Our 2017 pilgrimage started quite different from earlier trips to the Holy Mountain. We didn’t travel the usual way, by the ferry from Ouranopolis or from Ierissos. A water taxi was ready for us. Herman had reserved it in advance. Our passes (diamoniterions) were checked in detail by the border police before we entered the small vessel. It’s not cheap but it’s very fast. It can take up to eight passengers. It is at least three times faster than the ferry.
We wanted to visit a place where the ferry doesn’t land. We wanted to go to the very first buildings you encounter when entering Athos, called Thibais. An old Russian skete that belongs to St. Panteleimonos. Graham Speake notes that the skete was deserted but that two monks were living there since the turn of the millennium. We had seen the ruins from the ferry many times and wondered about that unknown place that is totally ignored by the ferries. And we knew about the big fire that had destroyed a large forested area just behind Thibais.Pictures from the ferry boat of Thibais from September 2009, before the fire. On the right the arsanas building with the red tiles.From the ferry boat in 2013 a year after the devastating fires of Augustus 2012.
An early morning view from our water taxi to the Holy Mountain. The skipper was so kind to open the front door so I could take this picture.When we left the water taxi and stood on the pier, we knew we were really on our own. There is no way back via the sea. No boat will stop here. Here the small boat leaves the pilgrims Herman, Jacques and Jaap.To our surprise the big building with the red roof near the arsanas was completely wrapped up for restauration as if Christo started a new project. Big signs in English and Russian described the process of renovation in the coming years until 2019. What is going on here?A beautiful steep and zigzagging monopati, embraced by large cactuses, lead us to the entrance of the complex. There is a big stone gate with large improvised doors, made of raw timber. It looked they were building here as well but wanted to lockout visitors.
The view from the gate, with the mountain in its full splendour. We couldn’t find a bell. We didn’t see a living soul. We didn’t hear a sound. Would we be able to enter the complex? Or was our first destination simply closed?