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Mount Athos

Mount Athos
Mount Athos is a holy mountain that has been the spiritual centre of the orthodox world since 1054, and combines natural beauty with architectural creation. It lies on a peninsula of about 50x10km in the Aegean Sea.

The area, which is forbidden to women and children, includes 20 monasteries. They have been influential on religious architecture and iconographic painting. The Monastery of Great Lavra is the first monastery built and the most prominent. Its library has one of the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world.

Mount Athos is also home to 12 "sketes", communities of Christian hermits.


John Booth (New Zealand):
My visit to Mount Athos involved a long bus ride from Thessalonika to Ouranoupolis, a small town close to the border of Mount Athos. From here I took a boat along the coast of the Mount Athos territory, passing the Greek border post and continued past several exotic looking monasteries as far as the mountain itself.

Inevitably I did not actually set foot on Mount Athos.
Date posted: October 2015
Bojan (Serbia):
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.
Solivagant (UK):
If you want to visit Mt Athos have a look at the following site
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!

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Site info

Mount Athos
Country: Greece
Inscribed: 1988
Mixed Heritage
Criteria:  (1) (2) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Category: Religious structure, Christian

Site history:
1988 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism

In the news:
» Fire at Mount Athos spreads (09-08-2012).

Related links:
» Inside The 'Holy Mountain': Exploring The Unseen World Of Mount Athos.
» Walking on Mount Athos.
» Athos photographs.
» The Friends of Mount Athos.
» In Athos.
» Sacred sites.

Related Forum posts:
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Vernacular architecture .
Canals . Crown Jewels . Cultural sites connected to Cliffs . Libraries . Mosaic art . Ossuary .
Cultural sites damaged by fire since inscription .
Critically endangered fauna species . Gray Wolf . Seals .
Aegean Sea . Individual Mountains . Mediterranean shore . Peninsula .
Byzantine Empire and Civilization .
Human Activity
Musical Notation . Piracy .
Individual People
Le Corbusier . Prince Charles .
Religion and Belief
Christian Pilgrimage Sites . Fortified religious buildings . Marian Shrines . Relics from John the Baptist . Russian Orthodox churches outside Russia . Sacred Mountains .
Built in the 11th century . Late Pleistocene .
Discriminatory Entry Policies . Visitor Limits .
WHS Hotspots
Thessaloniki hotspot .
WHS on Other Lists
Biodiversity hotspot . Natura 2000 .
World Heritage Process
Mixed sites inscribed on 5 or more criteria .

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