Photo Gallery Weary Greeks Seek Refuge on Holy Mountain

Women aren't allowed, and visitors are only allowed to spend one night in each of the 20 Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos, a self-governed peninsula in northeastern Greece that has attracted religious pilgrims for centuries. The debt crisis has led to a sharp rise in the number of guests seeking calm and solace there.
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Here, the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos. The "Holy Mountain" of Athos is a special place for Orthodox Christians. This almost uninhabited peninsula in northeastern Greece consists of almost 350 square kilometres (135 square miles) of dense forests and hills.

Foto: © Grigoris Siamidis / Reuters/ REUTERS
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The Gregoriou monastery: Legend has it that the Virgin Mary landed on the peninsula on her way to Cyprus and was overcome by its beauty. God then gave her the mountain on it as a gift.

Foto: © Staff Photographer / Reuters/ REUTERS
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Monks waiting for a ferry. Since the "Garden of the Virgin Mary," as the peninsula is known, is devoted to only the "purest of all women," other women are not allowed. At least that is the reason given by the monks who have ruled Athos as an autonomous monastic republic since the 10th century.

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Even female animals aren't allowed on Athos, except cats. Whenever EU officials try to make headway against the ban on women, the monks point to a Byzantine document over 1,000 years old that promises them eternal sovereignty over Mount Athos. The men there take no orders from the outside world -- especially not from the European Union.

Foto: Nikolas Giakoumidis/ ASSOCIATED PRESS
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A policeman on the beat in the monastic community. A real estate scandal shook the island in 2005.

Foto: Nikolas Giakoumidis/ ASSOCIATED PRESS
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In late 2005, the head of the Vatopedi monastery (shown here), Abbot Efraim, reached a dubious deal with the the government led by Kostas Karamanlis: a lake in the northeast of Greece which supposedly belonged to the Vatopedi monastery was swapped for valuable government-owned buildings. The sale of the buildings earned the monastery €100 million ($129 million). Abbot Efraim, newspapers later wrote, had performed the feat of transforming "air and water into pure gold."

Foto: © Grigoris Siamidis / Reuters/ REUTERS
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Here, a monk with a mobile phone. Despite such modern trappings, the monks live in another era. They continue to swear an oath to the Byzantine emperor, and they still live by the Julian calendar. In Dafni, the only port, flying next to the Greek flag is also one belonging to the Byzantine Empire, which came to an end 559 years ago.

Foto: © Grigoris Siamidis / Reuters/ REUTERS
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Simonos Petras, a monastery on the western coast of the peninsula: The architecture resembles that of Tibetan monasteries.

Foto: © Staff Photographer / Reuters/ REUTERS
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