Athos or Holy Mount, (max elevation 2,033 m), a mountain on the farthest east peninsula of the three Halkidiki peninsulas, site of numerous monasteries (10th-15th century), forming an autonomous, monastic republic under Greek sovereignty, provincial capital Karyai.
At the end of the 12th century, Mount Athos became a centre of hermits. They had a rule (typical) approved by the Emperor of the East, Constantine Monomachos (1042-1055). Access by women and female animals to the Holy Mount was prohibited.
The monks, divided in Cenobites, who lived as a commune, each with their own rhythm, following one rule in particular, and leading a life of strict sacrifice. In the 15th century, the age of maximum monastic development, Athos counted thirty convents with a thousand monks each; today it counts twenty, those being Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Serb, with some thousands of monks of the Orthodox rite. Constructed throughout different ages (the largest one, the Russico, was constructed in the 19th century), the monasteries of Mount Athos enjoy administrative autonomy as a privilege recognized by the Turks and confirmed in 1927.
The constructions stand scattered along the coast, rooted on the hills. Each convent, surrounded by fortified walls, includes a church and different chapels, all in the Byzantine style, decorated with multicoloured combinations of bricks, stones and majolica set in the walls. The domes are covered in smooth or unraveled lead plates. Inside are precious mosaics, frescoes, rich goldsmith art, wooden sculptures (Grande Laura, monasteries of Vatopedi, of Dochiario, of Dioniso, etc), and important enameled settings. The monasteries also possess a rich collection of manuscripts (nearly 11,000), of illuminated codes, of imperial seals, and of written inscriptions.
KARYES: At the centre of the Athos peninsula, built in the 9th century, immersed in nature and used as the capital of the monastic state Kariès. The temple of Protàtou (Sommo) is its symbol, seeing that the name comes from Pròtos (Primo - Sommo), and the oldest church, Oros (built at the beginning of the 10th century) and belongs to all the monasteries of Athos. Behind the temple is a bell tower built by Sommo (High Priest) Serafeìm in 1534, and facing it is located the palace of the Holy Community, site of legislative and administrative services. To the north-east extremity is the hermitage of Aghios Andreas used as the Anthonian Heiratic School (in the last seventy years, hundreds of young people have begun their course of preparation for a monastic or clerical life). They are part of Karyès and Konàkia, a portrayal of 19 monasteries, state service buildings, cells, laboratories and stores.