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Holy Monasteries

On the southeastern edge of Athonite territory, where Mount Athos calmly descends to the sea among verdant green hills, the monastery of Megisti (Great) Lavra was founded in AD 963 by Athanasios the Athonite. This grand project was generously funded by Emperor Nikephoros Phokas, so that his friend Athanasios could gather all the ascetic monks there. By royal decree, the monastery secured regular funding both from the island of Lemnos and from the Monastery of Peristeres in Thessaloniki, which was also annexed to Lavra. And so, on the site where Akrothoi, the ancient city of the Pelasgians, once flourished, there rose on a rock plateau, 160 meters above sea level, the remarkable monastery of Lavra.

The Catholicon was built in the 10th century as a composite, four-pillar cruciform with a dome, a narthex and side chapels. It is decorated with rare frescoes made by the renowned Theophanes from Crete in the early 16th century. The tomb of Agios Athanasios is in one of the church’s chapels, which is dedicated to the Holy Forty Martyrs; the saint’s feast is on 5 July. The relics of Agios Athanasios are kept in a special larnax with seven oil lamps burning above it. Two precious icons are kept in the same chapel. One depicts Jesus Christ and the other the Virgin Mary, so called Oikonomissa (keeper of the house). Besides the Catholicon, Lavra has 37 chapels. In one of these, dedicated to Agios Athanasios, the iron rod is kept with which the saint struck the stone in a cross and brought forth water, as well as his iron cross, weighing 4 kilograms, that the saint carried on his chest during hours-long masses solely as exercise. Another important chapel is that of Panagia Koukouzelissa, site of the famous miracle involving the imperial cantor Koukouzelis in the 12th century.

West of the entrance of the Catholicon is the Refectory, with great frescoes and brilliant decorations. It is divided into three zones. The first depicts the 24 strophes of the Akathist Hymn; the middle one shows successive scenes from the life and martyrdom of the saints; in the lower zone saints, monks and ascetics who are greatly honored by the monks of Athos are depicted in full length. The Tree of Jesse, Thales, Aristotle, Solon, Philo, Galen, Cleanthes and others are also represented here. The main feature of these illustrations is that the dark base color is barely discernible and they are dominated by bright tones.

Behind the Catholicon lies the treasury and the extensive library – the wisdom and memories of centuries. Wisdom and memories of centuries Untold riches that the reverence of emperors, patriarchs, rulers and simple anonymous Christians gathered here to illuminate the centuries to come. Στο σκευοφυλάκιο μεταξύ άλλων φυλάγονται ο σάκκος του αυτοκράτορα Kept in the sacristy, among other things, is the sakkos (purple mantle) of Emperor Nikephoros Phokas, weighing 6 kilograms with precious stones and colorful roses, the emperor’s crown, and a gospel decorated with precious stones; portable mosaic icons; a quiver with poisonous arrows from ancient times; a piece of wood from the True Cross; and manuscript gospels, relics from many saints, weapons from the 1821 Greek War of Independence, encolpia, holy grails, wood-carved icons, sacred vessels, vestments and much more. The library contains 2,200 codices, of which 470 are on parchment (10th – 14th centuries), 50 membrane scrolls and 10,000 printed documents. There are also three tombs of Patriarchs and hundreds of portable icons of great value kept in a particular chapel.

Today the monastery is idiorrhythmic. Between the Catholicon and the Refectory stands the vial where a blessing takes place on the fist of each month.

The sketes of Agia Anna, Kafsokalyvia, Timios Prodromos (Romanian), and small Agia Anna, as well as Karoulia, Katounakia, Agios Vasileios and Provata are dependencies of the Monastery of Lavra

About three hours from Karyes stands the great, as it is called, Vatopediou monastery. Going forward you come across verdant green valleys cloaked in undisturbed silence, and unbroken forests of chestnut trees interspersed with thickets and wildflowers. The snaking road goes up mounts, down hillocks, through streams and plains, and past crossroads leading to monks’ solitary retreats. Often, as you go along, you see the sun on the horizon trying to conquer the clouds that persist in obscuring its glare. This view evokes a secret feeling of nostalgia, a desire for something unknown, a melancholia whose nature is hard to define. Occasionally, you come across birds, hares and the traces of wild boars. At the end of this spectacular route, you see the monastery rising majestically, while further on you discern other outbuildings and the ruins of ancient Athoniada.

Legend and tradition claim that the monastery was originally built by Constantine the Great but was destroyed. Later it was rebuilt by Theodosius the Great to honor the Virgin Mary, who saved his son from certain drowning by leading him close to a vatos (bramble bush), which is why the monastery is also called Vatopedi (bramble field). In AD 892 it was destroyed by the Arabs and rebuilt by three brothers from Adrianople, Athanasios, Nicholaos and Antonios. In the 12th century, King Simeon of Serbia and his son Savvas retreated to the monastery and had additional structures built. During the Catalonian raids in the early 14th century, the hegumen and 10 monks were martyred. In 1546, King Alfonso of Sicily issued a golden bull in Latin, imposing a heavy fine on any pirates who molested the monastery. The rulers of Moldavia further strengthened the monastery, as did Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich in 1588.

The central church of the monastery was built in the 11th century and is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Theotokos. Its frescoes were made in the 14th century and renovated in the 18th century. Inside and outside the monastery walls there are twenty-eight chapels, some of which have wonderful hagiographic frescoes.

