During the FoMA path clearing week our base was the Dionysiou Monastery. Dionysiou was founded in the 14th century but the first photo’s of the monastery appear in the 19th century.
A few years ago, photographs and negatives of Athos were auctioned at Sothebys. These were the oldest photos of Athos made by Ernest de Caranza and Emile Charles Labbe. The photos are from 1853 when photography was still poorly developed.
An even older image is an etching of the monastery, dating from 1780. This clearly shows the shape of the monastery, the tower, the thick walls with cannons and the boathouse below. The steel cannons are still kept in the monastery’s museum. A boat is entering the boathouse.
A rock formation can be seen behind the boathouse. If you look closely you will see a lying head of an Indian. Note his chin (left) and nose.
The boathouse is clearly visible in the watercolour by the artist Preziosi, also, coincidentally, from 1852 almost the same moment as the early photographs. The photo of an American Athos expedition from 1929 shows again the boathouse.
The vast majority of the Foma 2023 pathclearing team (36 pilgrims) arrived in Ouranoupolis, Greece from London by plane. The flight was quite delayed so it was a short night for these pilgrims.
The Dutch delegation (Bas, my brother Wim and I) had already arrived in Ouranoupolis a day earlier and had time to fully enjoy the sun and the tavernas.
On the morning of departure for the Holy Mountain, all pilgrims gathered at the Pilgrim Office. It was not necessary for everyone to report individually to the counter. We were provided with a diamonitirion for the entire group.
Everyone took a photo of the document that gave us access to the Holy Mountain. We left by boat at 10am. Along the way we took group photos and had further introductions. It had already been made clear that all three of us would be housed in different monasteries, namely Vatopedi, Sografou and Dionysiou. From these monasteries we would maintain the paths in the immediate area for a week.
My brother Wim said goodbye at the port of Sografou. The members of the Dionysiou team (Bart, Tjeu, Jan, Peter and Herman) took another boat in Dafni to the monastery on the rocks.
Next to the cemetery of Sografou is the chapel ‘Annunciation to the Virgin’, a beautiful old building painted in ocher yellow and terracotta brown/red colors. (Here) on the right and under this building in which the ossuary is located. Both buildings are in a poor state of maintenance. This photo was taken at the back of the chapel.
The front of the chapel with the outbuilding in blue and brown colors. I took a look what’s behind the door of this annex (in the shadow on the right).
After opening the door: the stairs lead to the first floor, with a small niche in the wall. painted in red and yellow.
The yellow niche with bottles with olive oil and matches
On the first floor is a large balcony with a bench and a semantron. On the right is door the next building. In the garden below you can see the remnants of the carriages. The ceiling on the right almost comes down!
A table with a broken tableau with a Greek text.
A wooden cross with carvings and small blue dots and a (primitive) mural of a holy man in a long and fine robe, holding a cross. There is also graffiti from 1930, 1943, 1957 and a few more numbers (years?) on the wall (see also details below).
Two copper bells hang from the ceiling. The rest of the building was in such a desperate state that it was too dangerous to walk any further.
This text on the wall must be in Bulgarian (for me impossible to translate).
On the ground floor I found these items and rooms:
An old mule or donkey saddle.
The entrance to the charnel house with a coffin and a beer: on the right behind the fence is the place where the skulls and bones are kept.
The room under the chapel with bones and skulls.
On leaving the ossuary: more almost ruined houses.
Ger Dommerholt, who visited Athos with his friend Jan in 1963 and attended the 1000th anniversary festivities is an enthusiastic photographer. We have already shown a number of photos of him in previous posts.
We have saved most of the monk portraits for this post. Ger explicitly asked all the subjects if it was okay for him to take a photo of them. These are the surprising images from 60 years ago.
The next two days Ger and Jan would walk the entire west side of Athos. They left from Paulou via Dionysiou and Grigoriou to Simonos Petras.
In Dionysiou they studied the famous frescoes. Here is traveling companion Jan sitting in front of the images of the end of time
Their Greek friends also willingly posed in front of the frescoes.
View of Gregoriou from the path to Dionysiou.
The equipment for pilgrims in the early sixties was completely different. Note the shoes and backpacks and combination with the bags and a real canteen.
Saying goodbye to the Greek friends was difficult for them.
