1924 – Mikra Skiti Anna by Regos

Little Agia Anna seen from the shore by Polykleitos Regos painted in 1983.This picture is taken on the footpath coming from Katounakia in 2017. The path leads to the house with the cypresses then crossing the gap in the ridge which is prominently to be seen on the painting. After crossing the ridge there is a stunning view on the coastline with Nea Skiti and Agia Anna.Anna and Nea SkitiStavros and Sk. Anna, Nea Skiti in the distance (photo by Bas Kamps)

Herman Voogd

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1923 – Friends of Mount Athos (FoMA) clearing the footpaths

overgrown path athos.png
The Friends of Mount Athos are committed to the ongoing project of clearing, restoring and maintaining the old Athonite footpaths, many of them stone-paved (kaldirimi) tracks for transporting goods by mule and dating from late Byzantine times. The project was undertaken with the active advocacy and support of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who continues to be an active, working member of the footpaths team.
This is an important mission statement of the Friends of Mount Athos,  found on their website.
FoMA is also placing new signs to help the pilgrims to find their way on the Holy Mountain. These are on the, so called,  Way of the Bey; the footpath from Chilandariou or Esfigmenou to Karyes over the hills in the middle of the peninsula.When we walked this path coming from Esfigmenou and after passing the crossing at Chera we encountered members of the the FoMA footpaths team actually clearing the path from branches and overhanging leaves with their garden tools. We had a nice conversation and thanked them for their good work. They had permission to work the paths in the Vatopedi region. This short video shows the condition of the paths without maintenance.

The overgrown path near the Chera crossing is difficult to walk. But after Chera were the members of the footpaths team had done their work it was a lot easier to make your way.

View on Vatopedi and the exit to Konstamonitou. I will end this post with a call from the FoMA website:
New recruits to the Footpaths Team are very welcome. If you’re interested, and would like to know more about our next Path-clearing Pilgrimage, please contact The FoMA Footpaths Team.

Herman Voogd

We met the same team a few days later, cleaning the path from Chilandariou to Chera. Here are more FoMA-heroes who maintain the Athos monopati and kaldirimi:DSCN4463 (Large)and here are the results of their excellent work:DSCN4464 (Large)DSCN4465 (Large)Wim Voogd, 8/6

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1922 – Kapsala: the ruined kellion of St. John Chrysostomos

On our first day of this years’ pilgrimage to Athos, Father Makarios of Maroudá granted us hospitality in his beautifull cell. Before we went on our journey I made contact with a reader of our weblog and a member of FoMA foothpath team, Efrem, who promised to meet us at Maroudá. Soon after we met he proposed to go for a quick hike, just before Vespers would start, through the (for me) unknown area of Kapsala. This is a valley North of Karyes, between -roughly explained- Skiti Andreou, Maroudá, kellion Nikolas Bouazeri and Profitou Eliou. It is one of the ‘greenest’ spots on Athos that I ever saw, covered with a dence European rain forrest.

But first we will have a closer look at one of the buildings Efrem wanted to show me, the ruins of the large Russian kellion of St. John Chrysostomos. It is said that the first settlement on this spot dates from the 12th century and in 1707 a church was build here. This church was replaced consecrated by the Russians on 13th November 1894. The kelli was inhabited by a brotherhood of 47 members. For more information (in Greek) look here. This is how it looked like soon after the construction of the place was finished:Russian postcard

Let’s have look at the situation 2017, starting with a picture I found on the internet, where the kyriakon can be seen from a ditance:The two floors high church has no windows and part of the roof is about to collapse. This is where it lies in Kapsala:On the monopati, just before a turn to the left, where the path leads the cell of St. John Chrysostomos. The ruin is completely surrounded by trees and shubbery: the only building still standing is the church. All other buildings has disappeared and almost no remnants are left, exept for a high wall on you left hand on entering the settlement.The high wall, probably part of a the white building next to the church: most likely this is where the monks lived in their cells.A gate in the wall, where you could go up the reach the higher located building, with the slanted roof?The church seen through the shubbery The roofing listThis almost looks like an ancient temple in a rain forrest in Cambodja or Mexico: the walls of the church are overgrown by trees and plants, thus slowly ‘eating’ through the buildings bricks.The door to the church and the stairs going to the first floor.

Next time I will continue this photo essay with pictures of the interior.

