Visitors to the Holy Community of Mount Athos, on a hilly, heavily forested peninsula in northeast Greece, will have to do without radio, television or newspapers. Nor are they likely to see paved roads, private cars or neon lights. Some places do not have electricity. Hot showers are uncommon.
And, most notably, there are no children and no women. Women have been barred from the mountain for a thousand years.
Mount Athos is an Eastern Orthodox "monastic republic" and a surviving fragment of the Byzantine Empire -- a fully functioning mini-state with roads, settlements and a capital city, all operating under a charter granted by the Emperor at Constantinople in 972. It's a time-warped place. Clocks are set on Byzantine time, which starts at sunset; dates are calculated by the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire, 13 days different from the modern Gregorian calendar; some settlements are supplied solely by mule teams; and the flag of Byzantium still flies. It's also a World Heritage Site, containing what is arguably the world's greatest concentration of Byzantine religious art and architecture.
Legally speaking, Mount Athos is an autonomous region in Greece with many characteristics of an independent state. Visitors must show passports or national ID cards on the way in and undergo customs inspections on the way out.
Psychologically and geographically speaking, it's a world apart. The peninsula on which it sits -- six miles wide and extending 35 miles into the Aegean -- terminates in the peak of Mount Athos itself, sharply pointed, bare rock, 6,600 feet high and dropping steeply into the sea. No road connects the peninsula with the mainland -- access is solely by boat. Scattered over this rugged landscape are 20 large monasteries, a dozen smaller communities, innumerable hermitages and about 2,500 monks.
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