Mount Athos -commonly known as the Holy Mountain- is the spiritual capital of the Orthodox Christian world, consisting of 20 monasteries, 12 skites, and about 700 houses, cells or hermitages and approximately 2,000 monks. The “Garden of Virgin Mary” is the paradise of the eastern peninsula of Halkidiki! The Monastic State of the Holy Mountain is known to be the main carrier of Orthodox Christianity and holds spiritual glory and great history. It is a religious community with 1.000 years old monasteries, cells in caves or between the rocks, towers, domes, belfries, chants, etc. It is listed in UNESCO’s WORLD HERITAGE MONUMENTS.
Even though women are not allowed inside Mount Athos, all visitors (men and women) have the opportunity to admire the magnificent monasteries from the boat. Boat cruises depart daily from Ouranoupoli (East Coast) and Ormos Panagias (Sithonia).
Following the Protocol of the monastic state, only men are permitted to visit Mount Athos. Visitors should contact Holy Executive οf the Holy Mount Athos Pilgrims’ bureau offices in order to obtain a written permit, prior to their visit. This is a mandatory procedure since the number of visitors is limited to only ten permits a day for non-orthodox visitors (foreigners) and 100 for Greeks and Orthodox visitors. Women can cruise along the west coast of Mount Athos and admire that beauty of nature and the monasteries.
According to the written rules of Mt Athos, it's forbitten for women to enter by any means or stay anywhere in the monastic state. This prohibition is called avaton in Greek. Ant breach of the rule is a punishable offence, because Mt Athos is dedicated to one woman whom all the monks honor and pray to; the Blessed Mary.
Mythology - History
According to Greek mythology, the name Athos belongs to a Thracian giant. During the battle of Gods versus Giants, Athos threw a huge rock against Poseidon. The rock slipped through his fingers and fell into the sea creating a huge block of land which is now recognized as Mount Athos. However, on a different version of the story, it was Poseidon who threw the rock against Athos. The rock crushed Athos and buried him underneath. This rock is now called Mount Athos.
Up to the 3rd century B.C., there were quite a few small Greek towns in the peninsula of Athos however as years gone by these cities decayed. Thus, the area remained deserted for many centuries.
Tradition indicates that Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist encountered a stormy sea, on their way to visit Lazarus in Cyprus and they were forced to seek a shelter in a port, which is now the Holy Monastery of Ivira. The Virgin Mary, admired the wild beauty of the place and asked God to give her the mountain as a present. Then our Lord responded: “Let this place be your lot, your garden and your paradise, as well as a salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation”. Since then, Mount Athos is called "The Garden of the Virgin Mary".
The first monks arrived in Mount Athos during the 5th century AD, looking for a secluded place to worship God and found their peace on Earth.
Mount Athos state
Mount Athos is a self-governed territory of the Greek state (regarding its religious aspect it is subject to the Ecumenical Patriarch), following the old customs and the bill of rights. The executive authority is exercised by the four members of Holy Supervision and the legislative authority is exercised by the twenty members of the Holy Assembly, to which all monasteries are subject. The Superior of the Holy Supervision represents the first monastery in hierarchical order and is called Protos (First) or Protoepistatis (First Supervisor). All members are elected by the monks with democratic procedures. The political leader of Mount Athos is elected by the Greek State and is subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Karyes is the administration of Mount Athos. It is the capital of the monastic community of Mount Athos, home of Proton (First), Holy Supervision, Holy Assembly. Karyes is a picturesque village, located at an altitude of 370 meters, in the middle of the peninsula and has a magnificent view over the eastern Aegean coasts. It’s a community of residences (konaki) with workshops, shops, hostels and restaurants. There is also a police station, a local clinic and a post office at the area.
The monks follow the old Julian calendar (13 days later) and the Byzantine time (O during the sunset, apart from the monks of Monastery Iviron, who count the hours based on the sunrise). Monasteries are closed by sunset and open again at sunrise. Before sunrise, the bell of every monastery rings the bell calling his brothers to the matins.
