Ancient Greek Mythology has it that in a clash between Giants and Gods, a Giant from Thrace named Athos, threw a huge rock at Poseidon. He missed the God and the rock fell in the sea. It has been standing there ever since and the mountain that it formed was named after this Giant. Mount Athos.
Since then many things happened. The first inhabitants of the third peninsula of Halkidiki were from Andros island and nearby Thrace and Lemnos island. In 5th century BC, the Persian king Xerxes trying to avoid sailing with his fleet around Athos, he ordered a channel to be dug at the narrowest point. The channel was 1,5 mile long, 100 feet wide and only 12 feet deep. The granite rock did not allow him to achieve his goal. He took his fleet from another route and managed to travel south and fight in Salamina and Thermopyles.
However, this cut led the peninsula to isolation. Many centuries passed as the place slipped to oblivion. Alexander the Great was another visitor of the place. His advisor suggested that they have the General’s face carved on the rock. But the plan was never realized and the place remained vacant.
Later, John the Apostle, the author of the Gospel and Revelation, along with the Virgin Mary were sailing to Cyprus when the rough weather forced them to land on the northern side of the peninsula. Mary was astonished by the serenity of the place and asked her Son to offer this wonderful garden to her. Since then, Mount Athos is also known as the Garden of Mary. This resulted to the austere and absolute ban of all female creatures. Only Virgin Mary has the right to visit Mount Athos.
Some three centuries later, Emperor Constantine thought of founding his new capital of his Empire there. But he respected the tradition and finally decided to choose Byzantium, Constantinople, for that role. Mount Athos peninsula remained empty. Although legends mention the presence of hermits since the 3rd century AD, positive presence of monks is identified around 7th century. The first hermit was Peter of Athos, an army officer for Istanbul who spent 50 years in a cave.
The sanctity of the place was made official by a gold sealed document signed by Emperor Basil 1st (867-886). This secured that from then on, Mount Athos would be dedicated to monks and prayer. The name “Agio Oros” (Holy Mountain) came to identify Mount Athos as a place of worship.
One century later, Athanasios of Trapezounta chose to live in Mount Athos and further develop the ascetic discipline. In 963 at the tip of the peninsula, Athanasios founded the Monastery of Lavra, where it stands active till today. The years passed and Agion Oros lived many adventures. Pirates and conquerors tried to steal the treasures. Young monks moved in giving a blooming only to be followed by desolation. New monasteries flourished and others were deserted. People from other orthodox countries came here to establish their cove or prayer. Agion Oros was greatly supported and occasionally fought by the various Byzantine Emperors. It also survived the four centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire.
But through all this hardship, Agion Oros, continued its existence and prosperity. Today there are 20 monasteries and numerous sketes, hermitages and cells. Around two thousand people permanently reside there. The old buildings are being renovated and the cultural production knows new richness. The living history of Mount Athos is still active and attractive.
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