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MOUNT ATHOS

This peninsula rising from the clear blue-green waters to 2.033 meters at its peak, surrended in the mysteries of time. It was founded in 885 and given to the Church by Basil the 1st but the first monastery was built eighty (80) years later. Approximately 100 years later it was decreeted that no «smooth face» i.e. female could set footon the holy ground and this law is still in force today.

HISTORY

According to Greek mythology Athos was the name of one of the Gigantes that challenged the Greek gods during the Gigantomachia. Athos threw a rock against Poseidon which fell in the Aegean sea and became the Athonite Peninsula. According to another version of the story, Poseidon used the mountain to bury the defeated giant.

MONASTERIES

  • MEGISTI LAVRA: It was built in 963 by St. Athanasius the Athonite, with the financial support of the emperors Nikephorus Phocas and Ioannis Tzimiskes. During the ten centuries of its existence, the monastery has always held the first place among the other monasteries of the Holy Mountain, partly because of its wealth, partly because of the heirlooms stored there (manuscripts, historic documents, chysobulls, portable icons etc).
  • VATOPEDI: It was built during the second half of the 10th c., by three monks, Athanasius, Nicholas and Antonius from Adrinople, who were the pupils of St. Athanasius of Lavra. From then onwards several buildings have been constructed, but the most important ones, were those built during the Byzantine period, and on the 18th as well as the 19th c, when the monastery reached its highest peak.
  • IVIRON: Third in precedence among the twenty monasteries of the Holy Mountain, the monastery was built in the end of the 10th c. by the Georgian (Iberes) monks Ioannis and Euthymius in the place where there was before the monastery of Clement. The 16th c. has been a period of prosperity for the monastery, and, as result, it has been decorated with splendid painting works (the Katholicon frescoes etc).
  • CHELANDARI: The history of the monastery begins in the 10th c but, after its ruin, the emperor Alexius III, in 1198 granted it to the Serbian rulers Stefan Nemanja and his son Rastko, who became monks (Symeon and Sava respectively) who proseeded to the construction of new buildings. During the 14th c, the monastery reached its highest peak, accumulating riches and heirlooms from imperial as well as private donations.
  • DIONYSIOU: It was built in the middle 14th c. by the monk Dionysious of Koryssos in the Kastoria precinct, with the financial support of the emperor Alexius III Comnenos of Trapezous. In 1535 the monastery has been destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and from then onwards its architecture and buildings remain unaltered. It is one of the most bold architechtural structures, built on a rock, high above the sea.
  • KOUTLOUMOUSIOU
  • PANTOKRATOR: It is built by the sea, in the N.E. side of the peninsula and is dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. The Katholicon follows the athonite type and has frescoes of the 14th c. that were painted over in 1845. The monastery has 15 chapels, the most important of which is that of the Dormition of Virgin. Among the Kellia of the monastery, the most important are of the Ravdouchou, possibly of the 10th c. and the Dormition of the Virgin, named Axion Esti after the namesake icon.
  • XILOPOTAMOU: It is dedicated to the 40 Martyrs. The Katholicon was built in 1761 by the monk Caesarius Daponte and decorated with frescoes in 1783. The monastery has several chapels and a few kellia. The monastery was founded in the end of 10th c., possibly by the monk Pavlos Xeropotaminos.
  • ZOGRAFOU: It is dedicated to St George. The Katholicon was built in the beginning of the last century and follows the athonite type. The monastery has eight chapels inside and eight chapels outside of it. It also owns two workshops in Karyes and the Kelliou of Transfiguration. Finall, it was founded in the 10th c. by three brothers, Moses, Aaron and Ioannis from Achris.
  • DOCHIARIOU: It is one of the most elegant and beautiful monasteries of the Holy Mountain, sited by the sea. One sees first the Refectoty (old and new) and ends at the uppermost point on a high tower which dominates the place. The Katholikon, which is equally high, has been built over the walls of the older church. The monastery was founded during the second half of the 10th c.; its foundation is attributed to Euthymios, a pupil of Saint Athanasius of the Great Lavra.
  • KARAKALLOU: It is located between the monasteries of Great Lavra and Iviron, on a slope by the sea and is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Inside the fortified enclosure, there is the Katholikon of athonite type, built in mid 16th c. and decorated with frescoes in the early 18th c. The monastery has 7 chapels, 4 Kellia in Karyes, and 14 Kellia in the forest to the S.W. of it.
