Henry Fanshawe Tozer.

Researches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 31)
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Xerxes and Alexander offered sacrifices on the supposi-
tion that it was the ancient Pergamos, and which was
reverenced on the same ground by many successive
generations. In the view from this point the most con-

Chap. II, Return to the Dardanelles. 49

spicuous object is the Rhoetean promontory, with tlic
tumulus on its side, which from very early times has
been regarded as the burial-place of Ajax. That posi-
tion was the one originally chosen by Constantine for
his great eastern city ; so that it may be regarded almost
as an accident that Constantinople, instead of this place,
became the second capital of the Roman Empire.

From Hissarlik we descended to the Dumbrek valley,
and from thence returned to the town of the Darda-
nelles by a more inland route than that by which we had


( 50 )



Departure for Mount Athos — Thasos — Cavalla — The Holy Mountain
— General Description — Vegetation, .Scenery, and Climate — Rigorous
Fast — Monastery of Vatopedi — Its Opulence — School of Eugenius
Bulgaris — Village of Caiyes — Exclusion of Females — The Holy
Synod — Monastic Dispute — Phases of Monastic Life — Revenues — ■
Numbers — Races — Pantocratoros — A Russian Dignitary — The Sand-

About midday, on the nth of August, we left the
Dardanelles by the Austrian steamer, intending to dis-
embark at the nearest point to the coasts of Mount
Athos, which was the next object of our investigation.
Shortly after sunset we were passing under the steep
cliffs of Imbros, and during the night we left behind
us the towering summit of Samothrace, the early seat of
Phoenician influence in the ^gean, and of strange
religious associations in the mysterious worship of the
Cabeiri. At daybreak we touched at the port of Lagos,
and during the morning were passing through the
channel between the mainland and the wooded heights
of Thasos. This island is described by Archilochus as.
" an ass's backbone, covered with wild wood," and the
comparison is still appropriate, for, unlike most of the
islands of this sea, it is still thickly clothed with trees,
from which emerges the gaunt but picturesque line of
the dorsal ridge which intersects it. The same idea of
the resemblance between a bare range of limestone
mountains and the skeleton of an animal is embodied in
the name Oneium, or " the ass's back," which is given to

Chap. III. Cavalla. 51

the chain that runs down to the Isthmus of Corinth ;
and the way in which these outHnes are formed, especially
in small islands, by the falling away of the earth from
the rocks, is aptly described in a remarkable passage of
Plato's ' Critias ' by the similitude of the decay of a

At 1 1 o'clock we reached Cavalla, where we left the
steamer. The position of this town is remarkably fine,
and in many respects resembles that of Cadiz, though
the ground is more elevated than in the latter place.
It occupies a triangle of land, which projects into the
sea with its apex towards the mainland, where it is
joined by an isthmus to the grand mountains that rise
behind. The Turkish walls by which it is surrounded,
together with the minarets, and the castle which crowns
the highest position, produce a striking effect ; but the
object which attracts the eye more than anything else is
the lofty Roman aqueduct, that crosses the low ground
of the isthmus with its massive piers, which support two
tiers of arches ; it is still used to convey water to the
city. Another mass of building which is conspicuous
from the sea on the western side, forming a long line
of walls and cupolas, is the great educational and charit-
able establishment founded and endowed by Mehemet
Ali of Egypt, who was a native of this place. This
institution was once productive of great benefit, but, like
most places of the kind when left to themselves, especially
in Turkey, it has been much abused, and is now of little
use. The great potentate always retained a warm regard
for his birth-place, though he never revisited it. Another
memorial of him is to be found in the numerous negroes

* Plato, ^ Critias^ p. ill. B. XeAenrrai St], KaOdirep ev Ta7s /xiKpaTs vrjcrots,
TTphs ra Tore ra vvv ailov voa'7]aavTOS aci/xaros oara, TzepuppriKvias ttjs
7^s ocrj TTULpa Kal jUaAa/cr), tov AeTrxoO crufxaros rfis x^fjos fJ.6vou Kii.(pQivTos.

E 2

52 Mount Athos. Chap. III.

who are to be met Avith in the streets of Cavalla,
having originally come over from Egypt in consequence
of the intercourse between the two places in his time.
A more important person whose history is associated
with this spot is St. Paul, of w'hom we read that, following
the same route which we had just taken, he went "from
Troas with a straight course to Samothrace, and the
next day to Neapolis," wliich was the name of the city
in ancient times. It was thus the first place where the
Apostle of the Gentiles set foot in Europe.

The Turks are numerous in this town, but they are
mostly poor, and their numbers are declining ; a con-
siderable amount of the wealth is in the hands of the
Jews. The chief product is tobacco, which is extensively
grown in the neighbouring districts. As the part of the
mainland opposite Thasos was famed in ancient times
for gold mines, Ave enquired whether any minerals were
discovered at the present day ; all, however, that we
could learn was that quartz is found all about Cavalla,
and that therefore it is likely enough that there is gold,
but that no traces of mines had been discovered. We
spent the day pleasantly at the house of our Vice-Consul,
Mr. Maling, and at nightfall embarked in a sailing-boat,
which we had engaged to take us across to Athos. After
tossing and tacking for a long time under the western
heights of Thasos, with plentiful experience of the light
and fickle winds of the yEgean, about noon the following
day we found ourselves approaching the monastery of
Vatopedi, which is now the largest and most important
of all the convents. Before we land, however, it may be
well to say a few words by way of introduction, and
then briefly sketch the general features of the Holy

The easternmost of the three peninsulas, which stretch

Chap. III.

