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Mount Athos

Mount Athos

Mount Athos, or Agio Oros, is the monastic center of the Greek Orthodox Church, a state-within-a-state and a living museum and spiritual center of Greece.

Mount Athos, GreeceFirst of all the bad news: If you are a woman you can't go to the monasteries of Mount Athos. Second, if you are a man, and you don't have the proper papers they won't let you on the holy mountain either. Provided you are a man and have secured the necessary papers you are in for the experience of a lifetime. Mount Athos is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth, more like a fantasy than what we know of as reality. Enormous monasteries, like castles or fortresses dot the coast and appear on the mountain slopes with every bend in the road. There are caves that still house hermits as they have for thousands of years and many simple houses or kelions that have several monks in each and a small church. There are churches with more gold than some countries have in their vaults and icons that perform miracles. There are virgin forests and animals that are found nowhere but the Holy Mountain.
There are monks from every country in the Orthodox world and even some from non-orthodox countries. The seashore is perhaps the most beautiful in the Aegean, pristine and rarely used for swimming since monks don't generally go to the beach. There are incredible gardens cared for with a love of nature and of God. For spiritual seekers Athos has the appearance of heaven on earth. Of course being a monk is not all honey and roses. It's a hard life. But it's a fantastic place to visit if you are the right type: male, spiritual in nature, respectful of tradition and adventurous.
Ouranoupolis, Greece

From the town of Ouranoupoli at the edge of the frontier between the Holy Mountain and the rest of the world there is a small boat that takes you to the port of Daphne, the official entry point for pilgrims to Mount Athos. There is one bus that goes from the port of Daphne to the town of Karyes in the center of the peninsula. There are a couple shops, one owned by my Dimitri, a friend of my family. The monks are friendly for the most part and love talking, especially hearing about life outside of the holy mountain. Be prepared to be offered a nice glass of tsipuro and then to tell your life story, as many of the monks are quite educated and speak English. The Skete of Profitti Elias was at one time known as 'the American monastery' because of the number of westerners living there.

If you are a woman, left behind in Ouranoupoli, take comfort in the fact that there are worse places to be stuck. The town has some nice restaurants and a pretty good beach and has the feel of a decadent outpost on the edge of civilization. You can also take a cruise around the Holy mountain and wave to the monks and maybe your husband or boyfriend. And if by chance he decides never to come back, don't worry. You can still write to him and be sure it will be delivered. The Holy Mountain has its own mail service of bearded monks walking the paths between monasteries, sketes and kelions, delivering the mail just like they do in your own home town. Probably better.

There are lots of Hotels in Ouranoupoli at's Ouranoupolis Page

Mount Athos Visiting Rules

Mount AthosBasic Conditions for Admission to Mount Athos In accordance with a "Chryssobul" (edict) issued by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomahos, in 1060 A.D. which still remains valid, conditions for entering the territory of Mt. Athos are as follows:
(a) A permit 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: 210 3626.894) or by the Ministry of Northern Greece, Directorate of Civil Affairs at Diiki- tiriou Square in Thessaloniki, tel. 2310 270.092. (b) Women are not admitted into the territory.
(c) Overnight stay is forbidden except for those who have proven religious or scientific interests in the area and are over 18 years old. (d) Orthodox Greeks can apply by producing their identity card at the Athos Bureau in Ouranoupolis on the right side of the port. (e) Diamonitiria (permits to stay as a pilgrim) are issued by the offices of the Athos Bureau, at Ouranoupolis. In order to get their diamonitirion visitors must show their identity cards and pay the sum of €18 (Orthodox visitors), €30 (non-Orthodox) or €10 (non-Orthodox but student). Foreign visitors also need a passport; if you are Orthodox but not Greek, you will need to prove this with a letter from a priest or a baptismal certificate. Non-Orthodox visitors should  contact the Pilgrims' Bureau (The Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau, 109 Egnatia Str., 54622, Thessaloniki, Greece; Tel. +30 2310 252578).

Dochariou Monastery, Mount Athos
Dochiariou Monastery

Mount Athos Cruise

The most intriguing place in Greece is Mount Athos. For more than 1,000 years it has been a refuge for monks, so only male visitors can  step foot on its hallowed soil, after being issued a special permit. Fortunately, the breath-taking landscapes and some of the 20 Orthodox monasteries can be seen from a boat trip.

A Mount Athos Cruise is an experience of a lifetime! It is a fabulous opportunity to feel the spiritual aura of this sacred place and admire the magnificent architecture of the Byzantine monasteries along with the majestic landscape surrounding them. It may be on most people’s top 5 list of what to do in Chalkidiki.

Mount Athos excursion is one of the most popular cruising destinations in Greece and every summer it attracts many visitors from around the world. Even if you aren’t so interested in the spiritual significance of this mysterious and miraculous place (the center of Orthodoxy for centuries), you should at least allow yourself enjoy a unique view of the monasteries which are built on a beautiful virgin landscape and have been facing the Aegean Sea for over ten centuries.
The cruise costs 20-25 euros depending on whether you take the cruise from Ouranoupolis or Ormos Panagias

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For more on Mount Athos see my story:
With Godfrey on the Holy Mountain (or The Last Temptation of Matt)

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