The activity on Mount Athos that I miss the most is walking the old monopatia, the narrow foot- and mule paths that are all over the peninsula.
Many of them are unfortunately destroyed and replaced by gravel roads.
Many thoughts come in my mind while walking these paths, how old are they, who build them, how long did it took to build them?
Could it be that some paths, especially around the mountain itself and the Lavra monastery founded in 963 are from medieval origin? Or even older? In pre Christian times there were several villages on the peninsula that presumably were connected with each other.
Who walked them? During our walks, that can last a whole day, we, most of the time, do not meet anybody. But before building the gravel roads these paths had to be full with pilgrims and monks.
Many monopatia are very nicely paved, with horizontals stones that stand up a bit to drain the rainwater or with a kind of trench in the middle. Sometimes nature itself destroys the paths. Such as an immense landslide that came from the mountain once, between Prodromou and Lavra. Suddenly the paths ends, and then you have to climb through 15 meters of messy bushes, a kind of improvised path. At the end of it , the paved path continues. Wild boars toss the stones on the paths with their snouts in search of food but men with bulldozers are most quilty for the destruction of the monopatia.
Ofcourse not all paths are paved but so trampled by the many pilgrims that vegetation will not grow, but the overgrowth of the path is lurking. Fortunately The Friends of Mount Athos (FoMA) have a path clearing program.
My brother and I have hiked most of the footpaths on Athos at one point or another, but still have the desire to look for paths just beyond the border with the ordinary world. If they are still there?
Here is an overview of the monopatia of my trip in 2019:
Athos is closed for tourists. It has always been, as far as I’m informed. Due to Covid-19 Athos is now closed for pilgrims as well. It must be really quiet and peaceful now. The monks can fully concentrate on their tasks. But for pilgrims seeking consolation and advice it will be difficult not to be able to travel.
Seeing this tourist poster was a big surprise for me. The poster is part of a series. There is another one promoting the Greek island of Mykonos. So It seems to advocate travelling and promote tourism to the Holy Mountain. I found out that it was created in 1949 by artist M. Pechlivanidis & Company. I wonder if there was any tourism allowed, shortly after the Second World War.
We see the well-known rock on which the monastery of Simonos Petras lies as a crow’s nest. The perspective of the picture is from the road to Dafni. We visited this spot as pilgrims in 2019. The ferry is just arriving, more than 300 meters below.
In these days you don’t see posters of Mount Athos advertising for travels. But I was amazed to find in the site called “wikitravel” a possibility to book a hotel on the holy Mountain. We know of only one hotel in Karyes, above the bar in the main street.
One of the older pictures of this spot is this one, taken between 1910 – 1915.
Even older pictures, from 1853 was posted earlier (post 1864). This is the one with the same perspective.
Let’s hope that the vaccination on the Holy Mountain will be completed soon so that the Holy Mountain can be reopened for pilgrimages.
Ali Sami Bey (prob. 1872 – unknown) worked as a photographer in Karyes from 1925 till 1927. He was a ex-colonel and so called aide-de-camp to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
He made black and white photo’s but he was also tinting his work with a pen and Chinese ink. The colouring process damaged the photo’s.
The harbour of Dafni with on the right a kind of lift? Notice that there is no paved road along the coast but a small donkey/mule path. The first road on Athos was build here in 1963, the road from Dafni to Karyes.
Ali Sami was always dressed in his old military uniform. He started his career in the Ottoman army and later became the Imperial photographer for Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Following the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, supporters of the Sultan were purged and in 1909 the Sultan was exiled to Greece. Ali Sami arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1909 and published the newspaper Hak (Right),while in 1916 he published the French newspaper Le droit (The Law). He was nick-named Bahriyeli (sailor).
Chilandariou, with on the right the small aqueduct that leads to the kitchen of the monastery.
Not many people appear on his photographs but in this case the monks, muleteers and pilgrims of Docheiariou posed for the Photographer.
The Russian monastery of Panteleimonos with the green union shaped towers of the church.