When they arrived at Simonos Petras, they were given a room in the old main building, with a wooden bed and a horse blanket and as a bonus the fantastic view of the Aegean Sea from a height of 300 meters.
They had long and interesting conversations with some monks in Simonos Petras.
The next day the second long hike along the west coast awaited. First they walked to Dafni.
View of the west coast with the new road from Dafni to Karyes. The road, specially build in 1963 to make transport easier for the pilgrims during the festivities, leaves huge gashes in the mountain. The monastery of Xiropotamou is just visible. A kaïk lies in front of Dafni, which is not visible in the photo. The vegetation is clearly less than today.
Then they walked via Xiropotamou to the great Russicon, where only a few monks remained, and via Xenofontos to Dochiariou. They slept there, but first they were given (again) a lukewarm bean dish and the next morning a meager breakfast. Then on to Konstamonitou (vegetable soup, rice and melon, as stated in Ger’s diary) where they would spend the last, their seventh, night on Athos. They had to wait a long time on the shore for a boat that would eventually take them to Tripiti. At that time, people did not yet sail to Ouranoupolis, but to Tripiti, a little further away, where you can sail also to Ammouliani. And from Tripiti they went to Ierissos where they found the mopeds untouched, that had spent a week in a police cell. They travelled on to Constantinople and then returned home to the Netherlands. It was a journey that changed their lives in many ways. Ger has often gone back to Greece, but never again to Athos.
(For previous posts on this subject see: 2290 and 2291)
On September 18 I visited the cemetery of Zografou. In a far corner of the cemetery I found two half-decayed remains of four-wheeled carriages.
What could be the reason that these old means of transport were stored here? Were they used to transport deceased monks to the cemetery or did they have some other purpose? How long would they have been in use and how did they even get to this place, while on Athos there were mainly paths and no roads (until 1963, when the first real road for cars from Karyes to Lavra was completed in connection with the 1000th century) birthday) ?
Given the size of the carriages with four heavy wheels, it is unlikely that they were used for funerals. The distance from the monastery to the cemetery is also too short for this: and on Athos you often see the body of the deceased monk being carried on a bier.
Most likely the carriages had an agricultural function. The high side girders and heavy construction indicate that she may have been used to transport tree trunks. Forestry is currently a common way to generate income on Athos and this may have been the case in the past.
On the other hand, it is also possible that the carriages were used for the transport of the harvested grain, because in our post 1869 we have published that there was still a threshing floor at Sografou in 1870.
It is difficult to determine when these carriages arrived on Athos. After the invention of the (two-wheeled) chariot in ancient times (Mesopothamia and Egypt), the (four-wheeled) chariot came into use in Europe in the late Middle Ages.
And yet another question is: how did these carriages end up at Sografou? Although it took some time to figure it out, the answer is pretty obvious. There have always been two-meter-wide kalderimi paths on the Holy Mountain, long before the first automobiles appeared, and the kalderimi were wide enough for carriages. The current dirt roads for cars, which are now so common throughout the peninsula, did not exist for very long, most of these roads were constructed relatively recently (from the 70s, 80s or 90s of the last century).
The Sografou kalderimi has now almost completely disappeared: a small part of this kalderimi can still be found behind the buildings of the Sografou arsanas, part of the original path that led to Sografou.
On the map below, probably from the 60s or 70s, you can see that there are still kalderimi leading to the monastery:
And when you get to Sografou monastery, some of the original kalderimi are still present (see photo below). As mentioned, this wide paved path was large enough for carriages loaded with wood or grain, drawn by oxen, horses or mules.
The year is 963. A thousand and sixty years ago. The foundation of the first monastery on Athos, the Great Lavra. The thousand-year anniversary was of course celebrated in detail at the time. As someone said to me, the life of the monks consists of fasting and feasting. The thousand-year anniversary was the occasion for a number of celebrations. In Karyes, with the dignitaries, but also in Lavra itself, where it all started, there was a celebration on July 19, 1963.
