Mount Athos

The Agion Oros (Holy Mountain) is a self-governed part of the Greek state, politically subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as regards its religious aspect. The mountain is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, and by an emperial document (typicon) the "avaton" was established and no female may set foot on the peninsula. Most of its inhabitants are orthodox monks living in monasteries, sketae (cloisters), cells and hermitages, and those who are not members of the clergy, such as employees, workers, but also the numerous visitors to the Agion Oros, who come for the purposes of meditation, prayer and study.

Of the 20 monasteries, one is Russian, one is Bulgarian, one is Serbian and the rest are Greek. There is also a Romanian sketae. The foreign monasteries are supported by their respective countries. These monasteries posses Holy Relics, icons, frescoes and mosaics of great value. Liturgical vestments, historical text, rare documents and manuscripts - all historical heirlooms - are kept in their libraries. Many of course have been lost and others were stolen during various raids.

The first to settle here were icon-worshippers members of the clergy fleeing from the persecution of the iconoclasts. They came and lived as anchorites, unknown, and literally alone inside the caves. Later, monasteries were built and then, they were organised in a monastic state. The Agion Oros became a refuge for those seeking to save their soul through fasting and praying. Even, Byzantine emperors came and lived as monks here. The right of autonomy of the Agion Orhos was granted gradually, initially by the Byzantine emperors Nikiforos Fokas and Ioannis Tsimiskis and persisted throughout the Turkish Occupation up to this day.

During the years of enslavement it was a centre of the National Movement, and many who were wanted by the Turks took refuge there. The common visitor can stay for free at each monastery for two days. Those who want to carry out studies, can stay for as long as they want. An entire civilisation, different from modern civilisation, is preserved not only in the libraries, but throughout this special state and is people, in peace and quiet.

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