Agio Oros - Mount Athos - The Holy Mountain.....
Agio Oros, Mount Athos, The Holy Mountain
Agio Oros
Mount Athos lies in the third, most special peninsula of Chalkidiki and is well known to Christians and non-Christians alike, as the Holy Mountain. And that's because the severe, almost inaccessible massive of Athos, secluded both geographically and in terms of its administration from the rest of the world, continues to offer shelter to the most important centre of the orthodox asceticism for more than a thousand years, thus remaining a present offered by Virgin Mary to the ascetics, which is why all the monks in Holy Mountain still call it "PerivoIi tis Panagias" (the orchard of the Virgin Mary). The ancient Greeks though, came to inhabit the heavenly sides of this mountain long before religious ascetics, founding five big and flourishing cities on the Athos peninsula, which was then called simply Akti (Coast). The five Greek cities of the ancient Akti were Dion, Kleones, Thyssos, Olofyxos and on the southern end of the peninsula, Akrothoi, where today the Monastery of Megistis Lavras is situated. The ancient cities of the peninsula shared the tate of the rest of Greece, falling in the hands of the Macedonians, the Romans and later on, the Byzantine emperors. In the 7th century A.D. the cities also fell in the hands ot pirates, who managed to clear the peninsula of its inhabitants.  
  In this heavenly wilderness, with the crystal waters, thick forests and craggy shores, monks started to come after the 8th century A.D. either as religious ascetics or in small groups forming small monastic communities called lavres. Monastic life (asceticism) acquired a new dimension in 963, when Aghios Athanasios Athonitis (Saint Athanassios from Athos) created with the assistance of his friend, the emperor Nikiforos Fokas, the first communal monastery, Moni Megistis Lavras. In 972, the Byzantine emperor loannis Tsimiskis signed on a goat's hide the constitution of Mount Athos, according to which the various types of asceticism as well as certain religious observances and rituals were determined and defined. After Aghios Athanasios Athonitis, many monks started visiting Mount Athos and by the end of the 11th century most of the 20 big monasteries - still existing nowadays - as well as innumerable cells and lavres were already established.
When the crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, the Holy Mount came under Frank domination, and the cardinal Benedict, offered the peninsula as a present to the barons of Chalkidiki, who, having Ouranoupoli as their base of operations, practically plundered each and every monastery. Things got better when the byzantine emperors took again the Athonian peninsula under their wing and supported generously and unsparingly monks and monasteries. As a result, the Holy Mount became in the 14th century an extremely important cultural and religious centre, where many men of letters gathered. At that time, the last of the big communal monasteries was established. The Turks came to the Holy Mount for the first time in the middle of the 14th century as pirates and continued their "commendable" destructive work a little later as conquerors of the Byzantine empire. The monastic city surrendered to various agas, beys and hordes of lanizaries, having to pay unbelievable amounts as poll-taxes and fines and trying to survive on donations offered by the sovereigns of the Danube-bordering countries. The extremely tight financial situation of most monasteries imposed the idiorrythimico regime. According to it, every monk could keep his own fortune, had to procure the means of his living and should live and pray by himself. This particular policy made monks create their own separate groups outside the twenty big communal monasteries. In these new "settlements", later called skites, the monks attended Liturgy together only on Sundays, when they also shared their meals. The Athenian skites multiplied mainly in the 18th century.
  In 1794, the Athoniada Scholi (Athonian School) was founded in Mount Athos, thereafter attracting many famous men of letters. In the following years the monasteries expanded and the destroyed buildings were restored. New monks came to the mountain and in spite of the plundering of the monasteries with heavy taxes, the Athenian city went through another golden period. This came to an end when the Greek revolution was crushed in Chalkidiki. The Holy Mount was pillaged by the Turks, both laity and monks were massacred and extremely heavy taxes came to aggravate the already shaky financial situation of the monasteries. Things started to look up after 1826, when the monks chased away by the Turks, came back to their ravaged monasteries. At the end of the 19th century when the movement of panslavism appeared in the Balkans, a crowd of Russian monks landed on the peninsula of Athos. The Russians settled in the Panteleimonos Monastery and demanded land, cells and skites in Athos, under the supervision and guidance of the Russian consulate, which was trying to establish a sphere of influence in the shaky area of the Balkans. Their efforts proved fruitless after the October revolution, when the new regime decided to abandon Russian monks and monasteries in God's mercy. On 5 November 1912 the Greek flag was hoisted in the little harbour of Dafni and in 1924 the Greek state recognized by law the regime of the Holy Mount. Asceticism went through a period of decline in the last decades of the 20th century, but after 1972 the numbers of monks in Athos started to rise again. Nowadays 1800 monks live in the Holy Mount, most of them young and well-educated.  
Some Practical Information