Mount Athos’ s architecture & art
Monasteries are built to the Byzantine architecture. The buildings are constructed with massive walls to create a defensive shield from pirates or other conquerors giving Athos a castle-like appearance. In the middle of the structure there is a courtyard, which includes the “katholiko” (cardinal monastery), the trapeza” (refectory), “phiale” (the basin for the blessing of the waters) and chapels. Next to the central church you will find the bell-towers and the domes. “Archontaki” is the guest room in every monastery. Also, every monastery has an “arsanas”, a small port that monks have access.
The Athonian monasteries hold invaluable art treasures and had remained a cultural center for almost one thousand years. There are numerous painting collections and portable icons as well as mosaics and sculptures from the medieval years. All pieces of art are precious and unique holding a sacred story that traveled through the years.
Monasteries & sites
The offices of Holy Community and Protaton (10th century) are the most impressive buildings in Karyes. In the sanctuary lays the miraculous icon of Virgin “Axion Esti”, the Virgin Mary of Mount Athos. The library contains 117 codes, lots of valuable printed books and the first Typiko (religious script) of Mount Athos, written on goat leather and signed by the Emperor Ioannis Tsimiskis.
1. Megisti Lavra
⇠ Karyes 35km (7 hours)
Megisti (Great) Lavra is the oldest and biggest monastery of Mount Athos. It was founded in 963 by the monk Athanasios Athonitis with the financial support of the emperors Nikiphoros Phokas and Ioannis Tsimiskis. The monastery is dedicated to its founder, Agios Athanasios Athonitis and celebrates on the 5th/18th of July (according to the old-style calendar of Mount Athos). Megisti Lavra is a big complex of buildings that includes the superb Tower of Tsimiskis, located on a picturesque cliff on the southeastern edge of Athos.
Tel.: +30 23770 22586, +30 23770 23761
2. The Monastery Dionysiou
⇠ Karyes 20km (4 hours)
The Monastery Dionysiou (14th century) stands on a bluff cliff in a deep wooded ravine at the western coast of Athos. The monastery was founded by Agios Dionysios, it is dedicated to the Holy Prodromos and celebrates on June 24 and July 7.
The Refectory of the monastery is also impressive and has a nice wooden door and interesting wall paintings.
Tel.: +30 23770 23687, +30 23770 23-686
3. The Monastery Dohiariou
⇠ Karyes 15km (3 hours)
The Monastery Dohiariou is located in the northern area of the western side of the Athos peninsula. It was founded close the port of Daphni towards the end of the 10th century, by a “dohiaris (a person who makes “dohia”, meaning pots and fonts), student of Athanasios Athonitis. Therefore, the monastery was later called Dohiarios. Later, it was destroyed by pirates and the monks rebuilt it. The high tower was contructed in the early 17th century.
The monastery is dedicated to the Archangels Mikhail and Gabriel, a holy day celebrated on the 8th / 21st of November.
Tel.: +30 23770 23245
4. The Monastery Esphigmenou
⇠ Karyes 25km (5 hours)
The Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou was founded in the 10th or 11th century and rest on the northwestern coast of the peninsula of the Holy Mountain. The Monastery 's main church is dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord and it has eight chapels and seven exterior chapels. Esphigmenou ‘s Monastery has suffered of pirate raids and destructive fires various times.
Among Esphigmenou's treasures are relics of saints, the so-called cross of Pulcheria (Byzantine Empress), and a large part of Napoleon's tent, which is used as a curtain for the sanctuary door of the katholikon on its feast day. Its library contains 372 manuscripts and more than 8,000 printed books.
