Mount Athos

Mount Athos or as it is officially called the Holy Community of Mount Athos is an “Autonomous Monastic State” within Greece (perhaps unique in the world, with the exception of the secular Lhasa of Tibet), on the peninsula of Mount Athos in Halkidiki, Macedonia, which is considered the center of Orthodox monasticism.

It is one of the most important parts not only of the Balkans, but also of Europe and the Eastern Church due to its great national, historical, religious, literary and cultural value, as well as an important center for the preservation and conservation of rich material and rightly described as a “refuge” and “museum” of a unique treasure of Greek art and letters.

Mount Athos is also called “Orchard of the Virgin”, a name that comes from history: When the Virgin traveled with the Evangelist John to visit Lazarus, a storm forced their boat to moor in a safe harbor on the peninsula. There the Virgin was impressed by the rare beauty and asked her Son to give it to her.

Mount Athos, a sacred place shrouded in myth and history, religion and art for centuries, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The imposing Mount Athos encouraged people to associate him with myths because of his imposing volume, personifying him as a giant who once detached a rock from Thrace and threw it to Halkidiki created Mount Athos and other times when Poseidon, god of the sea flew a rock to Mount Athos, killing him.

The peninsula of Mount Athos is the easternmost and roughest of the three separate parallel peninsulas of Kassandra or Pallini, Logos or Sithonia – central, and Mount Athos or Mount Athos that make up the Halkidiki peninsula. This peninsula is covered by Mount Athos which peaks in a marble pyramid of 2033m., From where it got its name and ends at Cape Nymfaio or Akrothon. There are no rivers or lakes in the area. It is connected to Halkidiki with a narrow isthmus, low strip of land, 2 km long, historical from the Persian wars in 480 BC. Between the peninsula of Mount Athos and Sithonia or Logos is formed the Siggitikos or Mount of Mount Athos, while NE gulf of Ierissos.

A few miles SE of Mount Athos is the largest precipice in the Aegean that from a depth of 80m, abruptly reaches 1070m.

The first monks who settled on Mount Athos are recorded only at the beginning of the 9th century, who originally lived in caves, while the way of monastic life changed radically with the arrival of Saint Euthymius of Asia Minor.

In 883 the monks of Mount Athos, according to an imperial decision of King Basil I, secured their right to practice freely, maintaining it to this day, while in the middle of the 10th century the peninsula began to be called “Mount Athos”.
Saint Athanasios the Athonite marked the monastic state with his strong presence but also with the drastic changes he brought about and after securing large state funding, he built the “Vasiliki” in Karyes, in the place of the small temple of Protatos. “Vassiliki” was the beginning for further great buildings, such as the monastery of Megisti Lavra, the Monastery of Zygos, the monastery of Iveron, Vatopedi and others.

The immortality of Mount Athos occurred in the 12th century, when cattle breeders settled on the peninsula, disrupting the monastic life of the monks. Thus, royal intervention expelled stockbreeders and all the laity, as well as women, by instituting a ban on their entry, something that was only enshrined in the 20th century by the European Union.

During the Ottoman Empire and more specifically in 1387, Mount Athos submitted to the Ottomans, for a short time, until it returned to the rule of the King of Thessaloniki. In 1423 he submits again, voluntarily this time, ensuring the milder treatment of the conquerors. The monks, taking advantage of this event, managed to strengthen the field of education and, among other things, to establish Athoniada, a school that managed to greatly influence the bad state of education of the then enslaved Hellenism. In 1821, Mount Athos nevertheless sided with Halkidiki and helped the Revolution, which later paid dearly, both financially and with victims, men, women and children, who had then found refuge on Mount Athos.

According to the considered first Standard ratified by the Emperor John Tsimiskis, Mount Athos is simply called “Mount” which may have been the usual name of the place at that time.

However, the predominance of the name “Mount Athos” seems to have taken place during the first half of the 12th century, specifically in a golden document of the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to the Holy Monastery of Megisti Lavra in 1144 which is definitively and officially recognized and the new name is imposed as written σ΄ αυτό:

“From now on the name of Mount Athos will be called Mount Athos”

Access to Mount Athos

Mount Athos can only be reached by sea and has two boarding ports, Ierissos and Ouranoupolis.

