A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this peninsula of 390 km² houses some 1,400 monks in 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. An autonomous state under Greek sovereignty, entry into the area is strictly controlled and only male monks are allowed to live there.
The Agion Oros (Holy Mountain) is a self-governed part of the Greek state, politically subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as regards its religious aspect. The mountain is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, and by an imperial document (typicon) the avaton was established and no female may set foot on the peninsula. Most of its inhabitants are Orthodox monks living in monasteries, sketae (cloisters), cells and hermitages, and those who are not members of the clergy, such as employees, workers, but also the numerous visitors to the Agion Oros, who come for the purposes of meditation, prayer and study.
Of the 20 monasteries, one is Russian, one is Bulgarian, one is Serbian and the rest are Greek. There is also a Romanian sketae. The foreign monasteries are supported by their respective countries.
These monasteries posses holy relics, icons, frescoes and mosaics of great value. Liturgical vestments, historical texts, rare documents and manuscripts - all historical heirlooms - are kept in their libraries. Many, of course, have been lost and others were stolen during various raids.
The first to settle here were icon-worshippers, members of the clergy fleeing from the persecution of the iconoclasts. They came and lived as anchorites, unknown, and literally alone inside the caves. Later, monasteries were built and then they were organised in a monastic state. The Agion Oros became a refuge for those seeking to save their souls through fasting and praying. Even Byzantine emperors came and lived as monks here.
The right of autonomy of the Agion Orhos was granted gradually, initially by the Byzantine emperors Nikiforos Fokas and Ioannis Tsimiskis. This persisted throughout the Turkish Occupation up to this day.
During the years of enslavement it was a centre of the National Movement, and many who were wanted by the Turks took refuge there.
The common visitor can stay for free at each monastery for two days. Those who want to carry out studies can stay for as long as they want.
An entire civilisation, different from modern civilisation, is preserved not only in the libraries, but throughout this special state and its people, in peace and quiet.
A fair bit of advance preparation and battling with bureaucracy is necessary to visit Mount Athos, since only 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox visitors per day are permitted.
- A permit (diamonetirion) is required for both individuals and groups. This is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Churches (at No 2, Zalokosta Street, in Athens, tel: 3626.894) or by the Ministry of Northern Greece, Directorate of Civil Affairs at Diikitiriou Square in Thessaloniki, tel. 031/270.092.
- Women are not admitted into the territory.
- Overnight stay is forbidden to those under 18.
Diamonetiria (permits to stay as a pilgrim) are issued by the offices of Mount Athos, at Ouranoupolis (on the right side of the port). In order to get their diamonetirion visitors must show their identity cards and pay the sum of €18 (Orthodox visitors) or €35 (non-Orthodox). Foreign visitors also need a passport; if you are Orthodox but not Greek, you will need to prove this (a letter from a priest or a baptismal certificate will do).
First contact the Pilgrims' Bureau (address below). They will need plenty of notice of your proposed visit - up to six months if you plan to visit during the summer months of June, July, and August when the monasteries are full to over-flowing with Greek and Orthodox pilgrims, but as little as a few days outside the peak season.
The Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau 109 EGNATIA STR. 546 22, Thessaloniki, Greece Tel. +30 2310 252578, Fax +30 2310 222424
Once you have gained permission from the Pilgrims' Bureau you must contact each monastery where you plan to stay. Without their consent you will be turned away. A good site for further details of monasteries and how to contact each one by phone or fax is at abacus.bates.edu/~rallison/friends/friendsguide.html
The "general diamonetirion" usually granted to visitors allows you to stay a maximum of three days, visiting monasteries at will. The more rare "special diamonetirion" allows an unlimited stay at only one monastery.
The monasteries on Mount Athos can be reached only by ferry, either from Ouranoupoli (for west coast monasteries) or from Ierrisos for those on the east coast. Many visitors arrive at the port of Dafni (Daphne), from where they continue by bus to the "capital" Karyes. Smaller boats, people carriers and taxis ferry pilgrims from monastery to monastery.
It is possible to walk from monastery to monastery. The longest walk is from Agia Anna to The Great Lavra (six to seven hours). Many of the original footpaths are still clear but from time to time it will be necessary to walk on the roads.
Mount Athos has twenty monasteries:
- Great Lavra (Μεγίστη Λαύρα Megísti Lávra)
- Vatopédi (Βατοπέδι)
- Iviron (Ιβήρων)
- Chilandariou (Χιλανδαρίου, or Хиландар Hilandar in Serbian)
- Dionysiou (Διονυσίου)
- Koutloumousiou (Κουτλουμούσι)
- Pantokratoros (Παντοκράτορος)
- Xiropotamou (Ξηροποτάμου)
- Zograf (Ζωγράφου, Зограф Zograf in Bulgarian)
- Dochiariou (Δοχειάρι)
- Karakalou (Καρακάλλου)
- Filotheou (Φιλοθέου)
- Simonos Petra (Σίμωνος Πέτρα or Σιμωνόπετρα)
- Agiou Pavlou (Αγίου Παύλου)
- Stavronikita (Σταυρονικήτα)
- Zenofondts (Ξενοφώντος)
- Osiou Grigoriou (Οσίου Γρηγορίου)
- Esphigmenou (Εσφιγμένου)
- Agiou Panteleimonos (Αγίου Παντελεήμονος, or Ρωσικό Rossikon)
- Konstamonitou (Κωνσταμονίτου)
Upon arrival at a monastery, the visitor may ask the guest-master if and when they may see and venerate the relics and miraculous icons and may receive a kind of guided tour and information about the history of the monastery.
Highlights include the old church of Protaton, which has exceptional murals and a famous icon of the Virgin Mary, called Axion Esti, which is the household icon of the patron saint of the Holy Mountain.
You will eat evening meals with the monks in the monastery's refectory (trapeza). The food is often extremely basic, usually vegetarian, eaten in total silence and often with great speed — you are literally not supposed to enjoy it. Mostly you will be looking at bread, olives and vegetables, although occasionally fish, cheese or wine may be served.
It is a good idea to take additional supplies with you, to supplement the meagre diet. Energy bars, fruit, treats are good to take.
No meat is allowed on Mount Athos as the monks don't eat meat. As a visitor, you will be expected to respect this and not bring any meat products to the peninsula.
Some of the larger monasteries sell wine. Beer, wine, spirits, etc., can be purchased in Karyes or Dafni.
The only places to sleep in Mount Athos are the monasteries, which offer spartan dormitory-style accommodation in guesthouses (archontariki). Most, but not all, require advance reservations. Be sure to check in before 4:00 p.m. or risk being shut out! Simple meals are included. Most monasteries offer no bathing facilities; even those that do will not have more than a cold water shower.
No payment is expected for stays of one night, but donations are usually accepted, especially if you request and receive permission to stay longer.
Mount Athos is where monks go to escape the modern world, and as you're visiting as a guest, you have to respect their rules. Conventions vary somewhat from monastery to monastery, so when in doubt, ask the master of the guesthouse, the archontaris. In general:
- Photography of monasteries is allowed, but photography of monks or inside churches is generally prohibited without explicit permission.
- Dress respectfully: no shorts.
- While visitors are usually welcome at services, there may be space constraints in the summer high season, and non-Orthodox may not attend some services (e.g., Communion).
This page was last edited at 19:09, on 16 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Jani Patokallio, Nick Roux, Andreas Routsias, Todd VerBeek and Tom Holland, Wikitravel user(s) Sailsetter and Episteme and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.