Mount Athos, which is also known as the holy mountain, is located on the Eastern Halkidiki Peninsula near Thessalonica, Greece. It is one of the most important centers for Orthodox Christians.

Mount Athos was regarded as one of the most important monastic sites during the Byzantine empire. During this period, there were 46 monasteries on the site which attracted monks from all over the world.

Currently, the holy mountain is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also one of the historical sites you should visit when you are in Greece.

This composition will provide all the necessary information you should know before planning to visit mount Athos.

History and background of mount Athos

Mount Athos is a holy site that starts inhabiting monks during the 19th century. It is located on one of the Greek peninsulas.

The holy mountain is about 50 km long and 10 km wide. It covers an area of 330 Square kilometers.

The origin of the name mount Athos varies. A source says during the battle between the gods and the giants, the giant Athos threw a huge rock at the god of the sea (poseidon). The rock fell into the sea and became the holy mount Athos.
Another source says the history of mount Athos began when Mary was traveling on the island of Cyprus to visit her friend. Her ship was blown off and guided by divine signs to a protected side and docked there. Looking upward at the mountain and its beauty, she declares “this mountain is holy ground. This area is also known as the garden of the virgin mary.

During the 6th and 7th centuries, monks found mount Athos as a deserted place to worship in peace. During the 9th century, these monks began to gather in small communities all over Athos.

The era of organized monastic life begins in 963 AD with the establishment of the first monastery, the Great Lavra. The founder of this monastery was Athanasios of the Athonite.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, more monasteries were constructed but mount athos remains an important monastic site in the Byzantine empire.

In 1822, the greatest tragedy occurred. Thousands of women and children seek refuge in the area, and Turkish armies kill the women and the children including the monks, steal all the treasures, and burn valuable manuscripts.

During the end of Ottoman domination in 1912, mount Athos had around 10,000 monks. Currently, mount Athos is a self-governing area of the Greek state. It is governed by the holy community which consists of representatives from 20 holy monasteries.

The monasteries of mount Athos

Mount Athos consists of 20 monasteries. 17 of these monasteries are Greek while one is Russian, one is Serbian and one is Bulgarian. These 20 monasteries are under the supervision of the archimandrite of mount Athos. Each monastery has a representative called Protos, this representative attends a joint governing council.

The Greek monastery includes :

  • Monastery Stavronikita

    This is one of the smallest monasteries of mount Athos. It was established by the Patriarch Jeremiah I in 1540. It was founded to replace an older monastery that was already in existence in the 11th century.
    Numerous active monks still dwell in the monastery as they provide restoration of the building and hospitality to the pilgrims.

  • Monastery Xenofondos

    This monastery is built by the sea and dedicated to St George. It was built in the early 18th century. The monastery has 14 chapels, and 8 of the chapels are inside the monastery.

  • Monastery Megistis Lavras

    This is the first and the most renowned monastery. It was established in 963 AD by Athanasius the Athonite.
    Since the existence of the monastery, it has always held first place among others because of its wealth. The monastery is always open from sunrise to sunset.

  • Monastery Osiou Grigoriou

    This monastery was built by the sea during the 14th century. It is located Southwest of the peninsula and is dedicated to St Nicholas. This monastery inhabits about 100 monks today which makes it one of the most inhabited monasteries. The library has about 297 manuscripts and 4000 books.

  • Monastery Dionisiou

    This monastery was built by the monk Dionysius of Koryssos in the middle 14th century. It was built on a rock, high above the sea. There is a defensive tower inside the monastery, used for the safekeeping of the monastery library.

  • Monastery Koutloumousiou

    This monastery ranks sixth in the hierarchy of the Athonite monastery. It was founded by the monk Kallistos from the garden of Koutloumous. The monastery has more than 600 manuscripts and 6500 printed books.

  • Monastery Iviron

    This monastery was built at the end of the 10th century by a Georgian monk, St John. It is the third in the hierarchy of monasteries. This monastery was dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos.
    Pilgrims visit this monastery for the legendary miracles of the Panagia Portaitissa.

  • Monastery Filotheou

    This monastery was founded by the St Filotheous in 972. It was called Fteris monastery in the beginning. The new name was given in honor of Christ’s annunciation. The monastery library possesses about 250 manuscripts and 2500 printed books.

  • Monastery karakalou

    This monastery was built around the 11th century by Karakalas. It was dedicated to St Peter and Paul.
    The library has about 279 manuscripts and 2500 printed books.

  • Monastery Pantokratoros

    This monastery was established by two Byzantine officials, Alexios and Ioannis. It is dedicated to the transfiguration of the savior. The monastery has 15 chapels while the library possesses 350 manuscripts and above 3500 printed books.

  • Monastery Vatopediou

    This monastery was founded by three monks, Athanasius, Nicholas, and Antonius. It is dedicated to the Annunciation of the blessed virgin.
    The monastery library contains around 2000 manuscripts and 35000 printed books.

