This is a relatively short hike, only 3,3 km long, that takes about 1 hour walking. The setting is beautiful: leaving the Agiou Paulou monastery, with the majestic marble pyramid shaped peak of Mount Athos behind it. At 8 o’clock PM the monastery still lies in the shadow.
This is the trail we walked, recorded with the Wikiloc App:
But not everything is idyllic: on the next photo the dumping ground of the monastery disturbs the view. Why should this be necessary, isn’t it possible to find a environment friendly solution for the garbage of the monastery?
Not far from the dump and the coastline an open air factory processes the marble of the mountain into small pebbles.
The water stream that flows down the mountain every now and then is canalized in the recent years, to prevent disasters with floods caused by torrents, like the one in 1911. Here a wooden bridge leads over the dry river bed. In the background the newly renovated tower.
The renovation took place from 2007 to 2013, and ended in 2014, with funding from the EU.
Where the beach ends, the monopati to Dionysiou starts. A sign of our FoMa friends guided us in the right direction. However, a warning is appropriate here. This is where the steepest stretch of path you can find on Athos begins! No walking here but serious climbing! Even on a hike to the summit you won’t find a steeper stretch than here. In a short distance of about 200 meters you reach a level almost 80 meters above the sea. After that the path levels at a height between 50 to 60 meters, until you reach Dionysiou.
The Athos West coast early in the morning, the sun will quickly rise above the ridge.
The monopati in the sun, the time is 8.45 h, we are not far from Dionysiou.
The sun over the Athos top.
The shadow of the wooden cross on the rock.
Fear of heights is not recommended on this hike.
After one hour hiking Dionysiou appears.
Almost at the same spot in 1986: the gardens were overgrown back then, but otherwise, not much has changed in 33 years.
The narrow courtyard of Dionysiou with the Katholicon.
We did not have breakfast in Agiou Paulou, so I went to the kitchen in Dionysiou and asked a monk who passed by for some bread and olives, in my best English. He stopped, looked at me and said: “You are from Holland, aren’t you?”. I was quite puzzled, because apparently he could immediately recognize my accent. Or did he remember me from the time in 1986, when I visited Dionysiou during Easter time and spend a night (from 23 AM to 7 PM) in the church? Probably not, but who knows….? Anyway, he said: “Wait!” and 10 minutes later he came back with a plastic bag full with lovely bread and the best tasting olives you can image. Not only good for breakfast, but also for a complete lunch!
This weblog started in 2006, just for a couple of friends, who decided to join me on a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. In the 14 years that past, many special friends followed and the weblog grew to something bigger then only a information site for friends.
This week the sad news arrived that one of our Athos friends passed away, Peter Ariese, too early and too young. He joined our group of pilgrims in 2009 and 2011. We will remember him as our friend and our fellow Athos pilgrim: Peter was so proud to reach the top of the mountain in 2011, when we walked from Lavra to Ag. Anna. Peter and I spontaneously decided at Stavros to go the top, as “a short detour”. And we reached the summit….
While the world is hit hard by the invisible and sometimes deadly Corona virus and while we are all waiting in our lockdown to go back to normal live again, a few signs of hope immerge. In most countries the infections by the virus decline, and our doctors and nurses have less stress after all their hard work. They are the real heroes in these past weeks. And although the Iera Epistatia in Karyes is still very cautious and recently decided to prolong the shut-down of Athos for visitors and pilgrims until May 31, Greece wants to reopen their borders for tourists on June 15th and even charter flights from Amsterdam to Thessaloniki will be resumed on June 3th. I wonder how it has been for the monks the past weeks: no one to care for and to talk to, no voices of visitors, almost empty churches and trapezas. But on the other hand the lockdown has given them a good security against the virus and they have had more time to pray and to contemplate about the state of the world (as we also did in the last weeks).
But anyway, let’s focus on something totally unimportant, the last pictures that I made in the Agiou Paulou monastery in October 2019. We will take a closer look at the courtyard and inside the buildings. Again I start with the plan of the monastery, made by Mylonas in 1980.
