Mount Athos is a very special mountain and peninsula of Greece that is the home of a massive monastic community of around 2,000 Eastern Orthodox Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and other monks. This is regarded as the holiest of sites to the Greeks and one that has its own autonomous ecclesiastical administration (a bit like the Vatican but not an independent country).

There are plenty of holy sites and mountains around the world - like Adam's Foot in Sri Lanka which is holy a holy pilgrimage site to multiple religions on the island. In China, the Seda or Larung Gar monetary is the largest Tibetan monastery in the world and it is a dazzling sight.

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What to Know about Mount Athos

There are 20 monasteries and dependent settlements on the peninsula. The monasteries boast rich collections of artifacts, ancient documents, rare books, and artworks of great historical value.

Mount Athos' long Christian tradition and historical monastic traditions date back to at least 800 AD. It is commonly referred to as the "Holy Mountain" in Greek as well as other terms for "Holy Mountain" in other Orthodox languages.

The area is governed as an autonomous polity within the Hellenic Republic of Greece and is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

  • Designated: World Heritage Site Since 1988
  • Status: Autonomous Polity Called Monastic Community of Mount Athos

The region's special status was reaffirmed with the admission of Greece in the European Community (that went on to become the European Union). So while it may be a part of the European Union, in theory, the authorities on Athos have the power to regulate the free movement of people and goods in its territory.

The main restriction is that only males are permitted to enter. Here the monks' life an ascetic life being isolated from the rest of the world - and women.

  • Size: A 335 sq km (130 sq mile) Peninsula

It is the largest place in the world from which women (and even email animals) are banned.

Related: Stay For Free & Enjoy a Monks Life At this Scottish Monastery

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The Largest Area From Which Women Are Banned

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Banning women from the mountain is nothing new. This ban has been in place for over 1,000 years and this ban extends to anywhere within 500 meters (yards) of the coastline.

It is common to ban women from male-only monasteries - like the impossibly perched Katskhi pillar in Georgia (that being said at the moment all visitors are forbidden there - but if that ban was lifted, women would still be barred).

  • Women: Banned From Athos
  • Duration of Ban: Over 1,000 Years
  • Female Animals: Also Banned (Except for Cats)

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What makes Athos special is that the whole peninsula is regarded as one huge monastery - according to Dr. Graham Speake, author of Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise.

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One of the traditions of the place is that the Virgin Mary landed on the peninsula after being blown off course while traveling to Cyprus. The tradition goes that she like the peninsula so much that she prayed for it to be given to her and he agreed. So now the Virgin Mary alone represents females on Mount Athos.

Perhaps confusingly for most people, this even includes female domestic animals - with the sole exception of cats. The monks turn a blind eye to female cats as they are good mouse hunters.

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  • Penalty: Maximum 12 Months' Imprisonment For Women Entering

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A woman did sneak in in 1953 dressed as a man (called Maria Poimenidou). This sparked a backlash and the country passed a law forbidding women from entering the monastic region. The maximum penalty is 12 months' imprisonment.

Other Places Women Are Banned:

  • Mount Omine: A Japanese Holy Site For Followers of Shugendo (Where Men Test Their Faith With Strenuous Physical Challenges)
  • Sabarimala Temple: Women Aged Between 10 and 50 (The Age They Would be Menstruating) Are Banned From This Indian Temple

Related: Ever Thought Of Staying At A Monastery? You Can, And This Is What It's Like

Visiting Mount Athos

Firstly as already stated, no women are permitted to visit - only men.

The first step to visiting it is to submit a copy of one's passport to the Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau. There is a modest daily quota for male visitors permitted to enter - 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox male pilgrims are admitted for a three-night stay in one of the peninsula's 20 monasteries - according to the BBC.

Visitor Quota:

  • Orthodox Men: 100 Men Daily
  • Non-Orthodox Men: 10 Men Daily

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After being accepted, one boards the ferries to one of the two ports on the peninsula.

Also, the rule is that one should grow one's beard if one is going to Athos. In the past, there was even a ban on boys and eunuchs (this was out of fear that women could present to be boys or eunuchs in order to sneak in). Today they have relaxed that and boys are permitted - normally if they are with their father or another male adult.

Next: The Hanging Monastery: One Of The World's Forgotten Wonders

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