If you are visiting Thessaloniki you should consider taking the trip to Mount Athos. Also known as “Agion Oros” (Holy Mountain), Mount Athos is the centre of Eastern Christian Orthodox Monasticism, dedicated to prayer and worship. It is located in the third, eastern peninsula of Halkidiki. Mount Athos community consists of twenty monasteries and twelve sketes. There are 17 Greek monasteries, 1 Serbian, 1 Russian and 1 Bulgarian monastery. Sketes can be described as small villages or farms where monks live, work and worship. Each skete has a common area of worship, a church, with individual hermitages or small houses around it, each one for a small number of occupants.
Athos peninsula has always inspired people to seek spiritual enlightenment. The rugged but beautiful landscape and the turquoise see that surround it are so breathtaking and awe inspiring, that a man living here must feel closer to God and heaven. It was considered as being the first home of the Greek gods Zeus and Apollo before they moved to Mt. Olympus. Pagan hermits have lived in the deep forests since prehistoric times in the places where the ancient gods had lived.
The monasteries of Mount Athos are majestic, so it is no wonder they are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The first monastery to be founded in 963 AD was the Great Lavra, one of the first and most renowned of the monasteries, it is situated on the southeast coast of Athos. It is considered the most senior monastery and it is the first in rank of the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos.
The churches contain some of the finest examples of Byzantine art, icons and relics, the monastery libraries hold a vast number of valuable classical and medieval manuscripts. Most monasteries on Mont Athos function very much as they did in medieval times. The monks grow their own food, spend long hours each day in prayer, and rarely leave the community.
Other famous monasteries are Vatopedi Monastery which is located on the northern side of the peninsula and has an impressive library of over 10,000 printed books and about 1,700 manuscripts. Iviron Monastery, third in rank, is best known for the most famous and miraculous icon in Mount Athos, the Panagia Portaitissa, is the monastery’s prized possession.
Fourth in the hierarchy is the Hilandar Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1198 by the Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja when he gave up the throne and came to Mont Athos to live as a monk. The Monastery has been supported and populated by Serbian monks since then.
Other famous monasteries are the Simonopetra Monastery recognizable for its unique location it is built on top of a single huge rock, practically hanging from a cliff 330 metres over the sea. The Zographou Monastery is a Bulgarian monastery dedicated to St. George and St. Panteleimon’s Monastery has been inhabited for the past two-hundred-plus years by monks of Russian origin and is referred to often as the Russian monastery with the domes built in the distinct Russian style.
Mount Athos or Agion Oros forms a self-governed part of the Greek state. It is subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its political aspect, spiritually and about the religious issues to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinopole.
Though land-linked, Mount Athos is accessible by ferry boat either from the port of Ouranoupoli, for those heading to west coast monasteries or from Ierrisos for the east coast ones. It is important to know that entrance to the Athos peninsula is prohibited for women due to the strict rules and traditions of the monastic community.
The daily number of visitors entering Mount Athos is restricted and all are required to obtain a special entrance permit valid for a limited period. The permit is called a diamonētērion, a form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries. There are generally two kinds of diamonētēria: the general diamonētērion that enables the visitor to stay overnight at any one of the monasteries but only to stay in the mountain for three days, and the special diamonētērion which allows a visitor to visit only one monastery or skete but to stay as many days as he has agreed with the monks. The general diamonētērion is available upon application to the Pilgrims’ Bureau in Thessaloniki. Once this has been granted it will be issued at the port of departure, on the day of departure. Once granted, the pilgrim can contact the monastery where he would like to stay in order to reserve a bed (one night only per monastery). The ferries require reservations, both ways. The duration of the general visa can be extended by several days by personally applying at the main office in Karyes. Ask for more details about any of the aforementioned trips at our hotel’s reception.
This article was brought to you by Zaliki Boutique Hotel Thessaloniki