This photo shows the North East corner of the monastery, with the katholicon on the right and the defence tower rising up above the buildings on the left. The map is not accurate anymore, because the building left under the defence tower is new. Buildings Γ2/3 and Z2 on the plan used to be the bakery and the guesthouse, but this is not the case anymore (see photos below).
The keystone from the new building, dated: 19th of October 2014.
In the wall of the new building is an old water tap from 1820 constructed.
Here the new building ends and the old walls appear, at spot B1 on the plan. The stairs that are drawn on the plan have also disappeared. The katholicon is on the right. This katholicon is relatively new (start construction 1844) and is one of the few Greek churches on Athos without any wall paintings inside. In Russian churches this is more common.
Between the protecting walls and behind the katholicon a narrow passage leads us to the other part of the courtyard.
The passage leads to the bell tower (A1) and in the background you can see the corridor that goes to the entrance (Δ).
The bell tower seen from the West wing,
with some (small) bells and large wooden semantron.
The West wing (Z -guesthouse) with smaller wooden semantron and stairs that go to the exo-narthex of the katholicon.
The dome of the katholicon in evening light and,
the wall behind the katholicon. Notice the (empty) niche in the middle (and a plane above it!).
In this corner of the courtyard you see a water tap from 1894 and column/statue in memory of a monk called Kirillou from 1882.
I found my way in and took this photograph through the mosquito net of building Z:
The katholicon seen through a mosquito net.
Trying to find the Agios Georgios chapel I ended up at this balcony, somewhere near the defence tower.
When I turned the camera to the right, I saw the road behind the monastery, that leads to the North.
Yet another balcony, this one on the West -sea- side of the monastery, with the kathisma of Agios Nektarios in the background.
At the same spot, but now I pointed my camera to the South, showing the kitchen gardens/vineyards of Agiou Paulou ,with the chapel of Agiou Markou in the background.
On my way out from the West wing I saw this fine, colored ceiling and a hall way where the cells of the monks are.
and I found these scale models of parts of the monastery (H, K and N /West side) and the katholicon, and a slightly primitive painting of Agiou Paulou.
Outside, in the courtyard again, I found these remnants of (classic) old stones and capitals of columns.
More old stones and crosses, on display in the courtyard, near the bell tower of Agiou Paulou.
And when you leave the monastery through the gates and look back up, you will see these beautiful buildings, with an odd round lookout on top.
I will end this ‘close look at Agiou Paulou’ with two pictures I took from the air in 2017:
As my brother Herman described in his post 2097 about the monastery of Agiou Paulou, the monastery was already mentioned in the Typicon of 1046. That makes the monastery one of the oldest monasteries on the Holy Mountain. But why does it look so relatively new with its concrete walls and iron constructions? And is there anything left of the old parts of the monastery? Let’s have a closer look at the interior, with the guidance of the Mylonas map below.
This photo shows us the entrance to the monastery and the courtyard. On the first floor is building Z, the abbots quarters according to Mylonas (1980).
When you turn at his spot 190 degrees you will see the katholicon of the monastery. Building the church has a special history: I will not recall the whole history of the monastery, but in old times the monastery was run by Serbs. This text is from the Feigl book “Athos, Vorhölle zum Paradis”
After the Serbs left Agiou Paulou in 1710, a rather barren era started. But Agiou Paulou experienced a powerful expansion under Abbot Anthimos. It began in 1816 with the new building of the Katholicon and the economic buildings. The struggle for freedom in 1821 brought an interruption. The Greek Athos monks devotedly participated in the popular uprising, and the Turks took revenge: they could not accept that Athos, that did not have a bad time under the Ottomans, rose against the High Gate. “Unfaithful”, as they rightfully said.
St. Paul’s monastery was devastated, plundered and abandoned. The monks escaped and only the most precious relics could be brought to safety at Aegina by Johannes Kapodistrias, one of the leaders of the stand. In the mid-1830s, Greeks took over the devastated and abandoned monastery. Under the active leadership of Abbot Sofronios Kallighas, reconstruction activities were started.
