This old map from a German book dated 1934 makes it clear that the pilgrim’s route to the Holy Mountain started in Ierissos. There were two possibilities, the eastern route to Vatopedi, Iviron and eventually Lavra and the route that is more or less located in the middle of the peninsula, the so called Way of the Bey. This route was more challenging because of the high Megali Vigla (490 m in 1943, nowadays 20 meters higher) and other climbs.
Both trails starting in Ierissos, This photo of the “new” village is taken from the site of the ancient Akanthos. New, because in 1932 the place was destroyed by a powerfull earthquake, with 121 people killed and approximately 500 injured. From Ierissos it is another 10 km to the Athos border.
The first landmark that pilgrims would encounter was Xerxes Canal, here the beginning of the canal near Nea Roda. In ancient times it was a real canal but soon after it was used it was muted. It is hardly recognizable anymore. The Canal ended at Trypiti where nowadays the ferry is leaving for Ammouliani, https://www.meteocam.gr/ChalkidikiTrypitiPort
After leaving Trypiti pilgrims took the higher route above , what is now Ouranoupolis where they reached point C. This is now called Agia Triadas.
Following this route a high mountain range becomes visible, the Megali Vigla. In front of it is the current border. On the highest point (490m/510m) a telephone antenna is located. The old path went the way up and could be the one visible on the photo..
The pilgrim who took the much easier eastern coastal route would get a perfect view on the smaller peninsula Arapis. Not bothered by the border wall which is now at the end of the beach.
This would be the view of the 1934 pilgrim who walked to Athos. On the far right Ammouliani Island, the smaller Drenia Islets and the Tower of Ouranoupolis. Then the only building in the area, belonging to Vatopedi. Ouranoupolis was not build yet, on this location there was a very small town called Prosphori.
Then the pilgrim reached the Proto Nero area, The First Water source is not far from this crossing where the paths divide to Chilandariou and Sografou. Now there are dirt roads but if you zoom in on Google maps you will find traces of overgrown paths directly to the monasteries.
In the early 1950ties Sydney Loch, when he walked from Chromitsa to Chelandariou came across a farmer in this deserted area of Proto Nero. This is part of the conversation he had:
“ There must be jackals round here” I said
“Swarms of them”
“ What about wild pigs?”
“ They still leaves us enough grapes. There are roebuck and a few deer. I’ve startled stags like horses in those trees in cold weather.”
“ How about wolves?”
“ Not one for 5 or 6 years now. They worked this way during the war of 1914, and left again.”
(from Sidney Loch, Athos The Holy Mountain)
Nowadays the terrain had changed enormously, many trees and other vegetation are gone because of large forest fires . The animals as mentioned above surely have troubles hiding in the burned parts of Proto Nero.
the old pilgrim’s route from thessalonica was actually leading through Megali Panagia (important worship location at that time) and Gomati to Ierissos. Gregor Palamas is said to have used that road. Going from Ierissos to Gomati, then starting at the chapel of St George of Gomati, after the bridge, is the old path with stone pebbles, like on Mt Athos, which leads to Megali Panagia, in 2007 it was still largely intact although some Dozers were making modifications to allow passage of cars 😦 Along the path there is a multitude of small chapels, crosses and marks for pilgrim stops.
Great! Χρόνια πολλά και καλή δύναμη!