Three fingers from the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki
The three-fingered peninsula of Halkidiki is located in the far north of Greece. All three fingers are inhabited. The first two fingers are popular tourist destinations, while the easternmost of the 3 fingers is Athos – somewhat forbidden for tourist visits. Namely, on Mount Athos is the Holy Mountain. Every visitor to Athos should have several permits from Thessaloniki and one permit from one of the 2 coastal places – either Ouranopolis or Jerisos. The monastery can be reached by boat and partly on foot. Athos is the seat of 20 Orthodox monasteries. It is an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty. Only monks are allowed to live on the Holy Mountain. About 2,000 monks currently live there. The peninsula is 60 km long and 7 to 12 km wide and has an area of 390 km, with Mount Athos whose steep and densely forested slopes are up to 2033 meters high.
This monastery community was formally formed in 963, when the monk Atanasija founded the monastery “Velika Lavra” and today the largest and most important monastery on Athos. The monastery had the protection of the Byzantine emperor, so the wealth of the monastery was constantly growing. The Fourth Crusade in the 13th century brought new lords who forced monks to seek protection from Pope Innocent III, and this lasted until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. Catalan mercenaries looted it in the 14th century. The Byzantine Empire collapsed in the 15th century, so the Ottoman Empire took over the Holy Mountain. The monks had to pay large taxes, so their wealth became smaller over time. The Holy Mountain was revived in the 19th century with the arrival of monks from Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia. Each of these states took care of one of the monasteries. In 1912, during the First Balkan War, the Turks left this area. The peninsula fell under Greek rule after World War II after a brief conflict between Russia and Greece over sovereignty. The Greek constitution says Mount Athos is a political self-government made up of 20 monasteries. The capital and administrative seat is Kareja, where the seat of the governor and the representative of the Greek government is.
Legend has it that the Mother of God sailed with St. John from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Emperor Lazarus. The storm turned the ship to the then pagan Athos and the sailors were forced to anchor near the port of Clement near today’s monastery of Iviron. The Mother of God went ashore and was delighted with the beauty of the mountain. She blessed the mountain by asking her Son to turn Athos into her garden. Then someone’s voice was heard: “May this place be your heritage and the garden, paradise and heaven of salvation for those who seek salvation.” From that moment on, the mountain is the garden of the Mother of God to which other women are not allowed access. https://www.visitgreece.gr/
The Holy Mountain is unique in the world because there are no women or births
This place is unique in the world because there are no births within the territory because men are the only population. Access to women is prohibited, and females of domestic animals are not allowed (except for cats and hens that lay eggs whose yolks are used to make colors that are used in icon painting). Athos, however, was a refuge for refugees, including women during the Greek Civil War. This monastic republic has existed for more than 1000 years and has outlived both the mighty Byzantium and the centuries-old invincible Ottoman Empire.
The monasteries here have rich treasuries of invaluable medieval art treasures (including icons, liturgical tools, a cross, a codex, holy relics and other Christian relics). Greek is spoken in Greek monasteries, although other languages are spoken on the Holy Mountain, for example in Zograf Bulgarian is spoken, in the Scythians Prodromos and Laku with Romanian spoken. Today, many Greek and other monks speak English.
Although this monastic republic is territorial within the borders of Greece and all monks (regardless of nationality) have Greek citizenship, this community is still completely autonomous. Every monastery is absolutely self-governing in its internal way of doing business. Every immovable property of the monastery is inalienable and has an exemption from taxes and fees. It has a population of just over 2,000. All men are exempt from military service. The monk of Mount Athos is dying for earthly life and taking 3 basic monastic vows: abstinence from married life, obedience and poverty.
The main monasteries are Lavra, Vatopedi, Iver, Hilandar, Dionysiat, Kutlumus, Pantocrator, Xirpotam, Zograf, Dohier, Caracel, Philoteus, Simona Petra, St. Paul, Stavronikita, Xenophon, Gregory, Esfigmen-Simen, St. Panteleimon and Const. There are also 12 hermitages (smaller monastic communities on the estate). Next to the monastery there are smaller buildings, a hut and a hesychasty. Men must be over 18 years of age if they wish to become involved in monastic life. A “period of temptation” lasting 1 to 3 years should be completed.
The monasteries have been affected by fire several times so far, in August 1990 and March 2004. The damage caused by fires is quite large, unfortunately due to the lonely locations of monasteries (often on the hills) and the inability to provide proper and timely fire protection.