A trip to Mount Athos, SV/A

Not much activity on this blog lately, I was busy this past months setting up my Shapeoko CNC based small workshop (hope to post it soon about), so all my hobby time was spend on other then ham radio, but further on I will tell the story about my recent trip to Mount Athos, SV/A, this top 20 most wanted DXCC.

Mt. Athos Byzantine Flag

Mt. Athos, Byzantine Flag

A couple of friends and acquaintances of mine made a habit over the last 2-3 years to visit Mt. Athos, so this year I decided to enroll also for this rare experience, mainly for curiosity, and of course, the chance to meet the only amateur radio operator on this land, Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A, which, unfortunately, this last not happened…

Mt. Athos Trip

Mt. Athos Trip

To get to Athos is somehow quite of bureaucratic. As far as I understood, first you need to contact a priest or a monk from there in order to give you the right to obtain the entry permit, visa, the so called diamonitirion. This document you will get it on arrival in the city of Ourouanopoli for 25 euros fee, and you are allowed to remain on the Holly Mount for maximum 4 or 5 days. After contacting them, and make sure they gave you the Ok to get this permit, you need to make reservations at which monasteries you want to stay overnight there. Most of the contacts are done by fax and reservations can be made up to several months earlier. Knowing about Monk Apollo, I immediately searched in what monastery he lives and asked my friends to book a night there also, but unfortunately this year we made all the reservations very late, about two weeks before departure, and we couldn’t managed to reach in time Dochiariou Monastery where Apollo lives, the telephone lines were down for several days there, common problem on Athos, so we had to look for another place instead.

Ourouanopoli

Ourouanopoli, Greece

So on the 1st of February, early Sunday morning, we started driving all away 1000 km to Greece, passing through Bulgaria, to the last city before entering Mount Athos, Ourouanopoli. From here the only viable way to get to the mountain is by ferry boat in the morning. No personal cars are allowed on the mountain. I also found out that there is a terrestrial way also from the border, but it is to expensive to book a vehicle and some roads might be impracticable because some bridges had fallen or so. Anyway, we arrived early evening in the town and checked in at the hotel, but we immediately heard rumors that the next day or probably more days ahead, the ferry will not sail because of the heavy sea, another common problem here. And so it was, but fortunately we lost only one day. On the third day morning, early at 0700 hours we were on the ferry, for two hours sailing all way to Mount Athos, to their small port, Dafni.

Ferry Boat to Mount Athos

Ferry Boat to Mount Athos, at Dafni Port

The ferry makes several stops till there, and for my pleasant surprise the first stop was to Dochiariou Momastery. It didn’t stayed more than five minutes here, but I was able to make some shots and easily identify the tower with the SteppIR antenna of SV2ASP, Monk Apollo.

Moni Dochiariou, at Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A

Moni Dochiariou, at Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A

SV2ASP/A StepIR Antenna Tower

SV2ASP/A StepIR Antenna Tower

Another ferry stop was at Agiou Panteleimonos, the Russian monastery from Mount Athos, the biggest one in size here. I heard it can hold up to 800 guests.

Moni Panteleimon

Moni Panteleimon

Eventually after two hours sailing we set foot on the Mount Athos, in the port of Dafni, from were we will take the minibus to the first monastery, the Prodromou Skite.

Athos Summit, 2033m

Athos Summit, 2033m

Mount Athos, (or Agion Oros, the Holy Mountain), it is a self-governed region in Greece and represents the centre of Christian Orthodox Monasticism. Most of the monasteries here date from Byzantine Era, about 900 AD, till Middle Eve. There are 20 big monasteries on Athos, and each of them have other sketes, cells, caves in dependence. To operate on the Mount Athos with the SV/A prefix you need approval of at least 14 of the 20 monastic representatives.

Karakalou Monastery

Karakalou Monastery

We stayed overnight for four days, at four different monasteries, first The Prodromou Skete (or Skete of Saint John the Baptist), inhabited by romanians, Karakalou Monastery, an old 11th century fortified monastery, Iviron Monastery, 3rd in the hierarchy of Mt. Athos monasteries, and last day at Skete of St. Andrew, near the administrative capital, Kareya.

Karakalou Monastery Guesthouse

Karakalou Monastery Guestrooms

Going around Mt. Athos is done mainly by minibuses that can be booked in advance from their bureau in Kareya. A trip from Dafni to Kareya costs 45 euros, same price from Kareya to nearby monasteries, and 85 euros till Prodromou Skete, in the far South of the peninsula. Or, for the ones located on the seaside, transportation can be done by ferry boat.

Mt. Athos Gardening

Gardening at Moni Karakalou, Mt.Athos

Once arrived at a monastery, visitors can attend their daily routines there. Food and lodge is everywhere free on Mt. Athos monasteries. A daily monastic program there starts very early in the morning, between 0200 and 0400 AM, with a church service till about the dawn, only at candle light, no electricity lights inside the church. It is quite an amazing and somehow a frightening atmosphere. Afterwards everybody goes to breakfast, monk and visitors altogether, then monks goes to their daily routines (gardening, cleaning, cooking etc) and us, tourists, can go visit other nearby settlements and sights, or can help the monks in their duties. After the daytime, another church service begins at around 1600-1800, followed by the dinner. Then the monastery gates (heavy old castle like gates) are closed till morning. No one can leave or enter during this time.

Mt. Athos Garden Irrigation System

Irrigation System

Before coming to Mt. Athos I knew a little about this side of the world, mostly reading on the web, and thought that it was a more remote and sober place, monks living almost like in the Middle Ages, but none of that felt after experienced myself life here. Indeed they have a lot of restrictions and the access is not so handy, but I found here a very organized community all over the peninsula. They have roads, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 are made by concrete, and still constructing it, fresh food supplied from the mainland or by their own greenhouses, electricity is produced only by diesel generators or solar powered, in the capital of Kareya there are several supermarkets (you can find even cigarettes and liquors), hardware stores, bakery, police stations and so on. I even so monks with iPhones browsing the web🙂

Karakalou Monastery's Main Church

Karakalou Monastery’s Main Church

In the end, this trip was an exotic experience for me. I didn’t wrote anything about the spiritual side of this land, this can be found in almost in every wiki on the web about Athos, all their legends, stories, miracle working icons etc, and not because I am not such a religious person, but what mostly impressed me here was the historical and architectural side of it. I was used to see more of the imposing Catholic or Protestant old churches and cathedrals in Europe, but was amazed to see large fortified, high walls, castle like, Orthodox settlements dated from over 1000 years ago, and still functioning.

Iviron Monastery

Iviron Monastery

Next year, if all goes well, I will probably repeat the experience, visiting other places on Mount Athos, maybe the ones West coast, and definitely I will pull the strings more early to book at Dochiariou Monastery, to meet Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A.

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