A large group of pilgrims just arrived at the guesthouse and we didn’t want to interfere or wait for hospitality after our wobbly boat trip. So we took a quick Greek coffee from a coffee machine in the old guesthouse at Vatopediou. A coffee machine! Another sign of change. But I’m not sure if you could consider it progress. The quality of Greek coffee from a machine can’t be seen as progress.
We wanted to see the ruins of the old Athonite Academy or as it is formally known: “Athonias Ecclesiastical Academy”, so stated by George F. Australia on this weblog. Six years ago I saw the ruins for the first time from an adjacent hill. But then we had no time or energy for a close look after our long hike from Iviron. Now we had planned a proper visit to an institute that could have brought Enlightenment to the Holy Mountain.
The situation from the next hill six years ago.
We first approached it from the – northern – side, passed some gates and got lost in wineries and unsurpassable bushes. The Academy is not a destination for pilgrims. In fact, it is not a destination for anybody. There are no signs. It can clearly be seen from Vatopediou as a silhouette on a ridge. So we returned and somewhat later we found the proper dirt road that lead us to the ruins. We probably missed the proper road because we were distracted by trucks and lorries. Road works and maybe more changes to come east of the monastery.
A view from the ruins of the Academy looking down on Vatopediou.
The academy was quite a large complex. It is described earlier and clearly by Herman on this weblog. The sad history of the school, intended to bring Enlightenment to the Athonite and Greek world, is described by Graham Speake (Renewal in paradise, 2002). Speake ends the passage on the Academy as follows: “Its ruins, clearly visible from Vatopedi, still pose the question of what might have happened if the regime had moderated its stance and the monks had been able to tolerate the existence in their midst of an institution which promised to be the intellectual and spiritual centre of the entire Greek world. “ Yes, imagine what could have happened! One of the fascinating things about Orthodoxy is that it hasn’t changed in 2000 years, which brings it close to timelessness. Change is a threat to the traditions or even to eternity. An intellectual academy could have brought that change. The academy was in use between 1748 and 1759. It was eventually closed in 1809 and was later destroyed by fire “fanned, if not lid by the hand of vengeful monks” to quote Speake once more. The Academy went on in Karyes and later in the skete of Saint Andrew, but, as I understand it, not as an centre of intellectual life.
The inside of the Academy is filled with shrubberies and some building material. No signs of renovation of the complex. There is a small, probably recently, restored chapel with a dome inside the ruins, which was closed unfortunately.
The building of the Academy was three stories high and was built as a rectangular building with the chapel in the courtyard. Now only two stories remain. As you can see on the first picture taken in 2009 the top floor is now gone. There will be more decay to come. An interesting contrast to the renovation rage, which is taking place on the land of Athos.
An interesting aqueduct supplied the water from a source on the next hill. According to the plastic pipelines the source is still in use for several detached houses in the neighbourhood, like one wine chateau, which we passed before, when we were lost. A pastoral place for a quick lunch.
We walked down easily through the olive tree orchard to Vatopediou to pick up our luggage for the second stage of the day to the Bulgarian monastery, called Zografou.
Photo’s and text Bas Kamps
Video by Herman Voogd