In a calm and peaceful location, on the ruins of an ancient city, stands the renowned, great Monastery of Iviron (Iberia, present-day Georgia). It is an hour and a half on foot from Karyes and 30 minutes by car, while from the Stavronikita Monastery it takes an hour on foot and 15 minutes by motorboat. The first impression of the monastery is the graceful gazebo, a fountain with cold water and the majestic pillar at its main entrance. As soon as you enter the courtyard you see the Catholicon in the center, the chapel of Panagia Portaitissa on the left and the library and sacristy on the right. Next is the refectory, the bell tower and the dorter with the Tower in the rear.

During the reign of Emperor Michael Palaiologos and Patriarch Ioannis Vekkos, Iviron Monastery had the same fate as Vatopedi, since the monks refused to succumb to the conversion sought by the Latinophrones, so they were killed and thrown into the sea. Shortly afterwards, the Catalans completed the destruction. In 1357, with the patriarchal sigil of Callistos, the monastery became Greek, “not only being superior in number (the Greeks), but also in all works of the spirit having overcome the Iberians”. The monastery was always cenobitic but starting in 1880 it became idiorrhythmic. In April of 1865 it was unfortunately burned apart from its Catholicon, but the monks managed to rebuild it with great effort. The Catholicon was built by the Iberian George Varasvatze in 1030 and was frescoed across various eras from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Included among the saints depicted in the narthex are Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and others.

During the 1821 Greek War of Independence, the monastery donated many of its relics to financially support the struggle. The last Iberian monk died in 1955. Today, time at the Iviron monastery is measured according to the Chaldean system, which is based on the sunrise, while in the rest of Mount Athos time is measured according to the Byzantine system, based on the sunset. So when the sun rises the hour at Iviron Monastery is 0, while for the rest of Mount Athos the hour 0 always coincides with the sunset.

The monastery has seventeen chapels, including one devoted to Panagia Portaitissa where the renowned miraculous icon, repository of stories, legends and traditions, is reverently kept.

In the library, housed in a separate structure, there are 2,000 manuscript codices and approximately 13,000 printed documents. Noted among the monastery’s many relics are the miraculous icon of Panagia Portaitissa, the silver seven-candle lamp shaped like a lemon tree, the vestment of Patriarch Gregorios V, the mantle of Emperor Ioannis Tsimiskis, a piece of wood from the True Cross, the relics of dozens of saints, liturgical implements, and many other treasures kept in almost pristine condition with the care and attention of the monks. Thirteen ascetic cells are dependent on Iviron Monastery.

Away from the sea, at an altitude of 50 meters, hidden within the verdant flora of the area, stands the majestic Serbian Hilandar Monastery, which celebrates the Presentation of the Virgin Mary on 21 November. The name is derived from the founder of a smaller monastery, named Helandarios or Hilandarios.

Rastko, the son of the Grand Prince of Serbia Stefan Nemanja, abandoned his secular life and arrived at Athos, where he became a monk with the name Savvas at the monastery of Agios Panteleimon. The son’s decision shocked his father, who was the brother-in-law of the Greek Emperor Alexios III Aggelos, and he joined his son on Mount Athos. They met at Vatopediou Monastery and there Stefan became a monk and took the name Symeon. A short while later, at the behest of the new Grand Prince of Serbia, Stefan II, Emperor Alexios III Komninos issued a golden bull offering to the Serbian monks the ruined Hilandar Monastery that was owned by Vatopediou. There the two Serbian monks built Helandar or Hilandar, which is also said to mean a type of boat, enriched it with treasures and raised it to a spiritual and religious center for their people already from the 13th century. When the two Serbian eremites, Symeon and Savvas, the latter of which had in the meantime become Archbishop of Serbia, passed away, they were buried to the southeast of the Catholicon and were canonized. In the years that followed, the monastery received great endowments and untold riches from Serbian rulers and came to own the most land, next only to Megisti Lavra, on the Athos peninsula. Hilandar annexed the small monasteries of Skorpios, Komitissa, Kalyvas and Strovylaia, as well as the Monastery of Zygos, which was fourth in the hierarchy of Athonite monasteries, a rank assumed by Hilandar. In 1722 and in 1891, the monastery suffered destructive fires. In 1896, following When Macedonia was liberated (1913), the Serbian monks advocated for the unification of Agio Oros with Greece. Today, it is fourth in rank among all the monasteries and home to about 25 monks.

The Catholicon was built in the 13th century, frescoed in the 14th century but painted over in the 19th, resulting in the destruction of the magnificent wall frescoes in the style of the Macedonian School. The floor mosaics and the wooden altarpiece from 1774 are among the most noteworthy in Agio Oros. Of its twelve chapels, the one dedicated to Agios Georgios is frescoed.

The library holds 800 manuscripts, 7 scrolls, and 7,000 printed documents. The Refectory was frescoed in 1623. The treasury was restored recently and holds, among other relics, two crosses containing wood from the True Cross and another with precious stones, crosiers, embroidered textiles, magnificent portable icons, royal banners, a coin collection, a collection of copper engravings, miraculous icons, devotional artifacts, historical documents, and much more.

At an altitude of 80 meters above sea level, on the side of a gigantic, steep rock, stands Dionysiou Monastery. To its west, the Aeropotamos torrent stream descends majestically. The monks’ cells have views of the sea, with wraparound balconies. Among them, a relatively narrow courtyard with the Catholicon at its center. It is dedicated to Ioannis Prodromos [Saint John the Baptist), whose feast is celebrated on 29 August.