Most pilgrims are served by the port of Ouranoupolis because it is more protected from adverse weather conditions than the port of Ierissos.

To reach Mount Athos you will need to call the Pilgrims’ Office in Thessaloniki (2310.252.575) to be issued the relevant residence, ie the official document issued by the Holy See and provides you with three nights.
You should take care of its establishment in time, especially during the summer months, because every year a large number of pilgrims arrive from all over the world and the number of visitors daily is limited to 120 people.
The required information is: Name, father’s name, year of birth and police ID number with the issuing Authority.

Once the process of the Accommodation is completed, you should contact the monasteries you are interested in visiting.

You will pick up the Accommodation from the Pilgrim Office in Ouranoupolis, on the day of your departure from 8:00 to 9:30 in the morning, always with your police ID. Then get the ferry tickets. The boarding is from 9.30 am to 9.45 am, departure time for Daphne. The route is extremely enchanting and mysterious so be sure to take a camera with you.

Mount Athos is an autonomous and autonomous part of the Greek state, which is politically under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and religiously under the Jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Geographically it is divided into twenty autonomous regions. Each area consists of a dominant monastery and various other monastic settlements around it (hermitages, cells, huts, seats, sanctuaries).

All the monasteries are Conventions, that is, a common service, prayer, shelter, feeding and work among the monks. The head of each monastery is the Abbot who is elected by the monks of the monastery for life. The Abbots of the monasteries form the Holy Synaxis and exercise legislative power.

It is governed by the Charter of 1924. The Greek State is represented by the Political Commander of Mount Athos who is responsible for the observance of the Mount Athos regime and reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from the ecclesiological point of view to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

  • The executive power on Mount Athos is represented by the Holy Supervision whose President is named Protestant. The Holy Supervision consists of 4 members selected from the first 5 hierarchical monasteries.
    Legislative power is represented by the Holy Community of Mount Athos, also the Holy Community has jurisdiction in civil law cases for misdemeanors that occurred within the geographical boundaries of Mount Athos. For all other (Crimes, etc.) competent courts of trial are those of the city of Thessaloniki.
    The Supreme Ecclesiastical and Judicial Authority within Mount Athos is recognized as the Double Unification Assembly which meets regularly once a year unless otherwise required and can decide on any issue.
    Finally, the duties of the Supreme Court of Appeal for Ecclesiastical-Spiritual matters are exercised by the session of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

    Monastic institutions

    The Monastic Institutions of Mount Athos are divided into six classes: the Holy Monasteries or Monasteries, the Hermitages, the Cells, the Huts, the Seats and

    the Hermitages.


    Holy Monasteries

    The Monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos, built at an altitude of 300 meters above the coast. On the left, the adjacent aqueduct can be seen

    All the Holy Monasteries of Mount Athos, also called Athonite, are religious spiritual institutions and all are characterized as “Sovereign”, “Royal”, “Patriarchal” and “Stavropegian”

    They are called “sovereign” because they maintain ownership of their area, not subject to any restrictions on the number of monks.
    “Royal” because their foundation is due to the order or assistance of the Byzantine Emperors or, their foundation was ratified with an imperial gold bull.
    They were later named “patriarchal” with the issuance of patriarchal relevant sigils, when they were associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which undertook their sole spiritual supervision.
    “Stavropegian” from the cross sent by the Emperors or the Patriarch and placed on the foundation.

    The Athonite Monasteries today are all convents. In the past, some were quirky.

    In the convents the brothers have everything in common and nothing private. The Monastery is run for life by the Abbot, the Common Leader, with the Elders and the Commissioners around him. He is elected by a majority of the Elders in a secret ballot, from a list of candidates, which is also composed by a majority of those who have the right to vote (6 years have passed since the year of shearing) monks.
    The Abbot requires certain spiritual and moral qualifications. It is possible to terminate by decision of the Elders and then by a majority of those entitled to vote of the Brotherhood. If the elected Abbot does not hold the rank of Archimandrite, he is ordained immediately after his election.
    In the peculiar Monasteries, the monks live individually, and the issues of the Monasteries are regulated by the Commission and the Meeting of the Heads.

