In 1938, a newspaper ran a story about an 82-year-old monk named Mihailo Tolotos who supposedly died without ever seeing a woman other than his own mother. Mihailo Tolotos spent his days in a Greek Eastern Orthodox monastic community known as Mount Athos. Since the 9th century, no human woman and most female animals have been banned from setting foot in Mount Athos.
The Eastern Orthodox Church states that no women are allowed in Mount Athos out of respect for the Virgin Mary. According to church doctrine, the Virgin Mary is the only female influence necessary at Mount Athos. In recent years, several groups of women have flouted authority and visited the Mount Athos monastic community. Despite a call for gender equality, the Eastern Orthodox Church still abides by ancient doctrine which states that monks must live in seclusion.
Often referred to as the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos is home to nearly 2,000 monks. The monks of Mount Athos spend their days praying, making wine, and performing necessary renovations on 20 separate monasteries that appear to hang precariously from the side of a cliff. The monks live in varying degrees of isolation—with some monks living a communal life, while others live in isolated cells which contain the bones of previous generations of monks.
The monks of Mount Athos accept very few visitors. On rare occasions, respectful male pilgrims who work alongside the monks and pray with them are allowed to enter the Holy Mountain community. Many Mount Athos monks frown upon visitors because they view any outsider as a distraction that disrupts their austere, focused routine.
Visitors who are curious about the monks of Mount Athos can take a cruise around the edge of the scenic Halkidiki Peninsula. A towering mountain rising from the sea dotted with stone steps and ancient dwellings offers onlookers a fleeting glimpse of monastic life.
Important Information for Visitors to Mount Athos
Visiting Mount Athos is restricted to men only, as the over 1000-year old ban on women entering the “Abaton” still stands today. To reach the mountain, men can take a ferry boat from either the port of Ouranoupoli (for western coast monasteries) or Ierrisos (for eastern…
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