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"Mt. Athos is an empire bereft of an emperor,
a State lacking an army,
Earth devoid of women,
Wealth excluding money,
Wisdom not springing from school,
Kitchen without meat,
incessant Prayer,
unbreakable link with Heaven,
determined Prayer to Our Lord,
Death void of regret."





Mt. Athos, a unique monastic state, the third "finger" of the Khalkidhiki peninsula. The heart of world’s Orthodoxy, the last remaining icon of the forgotten Byzantine Empire and the largest temple in the world.

Mt. Athos is the sole state in the world where there are no recorded births, only deaths.

This wonderful country, with a thousand year long history of silence and prayer, is a refuge for Athonites wishing to die for this world and become reborn in Christ.

A mountainous region, covered in dense forests and cleaved with gorges, occasionally tame, ruthless at times, splashed by the clear emerald waters of the Aegean sea.   Legend has it that Our Lady resides on Mt. Athos, which rises 2033 meters above sea level and soars into the clouds. 

In ancient times, Mt. Athos was called Apolloniade, with Zeus's temple situated on its top.

Legend has it that Our Lady, having received Holy Spirit's blessing, travelled to Cyprus and encountered a storm, forcing her to disembark on Mt. Athos shores.  The polytheists accepted Our Lady, listened to her sermon and made the sign of the cross.  This is when Our Lady worked many wonders here.  Before continuing her journey, she declared one of the apostles teacher and guardian.

Having blessed the people, she continued:
"May Our Lord bless this place and its inhabitants, who live to preserve My Son's and Lord's Commandments.   They shall receive the necessary goods in abundance without much effort, a place in Heaven shall await them and My Son's mercy would not leave them until the end of time.    I will represent this place and pray fervently for it to Our Lord."

From that moment on, Mt. Athos became known as Our Lady's garden.

Mt. Athos was under Christian-persecuting Roman governance until 313, when Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, granting civil rights and full religious freedom to the Christians.  The monastic community of Mt. Athos had already expanded prior to 313.  The first monasteries had already been constructed.

In 442, the so-called "Avato" was enforced, forbidding women from accessing Mt. Athos.  Thedosius the Great's daughter, princess Placidia, visited Vatopedi monastery, but at one point, Our Lady's icon ordered her to back off.    This law is in effect at the present moment and it was breached several times during the tumultuous history of Mt. Athos. At times, certain women tried to sneak into the forbidden grounds.

In the 9th century, Athonite monks were granted self-government by a royal charter and their numbers rapidly grew.
Slavic, Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian monks emerged.
With the Byzantine demise in 1453, the period of Turkish reign commenced, but Mt. Athos preserved the freedom of worshipping Orthodoxy and self-governance, whilst paying taxes.
The Russian empire greatly aided Athonites throughout this period.

Today, there are 20 great Mt. Athos monasteries, 12 sketes, numerous cells and monk dwellings, with cliffs inhabited by hermits.

17 monasteries belong to the Greek monastic community: Great Lavra, Vatopedi, Iviron, Dionysiou, Grigoriu, Aghiou Pavlou, Xiropotamou, Xenophontos, Koutloumousiou, Pantokratoros, Filotheou, Karakalou, Dochiariou, Esphigmenou, Simonopetra, Stavronikita and Konstamonitou. 

These include the Serbian monastery Hilandar, the Russian Panteleimon and Bulgarian Zografou.

The Romanians have their skete: Holy Forerunner or Prodromou, at the very edge of the peninsula.

Karyes is a medieval town at the heart of Mt. Athos.  This unique capital of Mt. Athos is the seat of the Holy Council, headed by the Protos.  Karyes also includes the konaki of all Mt. Athos monasteries.
Serbs especially treasure St. Sava's cell, which holds the miraculous Our Lady icon and since lately, St. Sava's staff. Monk Nicodimus of Hilandar spends his days here praying fervently.

Mt. Athos is visited daily by numerous pilgrims, Orthodox Christians and many kind-hearted people.   While planning a trip to this monastic republic, you must have in mind that Athos is not a tourist venue.  Monasteries are not hotels and it's essential to obey the order and rules at the home of those who chose the monastic life, all the while respecting their hospitality as one of the greatest Christian virtues.

When visiting Mt. Athos, it is important to plan in advance. Your visiting date must be approved by the Athos Pilgrim Office in Thessaloniki.
The daily visitor number is limited to 120. Mt. Athos can only be reached by boat, either from Ouranoupolis or Ierissos harbor.
Before getting onto the boat, you must obtain the Diamontirion and pay the required fees.

Once you reach the monastery, you will be escorted into the visitor area. As customary, a monk will politely offer you refreshments, coffee, Turkish delight, rakija (cipoura) and fresh water and subsequently lead you to a bedded cell.
They will introduce to the service and meal time schedules.  Staying at a monastery is a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of the treasury of spirituality and the feeling of eternity.  Before going to bed, during the evening service in the temple, a monk will exhibit the holy relics - incorrupt remains of saints and introduce you to the monastery's treasures and history.

During mealtime, a praying atmosphere dominates in the refectory.   Small talk is not welcome and at sunset, everyone retreats to their cell silently.  Mt. Athos customs don't allow short trousers or short-sleeved shirts. Cameras aren't allowed too.  You can take pictures of monks or churchyards only with their blessing (approval).   You should bear in mind that monks are neither tourist attractions nor tour guides and they should be spared off unnecessary disturbances.
 Mt. Athos rules forbid hunting, fishing or bathing. Spending a night at a monastery can be arranged with the monastery several weeks prior to arrival.  The time is scheduled by phone or fax, on work days before noon.

It's worth mentioning that ships sail exclusively in the morning. For daily group visits, you need to book a special boat (which is fairly expensive) in agreement with the port officials.

Women can get onto boats circling Athos during daytime, sailing 500 meters away from the coastline. This is highly recommended for women during the summer, since they are forbidden from accessing Mt. Athos.   All the monasteries are visible from the sea,
except Hilandar, Zografou, Koutloumousiou and Konstamonitou.


Women can visit certain metochas (monastery property outside its grounds),
like the Hilandar metocha of Kakovo, in the vicinity of Ierissos. 

Each visit to Mt. Athos is different and inspires you to return. 

Almost anyone who visited it once will return again.  St. Sava's well in Hilandar was dug by St. Sava himself, according to legend. Anyone who drinks its water will return to Mt. Athos.  Visiting Mt. Athos is particularly significant to Serbian people.  This is where they get acquainted with the most important aspects of our cultural and historical heritage.
Meeting the Hilandar monks, long mutual prayers, festive meals are experiences like no other.

Since the tragic fire accident, the monastery's living conditions have worsened
and it can't accommodate as many visitors.
However, the monastery is in the process of recovery
(owing to the generosity of Serbian and Greek donors) and it will
regain its former magnificence in the years to come.
It is our mutual obligation to preserve St. Sava's and St. Simeon's monastery.


The 20 monasteries are split into 5 groups, each of them consisting of 4 monasteries.
Each group's leading monastery can send its Protos to Karyes.

The groups have the following structure: 

The first group consists of Great Lavra, Dochiariou, Xenophontos and Esphigmenou.
The second group consists of Vatopedi, Koutloumousiou, Karakalou and Stavronikita.

The third group comprises Iviron, Pantokratoros, Filotheou and Simonopetra.

The fourth group includes Hilandar, Xiropotamou, Aghiou Pavlou and Grigoriou.

The fifth group comprises Dionysiou, Zografou, Panteleimon and Konstamonitou.

The hierarchy dates back from the 15th century and hasn’t been altered ever since.