The studio of the Kaltsoni brotherhood in Sk. Anna.
A Coast Guard boat delivered the first 400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Mount Athos on Friday, March 19, 2021. The vaccination center was set up in the health center in Karyes. On March 20, 2021, the first 36 monks were vaccinated, as well as staff-workers of monasteries, while the vaccinations will continue on March 20 and 21. The Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Esfigmenos, Archimandrite Mr. Bartholomew, was the first to be inoculated, followed by monks from the monasteries of Iveron, Koutloumousiou, Simonos Petras who went to Karyes especially for this purpose.
Last Wednesday, March 17, the start of the vaccinations on Mount Athos was planned, but due to the weather – there was strong wind – it was not considered appropriate to let the boat sail. There is relief among the monks that the vaccinations have started. According to information from makthes.gr, the initial caveats, the denial of some, even the conspiracy theories, have diminished. Typically, they even asked to vaccinate monks infected with coronavirus. Although the monastic state is in a lock-down and pilgrims are not allowed in, the monks are particularly scared, because the Coenobite system, according to which they live in small spaces, all attend church together and the virus is likely to spread. In addition, there are a significant number of monks who are elderly and have underlying illnesses.
Source text: makthes.gr. Read the whole article here.
Mount Athos has been in a lockdown since the beginning of December and, according to the decision of the Holy Community, the ban on entry for pilgrims is valid until March 30. The employees of the monasteries and employees who must enter the Athonite State, undergo a coronavirus test in Ouranoupolis and only can enter if it is negative. The Holy Community will discuss the matter in the coming days, but the lifting of the ban will depend on both the course of the pandemic and decisions made by the government.
Covid 19 cases were recorded on Mount Athos, where at least four monks lost their lives and many others were hospitalized in Thessaloniki.
Wim Voogd, 21-3
The lock down of Athos is now extended until April 15th.
In previous postings about this monastery (2154 and 2194) we took a closer look at the trapeza and the second courtyard, where monks were ‘crushing the olives’. Today we will take a closer look at the philae, that you can find in the first courtyard (look at the ground plan below). This plan dates from before the year 2000. As you can see the phiale is originally placed at spot B1 and it has a square shape. The phiale that we will examine closer today is placed at spot B2 and has a round – octagonal – shape (the blue round circle on the plan). This means this phiale is relatively new.
The phiale is octagonal shaped and is made of stone. I has eight columns and its dome is covered with lead.
As we will read later in this post the interior is build up as follows: the first layer is made of stained glass that is placed in between the eight columns. Above each pillar is a small scene painted: the second layer consists of eight scenes painted in round circles, with eight saints in between them. In the dome are four major scenes and in the top of the dome you can see a large angel, surrounded by many small angels. Bertinos tells us in his comment that it is the “Angel of The Great Council”: “ο της Μεγάλης Βουλής Άγγελος” (thanks to all readers who helped me filling up te caps in my knowledge).
I will start showing you the dome:
The dome with the four major scenes and the angels. As you can see this part of the ceiling is now very much in decline and the paint is already coming off. The colors are still very bright and the paintings look relatively new.
Here in the center of the dome is a large image of an angel, holding a book (I could only read the word “megalis” meaning “big”: other texts are badly damaged, unfortunately). The centre angel is surrounded with a first blue colored ring with multiple winged angels, and a second ring with angels in white clouds (also damaged).
The first major scene: we see the Panaghia with the child Jesus emerging from a phiale, surrounded buildings and a church, with (sick) people (lepers), children, Holy men, and also with birds and fish and two angels on a cloud. Rays of light appear from above -Heaven. According to Bertinos this is an icon of the Mother of God as Life-giving Spring (Ζωοδόχος Πηγή).
The second major scene is from John 5 and depictst Jesus who says to a lame man: “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But because this miracle happened on the Sabbath the Jewish leaders objected (men on the left).
