In the year 1988 Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the famous Italian novelist, and professor in semiotics visited the Holy Mountain.
Here we see the author in front of Simonos Petras.
It is said that his famous novel “The Name of the Rose” was inspired by his trip to Athos. The mysterious atmosphere of that book reflects the atmosphere on the Holy Mountain. The mediaeval architecture, the monks in black robes, candlelit corridors, labyrinths, whispering monks, and secret books and knowledge to be found in age-old libraries. The detective is set in the 14th century.
I remember that I was quite impressed on our first pilgrimage to Athos in 2009 when we got the opportunity to visit the library of Mylopotamos. To get there you have to get into the mediaeval tower. Behind an otherwise closed door we were admitted to the secret room and admired the old books.
Here we are watching a Ptolemy copy at the library. We easily found mount Athos.
Eco’s novel was published in 1980, so eight years before his visit to Simonos Petras.
I started looking for an earlier visit. I found only one blog with the information that Eco had visited Vatopediou before writing “In the name of the Rose”. Eco saw in the library a copy of the famous “Geography” of Ptolemy, as we did many years later in Mylopotamos.
I hoped to find more information about that first visit to Vatopediou. Maybe one of our readers knows more?
In his 1988 travel Eco went first to Simonos Petras, then to Iviron on the other site of the peninsula and then back to Karyes. In the building of Simonos Petras in Karyes he met the abbot of Simonos Petras, Elissaios. They had a long discussion. Source.
Yesterday the news arrived at this site that from now on the Pilgrim’s Office will issue a total of 60 diamoniterion’s a day to pilgrims and up to 20 visitors and pilgrims per day will be allowed to visit each monastery, 15 for each cenobitic skete. Additionally, travel between monasteries on Mount Athos is allowed again.
Each visitor must still confirm his stay with the monastery that will host him. From last Wednesday 1 of July the Greek borders are open again to 15 EU countries, that are considered save epidemiologically. Russian pilgrims are not allowed to enter Greece until now.
For older information about the lockdown Athos have look here.
On the site of orthoxianewsagency.gr I also read that the number of visitors to Athos increased the past years with 30% and numbers 250.000 to 270.000 visitors each year. The increased traffic is mainly caused by Bulgarian and Serbian pilgrims, who filled the gap left by the Russians.
I will start this post with four photographs from the first (?) Athos bus, a Mercedes Benz, that arrived on Athos during the millenium celebrations in 1963. This picture is at the arsanas of Iviron dates from this period.
On this color picture at Dafni harbor the same bus appears, with its light blue color.
Even in 1989 the same bus is still in use, as this picture from my own library shows.
Although this photo of unknown date might suspect that even an older bus was in use since 1963….. (in the harbor of Dafni)
nr 1 – Two monks resting at the portico of Dionysiou (near the famous apocalyptic scenes of John on the opposite wall).
nr 2 – The hermitage of Monk Gabriel near Prodromou / Cape Akratos.
nr 3 – Panteleimonos monastery, before the big fires in the guesthouse.
nr 1 – Skiti Andreou
nr 2 – Dionysiou monastery and arsanas
nr 3 – Esfigmenou monastery: at that time without the banner “Orthodoxy or Death” on the outside wall.
nr 4 – Grigoriou monastery: without the palm tree, that is so characteristic in the present days.
nr 5 – Iviron monastery
nr 6 – Karakallou monastery, with in the background the Timiou Stavrou kellion.
nr 7 – Lavra, with the three graves of the Patriarch on the left.
Lavra, december 1956: a Christmas card from the French embassy in Greece.
nr 8 – Simonospetras and a photo of mules near the monastery.
In post 1418 we told the story of “Agathon the Fool”, here on a photo in Kavsokalivia. He was a simple layman who lived in abandoned monastic cells during the decades of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
1925 nr 2
These six drawings of Athonian buildings are from 1925: the first three images are from the trapezas of Esfigmenou, Lavra and Pantocratoros. The fourth image is from the bell tower of Vatopedi and the two last images are from monastery Docheiariou.
