The semi-autonomous country in Europe where women and all-female life forms are banned entry

Team Udayavani, Sep 24, 2021, 3:05 PM IST


The Monastic Republic of Mount Athos also called the Autonomous Monastic Republic of the Holy Mountain is a country within a country.

It is based on the easternmost of the three protruding parts of the Chalkidiki peninsula in Greece where Mount Athos is located and hence is eponymously named the Athos peninsula.

Its population consists of male monks living in 20 monasteries and is ruled by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (presently Bartholomew I) – the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The peninsula and Mount Athos became the ‘holy mountain’ to the Eastern Orthodox believers after a story in their tradition which states that Mary, mother of Jesus, was sailing from Yafo (presently in Tel Aviv, Israel) to Cyprus when she was blown to the peninsula and was forced to anchor there.

Mesmerised by the beauty and serenity of the place she blessed it and wished for the place to be her garden.

Since then the place became the ‘garden of the Mother of God’ and accordingly all other women and female creatures were denied access to it.

The peninsula and much of modern Greece was part of the Byzantine empire and it was Emperor Basil I who in 885 proclaimed the Mount and the peninsula as semi-autonomous to be ruled by the monks and small monasteries near the Mount.

In 962, an Eastern Orthodox monk, Athanasius, built a monastery on Mount Athos called the Great Lavra and after its construction, the place became known as one of the centres of Eastern Orthodox monasticism.

Between 1342 and 1372 the monastic territory came under the administration of Stefan Dušan, the King of Serbia.

King Dušan’s wife Helena was allowed entry to the peninsula during the plague who avoided breaking the ban on the entry of women by being carried everywhere on the peninsula in a hand carriage without ever touching the ground with her feet.

The semi-independent territory kept its status after the fall of the Byzantine empire and the rise of the Ottoman empire.

The modern Monastic Republic remained a part of the Kingdom of Greece till 1974 and then the Hellenic Republic.

However, the ban on entry of women still remains.

This issue came into conflict when Greece joined the European Economic Community, the precursor to European Union.

EU laws mandate that member countries must treat all sexes equally without restrictions. But these laws were circumvented by Greece by adding a special provision to its application for membership that specifically stated that EU laws should not apply to the Mount Athos republic.

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