Port of Dafni
Review and History

The Port of Dafni is a village on the western coast of the Athonite peninsula in Greece. The Port of Dafni is about 118 kilometers (73 miles) southeast of Greece's Port of Thessaloniki and some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north-northeast of Athens' Port of Piraeus. The Port of Dafni is just under 200 kilometers (122 miles) west of Turkey's Dardanelles Strait.

The Port of Dafni is 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) south of Mount Athos, a World Heritage Site and the site of 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The community of Orthodox monasteries, sketes, and cells forms a self-governing monastic state within Greek Republic, and it is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Port of Dafni serves as a port for Mount Athos communities and as an entry point to the Athonite monastic state. In 2001, Greece's national census identified a population of 38 people in the Port of Dafni.

For purposes of this article, "Mount Athos" refers to the community of monasteries located there rather than to the geological mountain called Athos. Even though Mount Athos is the third of three legs that are part of the larger Halkidiki peninsula surrounded by the Aegean Sea, it is accessible by only one boat, the St. Eshpigmenitis.

There is a limit on the number of visitors that can enter Mount Athos on a given day, and all visitors must have a special entrance permit. Orthodox Christians have precedence over other visitors in getting a permit. Women are not allowed to enter Mount Athos at all. The only people that are allowed to live on Mount Athos are Eastern Orthodox males over 18 years old.

Mount Athos History

Greek historian and geographer Strabo told of five cities on what is today the Mount Athos peninsula around the time of Jesus Christ. Mount Athos was on Xerxes I's invasion route in 483 BC when he dug a channel across the isthmus of the Mount Athos peninsula to shorten the journey to mainland Greece.

Little is known of the life of the people who inhabited the area before the arrival of the monks who started in the 3rd or 4th Centuries AD. Legend tells that the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist was forced to land at Mount Athos when a storm blew their ship off course.

The story says that Mary was deeply impressed with the natural beauty she found on Mount Athos and asked her Son if it could be her garden. A voice answered: "Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved." At that moment, Mount Athos was consecrated as Mary's garden, and no other woman could walk there.

Recorded history begins for the peninsula in the 4th Century AD. During the reign of Constantine I, both Christians and non-Christians lived on Mount Athos. The Christian churches on Mount Athos were destroyed during Julian the Apostate's reign, and the Christians had to hide. During the reign of Theodosius I at the end of the 4th Century, the pagan temples were destroyed. In the 5th Century, there was still a temple dedicated to Zeus Athonite on the mountain.

Many Orthodox monks escaped the Egyptian desert after the 7th Century Islamic conquest, some of them finding Mouth Athos as a place of peace. They built wood-and-straw huts and gathered fruit for food.

The next recorded mention of the Mount Athos monks was in about 787 AD when the monks participated in the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. A famous monk, Efthymios the Younger, moved to Mount Athos in about 860, and several monk huts were established where he lived. The Archbishop of Crete built a monastery on Mount Athos during the reign of Emperor Basil I of Macedonia, and a third monastery was reported in an 883 document.

In 885 AD, Emperor Basil I proclaimed the now Holy Mountain to be a place of monks. No farmers, cattle-breeders, or laymen were allowed to settle there. In 908, the existence of a "First Monk" (a Protos) who was head of the monastic community was documented. The official borders of the monastic state were mapped in 943.

Athanasios the Athonite arrived at Mount Athos in 958, building the central church of the Protaton in Karyes. The following year, Emperor Nicephorus Phocas supported the creation of the monastery of Great Lavra which is the biggest and best known monastery of the 20 modern monasteries.

In the 13th Century, Roman Catholic forces undertaking the Fourth Crusade took over Mount Athos, and the monks asked Pope Innocent III to intervene. In the 14th Century, Catalan mercenaries raided the peninsula.

In the 15th Century, the Islamic Ottoman Empire conquered and replaced the ancient Byzantine Empire. Hoping to establish good relations with the Ottoman Sultans, the Mount Athos monks pledged their allegiance to Murad II in 1430. In return, the Ottomans recognized the sovereignty of the monasteries, basically guaranteeing their independence.

The following two centuries were peaceful and prosperous for the Mount Athos monasteries. At that time, most of the inhabitants were of Greek origin. When the Ottomans conquered the medieval Serbian state, Serbian monks came to Mount Athos.

In 1517, Sultan Selim I issued a religious opinion (fatwa) and an Imperial Edict (Hatt-i-Sharif) that decreed the rebuilding of any burned or damaged place where the Holy Gospel is preached. He also financed some renovations and the construction of new areas in the Xiropotamou monastery.

Although the Ottomans left the monasteries, for the most part, on their own, they levied heavy taxes and occasionally seized land from them. These actions created an atmosphere of economic disaster for the monasteries during the 17th Century.

To adapt to the new environment, the monasteries changed their traditional communal lifestyle to the "idiorrhythmic" style where monks in the communities could hold private property, work for themselves, and acquire their own food and personal items, dining in their cells rather than in a communal dining area. Only a few monasteries adopted these changes at first, but by the mid-18th Centuries, all monasteries had made these changes.

