As the starting point of our bi-annual pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain we chose to take the boat from Ierissos. It was our first departure from that more remote spot. The town lies on the northern shore of the Athonian peninsula. We took a taxi from Ouranopolis, where we had spent the night in a hotel. It is about a 20 minutes’ drive to the harbour, virtually crossing the Xerxes canal.
Time to say goodbye to dear ones of the opposite sex on the quay.
Entering the boat, called Panagia (virgin), the Greek border police checks the passports and diamoniterions (passports for Athos). Here with the pilgrims Jacques and Herman. To our relief the paperwork was approved. There is even a mobile service to get your diamoniterion at the quay. From a van that was placed right next to the boat.
The Panagia proved herself a very fast forward speedboat, that rushes in less than an hour to Vatopediou. The conditions of the sea are completely different from the southern shore. Here the wind and waves have all the freedom they need for full development. We lay on lee shore. Despite a mere force of Beaufort 3 the waves wore white heads. While at the same time the sea at Ouranoupolis lay flat on its back. In weather like this is quite imaginal that Xerxes’ fleet of 300 ships and 20.000 man, was crushed here on the rough northern shores of Athos. The reason he gave order to build a canal through the peninsula during the 5th century BC. It was two kilometres long and 30 meters wide. An extraordinary endeavour.
The boat produced a lot of white water. The top deck was flushed from time to time and there was a constant mist of tiny droplets. My camera got wet and would produce somewhat vague images the next couple of days. Here we’re passing the tip of Cape Arapis, the outmost tip of the total inhabited peninsula within the larger Athonian peninsula. It is shaped as a thumb.
Pilgrims on the open upper deck hiding for the white spray. One had found himself a seat on thick ropes. On our way to the first stop.
In the Vasiliou Bay, a little island with the ruins of Vasiliou monastery and a defensive tower is placed on a strategic spot. There are works on the walls, as practically everywhere these days on Athos.
The first buildings that come in sight is the arsanas (harbour) of Hilandariou in the Vasiliou Bay.
A first distant view on the monastery of Esfigmenou, which we would visit the next day. The boat didn’t stop at this zelotic monastery where the sign “Orthodoxy or Death” welcomes the visitors.
A harmonious overview of the monastery of Vatopediou from the boat. The architecture shows a nice rhythm and a unity in colour.
The slightly ruinous boat houses in the arsanas of Vatopediou.
It is my intention to report an episode of our autumns pilgrimage every week.
Photo’s and text by Bas Kamps
Video by Herman Voogd