In 1925 mr. P. Roccos, the religious secretary of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) from Thessaloniki, organized an excursion to Mount Athos with 45 of its members. The trip took place during Easter 1925, from 17 to 24 April. During this trip an unknown member/photographer took pictures, that are available on this site. Mr. Roccos wrote a brief manual consisting of 5 pages. He explains that not all of the members were young: the group of 45 participants aged from 18 to 72 years old
“the excursionists belonged to various social classes. There were students of the higher Gymnasia classes, professors, merchants, lawyers, bank employees, deputies, news paper correspondents and Government employees. On Friday, April 17, while the sun was setting down, the boat “Chios” left the port of Saloniki with the excursionists on board and after 12 hours sail she landed them on Saturday morning at bay of Mt. Athos-Daphne”. The moment we faced the first time Mt. Athos with all its grander en snowy high peak, the beautiful verses of our national poet P. Soutsos came to our mind:
“YOU ARE PAVILIONED WITH DIAMOND’S CROWN,
THE WOODS FROM YOUR BELT AND THE CLOUDS YOUR HAIR”.
According to me they saw the following monasteries: Iviron, Lavra, Pavlou, Simonospetras and Panteleimonos. It is mentioned in the documents below that there were 5.000 monks on Athos at that time, from whom 80% were Greek. The Slavic people (Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian), constitute a minority on Athos (see page 3 below). I wonder if this information is true at that time….
Let’s have a look, but first I will show you the “Athos-manual” mr. Roccos wrote.
The ancient footpaths of Athos are of an unprecedented beauty, that is a well-known fact. But what is the most beautiful stretch? The answer is not so easy. There are plenty of excellent candidates. In the category open landscapes I would like to suggest the decent from the skete Agios Nilos to the chapel Spileo Agios Nilos.
The bright marble path shines even when the sun is not out. The sea looks glorious from the height of the path. The trail is in very good condition. The vegetation is sparse on the dry southern slope, but the Euphorbia blooms abundant. Pilgrim Jacques is on his way to the chapel.
Pilgrim Herman approaches a giant Euphorbia.
Pilgrim Barry going down. The marble path awaits him. In the distance the next peninsula, Sithonia.
The three-way point between the harbour of Nilos, the stairs and the path between Kavsokalivia and the skete Nilos, as seen from the chapel.
Near the chapel a wooden Holy Cross is planted in a holm oak.
The rooftop of the chapel with the seemingly loose tiles.
Pilgrim Jacques is almost reaching the sky on the way back to the skete. The hill is quite steep but the path is broad and almost floats over the hill. The sea-mist gave us unlimited depth.
The view towards the summit where clouds played with its visibility. Nilos is just in sight on the right site of the photo.
We visited the path earlier; in 2013. See my blog, with enthusiastic remarks about this, probably, most beautiful descent on Athos.
The author of this blog is our Athos friend Japetus, who is an expert on maps. Many thanks for this fine translation and interesting story.
Piri Reis was an Ottoman admiral who, after having travelled all around the mediterranean and collected info on the spot, he compiled his atlas called ‘Kitab-i Bahriye’ based on italian maps.
The maps are from the manuscript: Süleymaniye, Aya Sofya 2612, from the year 1525
Translation: To the southeast of Arpa port [Ierissos] towards Mount Athos, there is a bay. There the ships can find safe anchorage when strong south southeastern winds blow. Characteristic of this port, when ships are coming from the sea, are the two small islets at the peak of the cape. Keeping these islands to the left, ships can enter the port. These islands are located behind the cape. Southeast from them lies a big monastery which they call Vatubid [Vatopediou]. In front of the monastery there is a shallow small port. But when the wind blows from the sea, no ship can anchor because the area is wide open. To the east southeast lies another monastery which is called Aynaroz [Pantokratoros ?]. Close to the Arpa port that we mentioned, lies yet another big monastery which is called Filandar [Chilandariou]. It is a place with vineyards, orchards and nice waters.