The Mount Athos monastic community played an important part in the 18th Century Greek Enlightenment movement through the establishment of the Athonite Academy in 1749. The Academy taught ancient philosophy as well as modern physical science.

Large donations by royalty from Russian, Wallachia, Moldavia, and Serbia helped the monasteries survive during a period of decline over the next 200 years. In the 19th Century, the patronage of the Russian government did much to revitalize them, leading to a growth in population throughout the latter 19th Century. Monastic population reached a peak in 1902 with more than seven thousand monks living at Mount Athos.

The First Balkan War forced the Ottomans out of Mount Athos in 1912, and Greece claimed Mount Athos through the 1913 Treaty of London. The treaty, however, had many faults, and the Second Balkan War arose in 1913. Attempting to influence religious issues, the Russian fleet took the Archbishop of Vologda to Mount Athos to change the monks' beliefs. Russian troops intervened as well. After World War I, a diplomatic conflict between Russian and Greece was finally settled, and Mount Athos came under Greek sovereignty.

According to several international treaties dated from 1913 to 1923, Mount Athos was recognized as "the self-governing region of the Holy Mountain" on territory belonging to the Kingdom of Greece. The Greek Parliament ratified the Constitutional Charter of the Holy Mountain, confirming the 972 Imperial Edict of Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Tzimisces.

Today, Mount Athos is a self-governed part of the Greek state containing 20 monasteries that make up a Holy Community. The capital town and administrative center of Karyes is home to the governor, a representative of the Greek state. The independent status of Mount Athos was further ratified when Greece was admitted to the European Union.

The monasteries of Mount Athos reached a low point in 1971 when just over one thousand elderly monks lived there. Since that time, the monastic community has undergone steady renewal. By 2000, over 1600 monks made up the community, with many of the newcomers being well-educated, young monks. By 2009, almost two thousand monks had made their homes on Mount Athos.

The new monks bring higher education and more modern skills, enriching the community by cataloging and restoring Mount Athos' considerable collection of vestments, manuscripts, liturgical objects, icons, and works of art. The work, funded by UNESCO and the European Union and assisted by academic institutions, the work is expected to continue for several decades.

Mount Athos Today

Governed by the "Holy Community," Mount Athos' Civil Governor represents Greek authorities. Mount Athos is under the direct spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (the Archbishop of Constantinople). Having returned to the traditional communal coenobitic lifestyle, each of the 20 monasteries is administered by an Abbot elected for life by the brotherhood. Residences outside the monasteries (hermitages, huts, retreats, cells, and sketes) are dependencies of the monastery where they are located.

Anyone leading a monastic life in Mount Athos automatically becomes a Greek citizen upon admission as a monk or novice. While laymen can visit the area, they must have a special permit to do so. Of the 20 monasteries at Mount Athos, 17 are populated mainly by brothers of Greek origin. Three of the monasteries are dominated by brothers from other cultures who became Greek subjects. These include a Serbian, a Bulgarian, and a Russian Monastery. Most of the sketes are populated by ethnic Greeks, although two are Romanian, and one is Bulgarian.

Visitors usually enter Mount Athos by ferry from Ouranoupoli (to the west) or Ierrisos (to the east). Passengers must have a diamoneterion (a type of visa) before boarding the ferry. Most diamoneterion allow visitors to stay in a given monastery for one night and to limit the visit to three days. A special diamoneterion allows a visitor to stay at one monastery or skete as long as agreed with the monks there.

Most visitors come to Mount Athos through the Port of Dafni from which the only paved road leads to Karyes. Others take another small boat to monasteries further along the coast. A public bus and monks operate expensive taxis between the Port of Dafni and Karyes.

Women may not enter Mount Athos because their presence changes the social dynamics of the Holy Community and slows the monk's path to spiritual enlightenment. Historically, Mount Athos has sheltered refugees that included women: after the Orlov Revolt in 1770, during Greece's 1821 War of Independence, and during World War II when Jewish families were allowed on Mount Athos.

Aside from the 20 monasteries, monks have other living situations in Mount Athos worth noting. A cell is a house where up to three monks live under the supervision of the monastery. Some of the cells are small farmhouses. Others are huts, and others recall Byzantine or Russian architecture of the 19th Century. Cells are self-supporting, and monks in a cell have assigned daily chores.

Sketes are small communities of neighboring cells and have existed since the beginning of monastic life on Mount Athos. The skete lifestyle contains elements of three monastic styles: hermetic, communal, and coenobitic. Over time, the term skete came to be used for the monastic settlements on Mount Athos that have internal rule that has been ratified by the Patriarchate.

Mount Athos has a temperate Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cold wet winters. Mount Athos is normally covered by snow from November to March, when the east coast is also enduring the north winds. Temperatures range from an average 5°C (41deg;F) in the winter to an average 26.5°C (77°F) in the summer. Precipitation at Mount Athos is limited to 500-700 mm (19-27 inches) per year.

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