A huge tower that served as an observatory surrounded by many structures form the monastery’s building complex. The monastery’s “archontariki” (the dorter) is in the north wing, while the monks’ cells are in the south. From the outside, the monastery looks like a fortress. From the arsanas (port), one can see that the south side consists of suspended wooden galleries that crown the wild summits of several rocks. To the east, close to the monastery’s cemetery, lies the grave of Agios Nyphonas, Patriarch of Constantinople, while to the west there are wild ravines that descend from Mount Athos, carrying along the constant roar of the ceaseless northern wind.

The monastery was built in 1389 by the monk Dionysios, who was from Korisos, in Kastoria. Dionysios’ brother, who was the hegumen of Filotheou Monastery, became Archbishop of Trapezus (present-day Trabzon, Turkey) and was held in high esteem by Emperor Alexios III Komninos. When the monastery burned down, Dionysios went to visit his brother in Trapezus, and subsequently the emperor offered great riches to Dionysiou Monastery, and also allocated an annual grant. It was his desire that the monastery be named “Megalou Komninou” (of the Great Komninos).

The Palaiologoi also took an interest in the monastery, as did the Wallachian rulers Radu and Neagoe Basarab; in 1510, the latter erected the tower and constructed the aqueduct. In 1533, the monastery burned down. It was rebuilt by Peter the Younger, Voivode of Wallachia, as was the Catholicon that was completed in 1547, with amazing frescos by the renowned Cretan hagiographer Tzortzis. In the “Third Typicon”, the monastery was ranked 19th among the 25 that existed at the time. In 1574, when Xiropotamou Monastery burned down, Dionysiou took its place in the hierarchy and has been ranked fifth ever since. The Refectory, located southwest of the Catholicon, was painted with hagiographies in 1603 by the painters Mercurius and Daniel.

The library contains 126 manuscript codices on parchment, 11 on silk, 661 on paper, 30 scrolls and 5,500 printed documents, including 45 incunabula. Some manuscripts are illustrated with magnificent miniatures. Among the monastery’s many treasures are Evangelia (gospel books), crosses, encolpia (liturgical medallions), embroidered vestments, splendid reliquaries, portable icons, and much more. There are seven cells dependent on the monastery.

At a distance of 5 minutes to the southwest of Karyes stands Koutloumousiou Monastery. It is built in verdant green surroundings, with nature thriving all around. Nature thriving all around Huge trees and lush green hills cover the area around the monastery, while various monks’ cells quietly dot the landscape. The fragrant wind animates the inanimate. The serene and mysterious breeze evokes internal sighs of nostalgia that remain ineffable, as is true of every profound experience. A spring by the monastery’s entrance quenches the pilgrim’s thirst, as the nature that enfolds him encourages a spiritual uplifting.

The monastery was built prior to AD 988 and it is among the oldest monasteries on the Athos peninsula. It was later destroyed, and then rebuilt in the late 13th century. It annexed the monasteries of Alypiou, Filadelfou, and Kaliagras. Soon it developed into a populous spiritual center. In the 15th century, it was destroyed by the Latinophrones (who favored unification with the West) sent by the Pope, but it was rebuilt by the voivods of Wallachia. Fires in 1857 and in 1870 devastated whole wings of the monastery, but again, these were rebuilt at the care of Hegumen Meletios from the island of Lefkas.

The Catholicon was built in the mid-16th century and is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. Inside and outside the monastic complex, there are twelve chapels, some of which have amazing frescoes. Particularly noteworthy is the altarpiece of the Catholicon, which dates to the 19th century, as well as several of the monastery’s many relics. The library contains 103 manuscripts on parchment, 650 on paper, and 3,500 printed documents.

Pantokratoros Monastery is built at an altitude of about 30 meters above sea level, on a dashing rock that is, in turn, covered by the pounding waves, or shimmering in the bright sunlight of the land of Athos. The monastery can be reached in four different ways. By land, starting from Vatopediou Monastery, it takes two and a half hours, while by motorboat it is about one hour. From Karyes, it is an hour and a half, while from Stavronikita Monastery it is one hour. Whichever path one chooses, there is beauty to it and no small reward at the end. Upon arrival, the visitor encounters a forest of towers and cupolas; this is Pantokratoros Monastery. It was built in the mid-14th century by the brothers Alexios and Ioannis (John). Alexios was grand Stratopedarch, and Ioannis as grand Primokyrios, meaning corps leader. They both entered the monastic life here and stayed until their passing, as revealed by their wills and their mausoleum that is preserved in the Catholicon. In approximately 1393, the monastery burned down and was rebuilt at the care of Patriarch Antonios and Emperor Manuel Palaiologos. In the late 14th or early 15th century, the monasteries of Agiou Dimitriou, Afxentiou, Sotiros, Falakrou and Ravdouchou were annexed to Pantokratoros. Unfortunately, in 1950 the northeastern wing burned down, but was restored at the care of the monks.

The library contains 317 manuscripts, of which 68 are on parchment (11th-14th century) and two are scrolls, and 185 are on paper. It also contains about 4,000 printed documents and a noteworthy collection of Greek stamps. It also contains about 4,000 printed documents and a noteworthy collection of Greek stamps. Among the monastery’s treasures is an Evangelio (gospel book) measuring 17×12 cm on a thin white membrane with miniature illustrations, which is attributed to Ioannis Kalyvitis; a piece from the shield of Agios Mercurios; and pieces of the True Cross, relics of many saints, liturgical implements, medallions, vestments, etc.

