Believe it or not, but beside men’s toilets, gentlemen’s clubs and certain temples, there is actually an entire peninsula in northern Greece, now a semiautonomous republic of Eastern Orthodox monks, which for over 1,000 years has banned women from entering its borders.
Jutting out into the Aegean Sea, residents of Mount Athos are privileged in more ways than one. Covered in Mediterranean forest, the slopes of Mount Athos (also known as Holy Mountain) are home to twenty stunning monasteries and other smaller religious constructions with views over the coastline. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meanwhile the Athos mountain, from which the peninsula takes its name, rises up to 2,033 meters (6,670 ft). According to Greek mythology , the mountain was created when Athos threw a massive rock at Poseidon. While monks began to settle in Mount Athos in the 5th century, the Great Lavra Monastery was the first to be founded in 963 AD by the Byzantine monk Athanasius the Athonite with the support of the Byzantine emperor.
Mount Athos is known as the Garden of the Virgin Mary since Athonite Christians claim that the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist ended up due to bad weather. Mary seemingly fell so in love with its beauty that she asked that it be gifted to her. A voice then echoed; “Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved.”
Paper icon entitled “Descending of Virgin Mary on the Mount Athos” depicting the mythical arrival of the Virgin Mary to Mount Athos. (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art Studies / CC BY-ND 4.0 )
But if you’ve started packing your bags in search of deliverance, there is one proviso. Although Mount Athos is part of the European Union and subject to EU law, which should function to defend the right to gender equality, it’s only open to men with a special permit issued by the Mount Athos Pilgrims’ Bureau and according to strict quotas (100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox visitors per day). If you’re wondering why, Graham Speake, author of Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise , told the BBC that “this was the simplest way… to ensure celibacy.”
The prohibition of entry for women is known as avaton and they are not even allowed within 500 meters (1640 ft) of the coastline. The fact that children under 18 are also banned, along with eunuchs, really makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be easier for the monks to simply keep their libidos under control. In the age of gender fluidity, the whole concept seems obsolete.
This exclusion doesn’t just exist in the world of humans. Even female domestic animals are banned, such as cows and chickens. They did however make an exception for cats, in order to catch mice of course. Wild animals are also exempt from the rules, as are Russian despots, as evidenced by the warm welcome Putin has received in recent years.
Top image: Women have been banned from the paradisiacal Mount Athos for over 1,000 years. Source: Alexey Achepovsky / Adobe Stock
By Cecilia Bogaard