The third major scene is the baptizing of Christ by John the Forerunner (Prodromos). The Holy Spirit appears above him as a white dove. Angels stand on the shore looking at the baptism. On the other shore you can see a large (palm?) tree with an axe. Christ stands on a raft or hatch (?) with snakes around Him. Creatures show up in the water, with a man holding a jar, from which water flows, and a woman in the sea (thalassa?), riding a chariot on two large fish, while holding a sail ship in her hand. For me these last images do not make any sence, who can help?
The response came from Alex: the woman represents the Jordan River, the man generally the Sea (or visa versa), for more interesting information go here. The explanation of the image of the tree with the axe is put down in Matthew 3:10: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”.
The fourth scene of from John 4: 6-7. It shows the Samaritan woman (Diane?) When Jesus was tired he rested by the well, when she came to get some water. Jesus asked her to give Him a drink. Jesus told her He could give her water that would cause her to never thirst again. He explained that He was the Messiah and that the water He offered her was the “living water” of eternal life. The woman went to the city and told many people what she had heard. They went to the well and spoke with Jesus themselves.
The next pictures show us the second layer consisting of eight scenes, painted in red round circles (by mistake I took pictures of only seven scenes):
This is a scene with one of the miracles by Ag. Nicolaos: here he rescues sailormen who are in a severe storm. Two devil-like creatures appear on the mast of the ship. At left of the scene you see the ‘doctor’-Saint Panteleimonos and at right Agia Anastasia (with beautiful tulips alongside her?).
The next scene in the left red circle shows us the founder of the monastery, Ag. Grigorios (thanks Vasilis), holding a staff, with a small hut in a cave on a mountain (Mount Athos?) with a basket hanging on a rope, where water flows down in a stream. A small boat lies on the shore. In the middel Saint Tryphon from the 3th century is situated. I could’t work out what the scene displayed on the right is about. Acoording to the later comment of Vasilis I guessed correctly that we see Ag. Athananasios of Lavra touching the rock with his staff, where water flows from the rock (at the well of Athanasios) with the Panaghia watching. Behind them a monastery, probably Lavra, and the Holy Mountain (Athos).
Details of the second and the third scene above.
The fourth and fifth scene in the red circles: the scene at left shows us four men, one of them a Saint, who discover a spring in a mountain at Kavsokalivia. The fifth scene at right is called I Agia Vatos, again a scene where water flows out the rocks (here with four white sheep). Bertinos tells us that it is an icon of the Burning Bush (or Unburned Bush), at the same time revered by Moses (on the left) and where Moses unties his shoes out of reverence (on the right).
Details of the two red circles.
The sixth and seventh scenes: in the right red circle. The sixth scene depicts the Ascension of the Prophet Elias/Elijah into the heavens (II Kings 2:11), with his disciple Elisa/Eliseus standing left of him, receiving Elijah’s mantle.”By means of the mantle let fall from Elijah, Elisha miraculously recrossed the Jordan, and Elisha returned to Jericho, where he won the gratitude of the people by purifying the unwholesome waters of their spring and making them drinkable (thanks Bertinos).
The scene at right is well known by many of us because it refers to the song of Boney M: “By the rivers of Babylon” of Psalm 137:2. Here you see the musicians resting (“were we sat down”) and they hung their harps upon the willows on the banks Euphratis or Tigris river. The two Saints between the scenes are Damiamos and Kosmas.
Details of the two scenes.
The last three interesting images that I will describe are to be found above the pillars.
This is a famous story from the bible: Jonah and the whale. The Hebrew text actually uses the phrase dag gadol, which means “giant fish”, here painted in a clear way!
This image gave me some more problems: I did find the meaning of this abbreviation I.X.θ.Y.C. We see a fish and a basket with bread, with water in the background. Vasilis says in his comment: I.X.θ.Y.C. means ‘fish’ in Greek (ichthus) and the meaning of the letters is Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour (Ιησους Χριστός Θεου Ὑιός Σωτήρ).
