Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece, an important center of Orthodox monasticism. Mount Athos, also called Mount Athos or the state of Mount Athos, is governed as an autonomous state within the Hellenic Republic. Mount Athos is home to 20 monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Mount Athos Peninsula is the easternmost "leg" of the larger Halkidiki peninsula and stretches 50 km into the Aegean Sea with a width of between 7 km and 12 km. Mount Athos covers an area of 335.6 sq.m. Mount Athos has steep, densely forested slopes, reaching a height of 2,033 meters.
Although Mount Athos is legally part of the European Union as part of Greece, the monastic state and the Mount Athos institutions have a special jurisdiction, which was confirmed during the accession of Greece to the European Community (predecessor of the EU). This gives the monastic state the power to regulate the free movement of people and goods on its territory.
Mount Athos has been inhabited since ancient times and is known for its almost 1800-year-old Christian presence and long historical monastic traditions dating back at least 800 years. Today, more than 2,000 monks from Greece and many other countries, including Eastern Orthodox countries such as Romania , Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia live in Mount Athos, isolated from the rest of the world. The Athos monasteries have a rich collection of well-preserved artifacts, rare books, ancient documents and works of art of great historical value. Mount Athos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The surrounding seas, especially at the end of the peninsula, have proven to be very dangerous. In ancient Greek history, two disasters were recorded in the area: in 492 BC Darius, king of Persia, lost 300 ships, and in 411 BC the Spartans lost a fleet of 50 ships. Although connected to the ground, Mount Athos is practically accessible only by ferry. Agios Panteleimon and Axion Estin travel daily between Ouranoupoli and Daphne, with stops at some monasteries on the west coast. There is also a smaller speedboat, the Agia Anna, which travels the same route, but without intermediate stops. It is possible to travel by ferry to and from Erisos for direct access to the monasteries on the east coast.
The number of daily visitors to Mount Athos is limited and everyone must obtain a special entry permit, valid for a limited period of time. Only men are allowed to visit what the monks call the "Garden of the Virgin Mary," and Orthodox Christians have priority in permitting procedures. The inhabitants of the peninsula must be men over the age of 18 who are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as monks or workers.
The monasteries of Mount Athos have a long history of opposing reconciliation movements between the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. The monastery of Esphigmenou stood out in this struggle, even raising black flags in protest against the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople with Pope Paul VI in 1972. Esphigmenou was subsequently expelled from the Athos community. The conflict escalated in 2002 with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, declaring the monks of Esfigmeno an illegal fraternity and ordering their expulsion. The monks refused to be expelled, and the patriarch ordered a new fraternity to replace them.
After the monks reached the critical number of only 1,145 mostly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries underwent constant and prolonged renovation. By 2000, the monastic population had reached 1,610, with all 20 monasteries accepting mostly young, well-educated monks. In 2009 the population numbered nearly 2000 people.
Many young monks have university education and advanced skills that allow them to work on the restoration of manuscripts, clothing, icons, liturgical objects, and other works of art, most of which remain unknown to the public. It is estimated that it will take several decades to complete these restoration and archival works, funded by UNESCO and the EU and supported by many academic institutions.
Mount Athos is governed by the "Holy Community", which consists of representatives of the 20 sacred monasteries, and the executive committee is the four-member "Holy Administration", which is headed by Protos. The civil authorities are represented by a civil governor appointed by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main duty is to control the functions of the institutions and public order. In each of the 20 monasteries, the administration is in the hands of the abbot, who is elected by the fraternity for life. He is the master and spiritual father of the monastery. The Fraternity Convention is a legislative body.
There is a ban on the entry of women on Mount Athos, which aims to make life easier in celibacy for the men who have chosen this path. Monks believe that the presence of women changes the social dynamics of the community and therefore slows down their path to spiritual enlightenment. The ban was officially announced by several emperors, including Constantine Monomachos.
Several cases of female presence on Mount Athos have been recorded. Such as that of the French writer Mary Chase, who entered Mount Athos in the 1920s disguised as a sailor. She later published A Month with Men. Another female presence on Mount Athos was that of Aliki Didariku in the 1930s. The lady was a participant in a Greek beauty contest and won the title of Miss Europe. She also dresses like a man and sneaks into Mount Athos, and her whole act and consequences are discussed in an article from July 13, 1953, entitled "The Climax of Sin".
In 1953, Cora Miller, an American teacher from Athens, briefly attended Mount Athos with two other women, sparking a dispute between local monks. On May 26, 2008, five Moldovans illegally entered Greece via Turkey, completing their trip to Mount Athos. Four of the migrants are women. The monks forgave them for the violation, only informing them that the area was forbidden to women.
A 2003 European Parliament resolution called for the removing of the ban on breaches of the "universally recognized principle of gender equality". Female animals - chickens, cows, sheep, goats, mares and sows are also restricted. An exception is made only for female cats, female insects and female songbirds.
The Athos monasteries have huge deposits of priceless medieval artistic treasures, including icons, liturgical vestments and objects (crosses, rings), codices and other Christian texts, imperial chrysobulums, holy relics, etc. Among the most ancient and priceless codes in Mount Athos are the Code of Athos Lawrence and the Code of Mount Athos Dionysius. The Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days apart from the Gregorian calendar, is still used on Mount Athos.