The Holy Mount Athos is an autonomous and self-governed territory of Greece. It occupies the whole of the third peninsula of Halkidiki, about 50 km in length and having a breadth of 8-12 km covering an area of 330 square kilometers. In the centre of the peninsula of Mount Athos rise a long range of hills and mountains, culminating in Mount Athos itself,2,033m above sea level. The boarder of this monastic state, where it meets the rest of Greece, is marked by an imaginary line drawn from Francocastro on the western coast across to Cape Arapis on the opposite coast, passing close it the foothills of the mountain “Megali Vigla” (Megas Zigos).
Until the 3rd Century BC, many small Greek towns existed on the peninsula of Athos, principally colonies originating from Chalkida and Eretria. The most important of which were Sani, Ouranoupolis, Thisson, Kleones, Dion, Akrathos and Olofixos. Later, these towns declined or were destroyed.
Today on Mount Athos there are 20 monasteries, 17 of them are Greek: Megistis Lavras, Vatopediou ( Greek Cyprian ), Iviron, Koutloumousiou, Agiou Pavlou, Dionissiou, Xenofontos , Stavronikita, Gregoriou, Konstamonitou, Esfigmenou, Doheariou, Karakalou, Xiropotamou, Pantokratoros, Simonos Petras, Filotheou. One monastery is Russian (Agiou Panteleiminos), one is Serbian (Hilandariou) and one is Bulgarian (Zografou).There are also 14 skites and many kellia, kalives and kathismata.
Mount Athos is governed by the “Holy Community” a council of representatives from the 20 monasteries with the participation of the Greek State through its representative in Karyes, the capitol city. The executive organ of the “Holy Community” is the four-member “Holy Epistasia” headed by the “Protepistate”. Responsibility for spiritual matters comes under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, while matters of public order and safety come under the representative governor of the Greek state.