Greece | EUNewsletter

Athon, a place without women

GreeceIn this part of Europe, midnight falls in parallel to the sunset and space is measured by the number of words said in prayer on the road. The population here is all male and they still use the Julian calendar.

This is how the monastic area of Athon, located in the north of Greece and accessible only by sea, works – a place where the entry of the fairer sex has been barred for more than 10 centuries.

In Greece, the political status of this area is known as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. De jure, the Holy Mountain of Athon is part of the territory of Greece, but de facto governed by the “Holy Community”, which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries.

The Athonian monasteries possess huge collections of invaluable medieval artworks, including icons, crosses, early Christian texts, holy relics, to name but a few. Until relatively recently no organised study or archiving had been undertaken. Only since the late 1980s has an EU-funded effort to catalogue, protect and restore them been under way.

According to the Treaty on the European Union, Mount Athos is part of a member state, but it is outside the EU Value Added Tax area. Because of its strict entry requirements (specifically the prohibition on entry for women), it is considered an exemption within the Schengen Agreement.

In terms of architecture, the most stunning structure on the peninsula is arguably the Monastery of Simonos Petras, which seems to be nestled on the rock edge, tens of metres above the sea shore.