    According to them, the Administration of the priests is almost monarchical but with elements of common ownership, while of the idiosyncrasies it is an oligarchic aristocracy. Of the 20 dominant monasteries in operation, all are coenobitic. The number of 20 Monasteries has always been recognized by the Church and the State, but without being able to increase or decrease. Of these Monasteries, 17 are Greek, 1 Serbian, 1 Russian, and 1 Bulgarian.

    According to the hierarchical order (from the time of its foundation) the Holy Monasteries of Mount Athos, which are also called Athonite, are the following:

    Holy Monastery of Megisti Lavra (963)
    Holy Monastery of Vatopedi (972)
    Holy Monastery of Iveron (976)
    Holy Monastery of Chiliandari or Chelandari (1197, Serbian)
    Holy Monastery of Dionysios (1375)
    Holy Monastery of Koutloumousi (12th century)
    Holy Monastery of Pantokrator (1363)
    Holy Monastery of Xiropotamos (11th century)
    Holy Monastery of Zografou (1270, Bulgarian)
    Holy Monastery of Docheiariou (11th century)
    Holy Monastery of Caracallo (1070)
    Holy Monastery of Philotheos (992)
    Holy Monastery of Simon Petra (or Simonopetra) (1363)
    Holy Monastery of Agios Pavlos (11th century)
    Holy Monastery of Stavronikita (1542)
    Holy Monastery of Xenophon (1070)
    Holy Monastery of Gregory (14th century)
    Holy Monastery of Esfigmenos (11th century)
    Holy Monastery of Agios Panteleimon (or Russian) (from 1169 it was granted to the Russians
    Holy Monastery of Konstamonitou or Kastamonitou (1086)

    All other institutions, hermitages, cells, sanctuaries are part of the Monasteries.

    Apart from the twenty dominant monasteries, no one else is allowed the right of ownership on Mount Athos.

    All the Monasteries, as patriarchal and cruciform, are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and it is not allowed to mention any other bishop except the Ecumenical Patriarch (except the monastery of Esfigmenos, whose monks are the Patriarch).

    Living on Mount Athos to heterodox or schismatic is not allowed.

    All monks of Mount Athos, whatever their nationality, automatically receive Greek citizenship.


The Skete (Skites) is a monastic institution that belongs to a Sovereign Monastery or Monastery. The Sketes are small monasteries that are also distinguished like the Athonite Holy Monasteries in convents and idiosyncrasies.

These are organized communities consisting of many monastic huts. In the middle of each Skete is the so-called “Kyriako” which is the common temple for all the huts built around it. The head of the Skete is the so-called “Righteous” who is elected every year usually on May 8 by the “elders” of the Skete with the help of 2 or 4 counselors, half of whom come from the Skete itself and the other half from the Sovereign. Monastery to which the Skete belongs. The monks settled in them are called hermits and are engaged in agricultural and livestock work as well as hagiography, wood carving, music, etc.

In Greece, the most important hermitages are the Athonites.

There are twelve Hermitages on Mount Athos throughout the Athonite peninsula. Of these convents are four:

the Hermitage of the Prophet Elias (Russian), which belongs to the Pantokratoros Monastery,
the Hermitage of the Holy Forerunner of the Great Lavra (Romanian), which belongs to the Monastery of the Great Lavra,
the Hermitage of Agios Andreas, also called Serai (Russian), which belongs to the Vatopedi Monastery, and
the Skete of the Virgin or Vogoroditsa (Bulgarian), which belongs to the Monastery of Agios Panteleimon.