On St. George’s Day in 1839 he laid the foundation stone for the new Katholicon, on St. George’s Day 1844 the keystone. But with ‘Agios Georgios’ there was one thing: Abbot Sofronios seemed to prefer to create a “Greek” Agiou Paulou. So he let his notorious contemporary, the monk Simonides, who had already proven himself a counterfeiter at Karyes, to do some questionable restorations,
of which I will tell you later in this blog.
The courtyard with the exo-narthex of the katholicon on the right and building Z2, the guesthouse, on the left. The the covered passage from the trapeza to the church is new, at least, not drawn on the Mylonas plan from 1980.
The passage between the church and the trapeza,
with colored glass.
The other side of the passage, near the stairs to the archondariki – the guesthouse
The North facade of the katholicon, with bell-tower in the background.
The stairs to the guesthouse and the entrance door to the trapeza, with the year 1894 above it.
I was lucky to be invited to enter the trapeza and shoot some pictures inside:
The marble table where the abbot eats his meals. Here is the only wall where murals are placed, showing the Last Supper and the Holy Trinity with the Lord, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ with his Cross.
The Last Supper with Jesus Christ and his twelve Apostles. Judas on the left is the only one without a halo.
The Holy Trinity.
And, on the other side of the trapeza, a painting of the Panaghia with Child.
The doors of the trapeza with the the colored glass passage to the church. Here you’ll see 1835 as year above the door.
I headed my way back outside, in order to find one of the most interesting places in the monastery, the Agios Georgios Chapel. Clearly the monks tried to preserve the few ancient murals that were left in the North wing, as you can see on these pictures:
A few remaining murals on the walls in the North Wing. I managed to find the door that leads to the Georgios Chapel, but unfortunately the doors stayed closed to me. There were no monks in the vicinity, so I had to leave without pictures.
The stairs that lead to the Georgios Chapel….
This is what mr Feigl says about this chapel in his book “Athos Vorhölle zum Paradis”:
“As early as 1912, a major fire not only incinerated a large part of Sonofrios’ work, but also irreplaceable works of art from past centuries. And ten years earlier, in 1902, a fire in the library decimated the book collection. But the Georg chapel remained intact.
Today, the Georgian chapel of the Agiou Paulou monastery is widely recognized as a jewel of Athonian sanctuaries, and the artist – Andronikos van Byzanz? – convinces by his masterful achievement and that clearly he does not belongs to any nationality. The dates 1423 and 1425 are legible. The sheltered location high up on the wall, that already borders the mountain, and the Paul’s cave in the wall, saved the chapel from fire and other dangers”.
So the chapel is the oldest part of the monastery and it contains murals of extraordinary quality, that can be compared with the quality of the Protaton murals and the works of Panselinos!
Because I was not able to shoot photographs inside the chapel, I tried to find them in my library about Athos and on the internet. The only pictures I could find where from the Feigl book, where I also found the text about this chapel.
Feigl has this story about monk Simonides, who presumary had already proven himself a counterfeiter at Karyes (what did he do there?), but he also did his “work” in the Georg chapel. The result is a painter’s inscription, overpainted by Simonides, which was to wipe out the memory of Serbian patrons with a few clever brush strokes.
George Chapel, Agiou Paulou. The originally Serbian, later Greek inscription: the apostles John and Andreas on the lower left, Peter and Paul on the right, the Birth on the upper left, Death in the middle and the representation of Mary in the temple on the right.
The War of the Inscriptions: at the time of the Serbian prince Georg Brankovic (1427-1456), who build the mighty tower in Agiou Pavlou and who was called the “Ktitor” – founder – of the monastery, a commemorative inscription in Serbian was placed in the Georgian chapel. At the beginning of the 20th century, the zealot monk Simonides over-brushed the inscription with completely different Greek words, but the original inscription soon reappeared, as is usually the case with historical truths. The result, however, is confusion and almost complete illegibility of the original text.
