Athos / Holy Mountain
|Languages||Greek (main language)|
Bulgarian (in Zograf)
Romanian (in Lakkoskiti and Prodromos)
Russian (in St. Panteleimon)
Serbian (in Hilandar)
|Government||Autonomous theocratic society led by ecclesiastical council|
• Protos (Elder Monk)
|Elder Symeon Dionysiates|
|Autonomy within Greece|
• Established under the Constitution of Greece
|335.63 km2 (129.59 sq mi)|
• 2011 census
|5.40/km2 (14.0/sq mi)|
|Currency||Euro[note 1] (€) (EUR)|
|The garden of the mother of God|
|Elevation||2,033 m (6,670 ft)|
|Prominence||2,012 m (6,601 ft)|
|Criteria||i, ii, iv, v, vi, vii|
|Designated||1988 (12th session)|
Mount Athos (//; Greek: Ἄθως, [ˈa.θos]) is a mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It is governed as an autonomous polity within the Hellenic Republic, namely the Monastic community of Mount Athos under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the Agion Oros (Ἅγιον Ὄρος, 'Holy Mountain'). Other languages of Orthodox tradition also use names translating to 'Holy Mountain'. This includes Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian (Света Гора, Sveta Gora; Svyataya Gora); and Georgian (მთაწმინდა, mtats’minda). However, not all languages spoken in the region use this name; it is simply called "Athos" in Russian, Аѳонъ (Afon); and "Mount Athos" in Romanian, Muntele Athos or Muntele Atos. In the classical era, while the mountain was called Athos, the peninsula was known as Acté or Akté (Koinē Greek: Ἀκτή).
Mount Athos has been inhabited since ancient times and is known for its long Christian presence and historical monastic traditions, which date back to at least 800 AD and the Byzantine era. Today, over 2,000 monks from Greece and many other countries, including Eastern Orthodox countries such as Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, live an ascetic life in Athos, isolated from the rest of the world. The Athonite monasteries feature a rich collection of well-preserved artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value, and Mount Athos has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1988.
Although Mount Athos is legally part of the European Union like the rest of Greece, the Monastic State institutions have a special jurisdiction which was reaffirmed during the admission of Greece to the European Community (precursor to the EU). This empowers the Monastic State's authorities to regulate the free movement of people and goods in its territory; in particular, only males are allowed to enter.
The peninsula, the easternmost "leg" of the larger Chalkidiki peninsula in central Macedonia, protrudes 50 km (31 mi) into the Aegean Sea at a width of between 7 and 12 km (4.3 and 7.5 mi) and covers an area of 335.6 km2 (130 sq mi). The actual Mount Athos has steep, densely forested slopes reaching up to 2,033 m (6,670 ft).
The surrounding seas, especially at the end of the peninsula, can be dangerous. In ancient Greek history two fleet disasters in the area are recorded: In 492 BC Darius, the king of Persia, lost 300 ships under general Mardonius. In 411 BC the Spartans lost a fleet of 50 ships under admiral Epicleas.
Though land-linked, Mount Athos is practically accessible only by boat. The Agios Panteleimon and Axion Estin ferries travel daily (weather permitting) between Ouranoupolis and Dafni, with stops at some monasteries on the western coast. There is also a smaller speed boat, the Agia Anna, which travels the same route, but with no intermediate stops. It is possible to travel by ferry to and from Ierissos for direct access to monasteries along the eastern coast.
Daily visitors to Mount Athos are restricted to 100 lay Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox pilgrims, and all are required to obtain a special entrance permit from the Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau, valid for three days unless a monastery requests permission to extend it; Orthodox clergy are required to obtain a special entrance permit from the patriarchate of Constantinople. Only men are permitted to visit the territory, which is called the "Garden of Virgin Mary" by the monks. Residents on the peninsula must be men aged 18 and over who are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church and also either monks or workers.
Females are forbidden including domestic animals, the only exception being cats for their mousing abilities. The main goal being to ensure celibacy, but also because the Virgin Mary alone represents her sex on Mount Athos, which is dedicated to her glory.
As part of measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, visits to Mount Athos were suspended from 19 March 2020 until 11 May 2021.
In Greek mythology, Athos is the name of one of the Gigantes that challenged the Greek gods during the Gigantomachia. Athos threw a massive rock at Poseidon which fell in the Aegean Sea and became Mount Athos. According to another version of the story, Poseidon used the mountain to bury the defeated giant.
Homer mentions the mountain Athos in the Iliad. Herodotus writes that, during the Persian invasion of Thrace in 492 BC, the fleet of the Persian commander Mardonius was wrecked with losses of 300 ships and 20,000 men, by a strong North wind while attempting to round the coast near Mount Athos. Herodotus mentions the peninsula, then called Akte, telling us that Pelasgians from the island of Lemnos populated it and naming five cities thereon, Sane, Kleonai (Cleonae), Thyssos (Thyssus), Olophyxos (Olophyxus), and Akrothoon (Acrothoum). Strabo also mentions the cities of Dion (Dium) and Akrothoon. Eretria also established colonies on Akte. At least one other city was established in the Classical period: Akanthos (Acanthus). Some of these cities minted their own coins.
