Mount Athos is considered an autonomous region with monasteries located on the Halkidiki peninsula in Greece. The monasteries here were built in 800 AD. Today, the island still exists 20 ancient monasteries, large and small, with 2,000 Eastern Orthodox monks from Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia. They live an ascetic life, isolated from the outside world.
Although part of the European Union, Mount Athos is a fully autonomous region. All activities of freedom of movement and trade in goods are prohibited on this sacred mountain, unless licensed. Some of the regulations on Mount Athos are strange to many people, like a monk’s day that begins at sunset. But the strangest thing is probably the law that forbids women from setting foot on the Halkidiki peninsula.
For more than 1,000 years, women are still forbidden to be placed on Mount Halkidiki. In addition, the female breeds of animals such as cows, dogs and goats are also not allowed to appear here. Only birds and insects are exempt from this rule.
Only men of good faith and good manners are allowed to visit Mount Athos, attend monastic ceremonies, eat with the monks and spend the night in one of the monasteries on the mountain. The only way for female tourists to visit this area is to watch from afar during a train tour.
The monks are allowed to grow beards, wear black robes all their lives, and eat self-sufficient food on the island every day. They live in a clean and tidy place and have their own car. Every day the monks sang hymns, performed Masses and prayed. When the sun went down the mountain, the bell rang, the monastery gate was closed, no one was allowed in.
According to the monks, the complete absence of women on the mountain makes them live more serenely and comfortably. They seem to believe that women can transform society only towards pure teachings. The only image of women that the monks accept and revere is the Virgin Mary.
Local legend has it that the Virgin Mary was sailing in a boat when a storm pushed her boat to the sacred mountain of Athos. When the boat landed, she evangelized and converted the locals on the Halkidiki peninsula.
Years later, the monks became more and more reverent and committed to worshiping Mary. They did not want other women to tarnish the image of the Virgin Mary, so they enacted a law banning women from entering the area. Until now, Mary is still the only female image allowed on the island.
Although the law banning women has been accepted for the past few centuries, it has caused controversy in recent times. As part of the Christian gender equality movement, many of these women now claim that they have a religious and political right to set foot on the sacred mountain of Athos.
Many women have gathered on social media as well as politically campaigning to call for the lifting of the ban on Halkidiki Island. In 2003, a resolution of the European Parliament condemned the ban on violations of gender equality and the freedom of movement of citizens on the continent.
Nausicaa M. Jackson, a member of the group “Let Women Visit Mount Athos” on Facebook, said: “Mount Athos is a special place for all believers and women blessed by God. granted a privilege through Mary, but Mount Athos today is an anti-Christian place.
“I have to pay taxes to repair and maintain these monasteries and I have equal rights as men. I don’t see any reason why I and other women should not be allowed to go to Mount Athos,” said Greek professor Eleni Chontodolou.
Even so, the monks of Mount Athos argue that they do not see the ban on women as a matter of gender equality, but call it loyalty. Monk Dositej Hilandarac at Hilandar monastery explained they have no problem with women. The ban simply stemmed from the monasteries on Mount Athos built under the Avaton law, which forbade women to visit this sacred mountain.
Despite the ban, some women were given special privileges to visit Mount Athos. Women and children were regularly welcomed on the island during times of war and epidemics. In 1347, Serbian Queen Jelena Kantakuzin sought asylum on this sacred mountain, and the Serbian princess Mara Brankovic was also allowed to visit some of the monasteries there.