A center of Orthodox spirituality for some 1,000 years, Mt. Athos in Northern Greece is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holy ground with forbidden access to women and children. So if you are one, sorry, but this place is too old-fashioned to allow you visiting privileges. In any case, the history and traditions of Mt. Athos are worth a look into, even if you cannot visit.
The area’s twenty monasteries are today inhabited by some 1,400 monks. Tucked away in a rich forested area with steep rocky accents, these houses of worship have been self-administered since the Byzantine times and serve as a conservatory of historical art, documents, and rare surrounding plant life.
Situated in the eastern Halkidiki Peninsula, Mt. Athos stretches some 50 km and its highest peak reaches over 2,000 meters in height. The area’s natural beauty is simply breathtaking, so it’s no wonder why it was chosen to host a number of holy houses of God. The village of Karyes serves as the area’s capital, while the village of Daphne as the port.
Local architecture here includes a number of traditionally designed structures including, aside from the 20 monasteries, a dozen sketae, and a number of kellia, kathismata, warehouses and isolated towers used to protect the area from unwanted intruders. The main churches within each monastery are called katholika. They are each built in a cross-in square-shape featuring a narthex, naos, and sanctuary. The monasteries here also include a number of small chapels each, monk cells, dining halls, and guesthouses.
Exerting a lasting influence in the Orthodox world of the past and present, the religious architecture and iconography style cultivated on Mt. Athos has reached Crete, the Balkans, and as far as Russia. Icons, embroideries, manuscripts, traditional attire, and gold artifacts are housed and protected inside. Most of the monasteries also have their own stone boathouse used to store cargo, as well as waterside kiosks used for meetings and meditation.
A few monasteries dotting the coastline of Mt. Athos include the monasteries of Megisti Lavra, Vatopedion, Stavronikitas, Dionysos, Pantokrator, Koutloumousion, and Hilandarion. Aside from the 20 monasteries, Mt. Athos also includes 700 houses and cells, as well as a number of karoulia cells, which cling onto a steep cliff by the sea.