built under the style of Byzantine architecture. The buildings are constructed with massive walls to create a defensive shield from pirates or other conquerors like a fort, giving Athos a castle appearance. In the middle of the structure there is a courtyard, which includes the “katholiko” (cardinal monastery), the trapeza” (refectory), “phiale” (the basin for the blessing of the waters) and chapels.
Next to the central church you will find the bell-towers and the domes. What is more, “Archontaki” is the guest room of all monasteries which have also the “arsanas”, a small port that only monks have the access.
The Athonian monasteries hold invaluable art treasures while at the same time form a cultural center for almost one thousand years. There are numerous painting collections and portable icons as well as mosaics and sculptures from the medieval years. All pieces of art are precious and unique holding a sacred story that traveled through the years.