Written by a non-Orthodox pilgrim – a good article from an outsider’s perspective.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
By Neil Averitt, Chicago Tribune
Welcome to the Monastic Republic of Holy Mt. Athos. Please set your calendar back a thousand years.
Clocks here run on Byzantine time, which starts at sunset. Dates are calculated according to the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire, which differs by 13 days from the modern Gregorian calendar you’re used to. Some settlements are supplied solely by mule teams, and the flag of Byzantium still flies.
Radio? Television? Newspapers? Paved roads? If they didn’t exist in the year 972, you probably won’t find them here.
And if you’re a woman, you’d better make other plans. Females have been strictly forbidden here for a thousand years. Not even female animals are permitted.
[The author is unaware that there is an exception for cats, “who seem to prove useful in controlling the rat population”.]
Mt. Athos is an Eastern Orthodox monastic republic and, astonishingly, a surviving administrative unit of the Byzantine Empire — a fully functioning mini-state with roads, settlements and a capital city, all operating under a charter granted by the Byzantine emperor at Constantinople in 972.
That world is preserved here in great detail and texture. Clothes, music, roads, public fountains, aqueducts, arched stone bridges, vegetable plots — all are from another age. Even the shiniest new chapel is built with traditional Byzantine-style brickwork, the product of a living culture.
Legally speaking, Mt. Athos is an autonomous region in northeast Greece, with most characteristics of an independent state. Visitors must show passports on the way in and undergo customs inspections on the way out.
Psychologically and geographically speaking, it’s a world apart. It’s perched on a hilly, heavily forested peninsula — 6 miles wide and 35 miles long — which terminates in the peak of Mt. Athos itself, a sharply pointed, bare rock, 6,700 feet high, that drops steeply into the Aegean. Scattered over this rugged landscape are 20 large monasteries, a dozen smaller communities, innumerable hermitages and 2,000 monks. The whole place is reachable only by boat.
Where is Mount Athos?
Map of Greece with Mount Athos shown in red
Click these tiny thumbnails to view some truly magnificent photostreams:
- The Friends of Mount Athos (Facebook)
- The Friends of Mount Athos Website
- Mount Athos at Monachos.net
- Mount Athos on Kosovo.net
- Prayer and Harvest on Mount Athos
Greece from Space – Douglas H. Wheelock