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Greece’s Holy Mountain of Athos Reopens After Lockdown

Mount Athos reopen
Iviron, one of twenty monasteries on Mount Athos. Credit: Leon Hart /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Mount Athos, one of the holiest sites of Greek Orthodoxy, reopened to authorized visitors on Tuesday following its closure due to the coronavirus lockdown.

This important holy site has finally been allowed to reopen, with some limitations in place in order to keep the faithful safe.

Mount Athos reopens with regulations

The Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias announced that Mount Athos would reopen to religious pilgrims on Tuesday following months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Restrictions have been put in place to protect visitors and elderly monks from the coronavirus. They include mandatory rapid tests for the coronavirus at the entry points of the Holy Mountain, with only those with negative results being allowed to enter.

Additional restrictions as announced by Dendias include only allowing visitors to stay in specific dormitories with strict capacity limitations, and the faithful only having permission to go to one monastery, instead of visiting several in a row, which has been commonly done in the past.

Ordinarily, travelers and pilgrims would likely visit multiple monasteries on Mount Athos, as there are twenty to pick from — however, this has been deemed too large of a risk at the present time due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Greek Orthodoxy’s Holy Mountain

Mount Athos, also called The Holy Mountain in Greek, is home to twenty monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It is governed as an autonomous state — the Monastic State of the Holy Mountain and the Athonite — within the Hellenic Republic.

The first monks arrived on Mt. Athos in the ninth century. Today, over two thousand monks from Greece and many other countries, including Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia and the United States, live in isolation on the mountain as a testament to their faith.

The monasteries house priceless collections of well-preserved artifacts, including rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value. Luckily, these cultural treasures can now be accessed by people all over the world through the “Athos Digital Heritage” platform, which was completed in December 2020.

Mount Athos has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.

There is a prohibition on entry for women, called “avaton” in Greek, to make living in celibacy easier for the men who have chosen to do so. This control to regulate the free movement of people and goods in its territory is only allowed because it is considered an autonomous state by the Hellenic Republic and the European Union.

Mount Athos is situated in Halkidiki, which is a strikingly beautiful peninsula in Northern Greece made up of three “legs.”

It takes up the entirety of the northernmost, or “third leg” of Halkidiki. Visitors must be male and have special permission to visit the peninsula, since it comprises nothing but monasteries.

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