The peninsula was on the invasion route of Xerxes I, who spent three years excavating the Xerxes Canal across the isthmus to allow the passage of his invasion fleet in 483 BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, the architect Dinocrates (Deinokrates) proposed carving the entire mountain into a statue of Alexander.
Pliny the Elder stated in 77AD that the inhabitants of Mount Athos could "live to their four hundredth year" due to the fact that they eat the skin of vipers.
The history of the peninsula during latter ages is shrouded by the lack of historical accounts. Archaeologists have not been able to determine the exact location of the cities reported by Strabo. It is believed that they must have been deserted when Athos' new inhabitants, the monks, started arriving some time before the ninth century AD.
According to the Athonite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus. When the ship was blown off course to then-pagan Athos, it was forced to anchor near the port of Klement, close to the present monastery of Iviron. The Virgin walked ashore and, overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden. A voice was heard saying, "Ἔστω ὁ τόπος οὗτος κλῆρος σὸς καὶ περιβόλαιον σὸν καὶ παράδεισος, ἔτι δὲ καὶ λιμὴν σωτήριος τῶν θελόντων σωθῆναι" (Translation: "Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved"). From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women.[note 2]
Historical documents on ancient Mount Athos history are very few. It is certain that monks have been there since the fourth century, and possibly since the third. During Constantine I's reign (324–337) both Christians and followers of traditional Greek religion were living there. During the reign of Julian (361–363), the churches of Mount Athos were destroyed, and Christians hid in the woods and inaccessible places.
Later, during Theodosius I's reign (379–395), the temples of the traditional Greek religion were destroyed. The lexicographer Hesychius of Alexandria states that in the fifth century there was still a temple and a statue of "Zeus Athonite". After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, many Orthodox monks from the Egyptian desert tried to find another calm place; some of them came to the Athos peninsula. An ancient document states that monks "built huts of wood with roofs of straw [...] and by collecting fruit from the wild trees were providing themselves improvised meals."
The chroniclers Theophanes the Confessor (end of 8th century) and Georgios Kedrenos (11th century) wrote that the 726 eruption of the Thera volcano was visible from Mount Athos, indicating that it was inhabited at the time. The historian Genesios recorded that monks from Athos participated at the seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 787. Following the Battle of Thasos in 829, Athos was deserted for some time due to the destructive raids of the Cretan Saracens. Around 860, the famous monk Efthymios the Younger came to Athos.
In 908 the existence of a Protos ("First monk"), the "head" of the monastic community, is documented.
In 958, the monk Athanasios the Athonite (Άγιος Αθανάσιος ο Αθωνίτης) arrived on Mount Athos. In 962 he built the big central church of the "Protaton" in Karies. In the next year, with the support of his friend Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, the monastery of Great Lavra was founded, still the largest and most prominent of the twenty monasteries existing today. It enjoyed the protection of the Byzantine emperors during the following centuries, and its wealth and possessions grew considerably.
From 985 to 1287, there was a Benedictine monastery on Mount Athos (between Magisti Lavra and Philotheou Karakallou) known as Amalphion after the people of Amalfi who founded it. The monastery was founded with support of John the Iberian, a Georgian and the founder of the Iviron Monastery, and is thought to have influenced Latin Christian monasticism and piety.
The Fourth Crusade in the 13th century brought new Roman Catholic overlords, which forced the monks to complain and ask for the intervention of Pope Innocent III until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. The peninsula was raided by Catalan mercenaries in the 14th century in the so-called Catalan vengeance due to which the entry of people of Catalan origin was prohibited until 2005. The 14th century also saw the theological conflict over the hesychasm practised on Mount Athos and defended by Gregory Palamas (Άγιος Γρηγόριος ο Παλαμάς). In late 1371 or early 1372 the Byzantines defeated an Ottoman attack on Athos.
Serbian lords of the Nemanjić dynasty offered financial support to the monasteries of Mount Athos, while some of them also made pilgrimages and became monks there. Stefan Nemanja helped build the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos together with his son Archbishop Saint Sava in 1198.
From 1342 until 1372 Mount Athos was under Serbian administration. Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan helped Mount Athos with many large donations to all monasteries. In The charter of emperor Stefan Dušan to the Monastery of Hilandar the Emperor gave to the monastery Hilandar direct rule over many villages and churches, including the church of Svetog Nikole u Dobrušti in Prizren, the church of Svetih Arhanđela in Štip, the Church of Svetog Nikole in Vranje and surrounding lands and possessions. He also gave large possessions and donations to the Karyes Hermitage of St. Sabas and the Holy Archangels in Jerusalem. Empress Helena, wife of the Emperor Stefan Dušan, was among the very few women allowed to visit and stay in Mount Athos.
