Prefecture of Chalkidiki Things to Do Tips by magor65 Top 5 Page for this destination
Prefecture of Chalkidiki Things to Do: 51 reviews and 124 photos
enjoy the beach
The beaches of Chalkidiki are said to be the best in mainland Greece. I can assure everybody that the ones on Athos are truly picturesque. The water is crystal clear but to get deeper into the sea you must walk the first metre or two over the sharp pebbles, which makes it quite disturbing. For the same reason walking barefooted along the seashore is rather impossible, so bringing some rubber shoes is a necessity.
Since only a limited number of men and no women are allowed to enter Mount Athos, the only chance to catch a glimpse of that unique place is to go on a cruise along its eastern part. The ship must keep the distance of 500 m from the shores, but it's still really interesting to see the buildings, some close to the sea, some on inaccessible rocks. The monasteries look like huge castles and in fact one of their functions was to defend the riches and the monks against numerous enemies, like pirates or invadors.
There are usually two cruises a day departing from the port of Ouranopoulis. The trip lasts about three hours and you are given the information about the monasteries on the way in three languages: Greek, German and English. The price is 14-16 Euro, depending on the boat.
An additional attraction on the cruise might be dolphins, which often swim quite close to the ship. We were not lucky enough to see them, but we enjoyed the company of seagulls.
Only grown up men (18+) can enter Mount Athos. The procedure to obtain a permit to visit this unique place is quite long, especially for non-orthodox visitors. The number of daily visitors is limited to 100-120 orthodox pilgrims and 10 non-orthodox ones. Non-orthodox visitors must prove that their visit has some valid reason, like doing some research or other academic work. Tourism and curiosity are not considered to be good enough. Everybody must have a letter of recommendation from their embassy or academic institution. They apply for the visa in Thessaloniki. The permit is granted for maximum four days. The only chance to extend it is to try in Kaires - the capital of Mount Athos.
The last monastery seen from the boat is the Dionisiou. It was built on a rock close to the sea-shore and resembles a fortress.
Although Agion Oros has electricity, cars (not many), phones (for emergencies), going there must be like stepping back in time. Visitors enter the world of religious contemplation and mysticism and must comply with the ways of life there. They must remember that they are pilgrims, not tourists. The first sign of their respect should be clothes: long trousers and shirts with sleeves. The life of a monk is divided into three equal parts: 8 hours for prayer, 8 hours for work and 8 for rest. Visitors are expected to get up at dawn and go to bed at dusk. They must reach their destination before sunset, because then the gates close. In most monasteries they are invited to join monks for meals. Food is simple: bread, cheese, olives and vegetables. One of the monks is reading a fragment from the Holy Scripture - when he finishes, the meal is over. Pilgrims don't pay for food or accommodation, but they can contribute buying candles or icons made by monks.
The Julian calendar is still being used here, so the date is 14 days behind the rest of the world. At sunrise the clocks point to one o'clock and at sunset to twelve.
Simonospetras monastery is perched on a rock 230 m above sea level. According to the legend it was built by hermit Simonos who had a vision about its location. The builders discouraged by the natural conditions refused to work. Then Simon asked one of the monks to serve supper. The man slipped and fell into the precipice but miraculously he wasn't hurt and the supper was still on the tray. Now the workers convinced of the God's interference agreed to build the monastery.
Among the relics guarded here there is the left hand of St Marie-Magdalene. It is said to keep the natural temperature of the body.
the monastery of Pandalejmonos
Agion Oros can be called the wealthiest museum of Byzantine art on Earth. Thousands square metres of frescos, 18 thousand icons - some of which are considered miraculous. The monasteries have more gold than many states in their treasuries. But the most precious treasures are the remains of the saints. Each monastery guards some holy limbs, so in result the question arises: how many hands and legs did those saints possess :-)) ?
