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Unique Film Locations: Mount Athos, Greece

Written on June 10, 2017

Mount Athos

Mount Athos is an autonomous Orthodox Christian polity existing within Greece under the official name Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. It is one of the world’s last theocratic states.

Mount Athos is home to 20 Orthodox Christian monasteries, 17 of which are Greek, 1 Bulgarian, 1 Serbian, and 1 Russian.

Some of the monasteries on Mount Athos look like medieval fortresses, others are so large they resemble small cities. The list of the monasteries is as follows: Great Lavra, Vatopedi, Iviron, Helandariou, Dionysiou, Koutloumousiou, Pantokratoros, Xeropotamou, Zografou, Docheiariou, Karakalou, Filotheou, Simonos Petras, Agiou Pavlou, Stavronikita, Xenophontos, Osiou Grigoriou, Esphigmenou, Agiou Panteleimonos, and Konstamonitou.

Karoulia is home to hermit monks who live in caves on vertical sea cliffs.

Some 2,000 Orthodox monks from all over the world, live in Mount Athos.

Monks live in monastaries, sketes, cells, huts, retreats, hermitages, and caves. They live a life of isolation, tranquility and dedication to prayer. Monks are self-sufficient. They work, grow their own food, make wine and Tsipouro (a local brandy). Meals are served twice a day, in silence.

Monks base their days on Byzantine time, meaning it is midnight when the sun sets.

Mount Athos has no newspaper, radio or tv. Although, monasteries do have phones and Wi-Fi enabled smartphones work on the peninsula.

Access

As a rule, women are not permitted to visit or be within 500m of the coast of the peninsula. Even female animals are banned (except for cats which keep rodents away).

Mount Athos hosts around 35,000 pilgrims every year. Laymen are permitted to visit, however, men not baptized into the Orthodox faith are generally discouraged from visiting.

Pilgrim numbers are controlled. Each day, 100 Orthodox and 12 non-Orthodox male pilgrims are admitted for a maximum three-night stay in one of the peninsula’s 20 monasteries.

To gain access to this autonomous state, you will need to apply for a visa from the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. This special permit is known as a Diamonitirion. For non-Orthodox men, this requires submitting a written application to the Pilgrims’ Bureau in Thessaloniki. If approved, the permitting process generally takes around a month.

Film or photography shoots are only allowed by invitation / expressed permission from monastic authorities. Gaining permission to film will require persistence and flexibility and may even take years to permit or be rejected altogether.

Once you have a confirmation letter giving you permission to enter and film, you can then travel to Ouranoupolis to exchange this letter at the local police for a Diamonitirion. Pilgrim visas are typically valid for 3 nights stay but if you are filming you may be able to work out a longer stay.

Once you have your Diamonitirion you will need to pre-arrange your monastery accommodation and reserve a place on the boat. There is no road access to Mount Athos. The official boat runs from Ouranoupolis to Dafni, with stops at some monasteries on the western coast. It is also possible to travel by ferry to and from Ierissos for direct access to monasteries along the eastern coast. Note, boats will only run if weather permits. Upon boarding the boat, a policeman will check your Diamonitirion against your passport. Once you arrive, your monk hosts will arrange to pick you up or you can arrange for a taxi. There is also a public bus between Dafni and Karyes which runs once a day.

Greece Production Service Support & Film Crew

If you are looking to film at Mount Athos, our local Greek fixer / service producer is able to assist with the permitting process. We are also able to put together a locally based shooting crew – director, photographer, videographer, cameraman – for the project. Contact us for recommendations.

* Please note, to maintain good relationships, our local team is only able to participate in projects that are respectful of the wishes of Mount Athos authorities.