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Mount Athos

Mount Athos is a mountain and a peninsula in northern Greece called Άγιο Όρος (Ayio Oros or "Holy Mountain") in Modern Greek, or Άγιον Όρος (Hagion Oros) in Classical Greek. It is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty. Only monks are allowed to live on Athos and the current population numbers around 1,400. The peninsula, the easternmost "leg" of the larger Chalkidiki peninsula, protrudes into the Aegean Sea for some 60 km at a width between 7 to 12 km and covers an area of about 390 km², with the actual Mount Athos and its steep, densely forested slopes reaching up to 2,033 m.

The seas around the end of the peninsula can be dangerous. Xerxes I had a channel excavated across the isthmus to allow the passage of his invasion fleet in 483 BC.

Mount Athos as a monastic community was formally founded in 963, when the monk Athanasios established the monastery of Great Lavra, still the largest and most prominent of the 20 monasteries. It enjoyed the protection of the emperors of the Byzantine Empire during the following centuries and its wealth and possessions grew considerably. The Fourth Crusade in the 13th century brought new Roman Catholic overlords which forced the monks to seek protection from Pope Innocent III, until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. It was raided by Catalan mercenaries in the 14th century, a century that also saw the theological conflict over the hesychasm practised on Mount Athos and defended by Gregory Palamas.

The Byzantine Empire collapsed in the 15th century and the newly established islamic Ottoman Empire took over. They heavily taxed the monasteries, but for the most part left them alone. The population of monks and their wealth declined over the next centuries, but was revitalised around the 19th century by the donations and new arrivals from other Eastern Orthodox countries, such as Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia and each country came to exert its influence on individual monasteries. In 1912, during the First Balkan War, the Ottomans were forced out and after a brief conflict between Greece and Russia over sovereignty, the peninsula formally came under Greek sovereignty after World War I.

Politically the peninsula is mostly self-governed and consists of 20 main monasteries and the capital city and administrative centre, Karyes, also home to a governor as the representative of the Greek state. Beyond the monasteries there are 12 sketae, smaller communities of monks, as well as many (solitary) hermitages throughout the peninsula. Visits to the peninsula are possible for laymen, but they need special permission.

Women are completely barred from the peninsula, a fact which has earned a certain amount of fame; even female domestic animals (with the exception, some say, of cats) are forbidden. However, during the Greek Civil War, Athos did shelter refugees including women and girls. [1]

Contemplated postage stamp issue

In the winter of 1915 - 1916 the allied forces were considering the occupation of te Holy mountain. In antispation of this they prepared a set of stamps which were intended for issue on the 25 January 1916 for the use of the Governing bodyof the Monastic Republic.

These stamps were produced in sheets of 12, (3 rows of 4), on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Six values were produced with values ranging to one shilling and all were printed in black but on various diffrent paper types.

The design of these stamps consisted of a square boarder with the name MOUNT ATHOS at the bottom in English, the left in Russian and on the right in Greek. At the top was in inscribed THEOCRACY. The denomination appeared at each corner with the English in the lower corners, Greek in the top left and Russian in the top right. The inner section showed a double headed Byzantine eagle with the effigy of the Madonna and child in an oval on its breast.

These stamps have no official status but fall into the category of prepared for use but not issued.

Two points of intrest arise with these stamps..

Firstly they are the only issue to bear the currency and alphabets of three diffrent languages.

Secondly they are the only issue to be produced on a warhip in a time of war.

External link

Mount Athos: The Holy Mountain - History, culture, geography and visiting information