Mount Athos, which is forbidden to women and children, is the oldest surviving monastic community in the world. An Orthodox spiritual centre since 1054, Mount Athos is governed by its own local administration. Also called the Holy Mount since it’s completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. Everyone who visited it is impressed by it’s unspoilt natural beauty and the relaxing atmosphere.
Since I am not a man and I don’t have the guts to get dressed as a man and snuck into a monastery, I will never have the chance to visit this place. Fortunately my friend Panagiotis, who happens to be a really good photographer, visited recently Mount Athos and let me share with you the photos of the mysterious land where myth is entwined with history and miracles mingle with reality. Let’s enjoy the journey to the Holy Mount Athos through the stunning photos of Panagiotis Karousos.
Mount Athos is located in the third and most beautiful peninsula of Chalkidiki, 140 km away from Thessaloniki. Visitors can go by road (by private car or by bus) from Thessaloniki to Ierissos, Nea Roda or Ouranoupolis where they can take a boat.
Because of its isolation Mount Athos has remained one of the most unspoilt parts of Greece.
An ancient law forbids a “road upon which a wheel can run” to be built between Karyes and the rest of the world. Mount Athos treasures its isolation and is only accessible by boat.
The Holy Mount is about 50 km in length, 8 to 12 Km in width and it covers an area of about 350 square km.
Today there are 20 monasteries of which 17 are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian. There are also twelve Skites (similar to monasteries but much smaller), a large number of Kellia (large farm houses), Kalyves (smaller houses), Kathismata (small houses for a single monk) and Hesychasteria (hermitages or caves in desolate cliff faces, for the most austere hermits).
The stunning natural scenery and the imposing architecture impress any visitor. It is as if the monastic part of the Byzantine world has been preserved in this quiet, full of mysticism corner of the world.
The monasteries are full of an unimaginable wealth of unique treasures, ranging from wall to portable ancient icons (many of them adorned in gold, many of them miraculous), gold objects, rare mosaics, embroideries and illuminated manuscripts which each monastery jealously preserves.
Despite the reason the Athos monasteries where built in the honor of a woman, the Virgin Mary, the entrance to women is forbidden. However, some women dared to visit it without being noticed.
You want to visit it? Just to warn you, it won’t be easy unless you are an orthodox.
If non orthodox want to visit mount Athos they have to have a letter of recommendation from their embassy or an academic institution. They must also write the reason for their visit, the only accepted reasons are pilgrimage and study. But it’s not enough, they must submit the two letters and their passport at least a month ahead of the desired date of the visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Churches in Athens, or to the Ministry of Northern Greece, Directorate of Civil Affairs in Thessaloniki. If they get the authorization they are permitted to stay for 4 days, maximum.
Orthodox Greeks can simply apply by producing their identity card at the Athos Bureau in Ouranoupolis (on the right side of the port).
Daily only 120 Orthodox pilgrims and 10 non Orthodox are allowed to enter. Sounds a really exhausting and long lasting procedure but everyone who visited Mount Athos claims it totally worth it.
Food and a bed to sleep are provided entirely free, although the conditions are basic and visitors are expected to conduct themselves according to certain standards.
Women can only admire this place from distance, by having a boat tour. Very few women in the past dared and achieved to enter secretly the forbidden Holy Mount.
The first attempt was made in 1346 and the “guilty” was the wife of the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan, Helen.
In 1850, the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Stratford Canning, visited Mount Athos but this time exceptionally and with prior authorization. But this was the last authorization ever given to a woman.
There are three more officially recorded incidents of women that have tried and succeeded in the thousand year old history of Mount Athos to violate the asylum.
In 1929, a French journalist, Maryse Choisy, dressed as a man and stayed there for a month and wrote a book about her experiences.
In 1932, Aliki Diplarakou, “Miss Europe of 1930”, an interesting and educated woman that spoke fluent English, French and Italian, disguised herself as a man and snuck into a monastery. She was publicly cursed and anathematized by Patriarch Photios II.
In 1953 a 22-year-old Pontiac woman from Thessaloniki, Maria Poimenidou, “slipped” into the forbidden Mount and stayed there for two days. I can admit she looks really good as man, good job.
Her invasion was the reason for a low that imposed an imprisonment for up to one year for offenders to be voted.