Mount Athos (Greece)

Greece has the unique Mount Athos ("the Holy Mountain"), the most important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism which is governed as an autonomous entity within Greece.

This fascinating area of Greece has distinct customs, rules and ways of life (a notable one being that women aren't allowed on Mount Athos).

There are 20 gorgeous monasteries located on the Holy Mountain. You cannot just visit the peninsula like you would any other place, though, as special permission and arrangements are required. I arranged my own three-night trip following the helpful information found on the Friends of Mount Athos website. Be sure to make your arrangements well in advance, as the number of entry permits is limited.

I visited three fascinating monasteries on Mount Athos: Simonopetra, a stunning work of architecture located on a cliff and home to some very kind and welcoming monks; Megisti Lavra, the most important monastery and the first one to be estabilshed on the peninsula; and Vatopedi, the second most important monastery on Mt. Athos and an absolute delight to visit. They are all significant landmarks from historical, cultural, architectural and spiritual points of view, and were a delight to visit.

Each of the monasteries' churches is beautifully decorated and holds important relics for Christianity such as pieces of the True Cross (Simonopetra, Vatopedi), the left Hand of Mary Magdalene (Simonopetra), a piece of the holy reed (Vatopedi) and the Cincture of the Theotokos (Vatopedi), among others. Megisti Lavra has the tomb and the cypress tree of St. Athanasius - the founder of the monastic community on Mount Athos in the 10th century. The cypress is allegedly over 1,000 years old.

There were plenty of quiet and charming spots ideally suited for meditation at each of the monasteries. Church services at all of the three were very special experiences with some beautiful chanting performed by the monks, and my entire three-night trip spent at the monasteries was profoundly meditative and relaxing. Needless to say, a trip to Mount Athos is a delight for a photographer.

I also spent a bit of time in the peninsula's "capital", Karyes, visiting its first church (the Protaton), St. Andrew Skete and Koutloumousiou Monastery.

You can do some nice hiking routes between some of the monasteries. Also there are some very nice cats on Mount Athos. One other curiosity of note: of course there's no need for male/female signs for toilets, which was a bit weird ar first.

Additional info:
- Mount Athos entry on Wikivoyage
- Mount Athos entry on Wikipedia

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Mount Athos

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