The first thing you see when you arrive by boat at the arsanas (harbour) of Simonos Petras is the mediaeval tower with a boathouse attached to it. The path towards the monastery, 300 meters up, starts just behind the boathouse.
Right from the path there is – for Athonian standards – an atypical building. It looks a bit like a Mediterranean villa from the fifties, with a veranda and porches. This is how it looked like in 2013. In 2019 we had to wait for the ferry for quite a long time. It was time well spent by wondering around the arsanas.
The boathouse had been restored between 2013 and 2019. There is a clear difference in the thick layers of grout they added. But the villa was still left to the elements. It was still as deserted as in 2011 and the situation has not been improved. I decided to take a closer look.
It is a peculiar building with its pink walls and yellow ceiling. Iron is used as a material for the windows, the door and the fence. The plaster is coming down from the ceiling.
One of the main columns completely stopped supporting the ceiling. There seems to be a serious problem with concrete rot, probably caused by rusting iron. A grape, unaware of it all, is finding its way up via the iron fence.
A closer look at the ceiling. The missing pillar could become a problem for the structure, in due time it might collapse, for instance caused by another earthquake, which are frequent in the eastern Mediterranean.
Shoots of grape try to find their way on the crumbling terrazzo floor and through the rusting fencing.
This kitten was the only living creature around the house. The open bricks show how relatively new this building is. Has anyone an idea about the history of the building and inhabitants? Was it perhaps a kind of administrative building, an office or a shop for religious souvenirs?
Greek artist, Markos Kampanis who made the large mural at the entrance of Vatopedi monastery have made two new paintings on wood for the new building of the (non-religious) Administration of Mount Athos in Karyes. The artworks will be placed this year.
A complete, detailed view of the peninsula by Kampanis in the style of the traditional prints that are made of Agion Oros.
Each monastery has a delegation house in the capital Karyes, called konakis. Here the 20 konakis with in the middle the Protaton church and tower.
We left Simonos Petras early in the morning to take the ferry. We had plenty of time. We only had to walk down the wonderful path 300 meters to the arsanas. I decided to take pictures of all the spring flowers I saw during the stroll. All the flowers was a bit overambitious, I found out soon enough, but I managed to take plenty of detailed close-up pictures. I will show most of them in this blog. I’m not an expert on the flora, and certainly not on the Greek flora, but I tried to find out the Latin and English names of the flowers. If anyone has a better suggestion, please let me know. Anyway, for me, the wonder about the variety of shapes and colours is the most important aspect. On this path the garden of Mary can be venerated.
tassel hyacinth (muscari comosum)
Wild Raddish (Raphanus raphanistrum)
large Venus’s-looking-glass (legousia speculum-veneris)
An blossoming tree, probably a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum).
A yellow solitary flower called an Oriental Salsify (tragopogon pratensis subsp. Orientalis)
Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Iris (Iris Germanica). And a screenshot taken from an iris taken out of the Flora Graeca by John Sibthorp (1758-1796). The Flora Graeca consists of ten volumes that were published between 1806-1840.
This post is the last in a series of five, with an overview of the pictures Cas Oorthuys made during his short visit to the Holy Mountain in July 1957. The source of the more than 800 copies of his photographs is from the Nederlands fotomuseum in Rotterdam (source). The photographer and his fellow pilgrim A. den Doolaard spend their last night in the russian monastery Panteleimonos.
The main church – katholicon – of Panteleimonos in 1957.
The arsanas of Panteleimonos, in those days sailing ships were still moored.
This large building outside the monastery walls, is the archondariki. Here the building is still intact. A few years later the left part of building was destroyed by fire: only the outher walls remained.
The archondariki and the monastery Panteleimonos
Arsanas Sografou: one of the most pitoreque places on the Holy Mountain. Next to boathouse is a traditional defense tower, which has the appearance of medieval times when pirats and crusaders made the peninsula unsafe.
Even though renovation work has taken place in 2007, the location kept its original atmosphere.
