It's A Mans Mans World...... Mount Athos.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2018


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Where I stayed
Hotel Akrogiali
What I did
Boat Cruise

Flag of Greece  , Macedonia Region,
Friday, May 20, 2011

"Avan, I don't think WE are going to the Monasteries of Mount Athos - no women are allowed!"

I had borrowed a more comprehensive guide book (Fodders) from our Texan friends at Meteora, which (bless their hearts) they gave to us to keep when we parted company, and it gave information that we had not known before, that the whole peninsula where the Mt. Athos monasteries are located, is off limits to women.

"Well you will have to go on your own", I said, but then reading further and checking on the internet, we discovered that for a man to visit he must apply 6 months in advance and only 10 permits a day are released to non-orthodox visitors! If you are Greek Orthodox however, you are one of 100 a day who can visit, but 6 months notice is still required.
 
OK, plan B. We read further and found that from the closest town, a boat trip takes passengers for a sightseeing tour, keeping a required (by the monks) 500 metres distance from the shore and the trip would let us see the sacred Mt. Athos and the monasteries, so we could tick it off our UNESCO World Heritage list of sites seen.

We drove to the town of Ouranopolis and found a lovely little beachfront hotel, bargaining the price down to 30 euros for the night. The hotel was full of old Greek men and we were confused about this, then it dawned on us, they were either here for their pilgrimage to the monasteries (after giving the required 6 months notice) or monks having a bit of R & R from monastic life. Both we think.  

We boarded the boat for the 3 hour trip at 10.00 and shared the journey with some very devout nuns who crossed themselves many times at the sight of the monasteries and the holy Mount Athos. It seems an oxymoron that they want to go and pay homage to a place their religion bans them from visiting just by way of their sex, and the site is dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Virgin Mary!

The peninsula of Mount Athos has a wall stopping anyone from entering by road and has always been cut off from the rest of Greece, making it effectively a private island. The monks are not answerable to Greek Law or taxes, but run their community through their own Abbots, and so effectively as much an independent country as the Vatican, though not recognised as such by the UN. What we observed from our 500 metre exclusion zone was the monks don't seem to be living a life of austerity, with modern vehicles and speed boats in the bays. They live in very large regular style houses as well as the larger monasteries. Some 2000 males currently live on the peninsula, including Monks and employees.

According to my guide book, the Virgin Mary it is said, was blown off course by accident on her way to Ephesus and landed near Mt. Athos. She decreed that it be made holy and that it be off limits to any other women, than herself and so it has been since then.

That rates pretty highly on our "most bizarre" list I think!

Trip over we had a hasty lunch, then set off to head in the direction of Athens, hoping to catch a ferry to the island of Skiathos and some beach time.

Footnote: Mount Athos is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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