|Jorge Sanchez (Spain):|
Mount Athos is a unique place in Greece, in Europe and in the world. There are twenty Christian Orthodox monasteries; seventeen are Greek, there is one Russian, one Serbian and one Bulgarian.
First of all I have to inform you that the Mount Athos is forbidden for women and female animals! Only men are allowed to get in with much difficulty after applying to the religious authorities in Athens or Thessalonica. They only issue ten permissions daily and only for a stay of four days. The Peninsula of Khalkidhiki, in the Aegean Sea, has three “fingers”: Kassandra, Khersonisos Sithonia, and the third is called Agion Oros, or Mount Athos, a religious place which first monastery was founded in the IX century. Today (I wrote this in 1984) the monk’s population is about 1600, but in the past it lodged a maximum of 5000 monks.
Apart from the official twenty monasteries, there is what they call skites, or monk’s houses in an abbey’s area, and Hermitages for monks fasting. In Ouranoupolis, every morning there is boat to the port of Dafne. Overland is not possible. After you pass the control you can board it. Once in Dafne you still have to go until Kariai, or Karies, where you present your permission to the religious authorities and then you are free to visit any of the twenty monasteries during only four days. (I was exceptionally lucky to visit ten monasteries during ten days!). The trekking between monasteries is very pleasant and only takes you about four or five hours. On the way you see many wild flowers, blossom trees, butterflies, etc. You cross mountains, gorges, forests, beaches... Somehow it reminded me the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, in Spain.
As soon as you arrive to a monastery there is a monk of charge of the visitors who will show you a room where you can spend the night (only one in every monastery, no more) and the dining room where there is always a cup of ouzo and baklava (sweets) as a sign of welcome. Afterwards he will inform you about the mass schedules and other activities. During the meals a monk reads in loud voice fragments of the Bible. Wine is allowed to drink. For you guidance, everything is free. Money is a vile material in Mount Athos.
Dionysius was the most intimate monastery that I visited because the monks allowed me to share their work in the kitchen and in the garden picking up vegetables at the same time that we discussed religious themes. Magistis Lavras, with its colossal size, is the greatest in Aghion Oros. Saint Panteleimon, or Panteleimonos, the Russian, with its Byzantine cupules, was another amazing monastery where I spent one night. There lived monks coming from Sergiyev Posad, from Valaam Monastery (in one island in the Ladoga Lake), and from the Islands Solovetskiye. Simono Petras, with the balconies resembling the Potala Palace in Lhasa, and located in a rocky cliff facing the sea, was my favourite monastery because it was the first that I visited and I was excited to be in such a fantastic part of the world.
Each monastery is a wonder and contains an incredible amount of precious gems, marvellous frescos, old icons, golden lamps, ancient manuscripts, kings’ presents, etc., apart from the fantastic architecture. If you multiply for twenty all these riches, then the treasures in Mount Athos are beyond imagination.
Everything and every moment is special in Mount Athos; the nature, the birds, the wind... That journey helps you to appreciate life more deeply.
|Date posted: July 2013|
|I visited Mt. Athos two times in the past four months. My first visit was planed and I went with a larger group of my countryman. Ladies stayed in Jerisos and the men went on to Chilandaris. The whole experience for me was amazing. While waiting for the ferry one can hear many different languages and get first gimps of Mt. Athos by noticing many monks hading towards one of the monasteries. By little details in their robes and gear you can tell if they belong to Greek, Serbian, Romanian or some other Orthodox church. All this is taking place under huge Byzantine tower. The village of Ouranopolis has all the tourist could need but still you can feel “something different” close by.|
The ferry ride was also interesting since we could see shores of Mt. Athos and also there were these sigils that followed the ferry and were eating from the peoples hands while making almost complete stops in the mid air!
We arrived to the little port which belongs to the Bulgarian monastery (I think) were a mini van waited for us. It took us on the dirt road for some 30 minutes and we could see Chilandaris from the distance. The monastery is on the foot of the mountains and it is few kilometers away from the coast on the opposite side from where we landed. First that I noticed were remains of the fire that happened in the monetary few years back. It was much worst than what I was expecting. Also visible were two cranes working on rebuilding the monastery. We were greeted by a monk who told us about daily routine, we were offered Greek coffee, Turkish delight and water. We were than given rooms in the guest house which is outside monastery walls, the rooms were simple but the whole building was very nice. Several of us took a walk around the monastery and up to the see. We saw several interesting places like giant guard tower build by one of the Serbian kings, several road chapels and another spots that are very interesting to our history.
I am not the artistic type, but the colors and the nature all around us was amazing.
I like history and was astonished by the details that were all around us. For example there was an original crest from one of our famous kings, king Lazar who died in Kosovo battle some 600 yrs ago.