About 200 meters from the seashore, to the east of Panteleimonos Monastery and west of Simonopetra, in a verdant landscape, stands the beautiful, majestic and dominant Xiropotamou Monastery, on the spot where once stood ancient Haradria or, more likely, Kleonas town, as many claim. The monastery owes its name to the nearby dried river (xiro = dry + potamos = river); its buildings overlook Siggitikos Bay.

Tradition says that on this site, where the monastery now stands, Pulcheria, sister of Emperor Theodosios II Micros and wife of Emperor Marcianus, built the monastery of Heimarros in AD 424. It was this monastery that, at a time unknown, was renamed Xiropotamou. It is also said that it was burned down by the Saracens and rebuilt by Emperor Constantinos VII Porphyrogenitos (AD 912-959) and Romanos I Lekapenos (AD 914-944). In fact, Porphyrogenitos donated to the monastery a luxurious purple cloak to be worn by the hegumen on feasts, in honor of the great gift of wood from the True Cross that was donated by Romanos.

Today, there are marble plaques preserved at the entrance to the destroyed Tower and at the spring, testimonies to the assistance provided to the monastery by the two emperors.

Written sources note that the monastery was built by Osios Pavlos Xiropotaminos in the mid-10th century, after Megisti Lavra was built. Pavlos, a great man of the spirit, ascetic and traditionalist, became the first hegumen, as stated in the “First Typicon” of Agio Oros. In the 11th century, the monastery spread significantly over the southern side of the peninsula, and it borders reached Agiou Pavlou Monastery which, according to tradition, was also founded by the same Pavlos Xiropotaminos. In 1280, the monastery was destroyed; subsequently, it was not only rebuilt by Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328), but also its holdings were secured by golden bull (1302). In 1507 it burned down but was rebuilt through the efforts of the monks and with the support of Sultan Selim I (1514-1519), who benefacted the monastery and Agio Oros by issuing the renowned hatti-sherif (edict of sanctification). In 1609, half the monastery burned down and was looted by pirates, but again, it was soon rebuilt with the help of Alexander, Prince of Wallachia. The 17th and 18th centuries brought great hardships to the monks, and their monastery lost its rank and went from fifth to eight in the hierarchy. In 1760, it was restored by the most learned and prolific writer and scholar, Cesario Daponte from Skopelos. At that time, the Catholicon was built (1761-1763), measuring 30×19 m, and 15 m high. It was frescoed in 1783 with amazing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

Today, the monastic building complex rises to a height of three floors and is square in shape (70×90 m). It is idiorrhythmic. It is dedicated to the Holy Forty Martyrs and its feast is on 9 March. Besides the Catholicon, the monastery has twelve chapels. Its relics and treasures include four pieces of the True Cross, the first of which, a gift by Emperor Romanos, is the largest such known piece in the world (0.31×0.16 m). On the lower part of the vertical antenna there is an indenture closed by a red diamond and twelve precious stones. There is also a small disk made in steatite stone that is said to have been offered by Empress Pulcheria; four episcopal staffs, of which two in amber; part of the gifts of the Magi; part of the crown of thorns, the sponge and mantle of Jesus Christ; plus 61 saints’ relics, gold-embroidered vestments, crosses, Evangelia, liturgical vessels, portable icons, firmans (edicts), etc. The library, located above the narthex, holds 340 manuscripts and 400 printed documents. Unfortunately, in 1969 half of the monastery’s south wing burned down.

The Bulgarian cenobitic Zografou Monastery stands at an altitude of 160 meters, tucked away in the woods near a gorge, an hour away from the seashore. It is said that the monastery was built in the 9th century, in the time of Leon Sophos, by the brothers Moses, Aaron and Ioannis from Ohrid. It was called Monastery of Agiou Georgiou Zografou (Saint George the Painter). The “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros lists Zografou tenth in rank among the Athonite monasteries. It appears that in the 13th century its was home to Bulgarian monks because it is also known as the Bulgarian monastery. At the same time, the monastery was aided by Michael VIII Palaiologos. In the early 14th century, the monastery was burned down by Catalans, and many monks were martyred. In the years of the Henotikoi (East-West union supporters), the monks put up vigorous resistance; as a result, the wrath of the Henotikoi led to the burning of 26 monks inside the Tower. There, the monks reverently raised a cenotaph in 1873, to commemorate those unbreakable, faithful ascetics. Andronikos II, Andronikos III and Ioannis Palaiologos were all benefactors of the monastery, as were the rulers of Serbia and Wallachia. In 1502, after the monastery had been abandoned, it was renovated by the Wallachian Ruler Stefan VI Kalos. In 1716, the east wing was restored, and between 1862-1896 the north and west wings were erected. In the past, there were Serb, Bulgarian and Greek monks, so church services were delivered in Greek and Bulgarian. The Bulgarians have prevailed since 1845.

The new Catholicon was built in 1801 and frescoed in 1817. Both the altar and the altarpiece are exceptional examples of wood carving. The monastery has fourteen chapels, of which three are frescoed. The library is housed in the Tower and holds 550 manuscript codices, of which 162 are Greek and 388 are Slavic. It also holds 16,500 printed documents. Among the monastery’s treasures are saints’ relics, holy vestments, liturgical implements, miraculous icons, historical documents, etc.

In the 18th century, the monk Paisios, author of the history of the Bulgarian people, lived at Zografou Monastery. Preserved in the surrounding area is the shack where Kosmas Aitolos [the Aetolian], lifelong supporter of the cause of Greek Independence, spend time as an ascetic.