Thanks to the donations by Dušan, the Serbian monastery of Hilandar was enlarged to more than 10,000 hectares, thus having the largest possessions on Mount Athos among other monasteries, and occupying 1/3 of the area. Serbian nobleman Antonije Bagaš, together with Nikola Radonja, bought and restored the ruined Agiou Pavlou monastery between 1355 and 1365, becoming its abbot.
The time of the Serbian Empire was a prosperous period for Hilandar and of other monasteries in Mount Athos and many of them were restored and rebuilt and significantly enlarged.
Serbian princess Mara Branković was the second Serbian woman that was granted permissions to visit the area. At the end of the 15th century five monasteries on Mount Athos had Serbian monks and were under the Serbian Prior: Docheiariou, Grigoriou, Ayiou Pavlou, Ayiou Dionysiou and Hilandar
In modern times after the end of Ottoman rule new Serbian kings from the Obrenović dynasty and Karađorđević dynasty and the new bourgeois class continued their support of Mount Athos. After the dissolution of the Yugoslav Communist regime and Socialist Yugoslavia many presidents and prime ministers of Serbia visited Mount Athos.
The Byzantine Empire ceased to exist in the 15th century and the Ottoman Empire took its place.
From the account of the Rus' pilgrim Isaiah, by the end of the 15th century monasteries in Mount Athos represented monastic communities from large and diverse parts of the Balkans (Slavic, Albanian, Greek). Other monasteries listed by him bear no such designations. In particular, Docheiariou, Grigoriou, Ayiou Pavlou, Ayiou Dionysiou, and Chilandariou were Serbian; Karakalou and Philotheou were Albanian; Panteleïmon was Russian; Simonopetra was Bulgarian; Great Lavra, Vatopedi, Pantokratoros and Stavronikita were Greek; and Zographou, Kastamonitou, Xeropotamou, Koutloumousiou, Xenophontos, Iviron and Protaton did not bear any designation.
Sultan Selim I was a substantial benefactor of the Xeropotamou monastery. In 1517, he issued a fatwa and a Hatt-i Sharif ("noble edict") that "the place, where the Holy Gospel is preached, whenever it is burned or even damaged, shall be erected again." He also endowed privileges to the Abbey and financed the construction of the dining area and underground of the Abbey as well as the renovation of the wall paintings in the central church that were completed between the years 1533–1541.
This new way of monastic organization was an emergency measure taken by the monastic communities to counter their harsh economic environment. Contrary to the cenobitic system, monks in idiorrhythmic communities have private property, work for themselves, they are solely responsible for acquiring food and other necessities and they dine separately in their cells, only meeting with other monks at church. At the same time, the monasteries' abbots were replaced by committees and at Karyes the Protos was replaced by a four-member committee.
In 1749, with the establishment of the Athonite Academy near Vatopedi monastery, the local monastic community took a leading role in the modern Greek Enlightenment movement of the 18th century. This institution offered high level education, especially under Eugenios Voulgaris, where ancient philosophy and modern physical science were taught.
In November 1912, during the First Balkan War, the Ottomans were forced out by the Greek Navy.
In June 1913, a small Russian fleet, consisting of the gunboat Donets and the transport ships Tsar and Kherson, delivered the archbishop of Vologda, and a number of troops to Mount Athos to intervene in the theological controversy over imiaslavie (a Russian Orthodox movement).
In January 2008 about a dozen Greek women violated the 1,000-year ban on females during a protest over disputed land. The demonstrators, totalling some 1,000, were opposing claims by five of the community’s monasteries to some 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of land on the nearby Chalkidiki peninsula.
also called Euthymios of Thessalonike, saint; baptismal name Niketas; born village of Opso, Galatia 823/4
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After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Byzantine political influence was effectively ended, but the prerogatives of the Greek Church remained and were amalgamated by the Sultans.
At the end of the 15th century, the Russian pilgrim Isaiah relates that the monks support themselves with various kinds of work including the cultivation of their vineyards....He also tells us that nearly half the monasteries are Slav or Albanian. As Serbian he instances Docheiariou, Grigoriou, Ayiou Pavlou, a monastery near Ayiou Pavlou and dedicated to St. John the Theologian (he no doubt means the monastery of Ayiou Dionysiou), and Chilandariou. Panteleïmon is Russian, Simonopetra is Bulgarian, and Karakallou and Philotheou are Albanian. Zographou, Kastamonitou (see fig. 58), Xeropotamou, Koutloumousiou, Xenophontos, Iveron and Protaton he mentions without any designation; while Lavra, Vatopedi (see fig. 59), Pantokratoros, and Stavronikita (which had been recently founded by the patriarch Jeremiah I) he names specifically as being Greek (see map 6).