The other eight are all Greek, idiosyncratic or archetypal hermitages, which are:

the Hermitage of the Annunciation of the Virgin or Xenophonic Hermitage, which belongs to the Monastery of Xenophon
the New Hermitage or Hermitage of the Tower, which belongs to the Monastery of Agios Pavlos
the Hermitage of Agia Anna which belongs to the Monastery of Megisti Lavra
the Skete of the Holy Trinity or the Skete of Kausokalyvia, which also belongs to the Monastery of Megisti Lavra
the Skete of Agios Dimitrios or Lakoskiti, which belongs to the Monastery of Agios Pavlos
the Skete of Timios Prodromos, which belongs to the Monastery of Iveron
the Hermitage of Agios Panteleimon, which belongs to the Monastery of Koutloumousi and
the Hermitage of Agios Dimitrios, which belongs to the Vatopedi Monastery.


The monastic cell, like the hermitage, is a monastic institution that belongs to a dominant Monastery or Monastery.

The monastic cells are relatively spacious buildings that look like rural houses that have a built-in nave or a temple and to which a territorial area of ​​the dominant monastery has been granted depending on their size and history. These are usually granted to very small groups of 2-3 monks who are engaged in parallel with their religious duties in agricultural, livestock, construction and other works.

However, apart from the above, there are also cells in holy pilgrimages that are specially granted to meet the needs of the pilgrims. These are a series of single-storey or two-storey buildings around the sanctuaries, or only on the side, such as. in the Monastery of Panagia of Tinos, of Argokiliotissa in Naxos etc.

Most monastic cells in Greece are located on Mount Athos, Meteora and Monemvasia.


The monastic hut, such as the hermitages and the cells are monastic institutions that belong to a dominant Monastery or Monastery

The monastic huts are also buildings smaller in size than the cells that also have a built-in aqueduct, but which has not been granted land by the dominant Monastery, in contrast to the cells.

The monks in these monastic institutions live in small groups, as in the cells, dealing mainly with various arts and crafts. It is possible for many huts together to give the impression of a small settlement but they do not maintain any organization or relationship between them.

Most monastic huts in Greece are located on Mount Athos and specifically at the southwestern tip of the Athonite peninsula, in the areas: Little Agia Anna, Katounakia and Agios Vassilios.


The monastic seats are also monastic institutions such as the huts, which belong to a dominant Monastery or Monastery.

These are small buildings, much like the huts, which are usually located very close to and around the Monastery to which they belong. These are small and are used mainly for the residence of the monks “alone”, more of a temporary nature. The monks of these institutions secure their food from the dominant Monastery by paying a small amount of money.

Monastic seats are found in almost all major Monasteries (Monasteries), with the most famous being those of Mount Athos.


It is a place that is generally characterized as a monastic institution and belongs to the dominant Monastery or Monastery. In addition to the name Hermitage, the words hermitage or hermitage are also used. The sanctuaries are usually simple and look more like huts or arranged caves inhabited by monks who want a more rigorous practice (to practice), completely unhindered and away from any worldly challenge. The monks who live in them are called ascetics. They are fed about once a week by the dominant Monastery.

The sanctuaries are usually located in remote and deserted areas, mainly in steep places characterized as “eagle nests”. Access to these areas is very difficult and is difficult with narrow paths and steep slopes.

Over time, many original sanctuaries evolved into Monasteries such as those of Meteora.

At Mount Athos there are most sanctuaries and are characterized as settlements, such as the famous settlement of Karoulia, located on the road after the Skete of Agia Anna to the Monastery of Megisti Lavra, on a steep area.

Hermitages are found almost all over Greece, near the monasteries.

The accession of Mount Athos to the Greek state
The status of Mount Athos began to exist for the monks before the recognition of Greek sovereignty

Justice is administered by the monastic authorities and the Holy Community, except in criminal cases.

The Holy Monasteries are self-governing and are governed according to their internal regulations, which are voted by themselves and approved by the Holy Community. The Holy Community consists of twenty representatives of the Monasteries and is based in Karyes as a permanent body.

According to the old Byzantine order, women are not allowed to enter the Athos peninsula. This restriction has a spiritual basis in the virginity of the monks and the dedication of Mount Athos to the Virgin Mary. It is called “avaton” and has been in force since the beginning of the establishment of the idiosyncratic state, although in the past at times of need it has been catalyzed.

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