Mount Athos in Halkidiki, Greece: Mount Athos (Hagion Oros), or Holy Mountain, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a self-governed part of the Greek State, administrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Mount Athos consists of 20 Orthodox monasteries and is also known as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. It stands on the eastern peninsula of Halkidiki.
The origins of its name vary. One source says that while the Gods and the Giants were fighting, the Giant Athos threw a massive rock at the god Poseidon which fell into the sea and became Mount Athos. Another legend has it that while on her way to Cyprus, the Virgin Mary's ship was blown off course and docked there. She was so amazed by the beauty of the place that she blessed it. Thereafter, Mount Athos is called the Garden of Virgin Mary. The first monks to inhabit the place arrived at Mount Athos in 5 AD and found this area perfect for worshiping God without the counterplots of everyday life.
The governing body of the Holy Mountain is the Holy Community (Iera Kinotita), which constitutes of representatives from the 20 Holy Monasteries. 17 out of the 20 monasteries are Greek and the other 3 are Serbian, Bulgarian and Russian. Apart from the monasteries, there are 12 smaller communities of monks and many solitary hermitages. Life in Mount Athos is simple and monastic. The monks believe that the way of man to find God is through solitude, prayer, exercise, obedience to the Spiritual Father, service and fasting.
Women are not allowed to enter Mount Athos, only men. Both monks and visitors leave a simple life, without any modern facility. They eat small quantity of food, every day, mainly bread and olives, because they want to exercise their body in deprivation. They stay in the monastery cells or in caves, pray to God and do agricultural works.
The monasteries are rich storehouses of medieval history. You can see paintings from 13 AD, music manuscripts from the Byzantine era, marble sculptures of columns, turrets, chalices, icon screens and exquisite miniatures in gold and silver dating back to the 12th century. Approximately one quarter of all the Greek works in the world are collected there in the form of books and handwritten manuscripts that number some 15,000.
Mount Athos is approached by ferry from Ouranoupolis or Ierissos. Most visitors can take a public bus from Dafni to Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos. Visitors must obtain their diamonitirion, a pass entrance, from the Hagion Oros office in Thessaloniki.
Apart from their passport, foreign visitors must possess a letter of recommendation from their embassy in Athens or consulate in Thessaloniki. Another required document for them is the entry permit from the Administration Division of Church Affairs at the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens or Administration of Foreign Affairs at Ministry of Northern Greece in Thessaloniki.