Mount Athos

Macedonia

The Greek name for Mount Athos is Oros Athos, or the Holy Mountain. Although a visit to the area requires a permit and some advance planning, anyone can take a boat trip around the peninsula to take a look at the monasteries that dot the landscape. 

Saint Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos

Some of the monasteries are in spectacular clifftop settings, which make you wonder how they were ever built, and towards the southern end of the peninsula is the imposing sight of Mount Athos itself, some 2030m (6660ft) high, the highest point in Halkidikí.

Mount Athos History

The first monastery was founded on Athos in 963 by St Athanasius, although by then the place was already regarded as a holy site which had been attracting hermits who retreated there to take up a contemplative life.

That first monastery was the Great Lavra Monastery, which is on a rocky outcrop at the very southeastern end of the peninsula and about as far from civilisation as you could get. It was followed by the building of other monasteries in the 10th and 11th centuries, until at one time there were 40 active monasteries with as many as 1000 monks in each one. The population today is nothing like that, with fewer than 2000 monks living in the 20 monasteries that are still inhabited.

Ouranopolis, Gateway to Mount Athos

The one fact everyone knows about Mount Athos is that no female is allowed to set foot on the peninsula, and this has been the case since 1060 when the Emperor Constantine Monomachus of what was then Byzantium (modern Istanbul) issued an edict which banned all women from visiting Athos, which was reserved for the Virgin Mary alone. Not even female animals are allowed.

The unique nature of Athos is permitted because the government of Greece made a decree in 1926 that created a Theocratic Republic on Athos, which had its own independence and was self-governing, but still a part of the Greek state. There have been occasional suggestions that this should be changed, but at the moment Athos still goes its own way.

Mount Athos in Greece, pinned from https://www.greece-travel-secrets.com/Mount-Athos.html

Visiting Mount Athos

If you wish to visit Mount Athos, rather than merely observe it from the deck of a boat, there is a strict procedure involved. You must first obtain a letter of recommendation from the Greek Consul in your own country. You will need to show that you have a good educational, religious or cultural reason for wanting to visit. You must then send or take your letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, or to the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace in Thessaloníki, who are responsible for issuing the visitor permits for Athos, without which no boat will take you there. 

If your reason for visiting is approved, you then join the waiting list of applicants, as each Ministry only issues a few permits per day in order to control the numbers and give the monks the peace they desire. When a permit is issued it will be for a specific day, and allow a stay of up to four nights, although when you are on Athos you can apply for permission to stay an extra two nights. You must use your permit on the day for which it is issued, so anyone wanting to see Athos must be dedicated and also flexible with their travel plans.

See our page about Mount Athos Boat Trips

Mount Athos Daily Regime

If you do get to Athos, you will see the strict regime under which the monks live. Services begin in the early hours of the morning, about 3am or 4am, although it is not necessary for visitors to attend. However, you will certainly hear the monks being called to prayer by the banging of a piece of wood known as a simándro, which is usually suspended from the ceiling near the entrance to the church. Only two meals a day are allowed, and there are a large number of fasting days when only one limited meal is served. When not praying, the monks spend their day at work in the fields or maintaining the monasteries.

You might like these other Macedonia pages...

  • Northern Greece Guide

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  • The Royal Tombs and Archaeological Site of Vergina in Macedonia

    The archaeological site of Vergina in Macedonia is famous for the royal tombs which were the burial place of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.

  • Thessaloniki

    The capital of Macedonia and Greece’s second city, Thessaloníki has a lovely situation by the water, a wealth of history, many good museums, and good food.

  • The Prespa Lakes in Northern Greece

    The Prespa Lakes in northwest Greece is one of the most beautiful parts of Greece with abundant wildlife and also many ancient churches.

  • Scenic Drives in Northern Greece

    Scenic Drives in Northern Greece, Ioannina, Meteora, Kastoria, Prespa Lakes

  • Philippi

    Philippi is an ancient archaeological site near Kavala in East Macedonia and Thrace and is famous for being the place where the apostle St Paul was imprisoned.

  • The Site of Ancient Pella in Macedonia, Greece

    Pella in Macedonia is famous for its mosaics and was also the birthplace of both King Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great.

  • Museums of Thessaloniki

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  • Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece

    Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and is in the Mount Olympus National Park in Macedonia, with Litochoro being the best base.

  • Mount Athos Boat Trips

    Mount Athos boat trips are very popular with visitors to Halkidiki in Greece, as they are the only way most people get to see these spectacular monasteries.

  • Macedonia and Thrace

    Macedonia and Thrace are the regions in Greece where travelers will find Thessaloniki, Mount Athos monasteries, Halkidiki and sites like Dion and Pella.

  • Kavala

    The city of Kavala in eastern Macedonia is the area's major seaport and the base for ferries to the islands of the North East Aegean, including Thasos.

  • Kastoria

    Kastoria is a lakeside town in West Macedonia which prospered with the fur trade and today has some handsome mansions, museums and many Byzantine churches.

  • Halkidikí

    Halkidiki is a three-pronged peninsula near Thessaloniki in Macedonia which comprises Mount Athos and the holiday resorts on Kassandra and Sithonia.

  • Dion

    Dion is a rather wonderful archaeological site in Macedonia, not far from Thessaloniki, with an archaeological museum nearby in the town of Dion.

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