Many monks on Mount Athos support themselves by carrying on the long Byzantine tradition of icon painting, with gold leaf.
Mount Athos is the bastion of Eastern Christianity, the repository and protector of the Orthodox Church and the continuation of traditional medieval Byzantine civilization. Visitors are strictly controlled to this rugged, remote and reclusive monastic state, – reserved for those who seek religious sanctity and salvation. Accessible only by water, there is only one official way to enter Mount Athos, by boat from Ouranopoli, on the eastern peninsula of Khalkidiki in northern Greece.
The Virgin Mary, accompanied by John the Evangelist, was on her way to visit Lazaros in Cyprus when a storm swept her ship onto the shores of Mt. Athos, and The Holy Mountain became consecrated “as the inheritance and the garden of the Mother of God, and a paradise and haven of salvation”. For over 1,000 years, even female animals were forbidden on Mount Athos. Only recently were exceptions made for female cats and chickens.
Athos was originally called Akte, after a Thracian giant who hurled the mountain at Poseidon in a clash between gods and giants. In another version of the myth, Poseidon was victorious and buried the rebellious giant Athos under the great rock, whose pyramid shaped summit rises sheer from the sea more than 2,000 metres. According to another legend Deinocrates, the architect of Alexander the Great, wanted to transform the whole of Mt. Athos into an immense figure of the Macedonian king. The sculptured effigy was to hold in one hand a city swarming with people, while from the other a copious stream of water would gush towards the sea as a continuous libation to the gods. Alexander declined, presumably because he did not want to appear as arrogant as the Persian King, Xerxes, who, in 481 B.C., cut a canal through a narrow neck of land at the root of this sixty kilometer-long peninsula. Xerxes wanted to avoid the stormy waters round Cape Akrothoos which earlier had sunk the ships of his general, Mardonius.