As Boris predicted, there was a sign guiding us to Chilandariou. A bit later than expected. But still there was a sign. Here with pilgrim Jaap who is preparing his walking sticks.
Due to the devasting fire the landscape had changed, as we will see. And even the dirt road takes part of the erosion process. The road is washed out and only accessible by four-wheel-drive.The clearance of the trees gives room for smaller plants and shrubberies to develop. Changes give new opportunities for new plants. The burnt wood leaves nutrition in the soil. An abundant amount of flowers appeared in large fields giving a picturesque view on the Holy Mountain. An inspiration for impressionists.These man-high thistles with their intense purple flowers contrast nicely with the clean white clouds and the green stalks.The dirt road twists and turns to reach the highest point on a range of hills. Then it binds the one top of the hill with the next. And that continues for a long and winding time. It is hard to get lost here. All is very clear and open. There are practically no crossings.The lack of trees gives wide open views on the surroundings. Here we are looking north and see the old wind mill of Chromitsa, known for its wine fields. The wind mill has changed its source of energy from wind into solar power. Behind it we see the profane beaches of the town Stratoni, with its much disputed gold mines in the hills above the town.
This part of Athos is almost without any human activity. There are no monasteries or sketes. No buildings what so ever. Only the dirt road. It is an impressive emptiness. Sydney Loch, who lived in the Byzantine tower in Ouranopolis used to walk here from his home town via Chromitsa, and Proto Nero, the first water, to Chilandariou, the first monastery.We discovered an artificial lake, used as an water reservoir. It will take a while before this a full grown forest again, if it ever happens. The fire was extinguished on august the 12th in the year 2012. Most of the images of the aftermath of the fire have been taken from the ferry. But here, in the inland, walking through the vast hilly and barren lands, the immense impact of the fire grabbed me by the throat.A clear symbol of the fire. The fir tree blackened by the fire and bleached by the sun with mount Athos as a back drop. The fresh greenish vegetation represents the hope for the future.Pilgrims Jacques and Jaap on their way. The evolution puts us back on four feet again with the aid of the walking sticks. We had planned to go to Chilandariou but is was fully booked. So we decided to take the risk and try our luck in Esfigmenou. We know about their reputation but they have been very kind to us before, so we hoped we could receive hospitality there. If not, we would try Chilandariou again. And if that would not work, we would sleep outside for a night. Under the clear sky.Clear sky? Suddenly black clouds packed over our heads. We were still walking on a ridge and very exposed. No shelter for miles. No place to hide. A thunder made me quiver. We unpacked our rain gear. The disturbing weather moved away quickly to our relief. There were only a few thick drops of rain.On the northern site of the ridge the road drops. The landscape here looks terraced like Indonesian flooded rice-fields. As if it had been used a long time ago.Because of the fire we couldn’t find any of the red trails, the monopati, that were indicated on our maps in this part of Athos, that is called Zygos. The fire destroyed them all. Probably forever, unless the Friends of Mount Athos find their way here and do reconstruct the old paths. Which is rather unlikely because the trails in this part of Athos go from nowhere to nowhere.
The scan is taken from the very detailed Peter Howarth’s map of Athos (2016). I added a green line as an indication where we walked. Needless to say that we didn’t meet a living soul there, in the Athonian desert.
Bas Kamps, 5/7/2017
This is what Father Eusebios Christofi from Nea Skiti shared with us last Monday on Facebook: the Killer Tree Monk!The fig tree of Father Eusebiow is injected by the “Killer Tree Monk” with some kind of chemical, because the tree threathened to destroy his house!
Beware of the “Killer Tree Monk” in your own garden! LOL!
Wim, 5th July
In post 1922 I showed you the pictures from the exterior of this ruined Russian settlement, that is located near the Maroudá cell (green pin) -see the red arrow on the map above. Today we will take a closer look inside the kyriakon. The door to the kyraikon, with stairs to the first floor, where the main church is situated.Not only the debris that covers the stairs makes it a dangerous place to be: you’ll have to be aware not step on a rotten floor or fall in a hole!
The main church: the interior is typical for the Russian architecture on Athos: the walls are painted white, although I found a few paintings just beneath the dome:the domeA Saint or disciple writing with pen and paper, with a cow next to him Ioannis Chrysostomos(?), also with pen and paperA Saint a large beard and in a white cloth, with a book in his hand (and wings behind him?)
This is what Bertinos comments about the paintings (thanks!):
The first painting is indeed of the Evangelist Luke (with a winged bull), the second one is the Evangelist John (with an eagle), and the third one either (likely) the Evangelist Mark (with a winged lion) or Matthew (with an angel), but the photograph is to unclear to figure that out.On the floor I found many pieces of paper, almost lost forever because of their state of decayThis piece of paper reveiled a picture. When I took a closer look I discovered a picture of the building I was standing in!The kellion of St. John Chrysostomos, seen almost from the same angle as the postcard below!The complete “leaflet” from 1907 with its Russian text:The entrance to the church and the stairways in the background (with Efrem and Jizte). Above them a balcony, that I did not visit because of the danger of collapsing.A door to a room next to the churchA window in this room, that contained a special cubboard:The ossuary!More skulls in a nicheWith bones piled up in a cubboard.
Two windows in the side roomThe green “European” jungle outside is trying to conquer the buildingA wooden pilar and ceilingThe stairs to the second floor and the balcony: I did not try to go there!Going down the ground floorThe church seen through a hole, from the ground floorMe cautious leaving the building.After the visit to this ruin Efrem took us further on a exiting walk through the green jungle of Kapsala. Next time a few pictures of this hike!Wim Voogd, 1th of July (photo’s also by Tadeus and Jitze)
Pilgrim Jacques is given an explanation in the frankincense factory by Boris.