Wim Voogd, 6/6

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1921 – Day one, part two: The building renaissance on Athos and the miracle of Thibais

We found the gate of Thibais closed. Pilgrim Herman started talking with a loud voice to draw someone’s attention. After quite a while we saw a black figure waving at us from a building up the hill. It took a while before he reached the wooden gate. He welcomed us friendly but he only spoke Russian. He invited us in.
We followed him through the garden, under a bow of roses, and he led us to the kitchen. There was a novice, Boris, from the Ukraine who, so we discovered, could speak German fluently. He was a very communicative novice, who liked to talk to us and explain all about Thibais and especially about the changes that were going on. But first they wanted us to share a welcoming cup of coffee. During the coffee break he started to explain about the major works that are going on in Thibais. It is an enormous restauration scheme that will deprive all four of them, the two monks, Boris and the one
visitor, who live there of their quiet and peaceful existence, at least next couple of years. Probably until 2020.
As property of the Russian Monastery Panteleimonos they are confronted with the changes. It is considered shameful that the first complex you see, when you enter the monastic republic by boat, is a Russian ruin (of an unfinished church). In this vast building renaissance Thibais seems to be the next project, after Panteleimonos and Paleo Monastir.
Once Thibais houses the biggest church on Athos. But the church was never finished. It never wore a roof. This is because of an old, nineteenth century, prediction that there is no blessing for a roof. Later the church became the ruin we see today. But the days of the ruin will soon be over. It will rebuild to a splendour it had never before. We were told that the monks worried about the old vow. They doubt if there is a blessing for a roof now.
The monks are wondering where all the extra space is needed for. They have room enough right now. Will all those buildings be filled with new monks or pilgrims? Will Thibais lose its tranquillity and its splendid isolation? This is one of the buildings that will be restored.
The church how it looks now from the central entrance. The size is enormous. The floorplan is quite different from most of the other churches on Athos. The trees and shrubberies are already cleared from the inside of the church. It is made ready for the next phase, the restauration works.
Another building just below the big church. We were lucky that there no workmen while we were there. The peacefulness was not disturbed by engines or by loud workers. But they would be back any day now.
Some frescos on the wall of the ruin. Probably the last image of these frescos. I seriously doubt if they will be saved for the next generations.
A bit more up the hill are many more ruins to be seen. The damage done by the fire is still clearly visible. Boris told us that due to a miracle Thibais was saved. Suddenly, just before the fire would reach the hamlet, the direction of the wind changed. They are still very happy about the result of their prayers.
Bas Kamps
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1920 – First day, entering the Holy Mountain by water taxi

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?

Bas Kamps

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1919 – what is new on Athos in 2017?

As mentioned before in our blog, things change rapidly on the Holy mountain. Here are five examples of some of the changes that I noticed on my pilgrimage this year:

1. The totall make-over of Paleo Monastir: Patriarch Kyrill and president Putin visited Athos last year to memorate the 1000th aniversary of Russians on Athos: many Russian buildings were completely renovated, such as the Panteleimon monastery. But I did not expect to find Paleo Monastir in this condition:DSCN4049 (Large)it lookes like a golf course! IMG_3176 Palio Monastiro building B and well (Large)2009: what a difference!DSCN4065 (Large)and this was not the only thing that changed here: the interior of the church, that once was completely white, is now covered with new wall paintings! More about these changes in a seperate blog.IMG_4820the old situation: internet photo – date unknown

2. Panteleimon renovations are finished:DSCN4021 (Large)A picture of some annex buildings, that were almost in ruins a couple of years ago.IMG_3124 Roussikon building V near U (Large)At the some spot in 2009.DSCN3749 (2)Aerial picture 2017, made by me from a Cessna 6th of May.

3. the Georgians will soon be back on the Holy Mountain:

In Kolitsou, a small Rumenian settlement of seven cells between Pantocratoros and Vatopedi, a new cell is build (on a spot where an old building stood), and it will be used by monks from Georgia. Two centuries ago the Georgians still had their own monastery on Athos, IM Iviron. Since then it is a Greek monastery, but now the Georgians will, after so many years, return to the Holy Mountain!

4. the scaffoldings of Agiou Basiliou finally disappeared:DSCN4410 (Large)New situation 2017DSCN2430 (Large)old situation 2013

5. Maroudá is creating a new olive grove:DSCN4196.JPGNew situation 2017DSCN6916 (Large)Maroudá: vegatables grow in the kitchen garden, the old situation in 2015.

Wim Voogd, 27/5

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1918 – The arsanas of Lavra: Mandraki

This is how the harbour (arsanas) of Lavra looked in 1853. The oldest photograph that exists of this location. On our 2017 trip we found the old footpath from the monastery to the arsanas.  A very nice walk , much better then the boring dirtroad.  Later we will show you this path.Not exactly the same position but a comparable view by Bas Kamps, May 2017.This picture was taken round 1900. In 2017 it is still a very impressive site. Photo by H. Voogd

Herman Voogd

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