St. George chapel, revival of Lazarus. The frescoes were created around 1423 by Andronikos from Byzantium.
The classic greeting and hug and the brotherly kiss between Peter and Paul – Georgios chapel.
I now know there is an extra reason to go back here (but then I’ll have to see to get inside the chapel!). I hope this moment will be soon…….
On Wednesday evening, April 29, 2020, the organizers of the 13th Annual London Greek Film Festival announced the winners of the Odysseus Awards, the ceremony of which will be broadcast online in mid-May, due to the government directives regarding the coronavirus pandemic, for theaters and cinemas in the United Kingdom.
The jury awarded, among other things, the Best Documentary 1st Award (Best Creative Documentary) to the production of the St. Maximos the Greek Foundation, for “Elder Joseph the Hesychast”, and the Best Actor Award to Hollywood actor and singer Jonathan Jackson, for his role as Elder Joseph in the documentary.
In addition, an Honorary Award was given to the monks of the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, for their diligence and participation in the documentary, while another honorary award was given to the same monks or their Spiritual and Social Contribution all over the world.
Quite contrary to my normal habits I woke up very early. It was still night and pitch dark. I didn’t want to disturb my sleeping fellow pilgrims so I went outside very quietly. We were in the new guest building, that is situated just outside of the monastery. There was complete silence. No wind. No moon. No stars. Nobody there.
The gate towards the monastery was still closed, so I could not get in. Two immense iron doors kept the gate closed. I was locked-out. The three ascending windows light the corridor to the actual stronghold. The little fence reminded me of the story Herman wrote about the lost red balcony. It is still not brought back to what is once was.
The entrance of Simonos Petras in 1917. The hanging grapes are gone as is the red brickstone balcony. A lot of work has been done the recent years.
We see the gate down to the arsanas and the fundaments of the aqueduct. The history of the building can be read in the stones, and all the half circles that probably once formed bows to carry the water to the main building. A little more zoomed out we see on the bottom left of the picture a blacklight to kill the flies at the shop. And the open bows of the aqueduct appear in the zoomed out picture.
A closer look at the main building. The three windows are the same ones as mentioned before. Note the open goods lift. It was already there in the 1917 picture. It leads right to the level of the katholikon. The little building in front is new. It contains an elevator for the handicapped to the new extensions under the plateau.
I strolled through the gate towards the arsanas. Looking back I saw the six crescents of the aqueduct. This will probably finish the extensive photoblog of the 2019 pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. The series started a little bit more than a year ago with the blog “Mysterious mist in Karyes” (post 2047). It was a pleasure to take you along the highlights of our 2019 pilgrimage. All my 2019 stories: click here.
Let’s hope that in the near future it will be possible again to visit the Holy Mountain. It was my intention to give a hand to the Friends of Mount Athos this spring in clearing the paths as a volonteer. That shall have to wait for an other time. Meanwhile nature will overgrow the monopatia.
Only if you have good trust in fate you can look down, vertically, from the overhanging fragile wooden balconies of Simonos Petras. More than 40 meters below you, monks and their helpers were working in the gardens. The gardens are built on narrow terraces. These pictures give a birds eye perspective on the people that produce the organic food for the monastery.
The garden looks very professional. The lettuces are placed in strict, straight lines. An advanced irrigation system delivers water when needed. Each crop gets its fair share. And there is a plastic greenhouse to prepare the seedlings.
At least four levels of terraces can be seen. It is almost like a vertical garden. Like the hanging gardens of Nebukadnezar II in Babylon. One of the seven ancient wonders. Those vertical gardens were also terraced. These guys were working hard on the ground, with their backbones bended.
A closer look of the work in progress. I like the shadow play. I remember watching them work for quite a while. Shadows and figure don’t seem to match all the time.
The monk below in his brown working clothes loads the boxes with vegetables, that are just harvested. Via a motorised cable they are lead directly to the kitchen of Simonos Petras. The freshness of the food can’t be surpassed. Without delay from the field onto the plate.
