"Visiting Athos, the Holy Mountain (Aghion Oros)" Top 5 Page for this destination Aghion Oros (Mount Athos) by StefanosS
Aghion Oros (Mount Athos) Travel Guide: 41 reviews and 269 photos
Visiting Mount Athos is permitted only to men. According to the regulations valid since Easter 1993, the pilgrim - visitor has first of all to obtain his special visa called "diamonitirion" by giving his name and date of visit over the phone to the "Pilgrims' Office" in Thessaloniki, tel. 2310 / 25.25.75, stating also whether he is going to sail from Ouranoupoli, Ierissos or Nea Roda. Foreigners also need a special permit issued by the "Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace" (which resides in Thessaloniki), Department of Political Affairs, tel. 2310 / 257.010. Latest news say that for some time now foreigners don't have to apply to the Ministry of Macedonia & Thrace anymore, but simply phone or fax their request to the Pilgrims' Bureau. Then mail (not fax) a copy of the passport adding statements on religion belonging and job.
Fixing the "diamonitirion" by phone must be done many days in advance, especially during vacation periods, because the total number of visitors allowed entering each day is strictly limited. Emphasis is given to the proper appearance. Activities such as singing, dancing, swimming, sunbathing are disapproved of. Concerning dress, shorts are not allowed and also, in some monasteries, entering the church with short-sleeved clothes. There are also restrictions concerning filming or video-shooting, carrying dogs and musical instruments, the entry of cars and bikes, hunting etc. Only professional vehicles are permitted in for specific reasons, after a special permission from the Holy Administration.
Taking photos is allowed subject to the following conditions: no photos inside the monasteries and cloisters without the permission ("blessing") of the Father Superior and no snapshots of monks without their consent. If you carry a cine- or video-camera, you must hand it over to the customs authorities and take it back on your departure. Upon departure there is a customs control, concerning mainly the protection of the treasures of the Holy Mountain. Entrance to the Holy Mountain is by boat. The pilgrim has to be in Ouranoupoli before 9.15am to receive his "diamonitirion" from the "Pilgrims' Office" of Ouranoupoli by presenting his passport or ID-card and to board the boat leaving the harbour at 9.45' bound for the monasteries of the north-west coast of Mount Athos, terminating at the harbour of Dafni. There is also a smaller boat three times a week which - weather permitting - leaves the harbour of Ierissos at 8.00am, calls at Nea Roda and sails off again to the monasteries of the east-coast terminating - weather permitting - at the monastery Meghistis Lavras. The pilgrim may stay as long as stated on his "diamonitirion".
The self-governed region of the Holy Mountain, according to the Decree passed by the Holy Community on the 3rd October 1913 and according to the international treaties of London (1913), Bucharest (1913), Neilly (1919), S?vres (1920) and Lauzanne (1923), is considered part of the Greek dominion. Later a "Special Double Assembly" of the Holy Community in Karies passed the "Constitutional Map" of the Holy Mountain, which was ratified by the Greek Parliament. This autonomy originates from the "self-ruled monastic state" as stated on a goat parchment signed and sealed by the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Tsimiskis in 972 AD. This important document is preserved in the House of the Holy Administration in Karies. Independence of the Holy Mountain was later granted again by Emperor Alexios Komninos in 1095 AD.
The Holy Mountain is governed by the "Holy Community" (Iera Kinotita) which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries, having as executive committee the four-membered "Holy Administration" (Iera Epistassia), with the "First" (Protos) being the head of it. Civil authorities are represented by the Civil Governor whose main duty is to supervise the function of the institutions and the public order. For religious matters, the Holy Mountain depends directly on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In each of the 20 monasteries - which today all follow the coenobitic system - the administration is in the hands of the Abbot who is elected by the brotherhood for life. He is the lord and spiritual father of the monastery. The Convention of the brotherhood is the legislative body. All the other establishments (cloisters, cells, huts, retreats, hermitages) are dependencies of some of the 20 monasteries and are assigned to the monks by a document called "homologo".
Traditional hospitality is the most touching and perhaps, today, the hardest task of the monks, because of the increasing number of pilgrims in recent years. The hospitality demand often exceeds the honest intention of the monks and the capabilities of a monastery. So it is better, before starting for a specific monastery, to confirm by a phone-call that the monastery is in a position to accommodate you. The visitor resides in the guesthouse (archondariki), and has to respect and follow the monastery's program: praying (services in church or in private), common dining, working (according to the duties of each monk) and rest. If you are on a special diet or fasting or if you want to receive the holy communion (for Orthodox Christians only) please let the guest-master (archondaris) know it in time. During religious celebrations there are usually long vigils and the entire program of the day is radically reshaped. You should ask on arrival about the day (and night) schedule. The gate of the monasteries closes by sunset and opens again by sunrise.