1926 nr 1
These pictures made in 1926 are from the French site Gallica, the national library of France, where many information about Athos can be found. This first photo is from Chilandariou.
nr 2 Another photograph od Chilandariou
nr 3 Esfigmenou monastery
nr 4 Dionysiou monastery
nr 5 Simonospetras – North facade
nr 6 Dionysiou monastery
nr 7 Xenofontos monastery wit Mount Athos in the background
nr 1 A street in Karyes, a photo by Walter Holz, during the occupation of Athos in the Second World War.
nr 2 and 3 Two photos of the entrance to a building, probably in Karyes.
nr 4 Karyes, with kitchen gardens and buildings in the background.
nr 5 and 6 The bell tower of Iviron
nr 1 Fishing boats near Kaliagra and Stavronikita. The house on the left now is in ruins.
nr 2 Fishermen pulling their nets on the beach
nr 3 and 4: scenes from every day life on Athos: fishermen on the beach pulling their nets.
A news item from October 1954: A Soviet Ambassador visits Mount Athos
(translated with Google from French to English:
Over the past month, mr. Sergieief, ambassador of the USSR in Athens, paid an unexpected visit to Mount Athos, knowing how to ask for the prior authorization of the Greek Government, no more than that of the congregation of Mount Athos. Mr. Sergieief visited the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon and had a long talk with the Superior. During this conversation, the ambassador explained that not only does his government have anti-religious views but, on the contrary, he does his best to collaborate with religion, and that he will be ready to let the Russian monastery of Mont Athos exist by sending, just like at the time of Czars, material aid to the monks. The Superior replied that he did not need material aid and that the question of new monks sent from the USSR fell under the Patriarchate Constantinople.
Photo by monk Gavriil from Panteleimonos, made on August 21, 1903, with a “revealing” image of the Mother of God (on the left). The photo was published in a Greek newspaper at that time. It still remains a mystery, with some monks claiming that they believe the unknown female on the left was the Virgin Mary herself. It was published for the first time in 1997. Read more about it here.
A photograph of Agiou Paulou monastery in the winter or early spring, with snow in the valley behind it. Clearly visible is the grit left behind by the streams during many years. Nowadays the water flow has been channeled and most of the sediment has disappeared.
13. 1914 -1918
During the first World War a French (and Russian) army came to Athos. This is probably why many pictures and publications are to be found about Athos. Most of the pictures were made by Millet and Martel, as we showed you here. This general Sarrail in Karyes.
nr 1: Excelsior magazine, published on February 22th 1917 about the army visiting Panteleimonos, consisting of 300 soldiers. They found 475 guns made in Austria, 441 bayonets and 103.000 cartridges (bullets?) in the monasteries.
1917 nr 2: A procession with the Portatissa icon from Iviron to the nearby aqueduct. The house in the foreground does not exist anymore, have a look at the photos I made on this spot in 2019. It looks as if they are renovating the aqueduct (it was built in the 17th century and was renovated in 1858). And what is the strange tower next to the house? It looks as if the water flow from the aqueduct is diverted to this tower. And do we see laundry/white sheets hanging to dry in the garden behind the house. Might the fresh water have been used in a laundry at that place?
1917 nr 3: the Portatissa icon in procession near Iviron
1917 nr 4: photographer Ali Sami Bey with a monk from Iviron. He started his career in the Ottoman army and later became the Imperial photographer for Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Following the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, supporters of the Sultan were purged and in 1909 the Sultan was exiled to Greece. Ali Sami arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1909 and published the newspaper Hak (Right),while in 1916 he published the French newspaper Le droit (The Law). He was nick-named Bahriyeli (sailor). Read more about him here.