Translation: This place is an oblong peninsula with a length of eighty miles. Between the shores of Rumeli and the peninsula is a narrow land passage. This passage is low and dry and has a width of one mile. The peninsula we mention is full of mountains. The peak of this cape is so tall that can be seen from Keriye [Ikaria] island which lies two hundred and eighty miles away. This mountain is so high that is always covered with snow. At its slopes there are monasteries where monks live. At the past the number of these monasteries reached three hundred and sixty. Nowadays though, only sixty are left. Nineteen of them are by the sea, the rest towards the mountain. At these monasteries nothing female can be found, only males. Following their loose thought, the monks subject themselves to suffering. They don’t give information to the turkish corsairs about christian corsairs, nor do they tell to the christians about turkish ships. Whoever the pirates are, they are not reluctant to offer them provisions. They act like that because they are scared. One of these monasteries is called Alaveri [Lavra]. It stretches to the east of the mountain, lies two miles away from the sea and is built on a height. It looks like a castle. Around it there is running water and is surrrounded by orchards of orange and lemon trees. There are also a lot of cherries. The monks gather them every year and they dry them. They prepare by themselves all the provisions for the year. This is what they live from. The monks in this monastery are about four hundred. Each one, depending on his order, suffers his martyrdom in his own cell. The monks prepare the bread with the help of an ox. They have a circular marble plate. At its center they nail a wide wooden board which turns continuously towards its sharp edge. It looks like a mill. When the ox turns, the monks with the help of a stick continuously lay the dough under the wood, until it is ready. Afterwards they finish kneading it with their fists. They bake a thousand and eight hundred loafs at a time.
Translation: In front of the monastery (Lavra) there are big rocks that create a small port where only one ship can enter. As the opening of the port faces to the northeast, when NE winds are blowing the waters are rough. It once happened to us. While docking to this port with a caique, an east northeastern wind started to blow and the caique was smashed. The monks immediately ran and cross-tied the boat with ropes at four points. This way it couldn’t move at all. So we were saved from the storm and we continued our trip. Out of the port and following the shores of Mount Athos heading west, there is a port that faces to the east. There a ship can dock as long as it ties ropes from both its sides. The place is narrow.
Translation: Afterwards, moving west northwest, one arrives at the inside of the gulf where there is a small island called Tavuk [=chicken / Ammouliani]. Once the monks kept here their chickens. A small saltwork exists. There are tulips planted here with beautiful petals. No others are like them elsewhere. But the monks of Mount Athos call this island Donkey island. […]
On October 1st we started climbing down the Holy Mountain at 8 o’clock in the morning. We were not in a hurry, after climbing to the top earlier that day. To reach Agiou Pavlou monastery took us 6,5 hours, including a quick visit to the Agia Anna skete. The first part, from Panaghia to Stavros, is relatively easy. At first you walk through the green valley with lots of trees. Going up with luggage and big cameras is easier, if you rent some mules, as this German pilgrim did.
The path down leads through a forest with oak and pine trees and is covered with many loose stones.
At a certain point, where the valley stops and where the path turns to the South-West, the landscape gets more open and dryer, with less big trees and lower vegetation.
Near the Stavros junction the dense forest with large oak trees starts again. We took the right turn going North, to take the quickest path to skete Agia Anna. Although the hike took us a bit more than one hour, the length of the path to Agia anna skete is only 2,8 km long, but be aware, the hike is difficult and steep (more info on Wikiloc).
Not far from the skete we pass an old stone avalanche, but soon after concrete steps appeared, making the last part easier to walk.
From now on the path to Agiou Pavlou gets a lot easier. The first part above Nea Skiti is easy to walk. Here you will have to decide to choose the lower or the higher path. The first leads over a monopati and to the coast, the second goes up again over unpaved roads and they lead directly to monastery itself.
