An Italian in Mount Athos part 2 – Karies

The boat from Ouranoupoli takes us to Daphni in about an hour. Dafni  is a small settlement on the southern coast of the peninsula between Xeropotamou Monastery and Simonopetra Monastery. It is basically where most travellers on the west coast of the peninsula can get food and whatever else they need before starting they’re journey.

From there, we went to Karies, the capital of Mount Athos. On the beginning was called “Mesi”, in the 11th century it was called “Lavra of Karies” and the 14th century, Skite of Karies. Today is a small village that has some houses, shops and few temples. Here is situated the building of Iera Kinotita (Holy Community), where the representatives of the 20 Monasteries meet. In front of this building stands the temple of Protato, the cathedral of Karies. There is kept the miraculous icon Axion Esti. Opposite the Protato, lies an ancient tower. Inside the tower is the library where is kept the first document of Mount Athos, written on goat skin and called “Tragos”.

As I explained in my previous post, transport is not easy in Agion Oros. After having a very quick look at Karies we need to rush back to Daphni to get our last boat to our final destination of the day. In Karies you find mini buses that leave whenever they are full or whenever they find somebody willing to share the 45€ ride (which is the price of any use of these mini buses). Fortunately, we find a group of Georgian pilgrims we can share the ride with and make it to Daphni back in time. We need to get to Docheiariou before they serve lunch since we know it will be the last real meal we’ll have in the next three days due to the fasting period the monks will undergo for Easter.

An Italian in Mount Athos part 1 – Getting ready


When I was 14 or maybe 15 years old I remember being on the train on my way back from school. My high-school was quite far from home. I had to take two trains a get picked up at the train station every day to just get back home. Even though that wasn’t great (waking up at 6AM for 5 years straight was not the best memory of my adolescence) this daily travelling gave me a lot of time to read (whenever I was not sleeping

I still remember one time I was reading this reportage by an Italian journalist for Focus who went to Mount Athos, the holy mountain of the orthodox church. Since then, I got very keen on visiting the place and this is how I managed to do so over the last Easter break.

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Getting there is not easy. Firstly, only 10 visas for foreigners are granted per day. Secondly, it’s not a place where you just go and find accommodation. You need an invitation from one of the 20 monesteries on the peninsula which can only be reached by boat.

I got all that sorted out with the precious help of my girlfriend and with the company of a Greek friend of mine without which my travelling would have been a lot more complicated.

We met in Thessaloniki and we drove for a couple of hours to Ouranoupoli where we needed to get our visas. Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamonētērion, a form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries. Clergy of the Orthodox Church are required to obtain permission of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

For laymen there are generally two kinds of diamonētēria: the general diamonētērion that enables the visitor to stay overnight at any one of the monasteries but only to stay in the mountain for several days (more in winter, when there are fewer visitors, than in summer), and the special diamonētērion which allows a visitor to visit only one monastery or skete but to stay as many days as he has agreed with the monks. Well, at least on paper… When I was asked my religion I replied “atheist.” The guy at the office didn’t really like that and to cut a long story short I just asked him to put “catholic” on the document in order to avoid any further discussion.

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So we get on the boat to Daphni where our short journey will be begin.

To be continued…