Ouranopolis (called Prosphori in 1957): The pyrgos tower of Joice and Sydney Loch. Sydney Loch died a three years earlier , on the 6th of February 1954, when trying to save a pelican in a winter storm. His book “Athos The Holy Mountain” was published in 1957.
At that time in 1980 Joice Loch still lived in the tower. She died in 1982. Renovation work is underway.
The jetty of Ouranopolis: boys swimming
The beach seen from the jetty in Ouranopolis: a group welcomes the returning pilgrims, at that time probably still a special feature.
Kids on the beach in front of the pyrgos tower.
The pilgrims in the bus to Ierissos/Stratoni. Cas Oorthuys and A. den Doolaard did not stay in Ouranopolis, probably because there were no hotels in town in 1957. They went back to Ierissos and enjoyed a good meal and a good night sleep!
This ends the publication of a small part of the Cas Oorthuys collection from the Dutch Photo museum. I know that much more content is available and I hope to get permission the share the other photos with you somewhere in the near future.
The writer A. den Doolaard ended his musings on Athos as follows at the end of his book “Greeks are no gods”:
“Orthodox monasticism was a tough, old body in which the red blood cells no longer renewed.”
The answer to these thoughts from the Dutch writer by the guide Asterios was: “Do not forget that the monasteries have been here for a thousand years and during that time there have been more periods of decline.” “I’ve been coming to Athos for so long,” he laughed, “that I’ve been infected with it. Ten thousand monks or two thousand, does that make any real difference? Can you foresee what will happen after the year 2000 “?
Profetical words indeed! Asterios made a prediction that has almost completely come true. Athos has regained its appeal and is once again a powerful source of inspiration for so many.
We would like to thank all our readers for visiting our website this difficult year 2020. We are proud to have almost 107 K hits and 31 K visitors this year. As many others we had to postpone our planned 2020-pilgrimage and we hope that 2021 will bring better times for all of you. Stay safe and be friendly to everyone, regardless, race, color, gender, religion or conviction.
Wim Voogd, 31 December 2020 (also on behalf of Herman Voogd and Bas Kamps)
NB. For those who read Dutch texts: in the attachments below you will find three articles from the newspaper “Limburgsch Dagblad” from July and August 1957, where A. den Doolaard writes about his pilgrimage to Athos. The texts are from his book “Greeks are not gods” that was published in 1959.
Originally Cas Oorthuys and A. den Doolaard planned to stay five days on the Holy Mountain. They wanted to stay a night over in Vatopedi, but because they arrived by boat from Ierissos they did not posses a Diamoniterion yet, so the abbot told them to move on and go to Karyes first, to collect the needed passport, the ‘permit to stay at monasteries’. Their hike to Karyes was not easy, because there was a heat wave with tempatures in the shadow of 45C. After they recieved their Diamoniterions they stayed the night in Karyes, I presume in the local hotel above the restaurant. In his book “Greeks are no gods” A. den Doolaard describes how they went to visit Koutloumousiou the next day, the monastery very near Karyes. But Cas Oorthuys does not have any photos of this monastery in his collection. I think A. den Doolaard mixed this monastery up with Xeropotamou, the monastery on the other side of the ridge of Karyes, near Dafni. Cas Oorthuys has photos of this monastery in his contact sheets (and also from Dafni). Later that day they took a boat from Dafni to Dionysiou, passing Simonos Petras and Grigoriou monasteries. The second night they slept in Dionysiou. The following day they took a boat back along the West coast of Athos, passing the monastire mentioned above and Dafni, ending up in Panteleimonos, where they slept the third night. The last day they took a boat passing Xenofontos and Docheiariou (see post 2186). The boat stopped at the tower of Sidney Loch at Phosfori, now Ouranopolis. From here they went back to Ierissos and enjoyed a good Greek meal.
The courtyard of Panteleimonos monastery (or Rossikó). On the right the Katholicon, left the bell tower and the phiale.
The small church/chapel and the katholicon with two palm trees.
Almost the same spot in 1980: parts of the monastery were distroyed by fire.