Thirty meters above sea level, between the Xenophontos and Konstamonitou monasteries, at the foot of a verdant slope, stands the idiorrhythmic Dochiariou Monastery. It is Greek, dedicated to the Archangels whose feast is on 8 November. It was built by the monk Efthimios, who had held the post of “dochiaris” (storekeeper) at Megisti Lavra in the 11th century. Also mentioned is the name of Patrikios Nikolaos, who became a monk under the name Neophytos, and appears to have been the nephew of Efthimios. Emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078) and his mother, Eudokia, were benefactors of the monastery.

The monastery was initially built somewhere close to Daphne, but subsequently it was rebuilt by its founder at its present-day location. In the “Second Typicon” of Agio Oros, it was ranked tenth among the then 180, while in the “Third Typicon”, it was ranked eleventh among the twenty-five.

The monastery was pillaged by pirates but was rebuilt in 1578 by the priest Georgios from Adrianople and renovated by the Ruler of Moldovlachia, Alexandros and his wife, Roxane. In the same era the Catholicon was erected and decorated with beautiful frescoes in the style of the Cretan School. Buried there is the Archbishop Theophanes of Moldova, who retired from his diocese and died here as a monk. In the 17th and 18th centuries, new wings and the belltower were added. The noteworthy altarpiece and the remarkable wood-carved ciborium of the altar were constructed in 1783. Today, the monastery has ten chapels, many of which are frescoed. The Refectory was erected by Archbishop Prohor of Ohrid and painted in 1700. The library, housed on the second floor of the Tower, contains 441 manuscript codices and about 2,000 printed documents. Of the codices, 65 are in parchment and 46 are not catalogued. The monastery is also home to the sacred spring of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Its treasures include, among others, the miraculous icon of Panagia Gorgoepikoos, wood from the True Cross, portable icons, religious objects, holy vestments, and relics of forty-five saints.

Between the monasteries of Megisti Lavra and Iviron, at an altitude of 200 meters about half an hour from the seashore, the Greek Karakallou Monastery stands majestically in a verdant landscape. A fountain, a grapevine and a huge Tower are the first impressions of the monastery. More grapevines and orange trees quietly welcome pilgrims inside the courtyard. This is typical in many monasteries. Fountains, prayer books, old architectural elements, inscriptions that commemorate acts of ownership or other important events, inspire a sense of harmony in humble pilgrims. Indeed, in the larger courtyards there are great trees, such as the palm in Grigoriou, the magnolias and cypress trees in Megisti Lavra, the orange trees in Karakallou, and the two cypress trees in Hilandariou, that afford a distinctive character and an inner peace. Once visitors find themselves in the dorter, they enjoy a waking dream. To the east lies the Aegean Sea, with the blue waters joining the sky on the horizon. To the west, wild chasms descend from the summit of Mount Athos, channeling the perpetual song of the north.

There is very little information about the building of the monastery, and tradition is quite clouded on this matter. It appears, from various documents, that the monastery existed in the 11th century, but its founder is unknown. Tradition cites as the founder a man named Nikolas from the town of Karakalla, which gave the monastery its name. In the 13th century it was devastated, then renovated in 1294 by Andronikos II Palaiologos. In the “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros (1393), it is ranked third among the monasteries. Unfortunately, it was pillaged once again by pirates, and rebuilt in the 16th century by the ruler of Wallachia, Peter V, who became a monk himself. in 1707, Dionysios Ivaritis renovated the north wing, and in 1877 the south wing, that had burned down the previous year, was rebuilt. The east wing was built in 1888. The Catholicon was erected in 1548-1563 and the present-day frescoes date from the early 18th century. The icon of the Holy Apostles is the work of the famed hagiographer Dionysios of Fournas (1722). The monastery also has seven chapels, four of which are frescoed.

The library contains about 300 manuscripts, of which 42 on parchment, and 3,000 printed documents. Its treasures include wood from the True Cross, medallions, crosses, saints’ relics, vestments, etc. The monastery was initially idiorrhythmic, but it became cenobitic in 1813.

Depended on the monastery are fourteen cells dispersed in the woods and four in Karyes.

Half an hour from Karakallou Monastery, on a carpet of green surrounded by woods and gardens, stands Philotheou Monastery. It is built at an altitude of 300 meters, two and a half hours from Karyes. Large and small hills, ample crystalline waters, colorful and fragrant flowers, charming gardens and tall age-old trees compose a majestic and wondrous panorama comparable to few in all creation.

The original founding of Philotheou is lost among the shade of the woods. Traditions and stories mixed up with the sound of the wind in the sparkling spring waters that flow ceaselessly for centuries at the foot of the monastery have muddled the order of myth and history. In any case, tradition states that the monastery was erected by Osios Philotheos, a contemporary of Agios Athanasios, before AD 972 and was originally called Fteris. Later (1078-1081), Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates added new structures and dedicated several relics, including wood from the True Cross. In the “Second Typicon” of Agio Oros, the monastery is ranked thirteenth. In 1492, the Georgian ruler Leontios and his son Alexandros renovated it. In 1500, the ascetic Dionysios is cited as hegumen; he later left for Mount Olympus and founded another monastery. In 1734, the Wallachian ruler Gregorios Ghica benefacted the monastery with a special golden bull. Unfortunately, in 1871 the monastery was destroyed almost completely by fire, except for the Catholicon, the Refectory and the library. But the monks slowly rebuilt it as it is today. The Catholicon has noteworthy frescoes from 1752; it is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Theotokos. Its relics include the hand of Ioannis Chrysostomos, a gift of Andronikos II Palaiologos, the miraculous icon of Panagia Glykofilousa (1.26×0.87), 249 manuscript codices, 2 parchment scrolls, relics of many saints, wondrous devotional objects, holy vestments, etc. The Refectory has frescoes from 1540 by the Cretan hagiographer Tzortzis.

