Mount Athos, for men only
If actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson's beautiful Speech for Gender Equality has been seen all around the world, there is one place which will not take it to heart: the holy Mount Athos, in Greece.
Ruled the same way since Byzance
The Mount Athos is located at the easternmost "leg" of the larger Chalkidiki peninsula, in the Aegean Sea, in Northern Greece. It is approximately 50 km long and 10 km wide, and culminates at 2,033 m. In ancient Greek mythology, the peninsula was said to be the stone thrown at Poseidon by the giant Athos. For Christians though, it is referred for centuries as the Garden of the Virgin. There is no holier place for the Eastern Orthodox Church. This World Heritage Site is a spiritual centre which enjoys an autonomous statute since Byzantine times. In 972, the first Typikon (agreement) was concluded at Karyes between the Emperor Jean Tsimitzes and the monks of Mount Athos. And even though the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, Mount Athos hasn't changed a bit. It is timeless … literally. It is indeed the only place on Earth, using the ancient Byzantine time, where Hour 0:00:00 begins daily at sunset and not at midnight.
An architectural marvel
The "Holy Mountain" as it is nicknamed by Greek people is now home to 20 monasteries, 12 skites, and about 700 houses, cells, or hermitages. Each building has its own architectural style varying from austere medieval structures to huge complexes resembling colorful countryside villages. The jewel of the peninsula is without a doubt the Simonopetra Monastery which was built by Saint Simon in the beginning of the 14th century on a sheer cliff rising 230 meters above the sea. The monasteries of Athos are also a veritable conservatory of masterpieces, ranging from frescos by Frangos Castellanos at the Great Lavra to portable icons, gold objects, embroideries, or illuminated manuscripts which each monastery jealously preserves. Over a thousand long-bearded and black-dressed monks live in this beautiful and mysterious peninsula under the direct jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. But to be able to visit it, you will have to be over 18 and … a man.
Banned to women and children
Mount Athos is a spiritual place, and each monk living on its grounds has only one wish: to get closer to Christ. The peninsula is self-sufficient and recluses, who are constantly praying, vow to never leave the Holy Mountain, which has been invaded through the years but never destroyed. To keep the monks from distraction, the Typikon granted by the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus in 1046 and signed by more than 100 heads of religious communities, banned women and more generally all 'smooth-faced persons' from entering the mountainous region. As the peninsula is supposed to be the priceless gift that Christ gave his mother, Virgin Mary, the Orthodox doctrines state that no other woman should step on these grounds in order to fully honor her. This place of silence, devotion and isolation might be the only all men bastion in the world, but it is also one of the last living heritage of a time long gone.
How to go there?
Even if you are a man and over 18, it won't be that easy to explore the peninsula. The number of daily visitors to Mount Athos is restricted, and all are required to obtain a special entrance permit valid for a limited period, and delivered by the monks. Orthodox Christian pilgrims take precedence in permit issuance procedures. Once you get your permit, you can head to the peninsula by reaching the Northern city of Ouranoupolis, from where you can get a ferry. It takes around an hour to cross the Aegean Sea, if the weather allows it.