  • Monastery Esphigmenou

    This monastery was founded in the 10th century. It is built by the sea and surrounded by a rectangular wall. The monastery library has about 372 manuscripts and 3000 printed books.

  • Monastery Dochiariou

    This monastery is one of the most beautiful. It was built during the 10th century and dedicated to the archangels Micheal and Gabriel. This monastery has the most respected and valuable icon which is the icon virgin. Its library has about 900 manuscripts and 3000 printed books

  • Monastery Xiropotamou

    This monastery was built at the end of the 10th century by Paul xiropotaminous. It was dedicated to the forty martyrs. The monastery library has around 400 manuscripts and 4000 printed books. It is inhabited by 38 monks today.

  • Monastery Simonos Petras

    This monastery is the bold construction of the peninsula. It was founded by Hosios Simon and dedicated to the birth of Christ.It was burnt down by fire in 1891 and lost nearly all its treasures, this made the library have only 1500 printed books and few manuscripts.A brotherhood of 60 monks lives inside this monastery today.

  • Monastery Saint Paul

    This monastery was founded by Paul xiropataninous, the same founder of the monastery Xiropotamou. The monastery was destroyed and rebuilt many times, which makes it building belong to a different period. Its library contains about 12500 printed books and 490 manuscripts.

  • Monastery Konstamonitou

    This monastery was built in a forest, 200m above the sea. It was established by the great Constantine and later integrated by his son Konstas. The monastery library contains around 110 manuscripts.

    The remaining three monasteries are:

  • Monastery Hilandariou (Serbian)

    This monastery was founded by Stefan Nemanja in the 12th century. The church is dedicated to the presentation of the blessed virgin mary. The monastery library contains 181 Greek manuscripts, 809 Slavic manuscripts, and 20000 printed books.

  • Monastery Zografou (Bulgarian)

    This monastery was founded by three brothers in the 10th century. The brothers are Aaron, John, and Moses from Achris. It is dedicated to Saint George.
    The monastery library contains 126 greek manuscripts, 388 Slavic manuscripts, and 10000 printed books.

  • Monastery saint panteleimonos (Russian)

    This monastery is also known as the monastery of the Russians. The church is dedicated to saint Panteleimon. This monastery had the second biggest bell on earth after that in st Petersburg. The monastery Library contains about a combined 1920 Greek and Russian manuscripts and 20000 printed books.

Visiting mount Athos

Mount Athos is a restricted area which makes visiting a difficult procedure. The holy mountain is not a vacation venue nor a place for catching fun. It is strictly a destination for pilgrimage.

Entrance into the Holy Mountain is strictly for men only, women have not been allowed inside the environment for more than thousands of years.

You must obtain a permit called Diamonitirion to enter the mountain. This permit is usually issued daily for 10 foreigners and orthodox visitors, and 100 for Orthodox Greeks visitors.
A permit lasts for 4 visiting days. It can be extended at the registration office in karyes, the capital of mount Athos. You must make your reservation up to six months in advance, the earlier the better. Reservation can be done via phone, fax, or email. The reservation cost 3 euros.

Contact for making a reservation :

Location: The mount Athos Pilgrim bureau, 109 Egnatia St. 546 22 Thessalonikiki, Greece. Fax: +3- 2310-222424
Email: [email protected]

Mobile: +30-2310-252578

The permit will be given to you at the pilgrim office branch at Ouranoupolis. From Thessaloniki, twice-daily buses are going to Ouranoupolis. You can purchase the ticket in advance online.

Upon arrival at ouranoupolis, you pick up your permit (Diamonitirion) at the Pilgrim’s branch. From Ouranoupolis, boats leave for the holy Mountai8 at 8 am, 9:45 am, and 11:45 am. You can get the ticket on the waterfront near the jetty. Upon getting to mount Athos, everyone must register in the office at Karyes.

Mount Athos is a holy and pilgrimage site. Some ground rules must be strictly followed by the visitors. Visitor permits can be withdrawn if any visitors violate the rules. Here are some of the rules:

  • Dress moderately
  • Pictures of monks should be taken only with permission
  • You can take pictures of buildings, and scenes but not of services.
  • Video recording is prohibited
  • You should refrain from talking loudly or playing music loudly via a speaker.

The Holy Mountain is a pilgrimage site that has 20 monasteries. 17 Greek monasteries, 1 Russian monastery, 1 Bulgarian monastery, and 1 Serbian monastery. All these monasteries have their different histories, values, uniqueness, and significance to the history of Greece.

You should start your plan as early as six months in advance. The entry permit is only issued to 10 foreign visitors daily, and 100 Greek visitors daily. The permit lasts for 4 visiting days (3 nights).

You should always follow the rules and principles of the mountain. Your entry permit can be revoked if you violate any of the regulations.

You can read further and make more research on mount Athos before the start of your process. Enjoy your trip to the holy mountain.


Written by :  Lawal Usman

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