The monastery’s dependencies include twelve cells in the surrounding area and two in Karyes.

Two hundred and thirty meters above the sea, on the side of the green mountain, up to an hour by foot, on a tall hard rock, stands the majestic, extraordinary and dominant Simonos Petra Monastery. From the seashore, the monastery appears to rise out of the rock and extend towards the heavens with commanding grandeur. And when humble pilgrims find themselves on the topmost balcony of this seven-floor structure, they will feel suspended between heaven and earth, as though on the wing of an airplane. On this vast and steep rock, Saint Simon, led by a divine light, climbed up and founded his monastery in the mid-14th century. It is said that when the monastery was being built, the monk Isaiah, subordinate to Simon, while walking one day with a tray loaded with treats on the tall scaffolding, suddenly fell down into the rocks. But he stood up unscathed at the bottom of the ravine because his faith steadied his steps, giving strength to the builders who had lost hope. In 1364, the monastery was extended and grew thanks to the support of the King of Serbia, Ioannis Uglesis, who sent the steward Efthymios with gifts and riches to assist in its completion. In the “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros (1394), it is ranked third among 25 monasteries. In 1580 and again in 1626 it was destroyed by fire. In the late 17th century it was idiorrhythmic, until 1801 when it became cenobitic. Unfortunately, in 1891 it burned down completely, with its Catholicon and its library. The monks, led by the hegumen Neophytos and with a lot of hard work, rebuilt the monastery and added a new wing. In addition to the Catholicon, the monastery also has eight chapels, inside and outside the complex. Its treasures include wood from the True Cross, vestments, crosses, medallions, saints’ relics, etc. Today, it is cenobitic.

Between two mountain streams, at a distance of 20 minutes from the sea, between Nea Skete and Dionysiou Monastery, stands the cenobitic Agiou Pavlou Monastery. Built at an altitude of 140 meters above sea level, it was founded, according to tradition, in the 8th century. Actual testimonies of its existence date to the 10th century, when the hegumen was Pavlos Xiropotaminos, who was sent as a delegate together with the Protos [premier] of Agio Oros to Emperor Tsimiskis to denounce Athanasios the Athonite for the innovations he brought to Athos. Another tradition states that on the site were the monastery was built, previously there stood another, dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin, built by the ascetic Stefanos in AD 337. In any case, in 1257 a golden bull by Michael Palaiologos not only mentions the monastery, but also states its boundaries. In the “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros, it is ranked eighteenth. In the 14th century, it was destroyed probably by the Catalans (1309), and as a result it became a cell and was sold by the dominant Xiropotamou Monastery in 1360, by the Serbian monks Gerasimos and Antonios. Since then, Serbian and Wallachian rulers benefacted and renovated the monastery, among them Georgios Bragovin, who built the old Catholicon, and his daughter Kyra Maro, wife of Sultan Murat II and stepmother of Mehmed II the Conqueror, who gifted to the monastery part of the gifts of the Magi. In 1817, the monks rebuilt the destroyed Catholicon and added marblework by the Tinian craftsman Lyritis with marble from Tinos, Penteli and Agio Oros.

The library contains 492 manuscripts, 13,000 printed documents, and several golden bulls, lead bulls, sigils, patriarchal pittakia (letters), etc. It also holds several hundred Slavic and Turkish documents, mostly dedication letters, etc. Among the monastery’s many treasures is wood from the True Cross, part of the gifts of the Magi, icons of great artistic and historical value, wonderful gospel covers in enamel, gold and silver, medallions, crosses, various devotional objects, diptychs, a portable stained glass representing the 13th-century Small Paraklesis, and many others. Today, the monastery is home to 45 monks and 80 dependents. Finally, it has ten chapels, including that of Agios Georgios with 16th-century frescoes. It is considered one of the strictest communes on Mount Athos.

Stravronikita Monastery can be reached by motorboat from Pantokratoros or Iviron, by car from Karyes, or on foot. The monastery is surrounded by gardens, as are all the monasteries on Mount Athos, with huge chestnut trees.

The monastery was founded most likely in the 10th century. In the 11th century, its huge tower served as a lookout for the inhabitants of Karyes. There are many traditions about its founding. One of these states that it was the site of Charitonos Monastery, while another that nearby were the cells of Stavros and Nikitas, from whom it was named Stavronikita. In 1533, it was sold as a cell by Philotheou Monastery to hegumen Grigorios for 4,000 aspra (silver Ottoman coins). At the care of this new hegumen, and later of Patriarch Jeremiah (1537-1545), the monastery was reconstructed in the name of Agios Nikolaos, and declared stavropegic (subordinated directly to a primate or Synod). In 1607 and 1879, fires destroyed parts of the monastery, but at the care of its monks or other Athonite monasteries it was rebuilt. The high debts did not permit the monks to extend and properly maintain the structures until about 1960, when at the care of the monks of the time it was relieved of many debts. In 1968 it became a commune.

The Catholicon has magnificent frescoes from 1546 and it is dedicated to Agios Nikolaos. The frescoes were made by the distinguished Cretan hagiographer Theophanes and his son Symeon, in the style of the Cretan School.

The library contains 58 manuscript codices in parchment (11th-14th century), 2 in cotton, 109 in paper (14th-19th century), 3 scrolls in parchment and several thousand printed documents. Among the preserved frescoes in the Refectory is the celebrated Last Supper. Μεταξύ των σωζόμενων τοιχογραφιών της τράπεζας είναι και ο περίφημος Μυστικός Δείπνος.

