Journey through the "Holy Mountain"...

Mount Athos  Orthodox spiritual centre since 1054, Mount Athos has enjoyed an autonomous statute since Byzantine times. The 'Holy Mountain', which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The layout of the monasteries (about 20 of which are presently inhabited by some 1,400 monks) had an influence as far afield as Russia, and its school of painting influenced the history of Orthodox art.

Cloaked by beautiful chestnut and other types of Mediterranean forest, the steep slopes of Mount Athos are punctuated by twenty imposing monasteries and their subsidiary establishments. Covering an area of just over 33,000 hectares, the property includes the entire narrow rocky strip of the easternmost of the three peninsulas of Chalcidice which jut into the Aegean Sea in northern Greece. The subsidiary establishments include sketae(daughter houses of the monasteries), kellia and kathismata (living units operated by the monks), where farming constitutes an important part of the monks’ everyday life.

An Orthodox spiritual centre since the 10th century, Mount Athos has enjoyed a self-administered status since Byzantine times. Its first constitution was signed in 972 by the emperor John I Tzimiskes. The 'Holy Mountain', which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The layout of the monasteries (which are presently inhabited by some 1,400 monks) had an influence as far afield as Russia, and its school of painting influenced the history of Orthodox art. The landscape reflects traditional monastic farming practices, which maintain populations of plant species that have now become rare in the region.

The transformation of a mountain into a sacred place made Mount Athos a unique artistic creation combining the natural beauty of the site with the expanded forms of architectural creation. Moreover, the monasteries of Athos are a veritable conservatory of masterpieces ranging from wall paintings (such as the works by Manuel Panselinos at Protaton Church ca. 1290 and by Frangos Catellanos at the Great Lavra in 1560) to portable icons, gold objects, embroideries and illuminated manuscripts which each monastery jealously preserves.

Mount Athos exerted lasting influence in the Orthodox world, of which it is the spiritual centre, on the development of religious architecture and monumental painting. The typical layout of Athonite monasteries was used as far away as Russia. Iconographic themes, codified by the school of painting at Mount Athos and laid down in minute detail in the Guide to Painting (discovered and published by Didron in 1845), were used and elaborated on from Crete to the Balkans from the 16th century onwards.

The monasteries of Athos present the typical layout of Orthodox monastic establishments: a square, rectangular or trapezoidal fortification flanked by towers, which constitutes the peribolosof a consecrated place, in the centre of which the community's church, or the catholicon, stands alone. Strictly organised according to principles dating from the 10th century are the areas reserved for communal activities (refectory, cells, hospital, library), those reserved solely for liturgical purposes (chapels, fountains), and the defence structures (arsenal, fortified towers). The organization of agricultural lands in the idiorrythmic sketae (daughter houses of the monasteries), the kellia and kathismata (living units operated by the monks) is also very characteristic of the medieval period.

The monastic ideal at Mount Athos has preserved traditional human habitations, which are representative of the agrarian cultures of the Mediterranean and have become vulnerable through the impact of change within contemporary society. Mount Athos is also a conservatory of vernacular architecture as well as agricultural and craft traditions.

 An Orthodox spiritual centre since the 10th century, the sacred mountain of Athos became the principal spiritual home of the Orthodox Church in 1054. It retained this prominent role even after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the establishment of the autocephalous patriarchy of Moscow in 1589. Mount Athos is directly and tangibly associated with the history of Orthodox Christianity which, in varying degrees, is present in more than 20 nations in the 20th century. It is no exaggeration to say that this thousand-year-old site, where the weight of history is palpable in the countryside, the monuments and the precious collections have been built up over time, has retained even today its universal and exceptional significance.

The harmonious interaction of traditional farming practices and forestry is linked to the stringent observance of monastic rules over the course of centuries, which has led to the excellent preservation of the Mediterranean forests and associated flora of Mount Athos.

Closely associated with the history of Orthodox Christianity, Mount Athos retains its Outstanding Universal Value through its monastic establishments and artistic collections. All the monasteries are well-preserved due to on-going restoration projects carried out according to approved plans. The materials used for restoration are traditional and environmentally friendly.

Mount Athos encompasses an entire peninsula of 33,042 ha, an area of sufficient size to maintain a rich flora and fauna that has been well conserved by careful management of the forests and traditional agricultural practices. Although the natural environment is maintained, it is also vulnerable to forest fire, infrastructure development (mainly roads), and seismic activity. Monastic activities have kept their traditional character due to rules which have remained relatively unchanged throughout the centuries, and the evolution of monastic life should not harm the environment.

The property reflects adequately the cultural values recognized in the inscription criteria through the setting of the monasteries and their dependencies, together with the form, design and materials of the buildings and farms, their use and function, and the spirit and feeling of the place.

Mount Athos has an enormous wealth of historic, artistic and cultural elements preserved by a monastic community that has existed for the last twelve centuries and constitutes a living record of human activities.

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Aug 12021
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