A more detailed view of the fresh load. Note the dangerous wooden stairs in the background that connects two levels of the terraces. Some trust in the good fate is needed to climb those stairs as well.
This monk received the vegetables and brought them into the kitchen. Ready to cook.
The next morning I woke up very early and was quite awake, so I moved out of the guest building, not to disturb my fellow pilgrims and took some pictures from Simonos Petras at night. I will show them next time.
It must be one of most exceptional Easter celebrations on The Holy Mountain. For the first time (ever?) no pilgrims attended the services because of the Corona lock down in the world. I remember the year 1986, 34 years ago now, when I stayed the Dionysiou monastery during Pascha: with many others I entered the Katholicon on 23 h in the evening and after 8 hours, at 7 in the morning, we left the church again, celebrating and lighting eachothers candles. The Easter morning started in the trapeza with a copious meal with fish and wine! I will never forget this night!
This is a picture I found in the archondariki/waiting room of Agiou Pavlou last year. It shows military, efzones with their traditional clothing and clogs and monks during Pascha in Nea Skiti in 1913, when Athos was just liberated from the Turks.
The most iconic monastery on Athos is, no doubt about it, Simonos Petras. Built as an eagles nest high on a cliff, more than three hundred meters above sea level. Byron compared it to the Potala in Lhasa (Tibet) which I do understand. Close but unreachable. Untouchable. Autonomous. Impossible to concur. The monastery was founded in the 13th century, but due to several fires the building we’re looking at now is erected after the great fire of 1891.
Here we see this world wonder with an impressive flowering Judas tree in the foreground. One can clearly see that the left and the middle flat were built on top of the bare rock.
The Russian pilgrim Vasily Barsky made this drawing during his visit in 1744. (From: Graham Speake, 2002, Mount Athos, renewal in paradise). At that period the situation was very vulnerable with only 5 monks left. They were very poor and loaded with debts. The drawing gives a good impression of the walk up. It is 330 meters up from the arsanas. Mostly stairs or close to stairs. Halfway is a kiosk with fresh water. That is the point where the path down to Gregoriou and Dionysiou, both on sea level, starts.
At last we got a possibility for a group portrait, the men in blue: Herman, Jacques and Barry. I was wearing a black thermo shirt. A passing pilgrim was so kind to take this picture. I want to thank him for that. I hope he reads this.
The long building is the new guesthouse where we would spend the night. It is situated just outside the actual monastery. The impressive aqueduct brought water to the monks. The building in the sunlight under the aqueduct houses the local shop. We went there to buy some souvenirs; monastic products and olive oil.
In the shop I pointed out an art work that pleased me. It was not for sale, but I could have it. It was very kind of them to give it away and I’m still happy with it. It is a print of a linocut by Reinhold Zwerger. The same man who played such an important role in mapping the ancient mule paths and pilgrim routes between the monasteries. Wim mentioned his art before in weblog 1630.
The interior after passing the entrance gate. It feels as if you walk inside a grotto. It is cool and dark. The path to the left leads to the entrance gate.
The outside passage with the famous bell. The height, so far above the ground, is dazzling. An open balcony on a skyscraper. Sometimes you can look through the wooden floor to the gardens below. Not everybody in our group was relaxed about the situation there.
We explored the surroundings of the monastic complex. From the inland perspective you have nice view over the aqueduct. From there the road (to Dafni) takes a right turn. There is a kiosk with a brilliant view overlooking the monastery.
The view close to the kiosk. The cliffs that bears the structure are clearly visible. The steepness can’t be surpassed.
Three monks on the top floor are having a conversation in the late afternoon sun. From this side there are even four floors with overhanging balconies. We see two domes of the katholicon and the square tower of the trapeza.
The last sunrays of the day touch the upper floor of Simonos Petras. The monks withdrew from the balconies. It is almost time for a sunset. In the distance lures the fingertip of Sithonia.
The choir of Simonos Petras is famous and has made several recordings.
Next time we will take a look at the vertical vegetable garden.