- Location:In north Aegean Sea in Macedonia
- Significance: Center of Eastern Christian Orthodox Monasticism; UNESCO World Heritage
- Attraction type: Monastic Island
- Best Time to Visit: All through the year
- How to Reach: By road from Thessaloniki to Ierissos, Ouranoupolis or Nea Roda and then by boat.
- Nearest Airport: Thessaloniki Airport
Mount Athos in Greece represents the crux of Eastern Christian Orthodox Monasticism. An area of exceptional natural beauty, Mount Athos abounds in monuments and artifacts of historic, artistic and national importance. This Greek heritage is also a center of Orthodox Christianity where rites and customs to enhance spirituality are practiced and maintained. Mount Athos is also a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The significance of Mount Athos lies in its total dedication for spiritual activities, worship and prayers. Twenty monasteries dated from 3rd century to 14th century speak volumes of the religious importance of this place and its contribution to the Christian Orthodox community. Holy Monastery of Karakalos, founded in 3rd century by Empress Karakalla, is the oldest among these monasteries, while the monasteries of Gregorios, Pantokrator and Dionysnos constructed in the 14th century are the latest. Among the twenty monasteries, the Holy Monastery of Megistilavra founded in 963 AD is of the highest order while the Holy Monastery of Kastamonitis is of the lowest order.
As per Christian tradition, Virgin Mary together with Evangelist John while on their way to Lazarus had to take shelter on this island. The Virgin Mary was so stunned with the ethereal beauty of this place that she asked for the mountain as a gift from God. In response to her prayers, God gifted this place as the Virgin Mary’s garden, and a place of salvation. Thereafter Mount Athos is respected as ‘the garden of The Virgin Mary’ and a place of salvation for the weary soul.
The Athenian monastic community, which has been inhabiting this Macedonian area, has developed a culture inherent of its own. Being exposed to Byzantine, Ottoman, and Greek cultures, these Athos monasteries .play a significant role in shaping the cultural and spiritual life of the Orthodox people in general and Macedonians in particular.
Mount Athos Tour
Tour of Mount Athos is an informative journey into the medieval past. Each of these monasteries resembles a castle with majestic walls and dominating towers with loopholes. The reason for the fortification was to ward off attacks of Franks, Catalans, and pirates who were primarily looters. The main entrance with two smaller gates is typical of all the monasteries. A heavy wooden door lined with iron rods from inside and plates on the outside is particularly noticeable. In between the gates, a small cell serves as the entrance to the monastery. After checking in, the ‘pylorus’ or gatekeeper leads you to meet the ‘archontariki’ or chief host who greets you with tsipouro, coffee, water, and Turkish delight. The ‘archontariki’ shows you to your room where you would put up for the night. It is customary to gather in the courtyard at 4 pm for visiting the main church or ‘Catholics’. Around the ‘catholic’ you would notice bells of various sizes and shapes.
You have your food in the ‘trapeze’ where food is served at the ring of a bell. Meals consist of traditional bread, vegetables, olives, fruits, and wine of the highest quality. On special occasions, fish is served while the meat is not served at all. During the course of the meal, the Reader reads sermons and verses from The Bible.