In Northern Greece, to the east of Salonika, second largest city of the country and a great commercial port of the Balkans, stands Chalkidiki.
Chalkidiki is one of Greece’s 51 prefectures; it spreads over 720,053 acres, and it’s been home to Greek-speaking tribes for many, many centuries. When looking at a physical map, you will see a large earthly protrusion into the blue Aegean waters, resulting in a trident – three “fingers” of land pointing to the sea: Cassandra, the blue and green Sithonia, and the tall mount, Athos.
Athos is also called the Holy Mountain, or the Garden of the All-Holy Mother of Christ. Despite the fact that the whole region is dedicated to a woman, an interdiction of passage for females exists onMount Athos. The peninsula is a monastic haven, unspoiled from urbanization, and a World Heritage site.
From an administrative point of view, Athos is an independent monastic state whose status is governed by ancient and modern laws and rules.
- Uranopolis: Its name means The City of Heavens. It is the last station before entering Athos – where short-time residency papers are issued for those who wish to enter the area and remain there for a few days.
- Caryes: A town of approximately 230 inhabitants (census 2001), it is the capital Athos and seat of the clerical and secular administration of the state..
As everywhere on the Holy Mountain and its surroundings, females are banned — do you notice that only men are chatting at the street? It is not coincidencial, I assure you.
- Daphne: A coastal settlement of 38 inhabitants, “used mainly as a port and an entry point to the Athonite monastic state“.
Here is a map of Athos, with Uranopolis just outside its boundaries, Caryes at the center and Daphne a little more to the west.
As we can see on the map, the monasteries are built mainly near the coasts:
The mountain (Mount Athos) is 2,000+ meters (6,500+ feet) high.
High on the mountain tops, suspended between the sea and the sky, the Cross makes the site’s character very clear:
Cars are not allowed in the area; only exceptions, the buses taking people to and from, some cars belonging to the monasteries, the occasional craftsmen (for the monks don’t need much, they take quite good care of themselves, having gardens to cultivate and crops to gather for their subsistence).
Mount Athos is ideal for hikers: forested, unmolested, where human constructions remain simple and strictly functional:
The Holy Mountain was proclaimed a place of monks in 885, and no laymen or farmers or cattle-breeders were allowed since to settle there.
Long before that, Pelasgians from the island of Lemnos, Northern Aegean were the ones who populated the peninsula — the ancient Greek historiographer Herodotus recorded five cities.
Today it includes twenty sovereign monasteries, a number of sketes (“communit[ies] of Christian hermits following a monastic rule, allowing them to worship in comparative solitude, while also affording them a level of mutual practical support and security”), and several cells.