Ger and Jan came walking from Iviron that day. They had taken the coastal route. Mainly dirt roads and monopati. It’s a long walk. They were not aware of the festival that would be celebrated there. They found Lavra packed. There were no bunks left in the guesthouses. Many people came to this special anniversary. The Greek Prime Minister, then Konstantinos Karamanlis, had his own guesthouse in Lavra, consisting of a room with a bathroom and a shower. The Dutch young men for whom there was no room in the dormitories were given those rooms. But, do you sleep when there’s a party all night? The service started at 4:00 PM and lasted till breakfast. The young men found it a fantastic experience to be able to experience such an important moment in the history of Athos. They had met two students from Athens who spoke good English, which made the conversations easier.
After vespers there was food with orange wine in the refectory (trapeza).
The next day they went with the two Athenians by boat to Paulou Monastery, on the other side of the holy mountain. The skipper initially wanted 40 drachmas per person for the trip, but the Athenians managed to reduce the price to 20 drachmas per person through negotiation. The small boat could fit about 7 people.
A monk got off in Kavslokalivia.
The tour around the southern end of the peninsula took them past the hermitages located on the rocks in Karoulia and Katounakia.
It’s 1963. Sixty years ago. Two friends from the Dutch city of The Hague, Ger (23) and Jan (25), plan to travel to Greece by moped. They had previously gone to Spain by moped. They wanted to experience such an adventure again. The young furniture makers had each saved 1,000 guilders for the trip, which would last three months, and they had bought a new Zündapp.
At home in The Hague one evening, Ger ate a peach and to his surprise he found a note in the peach, which was hidden in the split pit of the peach. It was a note with a Greek text. But they did not understand any Greek. Ger’s father who was a tobacconist talked about this strange finding to a customer who responded that his wife was Greek and she would be happy to translate. So the travelers went to that woman for a translation.
The note contained the name and address of a Greek girl. That gave their trip a first destiny. To visit the mysterious writer of the note in her home country. The translator also talked about Athos, that the two men absolutely had to go there because it is so special. The woman also wrote a letter of recommendation for the two young men. These more or less coincidental events gave their journey a direction that would change their lives.
They slept every night in the tent they brought with them. They camped in the wild, often on a farmer’s land.
Via Germany, Austria and Italy they reached Greece by boat and after wandering in the Peloponnese they went to Athens.
In addition to the antiquities, they also obtained permission to go to Athos there. They obtained a letter of recommendation at a Ministry. Then they headed north to find the girl who put a note in the peach. They found the family where they could stay for a few days. She had written the note in the hope of a meeting that could bring her a better life. But unfortunately there were no romantic feelings.
Eventually the young adults ended up in Ierissos, close to the border with Athos on the eastern side of the peninsula. They were able to park their mopeds in an empty cell at the police station. They could also leave things there that they did not need on their journey across Athos. Ger’s camera did come along. The photos in this blog are by Ger Dommerholt, who told us this story recently and showed his slides and black-and white photographs. In Ierissos they could go on a boat to the Holy Mountain. The small boat could carry about 7 passengers. They were on board with a few monks.
The boat sailed to Iviron monastery. The first monastery they could see from the water was Esfigmenou, where it did not stop then, just as the ferry still does not stop there today.
They left the boat at Iviron. They spent the first night in that monastery.
The next day they walked to Karyes. They needed to collect their diamoniterion for a seven day stay at the Holy Mountain. The recommendation from Athens was essential for that.
From Karyes they wanted to walk towards Lavra, via Filotheou and Karakalou. The signage was absent and their map not too detailed and so they began to wander in the network of donkey paths and dirt roads.
Eventually they arrived back in Iviron, where they were allowed to spend a second night. The next day they walked along the coast, partly on a dirt road and partly on a donkey path, to the Great Lavra where they would celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Athos that day.
The Art Center Haarlem (Kunst Centrum Haarlem, gallery and art library), the Netherlands regularly exhibits collections of fellow citizens. The exhibition takes place in a little shop window of the organization and can only be seen from the street side.
Bas Kamps and I are currently presenting parts of our Athos collection until December 2023. The shop window is called “the smallest museum in Haarlem”. On display are, among other things, a copy of Sidney Loch’s book The Holy Mountain, the book of the German expedition (Mönchsland Athos 1943) by Dölger, our own photos, an icon, a stone of gray marble from the mountain itself, and so on.
A small opening ceremony was organized by the director of the Center with approximately 25 guests. Among the guests were two men who had also visited Athos and we got to know them better. We will tell the interesting story of Ger who visited Athos in 1963 later in this blog.