Monks visiting Panteleimonos monastery with a group of pilgrims. A. den Doolaard discribes in his book that the “three dozen” monks, who lived here in 1957, were very old men. When I visited the monastery only 20 Russian (and a few Greek) monks survived….
The same spot in 2009. The monastery was almost completly renovated and rebuild that year, no ruins remained, except for some buildings outside the walls of the monastery. On the top floor the Dubble church is situated, where Cas Oorthuys also made pictures (not (yet) avialable for me).
According to me this is one of the most iconic photographs Cas Oorthuys made on Athos. The old monk in the trapeza of Panteleimonos symbolizes the sad situation in which they were. His eyes stare into nothing and clearly show the hopeless situation of that moment in time.
A. den Doolaard says in his book about the scene:
‘The meal was as simple as it was stylish, yet it doesn’t charm my heart; for all over Rossikó lay the melancholy of dying. The monastery was cut off from the tribal land, no novice passed through the gate, and the old monks died one by one’.
Two original photos from Cas Oorthuys of this dinner in the trapeza hang on a wall of my favorite Greek traiteur in Amsterdam, Romios. The (former) owner Marijke went to school with a daughter of Cas Oorthuys in Rotterdam and she got these originals as a gift.
more pictures of monks eating dinner in the trapeza of Panteleimonos.
This original also hangs on the wall in restaurant Romios, Ceintuurbaan 350 in Amsterdam.
An earthenware jug on the quay of arsanas Panteleimonos.
The third contact print from the Cas Oorthuys files in the Dutch photo museum contains pictures of Simonos Petras and Docheiariou. He did not visit these monasteries, because photographs up close are missing. And on this contact print number 99027 I run into a chronological problem. The two monasteries are in fact far apart and between the monastery are the harbor town of Dafni, Xenofontos and the Russian monastery Panteleimonos situated. Cas Oorthuys did pay a visit to this Russian monastery, as we will see on the next contact print, that I will publish later. I suspect that Cas Oorthuys confused his travel schedule afterwards and that he accidentally pasted Docheiariou into his contact printout earlier.
Simonos Petras monastery, seen from the arsanas – harbor. This probably one of the finest monasteries on the Holy Mountain, that looms over the rocks on which it is built. Many people say this monastery resambles the Tibetian monasteries in the Himalaya.
The arsanas of Simonos Petras in 1957 and – by coincidence – my photo on the same spot, 58 years later.
The monastery of Docheiariou, seen from a boat. This is the last monastery that you will see from the baot before arriving in Ouranopolis. As you can see on the map below it is very far from Simonos Petras.
Docheiariou monastery in 1957.
When we visited this monastery in 1980 we were the only two pilgrims. We met a professor from Thessaloniki, who microfilmed the books from the library and gave us a tour in the old tower. I remember the age-old parchment covers and the pages that had tiny holes, made by the bookworms. One of the bound pages would be a page from a 4th century book.
Four fishermen in their boat at the harbor of Docheiariou, one of them drinking water from a bucket.
Docheiariou: another photo of the fishermen in their boat and the jetty.
The second contact print from the Cas Oorthuys files in the Dutch photo museum contains pictures of Karyes, the Protaton church, and pictures of men (with the writer A. den Doolaard?) on the road with mules, probably going from Karyes to the monastery Xeropotamou.
Here is an image of the clock tower belonging to the Protaton church in Karyes, with a man pulling a loaded mule. In the background the building of the Holy Epistatia, the main seat of the government on Athos.
On this next picture, made on the same spot, you see that construction labor is being done on the outside walls of the Protaton. It looks as if the original stones of the outside walls of the church are being covered with a plaster, that was still there when I took the picture below in 1986.
During the last renovations of the Protaton, when the fundaments were also secured, all of this (ugly) grey plaster has been removed and the original stones reapeared, as you see on the picture above.
Xeropotamou monastery seen from above.
A large group of mules pass the pilgrims when they go to the next monastery, somewhere near Xeropotamou (?). Cas Oorthuys and his two fellow travelers had only one mule.