Here is another picture made by Ali Sami Bey, made much later, in 1928: icon painters in Agia Anna
1917 nr 5: a publication about the occupation of Athos in the French magazine “Le pays de France”, with pictures of Agiou Paulou, skiti Prodromou, Xenofontos, Panteleimonos and Simonospetras. A Franco-Russe army embarked on January 16th 1917, to protect the 20 monasteries, where 5 to 6 thousand monks live.
1917 nr 6: another publication about the occupation of Athos by the “allies” in the French magazine “Le pays de France”, with the ships at the quay of Panteleimonos.
1917 nr 7, 8 and 9: a publication the New York Times, with pictures of Panteleimonos and Xenofontos. Below two photo’s of the courtyards of Chilandariou and Xenofontos. By coincidence these sheets are for sale at Ebay (for to much money).
The courtyard and phiale of Esfigmenou in 1920.
16. 1924 nr 1:
Athos Monks in Athens: the proclamation Greek republic
1924 nr 2:
Two photographs from Chilandariou monastery. The first photograph is from the famous grapes of Simeon, that has been growing there for almost 100 years now (and maybe much longer!). I frequently get questions from readers how to obtain or buy these grapes, by couples who try to get some help to start a family. It is said that eating a raisin of this vine gives fertility. Unfortunately I have to disappoint them, I do not know where of how to get these raisins. But they are good protected, as you can see in this post from 2016.
The other image from 1924 is from the French magazine “L’Illustration”: in 2016 I bought this magazine and I showed it to you here.
As you probably know, I occasionally roam the internet looking for Athos photos or publications. Today I found some time to show you some of my findings, beginning with the oldest:
This is a page from a Dutch book, written by Kircherius in 1668. Its shows the plan of the sculptor of Alexander the Great, Dinocrates, to transform Mount Athos into a huge statue of Alexander. The image of Alexander is quite funny. In the mid 17th century and in 1721 two other examples show uo, with a better looking Alexander carved in the rock.
An early photograph of Simonospetras monastery
Although only slightly related to Athos, I did not want to withhold this picture from Thessaloniki from you. Here you can still see the old city walls, that were built all the way to the shoreline.
From the book Childe Harold’s “Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, a romaunt” – etching. The mountain near Mylopotamos and Filotheou.
A photograph of the Panteleimonos complex, with the monastery in the background. Later this photograph was copied by others, who made a similar etching of the photo.
Article “The Mountain of the Monks” from the magazine “The Art Journal”: an etching of Simonospetras, seen from the North.
From the magazine “Magazin Pittoresque”: Chilandariou monastery, article in french, 31 of January 1890.
Russian abbots from the Holy Mountain, and
two Russians from Athos. Unfortunately my understanding of Russian is zero, so I cannot translate.
update 17/6: our friend Vasilis translated the text for us (thanks!): on picture 1 is the abbot (hegoumeny) of Panteleimonos Gerasimos (1) and other monks (archimandrite) of Panteleimonos and Skiti Andreas (names). On picture 2, left, Alexander Ivanovitsj Sushkin (I don’t know him) and right abbot archimandrite Makarios from Panteleimonos.
Three D photographs of the Panteleimonos monastery made by Verascope Richard, Empire Ottoman, Macedoine.
Another three D photo of Panteleimonos
And also from 1900, to be exact 25th of February: an article in an Italian magazine “Domenica del Corriere”, with a photo of Grigoriou. By mistake the author thinks this is Agiou Paulou monastery.
A picture of Chilandariou monastery, seen from the North.
On the accurate Barsky drawing from 1744 a Byzantine tower with the characteristic battlements is clearly visible, next to the entrance of Konstamonitou. On the photo of 1991 the tower is gone and replaced by a smaller one standing in the courtyard.
But not the whole tower is gone. The bottom part still belongs to the monastery walls. Outside and inside the yard.
My brother Wim took some pictures of the base of the tower. The widening bottom looks renovated.
In the courtyard the bottom of the tower is in scaffolding. I suspect they are repairing the joints as they did on the other side.
