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
|First 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.
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 Booking.com's Ouranoupolis Page
Basic 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
(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).
For more on Mount Athos
see my story:
With Godfrey on the
Holy Mountain (or The Last Temptation of Matt)
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