A monk passes by on his own mule.
The entrance to the monastery Xeropotamou with the mule of Cas Oorthuys (?). The pine trees on this picture are gone today.
Xeropotamou: the entrance with a monk
Xeropotamou: the pilgrims enter the monastery
The Xeropotamou entrance in 2019: almost nothing changed. The glass frame that protects the painting of the 40 martyrs above the door has been replaced by a modern one and the frames of the windows that have been slightly changed. The windows on the second floor are smaller and the color blue with some decorations were added on the wall. The pine trees has been cut down and vines have taken their place, just like the situation in 1928 (see postcard below).
Somewhere outside Xeropotamou (?): a man on a mule
A man sitting on a fence, bare-chested. This photo must have been taken somewhere outside a monastery, because monks would not allow any half-naked men in their surroundings. It is unknown to me who this might be, maybe their guide Asterios Kyriasis? According to me this man does not resamble the writer mr. A. den Doolaard.
Already 12 years ago I expressed my wishes to show you more about the journey of one of the most famous Dutch photographers, Cas Oorthuys, to the Holy Mountain, together with the Dutch writer A. den Doolaard (link to my post about Ewing Galloway). They visited Athos four days – three nights in July 1957 together with their guide Asterios Kyriasis, who spoke French and a little English. The writer published his travel experiences in 1959 in his book “Greeks are not gods” (post 1531). In december 1959 two articles were published in the magazine “Katholieke Illustratie” with many photos of Cas Oorthuys, who lived from 1908-1975 (more in posts 636, 646, 649 and 652).
In 2018 my wishes to open the Oorthuys Athos photo collection finally came through: in that year the Dutch Photo museum in Rotterdam started the crowd sourcing project Captions for Cas: 33,649 sheets of contact prints were digitized (with 500.000 photos and slides!) and I provided the descriptions of the 72 contact prints (more than 800 pictures) he took in Thessaloniki, Chalkidiki and Athos. The huge job ended in October 2020 and now the entire project is made available to the public (look here). Recently I received the museum’s generous cooperation to publish five of these contact prints. The first one I chose to share with you are the twelve pictures from his visit to Vatopedi monastery (see the contact print above). Let’s have a closer look:
A monk walks on the road that leads from the arsanas up to the Vatopedi monastery.
Cas Oorthuys and A. den Doolaard started their Athos pilgrimage in Ierissos. Early in the morning they took a Greek diesel kaik from Ierissos to Vatopedi monastery, together with their guide and tow monks. Later they visited Karyes, Xeropotamou and Gregoriou and Dionysiou monastery. They ended his trip visiting Panteleimonos and went – along Dafni – back to Ouranopolis by boat. From the boat he made pictures from the monasteries Simonos Petras and Docheiariou.
The courtyard of Vatopedi with the katholicon on the left and the East wing on the right.
The belfry and clocktower in the courtyard of Vatopedi: in between them you can see the trapeza.
A view from a gallery in the East wing.
These beautiful overviews are taken from the highest position in the West wing, where you can overlook the roofs and the chimneys.
The next two photos are from the interior of the trapeza (refter) of Vatopedi. As you can see on the picture below that I took 29 years later in 1986, the bottom of the tables were not painted blue yet. Nowadays the blue color is painted over again in white.
The entrance to Vatopedi with mules.
The outside wall of the North wing of the monastery, where the archondariki – guesthouse is situated.
This nice photograph is from the book Tour de Grece by Amadee Ozenfant from 1938. The heavily packed mules just passed the main entrance and came a long way over the monopati, probably from Karyes. In the background the stairs to the guestrooms of Vatopedi. I assume this are not pilgrims but muleteers who are bringing supplies to the monastery.
This is the last climb that pilgrims have to endure after a long walk. In 2009 we walked the coastal path from Mylopotamos to Vatopedi with stops in Iviron, Stavronikita and Pantokratoros.
In 2019 we walked from Pantokratoros to Vatopedi also along the coast but first taking a detour to Profiti Elias. Here, already without backpacks, we climb to our room.