Tel.: +30 23770 23796, +30 23770 23938
5. The Monastery Grigoriou
⇠ Karyes 20km (4 hours)
The Monastery Grigoriou is an imposing building rising above the rocks of the southwestern side of Athos in a wonderful area between Simonos Petra and the Monastery Dionysiou. It was founded in the 14th century and is dedicated to Agios Nikolaos, a holy day celebrated on the 6th /19th of December.
The Holy Monastery was founded in the 14th century by the ascetic monk Gregorius Sinaitis. The present “katholicon” (main church) was built in 1768, in accordance to the Athonite architecture. The Monastery possesses some 279 manuscripts, other documents and approximately 4,000 printed books.
Tel.: +30 23770 23218, +30 23770 23670, +30 23770 23668
6. The Monastery Chilandar
⇠ Karyes 30km (6 hours)
The Monastery Chilandrari is in the northern part of Mount Athos. Surrounded by tall trees, it is rated as a fortress far away from the sea. Initially, in 1198, the emperor Alexios III, offered the monastery to a Serbian governor called Stephanos Nemania and his son, Ratsko, who proved to be a powerful man carrying out important responsibilities with great success.
The monastery is dedicated to the day of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, a holy day celebrated on November 21st / December 4th.
Tel.: +30 23770 23797
7. The Monastery Iviron
⇠ Karyes 7,5km (1 and 30’ hour)
Consequently, the monastery is dedicated to the Assumption, a holy day celebrated on the 15th of August (or 28th of August). The founder of the monastery is allegedly Ioannis Tornikios, the consultant of the emperor Vasillios II. The monastery was named after the monks (Georgians) from Iviron Monastery who were students of Athanasios Athonitis. The monastery is surrounded by two towers that were used as protection from the raids of the intruders. The one of them is placed in the courtyard (1626) and the other one in the cardinal monastery (1725).
Tel.: +30 23770 23643, +30 23770 23644
8. The Monastery Karakallou
⇠ Karyes 17km (3and 30’ hours)
The Monastery Karakallou has a glorious tower is located at a picturesque area with view over the Aegean Sea at the southeastern side of Athos peninsula.
The monastery was founded in the 11th century, by a monk named Karakalas. Some people also argue that the monastery was named after a Roman Emperor, Karakalas, who had built a tower at the same place (211-217).
The monastery is dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul and a holy day celebrated on the 29th of June / 12th of July.
Tel.: +30 23770 23225
9. The Monastery Konstamonitou
⇠ Karyes 15km (3 hours)
The Monastery Konstamonitou is situated in a wooded area with unique natural beauty, at the northern part of Mount Athos almost one hour walk from the sea. It was founded in the 4th century either by Megas Konstantinos or his son, Konstantas, who named the monastery after himself.
The monastery was burned in the 11th century and then rebuilt with the financial support of the Emperor Andronikos.
Tel.: +30 23770 23228
10. The Monastery Koutloumousiou
⇠ Karyes 1km (10 minutes)
The Monastery of Koutloumousiou is situated in the northeastern wooded area of Athos, close to Karyes and was founded in the 10th century, though its patriarchal monastery was built in 1393. It is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, a holy day celebrated on the 6th / 19th of August. Moreover, in 1821, the leader of the Revolution in Macedonia, Emmanuel Papas, was declared as governor and supporter of Macedonia in this monastery.
Tel.: +30 23770 23226, +30 23770 23732
11. The Monastery of Saint (Agios) Panteleimon
⇠ Karyes 15km (3 hours)
The Monastery of Saint (Agios) Panteleimon, also known as the Russian monastery, is built next to the sea, in the middle of the western coast of Mount Athos.
When the monastery was founded in the 11th century, it was located at the eastern area. The present building complex was built in 1765, when the old monastery of Agios Panteleimon was transferred from Paleomonastiro to the present position. It is dedicated to Agios Panteleimon, a holy day celebrated on the 27th of July / 9th of August.
The new monastery is consisting of monumental buildings with a lot of floors, high vaults, big bells, etc.