They export from Thibais to the Holy Mountain and to every corner in the world. The burning of incense is a human custom that goes back to ancient societies, The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greek and the Roman all burnt their incense for a wide variety of reasons. The religious use of incense binds Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and many other religions. It’s a holy smoke in many cultures. And apparently one of the world’s first trading goods, more valuable than gold in one time.
The little factory gets its ingredients in jute bags filled with Arabic gum (Gum Olibanum, as is printed on the jute) are imported. It comes from the resin of a tree called Boswellia sacra. This tree is mainly to be found in the Arabic Peninsula (Oman) and also from northern Somalia. It was an important trade route (the incense-route) in Ancient, pre-Christian, times. Now, part of the route is Unesco World heritage, both in the Negev desert as in Oman. The importance of incense is stressed by the precious and expensive gifts those three wise men from the East brought, gold, frankincense and myrrh.The resin is bathed in clay dust to prevent cluttering. And then certain flavors are added to give the essence its distinctive characteristics. Ambre, chypre, lemon and mimosa for instance.
The poor monk in this grave died not so long ago, Boris told us. He was only in his fifties. He had eaten a bean soup. But the beans were no good. He suffered intense pains in his stomach which worsened and worsened. Doctors and hospitals were too far away and too late. The unfortunate monk passed away. Death can be a bean away.
The entrance door to the kitchen where we left our luggage and where we enjoyed our morning coffee with Boris, reminds us of our mortality. Very close to the two graves, turning towards the mountain, there is a stunning uninterrupted view of mount Athos. Probably one of the best views. On the improvised bench, left in the picture, Boris likes so sit and meditate. I don’t need much imagination to see him there, now.Boris was so kind to show us the path to the road. It is a steep path along a deep ravine. Boris showed his excellent condition with his ferocious pace. Above Thibais is a dirt road where a four wheel drive was parked. We said goodbye and he wished us a good journey. If we would take the right path after half a mile we would be on the right track to Chilandariou.
The burnt trees still lay down four years after the horrendous fire.
A final view on Thibais and the mountain. It was visit way off the beaten track. Just before big changes are going to happen. Changes that make us feel a bit nostalgic; why improve paradise? We felt sad for the monks that they have to endure all the noise and all the changes that will distract them from their daily routines and will bring them a bit further away from the paradise in which they live now.
When we were relaxing in the kiosk outside the maingate of Lavra May 2017 a man came up to me and introduced himself as Dragan who said he knew me. It took me a moment to understand because I had never seen this man before but then I realized it was Dragan Jemuovic from Serbia a frequent visitor of our blog. Dragan made many interesting comments on our posts because he knows a lot about the mountain, especially about cells (he saw or visited them all!) and unknown spots. After a very nice conversation we posed together for the maingate of Lavra. (photo by Bas Kamps)
This is Dragan standing for a bridge which was once part of the footpath from Iviron to Lavra probably near Ag. Georgios. This photo is from his Facebookpage. I also discovered a great serie of photo’s from his hand on a Panoramio homepage. The photo’s are unique because made on very remote and unknown interesting places on the peninsula. Here are some of my favorite images:An aqueduct near the cell of Monoxylities.
We heard stories that the monks at Monoxylities are not very fond of visitors and that they keep large, not particularly friendly, dogs. Dragan could acknowledge that there were such animals and that the best thing to do was standing completly motionless till the monks arrive and eases them down.The guesthouse on the shore and the unfinished church of Nea Thebais just before the great fire. Chilandariou lake in the Proto Nero area after the fire in 2012. The fire started near Monoxylitis and ended in this area of Proto Nero.This chapel of Profiti Eliou is standing on the top of mountain (Karmelia), at the background the slopes of Mount Athos.Ruins of the Kolitsu arsanas. Later more on the Kolitsu region by my brother who went there May 2017.The white marble, newly build, church near Kerasia on the south slope of the mountain.The tower of the Karakalou arsanas with the monastery in the background.Almost unreachable hermit cell at Karoulia.
Monopati near the eastern border.
All photo’s by Dragan Jemuovic, more unknown spots, ruins, cells, bridges, fountains, monopatia, lakes, and chapels go to Dragans photo’s. Thanks for using them!
On the 5th of July 2017 Christies will auction 3 drawings by Edward Lear. We have made already a lot of Lear posts on this blog but here are three unpublished images. A very nice impression of the monastery of Paulou with Mount Athos in the background made in 1856.
The monastery of Konstamonitou hidden in a valley.
The third drawing made with pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour depicts the monastery of Koutloumousiou near Karyes with again the mountain in the background.
A closer view (detail) on Koutloumousiou.
Detail without the landscape of Paulou monastery in 1856. If you look closely you will see that the drawing is inscribed with colour notes throughout. That means that it is a study for a later painting. Three years earlier , in 1853, this photograph (detail) was made. This is probably the first photo of Paulou ever made.
A well known fact is that Lear during his visit in 1856 was not very fond of the monastic way of live and was annoyed with the monks but he loved the architecture and the landscapes of the Holy Mountain. He wrote to his sister Anne:
‘one crosses a ridge of hills, whence Mount Athos is first discovered – a blue peak on a bluer sea – seen above the most wondrous forests of beech I ever beheld. Nothing did I ever behold more lovely than those views’. As he crossed to the isthmus, the path became ‘most toilsome through the wildest and grandest forest scenery – from which every now and then you looked out on such screens and depths of green wood as would astonish those who talk of England as having more trees than other countries’.
Oh, and if you want a nice piece of Athos-art on the wall above the couch click here.