In the afternoon of Friday, June 12, at the location of Cape Arapis, a forest fire broke out. The flames were very far from the nearest monastery or hermitage, however, due to the particularly inaccessible terrain it was very difficult to reach the area by ground. Three Canadair aircraft and one helicopter operated from the air. On the ground twenty vehicles with 59 firefighters were involved to put out the fire, while volunteers from the area also assisted.
The Dutch curator, visual artist and art historian, Antoon Erftemeijer (1954), visited Athos in the spring of the year 1988. It was his only visit to the Holy Mountain until now. He has a lifelong fascination for holy places and cloisters. As a young man he considered to become a monk. He travelled to many monasteries for half a century. In the Netherlands, in Belgium, Germany and in Greece. He witnessed the transformation of cloister life. Recently he published an autobiographic book about his travels to many monasteries in Europe.
Here we see one of his pencil drawings; the monastery of Dionysiou. It is one of the thirteen illustrations in the book.
He travelled with two friends. They received the diamonitirion in the Epistasia in Karyes, as was the custom in the old days. They were so fascinated that they prolonged their trip a couple of days. He described: “It was like walking in a paradise”. He cherishes unforgettable memories of the walks. He mentions wild roses, yellow broom, orchids, waterfalls, cypresses, lizards, mules and several snakes. And he describes an almost medieval atmosphere.
They made an impressive tour in 1988. As young men with lots of energy can do. First they walked from Karyes via Filotheou to Simonos Petras, Grigouriou, Dionysiou and Skiti Anna. From there they took the boat to Panteleimonon and walked to Esfigmenou and Chilandariou and took the boat from arsanas Chilandariou back to Ouranoupolis.
Antoon and his companions wore small orthodox crosses on a chord their necks. When talking to a monk they admitted they were protestant and Roman Catholic. The monk told them that the pope had made a big mistake by making himself the infallible substitute of Christ on earth. And that all the protestants see themselves as little popes.
Skiti Anna made a lasting impression. In that period only six monks lived there. The monks painted icons on order. Antoon payed 300 guilders (now €136) for his order. A year later the nicely wrapped Mandylion icon arrived at his house in Holland.
In skiti Anna they enjoyed a meal with the monks. Antoon tells that the monks were smacking very loudly. He felt like laughing but he could resist that temptation. Antoon thought smacking might be the local custom. So he joined the monks in smacking.
I know, it is just a number. But we have 1.000.000 views. Unbelieveable.
We started our weblog in 2006, first on a Dutch host, and in the beginning I didn’t count the limited number of views we had in the first years. That changed when we had to switch to another host, WordPress. And at that time the popularity of Athos grew rapidly. There were only a handful of other ‘serious’ websites in English about Athos back then, one of them the famous website of the Friends of Mount Athos.
But from 2013 the number of views grew every year, from 67.300 in 2013, to the record of 189.700 views in 2015, to 99.300 views last year (with 30/35.000 visitors a year). Still very impressive numbers for a non-commercial weblog, run by three ordinary guys from Holland. Together with other pilgrim friends, who also happened to fall in love with this fabulous and overwhelmingly beautiful piece of land, where the history of the ancient Byzantium is still alive and where over a thousend years a daily religious task is performed by many monks and Holy Men. Think of it: every day the same routine in all the churches and trapezas, for 1057 years/386.000 days, with singing, praying and working by al these monks. As if time stood still…
Many thanks to all the lovely people who visit our weblog now and then and make our work worth while!
As you know this weblog is not meant to share large quantities of texts and its main purpose is to show photographs, so I wondered what kind of picture to show you in this post? This is what I decided: to show you the first photo ever, that I took during my first pilgrimage to Athos in July 1980, and the very last photo, from our recent pilgrimage in 2019. By coincidence both photos are from piers at the seaside, in 1980 at arsanas Sografou and in October 4th 2019 in Dafni, just before a fierce thunderstorm broke out.
9th of June 2020, Wim Voogd, Herman Voogd and Bas Kamps