Athos – Chalkidiki

Athos (Agion Oros) is the last prong and the most beautiful of all. Civilization has not intruded into the Holly Mountain, which is inhabited solely by monks. Rising majestically out of the sea to a height of 2,033 m, Athos is covered with virgin forests; its physical beauty is almost overwhelming. The magnificent peninsula has been the sole province of men dedicated to the workship of God and the Virgin for well over a thousand years. In 885, the Byzantine emperor Basil I, proclaimed it the exclusive domain of monks and hermits.

In 963, the first organized monastery was founded. A century later it was decreed that “no smooth faced person” be permitted to violate its sanctity. This prohibition is still enforced, and no female may set foot on Mt. Athos. Centuries of isolation and devotion to the Orthodox religion have endowed the Holy Mountain with a unique mystical atmosphere.

In its prime, in the 15th century, Athos boasted 40 monasteries and about 40,000 monks. Nowadays the number of functioning monasteries has dwindled to 20 with a population of approximately 1,700 brethren. Surrounded by an incalculable wealth of ecclesiastical treasures, rare icons and libraries stocked with precious manuscripts, they live simply according to a strict regime of prayer and labor untouched by modern frivolities. Men wishing to visit the Holy Mountain are admitted by special permit only. The rest must be content to end their journey at Ouranoupolis, Heaven’s City, where they can be consoled with a cruise around the extraordinary peninsula. Known for its aquamarine waters and delightful beaches, Ouranoupolis may be as close to paradise as we will ever get.