Monastic life in the "cells" is totally different. Some of them resemble a tidy farmhouse, others are poor huts, others have the gentility of Byzantine tradition or of Russian architecture of the past century. The monk of a cell, having to take care of every life's worry, makes up his program by himself. For the visitor, it is worth experiencing also this side of monastic life, but most of the cells have very little or no capacity for hospitality.
There are two types of "cloisters": the coenobitic skiti and the idiorythmic skiti. The first, both in architecture and life-style, follows the typical model of a monastery. In contrast, the second is rather like a small village, and daily life there is much like that of a "cell", but there are also some duties for the community. Near the centre of the settlement is the central church called "kyriako" (that could be translated "for the Sunday") where the whole brotherhood meets on Sundays and religious celebrations. Usually there are also an administration house, a library, storehouses and a guesthouse.
Of the 20 monasteries located on the Holy Mountain, 17 are Greek and the other 3 belong to other Orthodox nationalities: the Chelandariou Monastery is Serbian, the Zografou Monastery is Bulgarian and the Aghiou Panteleimonos Monastery is Russian. Among the 12 cloisters, two are Romanian, the coenobitic "Skiti Timiou Prodromou" (which belongs to the Monastery Meghistis Lavras) and the idiorythmic "Skiti Aghiou Dimitriou tou Lakou", also called "Lakoskiti" (which belongs to the Aghiou Pavlou Monastery) and another one is Bulgarian, "Skiti Vogoroditsa" (which belongs to the Aghiou Panteleimonos Monastery).
The architectural structure of the monasteries and the coenobitic cloisters consists of a cluster of sequential high buildings, which enclose an inner courtyard. These buildings were also a defensive shield and give the monasteries of Athos peninsula their characteristic castle-like appearance. There are also towers with embrasures. The portal is usually tunnel-shaped for defence purposes, and is closed by heavy iron-sheeted wooden gates. Outside and near the main entrance, there is usually a roomy kiosk with a great view. Near the centre of the paved interior courtyard is the most important part of the monastery, the central church that is called "katholikon", and opposite, to the west, there is the refectory, called "trapeza". Other basic parts of a monastery are the Assembly room and the administration offices, the guesthouse, the monks' quarters, the library, the sacristy. In front of the west entrance of the main church, there exists "Fiali", an ornate marble washstand containing holy water. Within the courtyard, there is a fountain with fresh water. Little chapels are interspersed at various points of the monastery.
The "katholikon" of the Holy Mountain is a cross-shaped building, which, besides the niche of the sanctum, possesses two additional wide niches to the north and south for the choristers. Four pillars support the high central dome. To the west side of the church, between the narthex and the outer peristyle, another room has been added, called "liti", where the "liti" service is performed.
Each monastery or cloister has a small harbour so as to receive supplies by sea. It is called "arsanas" and is often fortified by a strong, high tower.
Inside the churches, icon-stands, sacristies and libraries of the monasteries and cloisters, relics and treasures of inestimable value are kept, of devotional, artistic, historical or national importance and for the pilgrims most of them are difficult to access for security purposes.
Upon your arrival at a monastery, you may ask the guest-master if and when you may see and genuflect the relics and miraculous icons and if you may receive a kind of guided tour and information about the history of the monastery. Of course, when you pass from Karies, do not omit to visit the old church of "Protaton" with its exceptional murals and to genuflect the miraculous holy icon of Virgin Mary, called "Axion Esti", which is the household icon of the patron saint of the Holy Mountain.
You can visit my Travelogues for more information and photos of Athos, the Holy Mountain.
IMPORTANT for WOMEN
There are some daily cruises by boat around the Athos peninsula. In July and August, more than 10 little ships are travelling around it, and the prices are reasonable. If you are in Thessaloniki, the nearest harbour for starting such a trip is "Ormos tis Panaghias" in Chalkidiki. Other start points are: Tripiti, Ouranoupoli, Ierissos, Nea Roda, Kavala, Thassos... You have to ask about it. As these boats have to stay 500m away from the coast of the Holy Mountain, some times monks come to the cruise-ships with their own little boats, selling small handicrafts.
In Ouranoupoli there is a small museum just below the old tower, where you can see a number of old holy icons. The site of the museum is:
Christian Halkidiki Exhibition at Ouranoupoli
The ruins of the old monastery of Zygos, 1km south of Ouranoupoli, have been excavated recently. Although I visited it 3 years ago, when the works had just started, It seems that today the findings are interesting. Anybody can visit the site, as it is just before the borderline.
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