Among its treasures are wonderful portable icons, crosses, medallions, saints’ relics, liturgical implements, and a mosaic icon of Agios Nikolaos Streidas from the 14th century. According to tradition, this icon was found by fishermen in the sea near the monastery, and they delivered it to the monks. It bore an oyster (streidi) on the Saint’s forehead and has been known as Agios Nikolaos Streidas ever since.

Between Dochiariou and Agiou Panteleimonos stands Xenophontos Monastery, build by the seaside on a level and verdant site. It is cenobitic and dedicated to Agios Georgios, whose feast is celebrated on 23 April. Tradition states that the monastery was built in AD 580 by Xenophon Syncleticus, but according to written sources it was founded in the 10th century by Osios Xenophon, known to Athanasios the Athonite who had cured Xenophon’s brother in Mylopotamos, who suffered from an incurable disease.

The old Catholicon has wonderful frescoes by Antonios, a painter of the Cretan School (1544). The refectory was frescoed in the 16th century. The new Catholicon has a marble altarpiece, and it is spacious and majestic more than most of the catholicons in Agio Oros. It is home to two mosaic icons of Agios Dimitrios and Agios Georgios, and a smaller one of the Transfiguration, dating from the 14th century. Today, it has eleven chapels, three of which are frescoed. The belltower is housed in a square tower that was erected in 1864, while the phiale and its canopy were built in 1908. The library contains 300 manuscripts and 3,500 printed documents. Its relics include wood from the True Cross, portable icons, liturgical implements, relics of many saints, mosaic icons, etc.

Between Simonos Petra and Dionysiou, at an altitude of 20 meters above sea level, Grigoriou Monastery stands on a savage rock. The sea route from Dionysiou to Grigoriou Monastery is a true pleasure. Wild, rocky coastline alternates with idyllic coves, interspersed with sleeper slopes. The monastery is kept whitewashed on the inside throughout the year. The balconies of the dorter provide a marvelous view to pilgrims.

The monastery, as revealed by its manuscript codex no. 34, was founded in the early 14th century by Agios Grigorios Sinaitis. In the “Third Typicon”, the monastery is ranked twenty-second out of twenty-five. In 1497 it was devastated, and in 1500 it was renovated by the Wallachian ruler Stefan, father of Voivode Bogdan, at the care of hegumen Spyridon. In 1761, it unfortunately burned down, but was rebuilt by the sacristan Ioakeim Makrygenis, with money he raised from Wallachian rulers, from the archbishop of Hungary and Wallachia Grigorios, and from Phanariotes. During the 1821 Greek War of Independence, the monks of Grigoriou greatly assisted the struggle, contributing valuable objects. Until 1840, the monastery was idiorrhythmic. Since then, it has been cenobitic and it is considered one of the strictest communes on Mount Athos. Its Catholicon has frescoes from 1779. The library contains 174 manuscripts and 4,000 documents, and the sole manuscript containing the “Poimenas of Erma” (a proto-Christian ecclesiastical text). Inside the monastery there are twelve chapels; the one in the cemetery has excellent frescoes. The Catholicon is dedicated to Agios Nikolaos and has 18th-century frescoes. The monastery’s treasures include crosses, medallions, precious stones, relics from many saints, gospel books, 15th-century gold-embroidered epitaphs, golden and wax bulls, firmans, patriarchal sigils, etc.

In a quiet and serene cove, where the sea waters sometimes softly stroke the monastery’s silent walls, and other times pound them furiously, stands the renowned and majestic Esfigmenou Monastery. It is said that it derives its name (Esfigmenou = one who is constricted) from its location, hemmed in as it is by two mountains. Others say that its founder was “schoinio sfikto ezosmenos” (tightly wrapped in ropes), and that gave the monastery its name. Tradition states that the monastery, which is dedicated to the Assumption of Christ, was built by Theodosios Mikros and his sister, the Empress Pulcheria (408-450 AD), wife of Marcianus. But a short while later, the story goes, it was destroyed by a rock that was dislodged from the mountain and crashed into it. The ruins of the old monastery can still be seen, it is said, about five hundred yards away. The present-day monastery was built in the late 10th or early 11th century, by the monks of the old monastery. The first written testimony of its existence appears in a letter by Pavlos Xiropotaminos, in 1001.

In the 14th century, the position of hegumen was filled for a short while by the renowned ascetic and great theologian Grigorios Palamas, who later became Archbishop of Thessaloniki. In the 16th century, the monastery was devastated twice by pirates, and rebuilt both times. The 17th century was a time of decline, but with contributions from Russia under Alexandr Mikhailovich, and from many other Orthodox Christians, it was renovated. In 1705, Melenikiou Grigorios came here as an ascetic, bringing life to the monastery. Half a century later, with the blessing of Patriarch Gerasimos and the Assembly, Daniel of Thessaloniki was appointed Steward of the monastery and converted it to a commune. During the 1821 Greek War of Independence, it was severely damaged by the Turks. The Catholicon has frescoes from 1811 and 1818. The new rows of cells were built in 1850-1858. In addition to the Catholicon, there are eight chapels. In the 11th century, the renowned Antonio Petrerski, founder of the known Lavra in Kiev, was an ascetic here. While he was in the monastery, he copied the Greek monastic traditions and took them to Russia, where he became the founder of Russian monasticism. Today he is venerated as a saint.

