The Athos peninsula, the third and easternmost “leg” of Halkidiki, is widely known for the autonomous monastic community of Mount Athos, also commonly referred to as the Holy Mountain or the “Garden of the Virgin Mary”. It is considered as one of the most important monastic communities in Greece and elsewhere, due to its great historic, religious and cultural value.
According to tradition, Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist were sailing to Cyprus to visit Lazarus, when a storm forced them to anchor at a port, close to the present monastery of Iviron.
Overwhelmed by the wild natural beauty of the place, the Mother of God asked her Son to donate the whole mountain to her, and from that moment Mount Athos is regarded as the inheritance and the garden of Virgin Mary.
It is the only region in Greece which is completely consecrated to the adoration of God and to prayer. It is a self-governed part of the Greek State, under the political supervision of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Mount Athos covers an area of 350 square metres, with Fragkokastro to the west and Cape Arapis at its opposite tip as its natural borders. It consists of 20 monasteries in total, which are divided into two categories: the Royal monasteries (which were founded following the orders of Byzantine emperors or ratified by an emperors’ chrysobull) and the Patriarchal monasteries (which are associated with the Patriarchate of Constantinople).
The oldest and largest monastery is Megisti Lavra, built in 963. Other significant monasteries are Vatopedi, where the Cincture of the Blessed Virgin Mary is safeguarded, along with parts of the Holy Cross, Iviron, which was built in 980 and ranks third in the Athonite hierarchy, and Esfigmenou, which, according to tradition, was founded by Emperor Theodosios II and his sister Pulcheria in the 5th century and was rebuilt from the foundations up in the mid-10th century.
The seat of Mount Athos is Karyes. In the heart of the settlement lie the administration building of the Holy Community, the major church Protato, where the miraculous ikon of Aksion Esti is kept, as well as the library of the Holy Community (hosting thousands of printed books, 82 manuscript codes and the first Typicon of Mount Athos written on goatskin parchment), which is housed in the ancient Tower across the Protato.
If you wish to visit Mount Athos, read details on “Admittance to Mount Athos”. In case you don’t have the possibility or the time to pay a visit, a cruise around the HolyMountain is highly recommended.