The frescoes of Mount Athos

These fascinating photographs were shared with me by Nikos Savvidis, who is restoring the frescoes in the monasteries of Mount Athos, Greece.

Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), 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.

Death conquers. Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

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

Chilandari Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

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.

Mount Athos, Greece.

In this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are 2000 monks living in 20 monasteries, 13 skytes, and 700 individual cells, hermitage and other buildings.

Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

Skite or skyte is the state of being concealed. These are therefore private places of contemplation.

Philotheou Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

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.

Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

Nikos makes his colours using the original method, from the earth.

Natural pigments in an old toolbits box.

Robert Byron (author of The Station: Athos – Treasures and Men (Traveller’s)) called these frescoes the finest in the world.

Simona Petras Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

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.

Angels in attendance. Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

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.

Simonos Petras monastery perched on the cliff edge, Mount Athos, Greece.

‘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

Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), 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

Wonderful monsters. Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

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) .

Byzantine fresco (Christian Greek), Mount Athos, Greece.

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.

Pilgrim information

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.

Maronia coastline

This is the coast of Greece found between the cities of Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis, in the East Macedonia and Thrace region.

East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

In late November it is stark and beautiful. The geology is second to none and it boasts secluded beaches and miles of land for walking.

The sun lights up the horizon. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

I was driven there by my wonderful host, a fount of local and fascinating information, Anastasia. She knows the location well and I was lucky to be taken to the best places. Monumental cliffs. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
The island of Samothraki is visible along the length of this coastline. A 2.5 hour ferry trip away from Alexandrouplis, there are men-only monasteries and a fantastic walking route. Further down the coast towards Thessaloniki is the island of Thassos which is made of white marble, the same that was used to build the White House in Washington DC. Samosthraki almost lost in the mists, with fishing boats. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

Beautiful cliffs with the waves lapping. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

 All along this stretch glorious colours can be found: pink, blue, white, bronze, yellow, cream and golden. They simply gleam when the waves wash over or the rain drenches them.

Beautiful cliffs with the waves lapping. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
There is a tricky climb down to this hidden beach. Rosie the dog couldn’t make it. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

There are rock stacks with grassy tufts growing out of them and, where they are surrounded by sea there are birds perched.

East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

Unfortunately there was a recent tragic tale of an English woman, apparently familiar with the area, who was walking alone and got attacked by wild animals. This has made me wary of solo walking the Via Egnatia which passes this way. (The hiking trail begins in Dures, Albania (Dyrrachium in Roman times) and ends in Istanbul (Constantinople) Turkey – a full 1000 kms, 695 miles).

In twos or groups, the trails would be well worth following. You are advised never to run from such a creature, but to stoop to pick up a stone as if to throw because they understand this gesture and will usually leave.

East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Marmaritsa (little marble) beach, East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

According to the locals, this is the land of the Cyclops from Homer’s tales of Odysseus. There are two caves nearby purporting to be the place where he was captured by the single eyed giant Polyphemus. There is also a River Ulysses (Odysseus’ Roman name).

Roman amphitheatre, East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

There is a newly excavated Roman amphitheatre with white columns which are the same as those on the beach nearby.

A Roman column just poking out onto the beach. Such a wealth of history. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
A medieval wall. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
I spotted several sorts of succulents. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Olives – November is picking time. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

Each farmer has his own trees marked with name. Once they are producing enough they can sell them to the oil producers.

The twisted olive trunk – it must be ages old, East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Prickly oak and wild olive grow side by side, crouching low to the ground. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Juniper. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

Much of the higher land consists of slabs of rock rich in oxydated iron and there are quartz crystals under ledges.

With seams of white reaching into the distance. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
And wind blown trees atop crevices of grey and bronze stripes. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Rocks galore – Stripey and speckled!

There is a wealth of local flora, even at this time of year – wild thyme and lavender, rosemary with purple flowers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My private collection.

And beachcombing is always a delight.

A popular place for jumping in from a high place. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
The hounds loved it! East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
On the way home we saw this little chapel – popular for weddings I was told. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.
Red and white stripes – a sure sign of a hiking trail. East Macedonia and Thrace, Northern Greece.

Walking information:
Via Egnatia, the Roman Road
Lonely Planet


November 2018

It is all about the animals here in Proskynites, a small village located in northern Greece, in the Thrace region.

12-15 hens and cockerals

When I arrived the tabby was at home and the mother and all her kittens were at the field

A few days later the same mother, a tabby/white mix with a wonky eye, joined us at the house having made the journey herself (it took me 25 minutes to walk but maybe she knew a short cut!)

The queen, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt, but actually establishing her superiority over the resident female within a very short time

Leaving the rest behind to fight amongst themselves

And look very sweet

Playing among the bales

And always waiting to be fed and given affection

Somehow not as attractive as these turkeys who live by the petrol station

The land of Thrace also lies in Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. The goddess of the same name was daughter of Oceanus and Parthenope, and sister of Europa. There is always a story.


Rosie and Lea play fighting

Proskynites boasts 2 cafés where you can sit all day drinking tsipouro (a sort of grapa distinct from ouzo by omission of star anise) if you fancy; an equal number of churches; an extremely well kitted out supermarket selling almost everything and with a spotless meat area out back; a community centre; and a bus stop where you can get a lift to Komotini which is the nearest big town (about half an hours ride at 2.30 euros).

Several times a week a gentleman hollers out over the village for 2 and a half hours. It is a Greek orthodox Church

Everywhere I spy saints – icons sitting with their back to the till in the supermarket or stuck up above the steering wheel of the bus.

On 2 floors, the house has a courtyard with a roof for training the vies over providing shade in the summer when temperatures reach the mid 30s

From the top of the steps I can see over the rooftops

A garden for tomatoes and sweetcorn

Here was some afternoon sunshine during my first 2 days and look!

Swarms of Autumn swallows swooping in front of me and once or twice settling on the wires in their hundreds

Our days are mapped out with twice regular visits to the field ( 10 minutes away by jeep) to feed, water and look after the horses, one of whom has a sneezy cough.

Giselle resplendent in her coat and Juli

A very necessary 4-wheel drive

Anyone who loves horses enough to do this is bound for heaven in my opinion, particularly with winds wailing from the Russian plains, temperatures of 4 degrees or torrential rain, the rest of us mere mortals would stay at home.

The dogs taunt the horses something dreadful, causing them to gallop around and kick up their hind legs

Not much further on is an abandoned village. The authorities offered them compensation in the form of land if they would vacate because it was too expensive to run electricity there. So the tale is told.

It is cotton country and at this time of year there are cotton wool balls in the hedgerows, beside the road, in transporter trucks and vestiges still in the fields.

The tracks all look the same unless you learn to identify the different hills surrounding them.

They looked dramatic as the light waned at 5pm

A flock of goats with herder and dogs cause Lea and Rosie great excitement

They took absolutely no notice of me and only came back when they were effectively seen off.

Turn left just before the disused silo

This part of Greece is so close to the border that you can almost see across to Turkey, a non-EU country.

The rain causes the clay to coagulate around our boots

And tyres

Causing it to fly off in chunky lumps when we once more gain the road.

Wild cucumbers – poisonous although made into a tincture and used sparingly the drops are good for sinusitis

Quinces fallen by the roadside.

Wrapped in foil and baked in the oven on top of the wood burner, they were delicious for breakfast.

Several spectacular sunsets before the rain came and then the full moon

Sunset, Proskynites, Greece.

Cycle route through the area