The library, located above the Lete, holds 320 manuscript codices, 75 of which are on parchment, including one palimpsest. Several of the codices bear magnificent miniature illustrations. For example, codex no. 33 has exceptional 11th-century miniatures. The library also holds 2,500 printed documents. The monastery’s treasures include the cross of Empress Pulcheria, a magnificent 13th-century mosaic icon, holy vestments, portable icons, liturgical implements, scepters, crosses, relics of many saints, golden and lead bulls, documents of great value, an embroidered piece of cloth said to be from Napoleon’s tent in Egypt, and many more. Today, it is considered one of the strictest communes on Athos.

Starting from Xenophontos Monastery on the motorboat, a little before arriving at Daphne, next to the sea and in a green landscape, stands the Russian Monastery of Agios Panteleimon. It is a commune and celebrates on 27 July. From a distance, it looks like a fortified complex, with a multitude of cupolas and many windows.

On the way to Karyes, an hour’s distance, on a plateau, stands Paliomonastiro (Old Monastery), a dependency of Agiou Panteleimonos since 1765. This was the site of the monastery originally called Thessalonikeos, which later fell into decline and was deserted by its monks. And so, in the 12th century, the Protos [Premier] of Agio Oros together with the Assembly gave the abandoned monastery to the Xylourgou Monastery, which today is called Bogoroditsa and was held by Russian monks. The monks went from Xylourgou to the abandoned monastery, while Xylourgou was maintained as a skete (1168). In the 13th century, it burned down together with the documents safeguarded there, which is why Andronikos Palaiologos (1282-1328) issued a golden bull, confirming the monastery’s property rights. About a hundred years later, it was constantly under the protection of Serbian rulers. Starting in 1314, the monastery is cited everywhere as Agiou Panteleimonos of the Russians, or simply the Russian Monastery. First the Palaiologoi and then the Serbian rulers endowed the monastery with heirlooms and land dependencies. In the “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros, it is ranked fifth among the monasteries. The hegumen signed in Greek, meaning that most monks were Greek. After 1497, it had many Russian monks. In 1552, it appears that it closed down temporarily, but then opened again a short while later with a few monks. In any case, the 17th century was a time of decline for the monastery. In 1725, it had two Russian and two Bulgarian monks. In the mid-18th century, it was held by Greeks. A short while later, the monks abandoned it for good and came closer to the sea, at the place where Christophoros from Ierissos built, in 1667, the small chapel dedicated to the Resurrection of the Christ. There, they founded the new monastery with the name Rousiko (1765).

Dionysios, Patriarch of Constantinople, declared it stavropegic. The monastery’s structures quickly multiplied with the support of ruler Skarlatos Kallimachis and the protection of Patriarch Grigorios V. In 1803, it was converted into a commune by Callinicos V, and in 1839 Russian monks began arriving, so that by 1875 it had 1,000 monks, in 1903 it had 1,446, and a short while later almost 2,000. Today it has a few monks and services are delivered in Greek and Russian.

The Catholicon was built from 1812 to 1820. It has thirty-five chapels, including the wonderful church of Agia Skepe of Theotokos and Alexander Nevsky (1852) on the northwest wing, and the church of Agios Mitrophanis west of the library. The Refectory was built in 1890 and can fit 800 to 1,000 monks. Above the Refectory entrance is the belltower (1893), with the second largest bell in the world that is tolled by two monks. It has a circumference of 8.71 m, a diameter of 2.71 m, and weighs 13,000 kilograms. There are another 32 bells that are tolled rhythmically by two other monks.

The library holds 1,064 manuscript codices on leather and paper, and 25,000 Greek and Slavic printed documents. In the sacristy there is wood from the True Cross, wonderful portable icons, relics of many saints, excellent embroidered vestments, many gold and silver liturgical vessels, valuable icons with precious stones, crosses, and much more.

Two hundred meters above sea level and about 45 minutes from the seashore, in a picturesque, lush green landscape, hidden inside the woods, stands Konstamonitou Monastery. According to tradition, it was founded by Emperor Constantinos and completed by his son, Konstas. Another tradition states that the monastery was founded by an ascetic who was from Kastamonas, in Paphlagonia. The first historical references to it date from the 11th century. In the early 14th century it was burned down by the Catalonians, but soon after it was rebuilt. In 1351, Emperor Ioannis I Palaiologos issued a golden bull that defined the monastery’s land holdings. In 1360, Serbian princess Anna Philanthropini and George Vrankovic made significant gifts to the monastery. In 1393, in the “Third Typicon” of Agio Oros, it is cited as Konstantinou Monastery. Later, it was destroyed by fire, and renovated in 1433 by the Serbian military commander Radic, who became a monk with the name Romanos. In the late 16th century, it fell into decline and became a commune. In 1820, part of the monastery was rebuilt with a gift by Kyra Vasiliki, wife of Ali Pasha, and in 1853, two monks from the Xenophontos skete joined Konstamonitou and provided financial support. In 1870, the Catholicon and one wing were rebuilt with funds raised in Russia. Today, inside the monastic complex there are five chapels. The library, located above the narthex, holds 110 manuscripts including a palimpsest codex from the 12th century and two illustrated tetraevangelia from the 11th century. Its treasures include wood from the True Cross, crosses, saints’ relics, portable icons, embroidered vestments, golden bulls of ownership, lead bulls, historical documents, devotional objects, etc.

Useful Phone Numbers

(*) Pilgrims who wish to stay overnight at these monasteries must make arrangements in advance. They will not be accommodated without a reservation.