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MOUNT ATHOS



A sea journey that is being characterized as a life experience, a pass along the east side of the peninsula of Mount Athos.
Every mile reveals the greatness of Byzantine and Athonite architecture and heritage, imposing monasteries awe-inspiring which seem to hang from huge rocks.

Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain in Greece, is one of the most sacred places on earth. Lying on a slim finger of land stretching south from the Greek mainland, it is located on the easternmost "leg" of Halkidiki peninsula. Mount Athos is the oldest surviving monastic community in the world and is the spiritual capital of the Orthodox Christian world maintained by Orthodox Christian monks for over 1,000 years.

This religious center is home to 20 imposing Byzantine monasteries and their subsidiary establishments. The subsidiary establishments include 12 sketes (groups of houses with a central church) and a great number of scattered hermitages, kelia and kathismata (living units operated by the monks). In total around 1,400 Orthodox monks live an ascetic life on Athos, isolated from the rest of the world. The monasteries come not under the jurisdiction of the Greek Church, but that of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Seventeen of these monasteries are Greek-speaking, one is Russian, one Serbian and one Bulgarian. However, the resident monks are from all over the world, and the diversity of the population has increased in recent decades.

During our daily cruises to Mount Athos you have the opportunity to admire 8 monasteries (Dochiariou, Xenophontos, Agiou Panteleimonos, Xeropotamou, Simonos Petras, Grigoriou, Dionysiou, Agiou Pavlou), 4 sketes (Thivaida, Agios Modestos, Nea Skiti, Agia Anna), the arsanas (small port) of 3 inland monasteries (Chilandariou, Zografou, Konstamonitou) and Dafni which is the main port of Mount Athos.

Although the peninsula of Athos is part of Greece, it enjoys certain autonomy. Aside from the limited supervision of the civil governor and police force provided by the Greek government, Athos functions autonomously and symbolizes a transnational faith community. The 20 monasteries are independent, self-governing and sovereign, though together they form the Holy Community of Mount Athos, which is the parliament of community and consists of a representative from each monastery who decides issues of importance to the entire peninsula.

The monasteries house priceless collections of well-preserved artifacts, including rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value.

Each monastery has owned a millennium’s worth of manuscripts, frescos, collections of religious icons, holy relics such as bones of a saint, pieces of the “holy cross”, the gifts brought to newborn Jesus by the Three Wise Men and texts including medieval illuminated manuscripts and ancient Greek literature.

Take advantage of our scheduled Pilgrimage Cruises to Mount Athos and live a unique face to face experience with some of the holiest symbols of Mount Athos onboard


In 1988, the area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized for both its natural and cultural aspects. It is also part of the Natura 2000 network, a cooperative project sponsored by the European Union to protect distinctive and endangered European natural sites.

The geographic isolation of the peninsula as well as the community protection of the comforts of modern life has allowed the 20 independent monasteries to protect the land from development, making the area one of the few truly natural ecosystems left in Europe.

Avaton

According to the written rules of Mount Athos, it is forbidden for women to enter by any means or stay anywhere in the monastic state. This prohibition is called avaton. Any breach of the rule is a punishable offence, because the entire Mount Athos is dedicated to one woman whom all the monks honor and pray to; the Blessed Virgin Mary. This ban even extends to female domestic animals, which has had the side effect of limiting the growth of animal populations and effectively prohibiting grazing herds.

Except for the dedication of Holy Mountain to the Virgin Mary, avaton has also established to make living in celibacy easier for the men who have chosen to do so.

According to the tradition the Mother of God after the resurrection of Jesus sailed to Cyprus with St.John the Evangelist but after a stormy sea voyage, reached the shores of Akti, as the Athos peninsula was then known. Mary was so enchanted by the beauty and the tranquility of the landscape, that she prayed and asked her Son to give it to her as a gift. Ever since, the Athos peninsula became known as the Garden of the Mother of God and has been dedicated to her grace.

Fortunately, even those who are unable to visit the Mount Athos can behold the beauty of the Holy Mountain and its priceless treasures by way of our scheduled Cruises and Pilgrimage Cruises to Mount Athos.


The life inside Mount Athos

Athos still uses the Julian calendar, running 13 days behind the modern Gregorian one and continue to observe Byzantine time, which starts the clock for each day at sunset.

For all the monks who live inside one of the 20 monasteries, prayer takes up most of the time. Even when they are hard at work or eating in the refectory, they are in prayer.

The life of a monk revolves around two main kinds of activities: the first one is prayer, spiritual preparation and active participation in the religious services, liturgies and rites; and the other one is the performance of the daily work assigned to each monk by the abbot, collectively known as tasks or duties (diakonimata in Greek).

Some of the most known tasks are timber harvesting, grape cultivation and wine making, beekeeping, olive cultivation, creation of handmade products and others. These operations provide just enough food and income for the monastic communities maintenance, as well as for the hospitality and food of daily visitors.

The monks continue their tradition of offering free hospitality to visitors, most of whom are religious pilgrims. But in order for the monasteries to continue their way of life and keep Mount Athos free of development, the number of visitors must be limited.

To some outsiders, the simple communal life of the monks may seem archaic. But for the men who have chosen to live there, it is a peaceful, and even blissful, existence.

The History of pre-Christian times

Athos played an important part in pre-Christian times as it was dedicated to Zeus and often appears in Greek mythology and history. Successive fire signals (beacons) from the mountain are supposed to have signaled the news of the Fall of Troy from the Greek king Agamemnon to his wife Clytemnestra to Mycenae.

The peninsula was also key during the war between the Persians and the Greeks. According to the 5th century Greek historian Herodotus, Persian fleet crashed against its rocky coastline and 10 years later, the Persian King Xerxes was determined to avoid the same fate. His men spent three years cutting a canal through the thinner point of peninsula (from Tripiti to Nea Roda). This was done in order to avoid having to sail his fleet around this treacherous cape.

Alexander the Great, who later conquered the Persians, was presented with a proposal to make Mount Athos into a giant statue of himself and construct a city around it. Alexander refused the outrageous plan by saying: “Let the mountain stand as it is; it is sufficient that another king perpetuated his arrogance by having a canal cut through it.”

There were likely small settlements after the classical Greek era, but the area was empty when Christian monks arrived in the 10th century.

Mount Athos is undoubtedly one of the most special parts of our planet not only due to the monks' commitment to ascetic life for over 1.000 years, but also to the unaltered image of all the elements combined that make what we call Mount Athos: the monasteries and their impressive architecture, the simple way of life and habits of the monks, the spiritual peace that is maintained 365 days and the nature, unaltered and rich.

MOUNT ATHOS GALLERY