  • FILOTHEOU: The monastery lies in a paltean, a little above the monastery of Karakallou about 2.5 hrs from Karyes and is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin. The Katholicon is built shortly before the mid 18th c. and decorated with frescoes after the mid 18th c. The monastery has 8 chapels and 13 kellia, one of them at Karyes. The monastery was founded in the last quarter of the 10th c. but only in the end of the 11th c. takes the form of a monastery.
  • SIMONOS PETRAS: The seven-stored monastery of Simonopetra is the most bold construction of the peninsula, and is dedicated to the birth of Christ. The name comes from the founder of the monastery, Hosios Simon, who lived in Athos in the mid 14th c. The Katholicon was built after the last fire and has no frescoes. The monastery has 15 chapels and 5 Kellia in Karyes.
  • AGIOU PAVLOU: It is situated in the west foot of Athos, 20 min from the sea and is dedicated in the Presentation of Christ to the temple. The monastery was destroyed many times by various causes, and its buildings belong to different periods. The Katholicon was built shortly before the mid 10th c. It has 12 chapels, the most important of which is that of St George, with frescoes of the Cretan School (1555). The monastery also possesses the Nea Skete and the Skete of St. Demetrius.
  • STAVRONIKITA: It is one of the smallest monasteries of the Holy Mountain following however the traditional architecture, with the Katholicon in the middle, the Refectory on the first floor of the southern wing and many chapels as well as a built aqueduct which supplies the monastery with water. South of the Katholicon rises the defensive tower, while around the monastery there are several auxiliary buildings and the arsenal.
  • XENOFONTOS: It is built by the sea, between the monasteries of Docheiariou and St Panteleimonos, and is dedicated to St George. The Katholicon is built in the early 18th c. and has no frescoes. In the old Katholicon, there are remarkable frescoes of the Cretan painter Antonius (1544) as well as the wooden-curved templum of the 17th c. The monastery possesses 14 chapels, 8 of which are inside the monastery.
  • GREGORIOU: It is built by the sea, in the S.W. side of the peninsula, between the monasteries of Dionysiou and Simonopetra and is dedicated to St Nicholas. The Katholicon is built and painted after the mid 18th c. The monastery has 10 chapels and 4 kellia in Karyes. The monastery is built during the 14th c.
  • ESFIGMENOU: It is built by the sea and surrounded by a rectangular wall which forms a rathwer spacious courtyard. In the middle one sees the Katholicon and around, the wings with the monks' cells, the guest-house and the refectory, which is a semi-detached building in the west wing, west of the Katholicon.
  • AGIOU PANTELEIMONOS: It is built in a bay near the Xenophontos monastery, from the side of Siggitikos and is dedicated to its namesake Saint. It gives the impression of a small city with its many-stored buildings and the churches' tall cupolas. The Katholicon is built in the early 19th c. and its frescoes are typical of the russian art. The monastery has 15 chapels and 5 kellia, 2 of them at Karyes.
  • KONSTAMONITOU: It is 30 min from the sea, in the side of Siggitikos and is dedicated to St Stephen. The Katholicon is built after the mid 19th c. following the athonite type, over the ruins of the old Katholicon. The monastery has 9 chapels.
  • CHURCH OF THE PROTATON (KOIMISI THEOTOKOU)

VISITING PROCEDURE

Entry to the mountain is usually by ferry boat either from the port of Ouranoupoli (for west coast monasteries) or from Ierrisos for those on the east coast. Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamonA"tA"rion, 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. 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 they would like to stay in order to reserve a bed (one night only per monastery). The ferries require reservations, both ways.

Most visitors arrive at the small port of Dafni from where they can take the only paved road in the mountain to the capital Karyes or continue via another smaller boat to other monasteries down the coast. There is a public bus between Dafni and Karyes. Expensive taxis operated by monks are available for hire at Dafni and Karyes. They are all-wheel drive vehicles since most roads in the mountain are unpaved. Visitors to monasteries on the mountain's western side prefer to stay on the ferry and disembark at the monastery they wish to visit.

PROHIBITION OF ENTRY FOR WOMEN

Monks feel that the presence of women slows their path towards spiritual enlightenment, though they deny that the prohibition is in order to reduce sexual temptation. Female domestic animals are also forbidden, with the exception of cats and chickens, which lay eggs that provide the fresh egg yolk needed for the paint used in iconography.

 

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