To visit Mount Athos you should follow a standard procedure, starting with a telephone call to the (Grafeio Proskiniton Aghiou Orous) Mount Athos Visitors Office in Thessaloniki (tel: 0310-833.733). Having given your details you will be informed about the earliest date available for your visit. And that because although there is a great number of visitors, only 120 visitors with a regular permit of stay are admitted to Mount Athos daily.
The permit of stay is the document provided by the lera Epistassia, which permits you to stay in the Holy Mount monasteries for three consecutive nights and leave on the morning of the fourth day. The duration of your stay could typically be prolonged, if you have an important reason which will be accepted by the lera Epistassia in Karyes, where you will have to apply for an extension of your permit. If you have an invitation from an acquaintance in the Holy Mount, you will be offered a "special" permit of stay:
The duration of your visit will be the same but you can only stay in the monastery where you have been invited. With a regular permit you can stay in every monastery - for one night only
which means that you should always organize your next day in Athos. At the back of your permit there is a list of telephone numbers for the monasteries that admit pilgrims and visitors and the monasteries where you will have to book your place in advance.
After you have made the telephone booking to be admitted to the Holy Mount, you could before you actually get there, arrange your visits and accommodation contacting the monasteries (see telephone numbers for all the monasteries below) for your overnight stays. On the day of your visit to Athos you should be at 9.00 a.m. at the visitors' office in Ouranoupoli (tel. 03770 -71.421) or at Lerissos (tel: 03770 - 71.421). After you present your l.D. card or documentation papers and pay the amount of 4.000 Drs you will take your permit and the little ferry leaving (weather permitting) the harbour of Ouranoupoli at 9.45 a.m. Two hours later you will reach the little harbour of Dafni, the actual starting point of your visit to the Holy Mount.
Road Network & Transportation

In 1963 the first dirt road in the Athos peninsula was made; it was the road connecting the little harbor of Dafni with Karyes. Until then, transportation and communication were achieved by means of fishing boats (for the monasteries by the sea) and paths through the forests and the steep hillsides. Because of a number of fires, ten years ago a network of forest roads were created, connecting most monasteries, skites and cells. Today in Mount Athos one can see quite a few vehicles, the most interesting being the mount Athos taxis, usually driven by monks (see the following table for phone numbers).
As soon as you arrive at Dafni (around 12.00, noon) two (private) buses will be waiting to take you to Karyes, for the modest amount of 2 Euro. The same buses take you from Karyes to Dafni at 10:45 every morning, so that visitors leaving Athos can catch the boat to Ouranoupoli. So, once in Karyes, you will have to rely on the taxi-drivers to take you to your destination.
Taxi drivers in Mount Athos

"Secular drivers" (there are two, actually!) 23770 - 23 266, 23 600
Deacon Gerassimos (Brakassakis) 23770 - 23 240
Brother Averkios 22770 - 23 745
Brother Christoforos (Kastanias) 23770 - 23 634
Priest-monk Stephanos 23770 - 23 680, 23 681
Brother Ilarion 23770 - 23 305
Brother Efthymios 23770 - 23798, 23 313
Brother Makarios 23770 - 23 267
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