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Monasteries of Mount Athos

Monastery of Simon Petra

Mount Athos or Agion Oros(Holy Mountain) is the oldest surviving monastic region in the world, dating back more than 1,000 years. It is self-governing region that occupies the major portion of the Athos peninsula.

Mount Athos has about 20 major monasteries, 12 hermitages and about 700 cells and retreats and, because of its isolation, is considered one of the most unspoiled landscapes in Greece.

The rugged peninsula is only two kilometres wide at its narrowest and 56 kilometres long, with a backbone of mountain peaks topped my Mount Athos at just over 2,000 metres high.

Hidden among the forest gorges and perched in what look like impossible positions are imposing monasteries. The ecclesiastical artwork in the monasteries is both ancient and exquisite, turning them into living museums. Most have extensive collections of manuscripts, icons, and gold and silver objects.

Religious rules are strictly enforced and women are not allowed to set foot on the Holy Mountain. Men are only allowed by hard to obtain permits and overnight visits can only be arranged in advance with one of the monasteries. The great majority of tourists are restricted to boat trips around Athos and viewing monasteries through cameras or binoculars.

Some of the most popular monasteries and churches are:

  • Church of the Protato in Karies: Built in the 10th century and renovated in the 13th, Protato is a triforium basilica with impressive icons and frescos.
  • Monastery Megistis Lavras: Founded in the 10th century on the south-western tip of the peninsula Megistis Lavras is the largest monastic block in Mt. Athos.
  • Monastery Vatopedi: Built in the 10th century on the east coast Vatopedi is triangular and surrounded by high walls. Its main attractions are mosaics and frescos.
  • Monastery Ivron: Founded in the 10th century on the east coast Ivron has splendid icons and a superb library.
  • Monastery Xenofon: Said to have been built in the 11th century, Xenofon is famous for its wooden screens and mosaic icons.
  • Monastery Simon Petras: A multi-level monastery built in the 14th century.
  • Monastery Agios Panteleimon: Founded in the 11th century, it was destroyed in the 13th century and reconstructed in the late 18th.

Other monasteries that are often visited are Agios Dionysios, Agios Pavlos, Chelandarios, Docharios, Esfigmenos, Grigorios, Karakallos, Kastamonitios, Koutloumousios, Pantokratoros, Philotheos, Stavronikitas, Xiropotamos and Zografos.