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 polity within Greece. This fascinating area of Greece has distinct customs, rules and ways of life (a notable one is 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 trip and spent three nights at the monasteries 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 were all interesting to experience, and are significant landmarks from historical, cultural, architectural and spiritual points of view.

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 (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.

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. One curiosity of note: of course there's no need for male/female signs in toilets on Mount Athos, 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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