Agion Oros -meaning “Holy Mountain”- or else Mount Athos is a monastic community which was established about a thousand years ago. Although it belongs to Greece, it is an autonomous land, a monastic republic governed by its own administration.
Extending on a peninsula in Northern Greece marble and limestone Athos Mountain forms a place of unique beauty with an amazingly diverse landscape consisting of gorges, valleys and ravines combining the wilderness of land with the deep blue of the sea and the mysticism of twenty monasteries, some of which give the impression that hang over the sea. Apart from the monasteries, there are “Skites” which are smaller monasteries, “Kalyves” meaning “huts” in Greek, “Kellia” a kind of farm houses, “Kathismata” where a single monk lives and “Hesychasteria” which means “peaceful places”, are usually situated on a cliff and are inhabited by hermits.
Once somebody enters Agion Oros realizes that he has entered a different world at a different time, which is true, as they still use the Julian Calendar. Life there follows the strict Byzantine rules which have their roots deeply in the past. Being hosted at the monastery the visitor has chosen they have to respect the habits and customs of it and have to follow the schedule the monks have.
The visit begins in Ouranoupoli –meaning “city in the sky” - where the Athos Bureau is situated. There, the visitor has to go through some bureaucracy as following: When one enters Mount Athos he usually chooses a monastery and presents himself to the Committee. The applicant must absolutely be eighteen years old and has to belong to the Orthodox Church. If someone is a non-orthodox visitor a letter of recommendation from their embassy or an academic institution is required. They must also explain in another letter the reason for their visit. Last but not least, the visitor must be a man, as the place cannot be approached by any female creature!