Above Agiou Pavlou: the new Agiou Markos chapel, build in 2010.
The ferry boat to Kavsokalivia arrived on time. We bought tickets on board. We sat on the open deck, watching the monasteries go by. It was rather windy. We talked about earlier visits, walking routes and the climb to the top.
A monk meanders towards the sea from the terraced garden and orchard of Gregoriou. An impressive stone garden.
Agiou Paulou comes in sight. Probably the monastery with the most dramatic backdrop on the Holy Mountain. In the middle of April there is still snow on the higher slopes. The summit is hidden behind fast moving clouds. But for this moment the clouds opened up, not more than a second. I have the impression that the summit is just visible. Not a perfect day to light a candle in the Metamorphosis chapel on the top.
The major construction works near the shoreline of Paulou were still not finished. There will be a deepened riverbed to dispose of the melted snow and rain. On the left hand side we see a new terraced vegetal garden, accessible by a new bridge.
The skiti Agia Anna as seen from the ferry. The big red house is the guesthouse where we stayed after our trip to the summit of the Holy Mountain in 2011. We arrived a little after dinner time but they showed real hospitality and a lovely meal was served.
The terrace in front of the guesthouse of Agia Anna has perhaps the finest sunset views on Athos.
When the boat reaches the end of the peninsula it takes a turn left. This is a barren windswept coast. Soon the first huts of the hermits appear. You don’t see the hermits very often. This man meditated quietly on his balcony.
In front of him two bells, a big one and a small one, hanging from the ceiling. Big stones lay unattended on the corrugated sheets. Under him we see a flower garden on the terrace.
A little later the hermit stood up and walked calmly into his humble dwelling. A fascinating life; totally dedicated to praying in solitude. Hermits prove that we – as humans – can live our life alone. A lifeline for food is the only connection to the outside world. Twice a day a ferry boat passes, that is a connection to the outer world. Maybe he sees other monks and pilgrims on the boat. The rest of the time there is only the endless ocean as far as the eye can reach.
Near the cactuses is a basket that delivers the food that the hermit needs. If the food is not collected by the hermit it is a sign that something might be wrong. Then they will check him out. The neighbor’s house is completely in ruins without glass windows. The huts are built in the grey marble rock, the material the Holy Mountain is made of.
When the empty boat leaves Kavsokalivia it feels as if you are left alone with only a couple of fellow pelgrims and some mules. Concrete stairs completely covered with a thick layer of mule dun await you the first hundred meters up. Than it peters out and a beautiful path to the hamlet unfolds itself.
We are on our way to Prodromou, the Romanian skete, where we hope to spend the night.
Every monastery and skiti have a room were pilgrims are welcomed, most of the time with Greek coffee, water, loukoumi and tsipourou.
This guest room in the Russian monastery was only for distinguished pilgrims. The place burned down in the huge fire of 1968. On the wall a.o. images of Tsar Nicolas II and Tsarina. More images here.
It is not clear to which monastery this guest room belongs.
This room is probably located in Gregoriou because the monastery can be seen on the photo on the wall. On the right Wim Oudshoorn, editor of the Dutch magazine about Greece, Lychnari.
Could this be the guest room of Lavra? Standing at the back is Dutch translator and writer Gerard Koolschijn who published his book Geen sterveling weet in 2012. The book contains a very interesting description of Mount Athos in the 1970ties, in Dutch.
Fellow pilgrim Bas Kamps in the guest room of the former Russian skiti of Andreou.
The guest room is the place were pilgrims put their names in the guestbook and the number of the Diamontirion. There is also space to enter your father’s name.
On the first day of 2015 they gave us a nice lunch in Paulou before we went on to Nea Skiti.
In Esfigmenou they welcomed us friendly with a glas of rather sour wine.
A bowl of Turkish delight, Loukoumi, in the Romanian skiti.
Cookies, coffee and Tsipourou served by father Filemon.