But the spiritual experience was even more impressing. Monks did not talk too much, just a few simple words if they had to. They were going on their daily business and it was like we don’t exist. Except for few monks who did spent some time talking to us. But that silence was more than any conversation in my case. During the prayer that started at 3:30 am and lasted to almost 8 am the whole reason that this place existed was more than obvious. 800 hundred years of constant prayer, prayer for the entire world! I noticed steps into the church which were large marble stones with caving in the middle made by centuries of people walking in and out from the prayer. For me this whole experience was so impressive that I could write a book.
My second visit to Mt. Athos was totally unplanned. I was on vacation with my family on Holiday when I ran into a college friend of mine who helped me and another friend get visa (in short time) for a Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon. I was very happy to go back to Athos.
St. Pantheleimon is further than my last visit so I got to see several other monasteries. This monastery is huge and as a reply to the previous message it is very much alive today. There were over fifty monks of all ages, but mostly younger. There were cranes and many workers rebuilding the whole place. This visit was also very impressive and with many stories.
For the two days that I was there it was very memorable!
Another interesting thing is that during both of these visits I met many different people and impression that this monastic community left on them was also visible.
|Date posted: August 2006|
|Klaus Freisinger (Austria):|
It seems that it hasn´t become much easier to visit Mount Athos than it was decades ago, and if you happen to be female, it´s evidently impossible. But there is a way to see Athos from the sea, which should be enough for most people who aren´t obsessed about Byzantine history and Orthodox monasteries (although these are very interesting), and that is to take a cruise alongside the Athos peninsula, making many monasteries perfectly visible from the ship. These cruises can be easily arranged in the tourist areas of the Chalkidiki Peninsula, and usually take in a break in the pretty port of Ouranopolis.
I don´t really understand why the area was also inscribed as a natural site, since I didn´t notice any particularly noteworthy natural monuments, but Athos´ importance from a historical, political (an autonomous community for almost a thousand years!), religious, and cultural perspective is undeniable.
Nevertheless, I hope to be able to see Athos from the "inside" sometime in the future when they relax the rules. Until then I think I won´t count it as a visited WH site.
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
If you want to visit Mt Athos have a look at the following site http://abacus.bates.edu/~rallison/friends/
You need a permit and visitors are limited to 100 bona fide pilgrims a day – and there a hundreds of monks from Russia waiting to visit some of them! You also need to reserve accommodation at many of them – there are even telephone numbers on the site to do so!
I visited Mt Athos in 1965. Fresh out of university I had reached Thessalonika clutching a letter of introduction from my university professor (although my subject had nothing to do with religion or Greece!). This had to be taken to the British Consul. There I had to fill in a form saying why I wanted to visit Mt Athos and what I wanted to see – I “winged” the replies with the confidence of youth! They then gave me a sealed envelope containing their "support" to take to the Greek Ministry of Northern Departments (I think it was). They in turn gave me 3 sealed letters - 2 to hand in at the capital of Mt Athos, Karyes, and 1 to take to the police (on the other side of Thessalonika of course!). The police took this letter, filled in another form and gave it to me. Next day by bus to Tripiti and, after sleeping on the beach, on by early morning boat to Daphni - the harbour for Mt Athos (I remember I had to change out of shorts on the boat - uncovered arms or legs were not allowed on Mt Athos even for men!) I walked up to the “capital” Karyes where another visit to police was required followed by a visit to the "Ecclesiastical authorities" - who relieved me of 50 drachma and gave me a lovely coloured certificate of authorisation with an Athos "postage stamp" - which I still have. The 50 drachma was a lot to a student travelling on very little but it did provide entrance to the monasteries for my 5 day stay and all food and lodging which was given "free".
I was then able to walk wherever I wanted on the mountain. In the evening I would turn up at a monastery and would be given either place in a dormitory or occasionally a room with a simple bed (no reservations in those days!). At some monasteries meals were taken with the monks and were accompanied by prayers and bible reading throughout! The coastal scenery on the walks was very fine. Occasionally one would pass an anchorite’s hut or meet monks walking between monasteries. I remember that some friends I had joined up with and I were “caught” by a passing monk as we were "naked bathing" in one of the bays – so much for the “bare leg” taboo - but he didn't seem to mind!
Among the monasteries visited were Iveron, Grand Lavra, Dionysus (by boat) and finally Pantelemion. This latter a Russian Orthodox monastery staffed in those days by just 23 ageing Russian monks whereas it had originally held 4000 (the arrival of further monks from Russia was prevented by the politics of the day). At each we visited the chapel and were shown the relics. At some we attended the service. The library at Grand Lavra was particularly fine. The refectories were usually among the most finely decorated rooms in order to remind the monks whilst they ate – I remember in 1 each monk crossed himself towards 1 of the paintings after each mouthful.
So, 40 years on I wonder if it is much different? Can anyone tell me? 40 years is not long after all in the history of Mt Athos! But the web site talks of roads and taxis which doesn’t sound good. The pressures of outside life and of the growth of travel must be having some influence. The end of the Cold War at least sounds to have impacted the Russian Orthodox monasteries. And the pathways sound to be as idyllic as they were for me in that long past summer of 1965!
Have you been to Mount Athos? Share your experiences!