This last image I found the most intriguing: here a pelican bird picks herself to protect her offspring. “The pelican loves its young so much that when snakes try to kill them it strikes its sides until blood comes out and with its blood brings them back to life.” Because of that belief, the pelican became a major symbol of self-sacrifice and charity. Early Christians had adopted it by the 2nd century and started using it in texts and images, making it a very special bird.
Furthermore you can see two different kind of crosses above the pillars, a scene three white doves drinking water from bowls and a scene with two eating peacocks.
It is obvious that the artist/painter of phiale tried to use “water” as a main theme for the scenes he choose to paint. He succeded very well in finding a large variety of biblical stories from the Bible, but also from local Athos legends. This phiale is extraordinary in many ways and is worth to be kept and renovated in time, because it seems its deterioration is going fast!
Not only Ouranoupolis has a live webcam but also the harbour of Trypiti, situated at the end of Xerxes Canal. Today many trucks and vans are wating for the Evangelistria, a special boat to Athos for trucks and vans with materials, supplies and wood on the way back.
Before the Evangelistria arrives the ferry from the Island of Ammouliani moors the harbour. Most of the waiting trucks and vans will not cross with the ferry to the island because their destination is Athos.
Then the boat to Athos arrives. The trailer, last in line, carries a large roler for flattening asphalt. For me a bad sign, for I am against more roads on the peninsula. But maybe they will use the roler for the recovery of the road to Karyes. This road, the first road on Mt Athos made in 1963, was badly damaged due to landslides in 2020.
When the last truck, with a large part of a crane, boards the Evangelistria the Ammouliani ferry is already returning from the island. It is astonishing how they get all these vehicles in one boat.
The truck has left the ferry and the Evangelistria is sailing for Athos. It will take the boat approximately 2 -2,5 hours to go to Dafni, first passing Ouranoupolis.
Let’s resume the post about Grigoriou monastery, that I visited on the 2nd of October 2019. I started in post 2156 in Juli last year by showing pictures of the trapeza. Today we will continue, starting in the second courtyard, at the entrance and stairs that lead to the guesthouse/arcontariki – Z1 and near B1 on the floor plan of the monastery below.
Next to the half-round stairs that lead to the arcondariki is the bell-tower, A-1 on the plan.
In the second courtyard we saw boxes and barrels full with fresly harvested olives. Later that evening we found out where this was for.
Later that evening: together with other pilgrims and monk we were invited to help “crushing” the green olives and pun them in salt water: there was an elated and cheerful mood while monks and pilgrims were working together at the long table.
Next to the main church is small chapel, called dedicated to saint Grigorios (α on the plan)
The exo-narthex of the katholicon, with one main entrance in the middle and two small doors at the right and left side.
Exo-narthex: the right site door with a painting of ag. Nicolaos above it, two female Saints and Ag. Grigorios on the right.
Exo-narthex: between the right door and the main door: archangel Michael and king David and Jesaja above.
exo-narthex: the ain door with inlaid wood/the dubble headed eagles, with a painting of the Panaghia and the child Jesus above it.
exo-narthex: left from the main entrance of the katholicon- archangel Gabriel with Izechiel and Solomon above.
Exo-narthex: above the left door- Ag. Grigorios presenting the katholicon with Simeon in the left corner Saint Simeon of the pillar.
On one of the walls in the exo-narthes: an icon of Ag. Barnabas and Ag. Paulos, also presenting a church.
This is the door leading out of the exo-nartex to other rooms and the phiale (B1 on the plan above).
Athosweblogger Bas Kamps photographed not only several trees when he visited Mount Athos but also back in The Netherlands trees is often his topic. He recently made a website with his photography.
Nilos chapel is located on the south slope of the mountain. Through the branches the path to Kavsokalivia is visible.
The purple flowers of the Judas tree above the roofs of the Karyes houses.
Cypresses on Mt. Athos are indicating that habitation is not far away. This is the central spot of the peninsula, with the Protaton church, the belltower and the building with the stairs of the Epistasis.
As in the previous image, it was a foggy day in Karyes in 2019. This is near the monastery of Koutloumousiou.