Tel.: +30 23770 23252, +30 23770 23682
12. The Monastery of Saint (Agios) Pavlos
⇠ Karyes 25km (5 hours)
The Monastery of Saint (Agios) Pavlos is located in the southern area of the western side of Athos peninsula. It is composed of ten smaller monasteries, which are built in a short distance from the sea. Moreover, it is the only monastery that is close to the mountain Athos. Also, it is surrounded by several castles and towers.
The monastery is built around the 10th century by Monk Pavlos Xiropotaminos.
Tel.: +30 23770 23355, 23250
13. The Monastery Pantocrator
⇠ Karyes 7,5km (1 and 30’ hours)
The Monastery of Pantocrator is placed at a rocky cliff by the sea, in the middle of the eastern coasts of Athos peninsula. The monastery was founded in the 14th century by the Byzantines Alexios and Ioannis with the support of Emperor Ioannis Paleologos V. The monastery is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, a holy day celebrated on the 6th/19th of August.
Tel.: +30 23770 23253, +30 23770 23792
14. The Monastery Philotheou
⇠ Karyes 12km (2 and 30’ hours)
The Monastery of Philotheou is at the same location of ancient Asclipiion, in the eastern part of Athos and nearly one hour away from the harbour (arsanas).
How to get to Mount Athos monasteries
⇠ Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis 125km
⇠ Thessaloniki to Ierissos 111km
You can get from Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis or Ierissos by bus, car or taxi.
Bus station KTEL: www.ktel-chalkidikis.gr | +30 2310 316555.
To reach the monasteries of the east side, you should take a boat from Ierissos or Nea Roda, to the “arsanas” (harbour) of the Monastery Iviron. Port authority of: Ierissos [ +30 23770 22063 & 22576] & Nea Roda [ +30 23770 22000 & 22385].
Mount Athos is accessible from the sea only. The little port of Daphni in the Gulf Siggitikos and the “arsanas” of the Monastery Iviron in the Gulf Strymonikos are the only entrances.
Daphni Port authority: +30 23770 23300
From Daphni or the “arsanas” of the Monastery Iviron you can get to Karyes by bus. Distance from Karyes to Daphni: 18km (3 and 30’ hours)
• Priests should have a special permit from their principal.
• The permission to the Greeks is free. However, they should first call the Pilgrim’s Office in Thessaloniki [+30 2310 252575] or Ouranoupolis [+30 23770 71421, 71450] to issue the Residence Permit ("diamonitirion"), which they can pick up at Ouranoupolis or Ierissos, before they get on the boat. There is an office at the port.
Holy Community: +30 23770 23221, 23711
Holy Assembly: +30 23770 23712, 23713
Governor: +30 23770 23230
Police Karyes: +30 23770 23212
Travel to Mount Athos by:
a) Bus (Daphni – Karyes - Iviron).
b) Truck (available to visitors by several monasteries).
c) Donkey (you can find them in Karyes).
d) On foot (following the paths of Mount Athos; there are natural springs with fresh water, rich vegetation, and idyllic landscapes. Be careful not to get lost in the labyrinth paths, which cross thick woods and steep ravines.)
e) By boats from:
- Daphni to the “arsanas” (harbour) of the Monasteries Simonos Petra, Gregoriou, Dionysiou, Agios Pavlos, Nea Skiti, Skiti of Agia Anna. Also, the boat can reach Katounakia, the “arsanas” of Prodromos and Mandraki in Megisti Lavra, under good weather conditions.
- From Daphni to the “arsanas” of the Monasteries Agiou Panteleimonos, Xenophontos, Dohiariou, Konstamonitou and Zographou.
- From the “arsanas” of the Monastery Iviron to the “arsanas” of the Monasteries Philotheou, Karakalou, Megisti Lavra (Mandraki) or to the “arsanas” of the Monasteries Stavronikita, Pantokrator, Vatopediou, Esphigmenou and Helandariou.