1514 – Where the hermits live

In less than five kilometers distance from sea level Mount Athos rises to its top at 2026 meters. So it’s incredibly steep. The gradient is on the average an amazing 40°. Because of this the southern end of the peninsula only has footpaths and mules to carry people and goods from one place to another.  That makes it an ideal place for a retreat. The boat from Dafni to the end of the peninsula follows the coast and calls at every monastery and skiti.  After Karoulia the ferry takes a sharp starboard turn around the south western corner of Athos. This Land’s End is signposted with a steel cross.  In the distance the tourist boat (despite its masts it is not a sailing ship.) that gives tourists – and woman – from a safe distance not even a glimpse of the Athonite life.

1

Just after the edge the real steep part begins. Here the mountain ends almost vertically in the Aegean Sea. 2

A monk and a layman fishing in a modern motorized boat with a dramatic back drop. Despite the steepness the monks succeeded in building a house here. From the sea no path is visible. Sometimes there are only ropes and ladders. On the balcony there hangs a bell. So the hermit can give a sign if he has a special need. 3

Here we see three homes at almost vertical cliffs. They are intended for monks who want to retire form the outer world in order to focus only on prayer. Here live the true ascetics. But we can see that even the life of a hermit has changed. He no longer lives in just a bare cave, as Athanasious. The retreat is now a shed, a cottage of even a home. It must have taken an amazing effort to build such a house. Think of all the building materials and gear that had to be brought up and had to be carried by hand. The bottom two houses have huge walls of at least five feet below him. Another change is the modern comfort .The middle house has got a chimney. There are wires going to the cottages. Electricity perhaps, or telephone lines. The upper house looks like it was slammed against the mountain and has a surprising amount of depth. There is a terrace that does not look uncomfortable. There is a grape. Under the house a drain is visible. A house broker would boast about the unspoiled view over the Aegean Sea. And they would mention the silence, the absolute tranquility of the place. Twice a day the boat from Dafni sails along. Tourist boats remain at a respectful distance. There is plenty time for meditation and prayer.4

The stability of this building, or at least its terrace, is questionable. There are beams of sunlight coming through. So there must be planks missing.  If a hermit would fall he would land in the Mediterranean. Here is sign of modernity: there is a solar panel on the flat roof.

Some monks get their supplies via a cable car. If the supplies are not taken, someone will have a look. And if the monk is deceased, there will be a new hermit living there in due time. That is the great continuity of Athonian life for over more than a thousand years.

Bas Kamps

Pictures taken on the 23st of September 2013.

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