These fascinating photographs were shared with me by Nikos Savvidis, who is restoring the frescoes in the monasteries of Mount Athos, Greece.
Mount Athos is a mountain (6670 feet / 2033m) and peninsula just north of Thessaloniki in Greece. It is the eastern most of the three Chalcidice fingers pointing towards Turkey across the Aegean Sea.
Mount Athos or Agion Oros, as it is locally known, is the oldest surviving monastic community in the world. It dates back more than a thousand years, to Byzantine times. It is a unique monastic republic, which, although part of Greece, is governed by its own local administration. Quote from ouranoupoli.com.
The monks spend most of their time in silent prayer, especially between 2 – 6am when all is quiet. Otherwise they are busy maintaining the building, (link to Guardian photo essay), fishing, caring for livestock, growing and making wine, and preparing food. You can order some of their produce online.
In this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are 2000 monks living in 20 monasteries, 13 skytes, and 700 individual cells, hermitage and other buildings.
Skite or skyte is the state of being concealed. These are therefore private places of contemplation.
The peninsula is 50km wide and 10km long. (Greek Tourist Board). Some of the monasteries belong to distinct national churches’ including those of Georgia, Bulgaria and Serbia. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/holy-mount-athos
Nikos makes his colours using the original method, from the earth.
Robert Byron (author of The Station: Athos – Treasures and Men (Traveller’s)) called these frescoes the finest in the world.
Despite being known as ‘the garden of the mother of God’, no women are allowed in there – the Virgin Mary is the sole female representative.
Fascinating fact: Edward Lear was one of the many famous (male, of course) visitors to Mount Athos where he painted the Stavronikita Monastery according to Nicholas Shakespeare (link below). To cement the Russian connection (many of the rennovations are funded by them), Vladimir Putin visited in 2006 and 2016.
‘Aside from the limited supervision of the civil governor and police force provided by the Greek government, Athos functions autonomously and symbolizes a transnational faith community. ‘ Taken from https://sacredland.org/mount-athos-greece/
The Macedonian School had its centre in Thessaloniki and flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. Its hallmarks are realism in the depiction of the figures, not only in their external features but also in the rendering of their inner world, particularly their pathos. Macedonian heritage
There are several versions of the formation of the Mount doing the rounds of the internet. They usually concern Athos (one of the Gigantes according to Wikipedia) and a rock dropped on or thrown by Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) .
You can read stories about the monks here.
Pantokrator Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.
Why are women banned from Mount Athos? BBC link
The English in this blog from the Halkidiki Tourist Office is not good but there is a lot of very useful information including how to visit.
Byzantine art blog
The great Australian travel writer, Bruce Chatwin went to Mount Athos. Nicholas Shakespeare’s article is here.
You can read more about Greece here.
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Happy seasonal festivities, Tamsin! All the best, Judith and Luc 🎄☺👟
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