In the picture you can see the Russian monastery of Pandelejmonos. From afar it looks like a little town - so many buildings have grown around it. Only 5 of the 60 monks living in the Pandelejmonos are Greek. This monastery boasts of the second largest bell in the world weighing 13 000 kg.
The first monastery, Megistis Lavras, was probably founded in 963, but it is said that the first monks came here already in the 7th century to lead the lives of hermits. By the beginning of the 12th century there were as many as 40 monasteries with even 1000 monks in each of them. Today there are 20 monasteries - 17 are Greek and the other three are Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian. The number of monks living in Athos is 2000 but there are also 2000 men working in farming or doing some other jobs.
Since the 12th century no woman has entered Mount Athos. The ban comprises also children and female animals, with the exception of hens and she-cats. Even the pictures of women are forbidden. It may seem incredible, but some monks have never seen a woman. When Robert Curzon, an English traveller, came to Athos in 1840, he met a monk who was abandoned at one of the monasteries as a baby. He asked the Englishman if all women wore a halo above their heads, because the only woman whose picture he had seen was the Virgin Mary.
The ancient law forbids a "road upon which a wheel can run" between Karyes (the capital) and the rest of the world. That is why Mount Athos is accessible only by boat. In the republic itself the pilgrims can use bus transport or even taxis, but they must be prepared to cover long distances on foot, because the system of roads is not well developed.
The next monastery seen from the boat is Ksenofontos. The present building comes from the 19th century. The former ones were destroyed either by pirates or by the fire.
According to mythology Athos was a Giant. During a conflict between Gods and Giants Athos was just about to throw a rock at Poseidon, but it slipped from his hand and fell to the sea forming a piece of land, since then known as Mount Athos.
In Christian tradition the Virgin Mary, who headed for Cyprus to visit Lazarus, was forced to stop here because of the storm. She loved the place so God gave it to her. Hence it is also known as "the Garden of Virgin Mary".
The first monastery that can be seen from the boat is Dochiariu.
Directions: Mount Athos
on 'the other side'
If you happen to be in Ouranoupolis I would recommend a short walk (about 4 km) to the border of Agion Oros. Of course you can't expect to enter the Republic, but the walk itself, along some fields and gardens on one side and beautiful views of rocky seashore on the other, is a pleasure. The border is obviously guarded, although nobody seems to object to tourists peeping inside and taking pictures. We went down to the seashore and there was no fence, so it seemed possible to enter 'the forbidden land', but we didn't risk, of course. We only crossed the imaginery border line and sat down on the stones lying 'on the other side' and we posed for a picture.
Directions: the border of the monastic republic of Athos
Byzantine Tower in Ouranoupolis
The landmark of Ouranoupolis is the Byzantine Tower called Phosphorion. It was built in the 14th century by the monastery of Vatopedi to protect its farms. It must have been a target of many pirate raids.
For many years its residents were a Scottish-Australian couple of missionaires: Sydney and Joyce Loch. They devoted much of their lives to help the refugees who settled in Chalkidiki. Sydney Loch was the author of the book Athos: the Holy Mountain, which was published after his death in 1957, but is still considered to be an outstanding guide to Athos. Sydney's wife - Joyce lived in the tower until her death in 1983.
Directions: next to the harbour
Ouranoupolis is the last village before the border of the monastic republic of Athos. This is the starting point for the cruises along the eastern side of the Athos Peninsula and also the departure point for the lucky ones who have the permit to visit Agion Oros.
It was a part of Mount Athos until 1922 when fifty Greek families, refugees from Asia Minor, came to live here. Each family received a one bedroom house, ten sheep and a small plot of land. Soon other repatriates followed, but for years the village was isolated due to the lack of roads.
Ouranopupolis is a picturesque place - nice tavernas overlooking the sea, a busy little port, pretty tiny houses with wooden balconies, cobbled narrow streets and flowers of amazing colours growing everywhere.
As it is so close to the monastic republic you are bound to spot a monk - doing shopping or just taking a leave from his daily chores.
Directions: the Athos Peninsula
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