The Holy Mountain.


like a trident from the coast of Macedonia into the north
of the yEgean, notwithstanding its important position and
striking internal features, does not seem to have risen to
much importance before the Christian era. On one occa-
sion it comes prominently forward, when Xerxes, warned
by the destruction of the fleet of Mardonius on its rocky
coasts, cut the canal through the isthmus, the traces of

Plan of Mount Athos.

which, notwithstanding the soil ^^•hich has accumulated in
the course of ages, are still distinctly visible. At a later
period the architect Dinocrates proposed to carve its huge
peak into a statue of Alexander. But the small towns
that fringed its shores never attained to opulence, and
are seldom mentioned in history. In Christian times,
however, this spot has gradually become the seat of a

54 Mount Afhos. Chap. III.

community, which is probably without a parallel in the
world. At what period monks and anchorites first began
to resort to Mount Athos, it is difficult to determine.
Several of the monasteries possess relics and ancient
works of art, which are described as presents from the
Empress Pulcheria ; some of them refer their foundation
to the time of Constantine ; and, though we may hesitate
to accept these statements, and though a large number
of monks seem to have come over from Egypt, when
that country was overrun by the Mahometans, yet it is
highly probable that hermitages and retreats existed
there at a very early time. It is in consequence of this
antiquity of the monastic community, and the freedom
both from attacks and from external influences which
their isolated situation has secured to them, that Athos
possesses so many features of interest at the present day.
Nowhere in Europe, probably, can such a collection of
ancient jewellery and goldsmith's work be found as is
presented by the relics preserved in the different monas-
teries ; nowhere certainly can the Byzantine school of
painting be studied with equal advantage ; and some
of the illuminated MSS. are inestimable treasures of art.
The buildings of the monasteries are, with the sole excep-
tion of Pompeii, the most ancient existing specimens of
domestic architecture ; and within their Avails the life
of the Middle Ages is enacted before your eyes, with its
manners and customs, dress, and modes of thought and
belief, absolutely unchanged. And it is no slight addi-
tion to the pleasure of a visit, that, in passing from one
monastery to another, you are surrounded by scenery
certainly not surpassed, and hardly equalled, by any in

This peninsula, which in ancient times was called Acte,
and now is known as Hagion Oros or Monte Santo, is

Chap. III. Vegetation. 55

about forty miles in length, running- from north-west to
south-east, and on an average about four miles broad.
At the isthmus, where are the remains of Xerxes' canal,
its breadth is about a mile and a half, and the ground is
comparatively level ; but from this point it rises in undu-
lations until it forms a steep central ridge, which runs
like a backbone through the whole peninsula. Towards
the southern end it attains the elevation of about 4000
feet, and then, after a slight depression, suddenly throws
up a vast conical peak, 6400 feet high, the base of which
is washed on three sides by the sea. From the central
ridge, lateral valleys and deep gorges run down to the
coast ; but the character of the ground on the two sides
of the peninsula is entirely different, the western side
being rugged and precipitous, while the eastern is com-
paratively soft and clothed with magnificent trees. The
vegetation of this part surpasses everything that I have
seen elsewhere : on the ridge itself and its steep decli-
vities are forests of beech and chestnut ; below this oaks
and plane trees are found, together with the olive,
cypress, arbutus, catalpa, and a plentiful undergrowth of
heath and broom ; in addition to which, as if the earth
could never tire of pouring forth her stores, numerous
creepers trail over the trees and hang in festoons from
the branches. The peak itself, to which the name of
Athos is now restricted, is, from its height and solitary
position, its conical form and delicate colour, a most im-
pressive mountain. It rises several thousand feet above
the region of firs in a steep mass of white marble, which,
from exposure to the atmosphere, assumes a faint tender
tint of grey, of the strange beauty of which some idea
may be formed by those who have seen the dolomite
peaks of the Tyrol. I have already described how its
pyramidal outline may be seen from the Plains of Troy

56 Mount Athos. Chap. III.

at sunset, when the faintness of the light allows it to
appear, towering up from the horizon, like a vast spirit
of the waters, when the rest of the peninsula is concealed
below. Nor is it a less conspicuous object from the
shores and slopes of Olympus, Ossa, and Pelion, on
the opposite side. From its isolated situation it is a
centre of attraction to the storms in the north of the
^gean ; in consequence of which the Greek sailors have
so great a dread of rounding it in the winter, that it
would be no unreasonable speculation for an enterprising
government to renew the work of Xerxes.

It may easily be conceived from this how exquisite
the scenery is. Such combinations of rock, wood, and
water, can hardly be seen elsewhere. The deep-blue
expanse of the yEgean forms a part of every view, and on
the horizon to the north and east appear the heights of
Mount Pangaeus, and the magnificent outlines of the
islands of Thasos, Samothrace, Imbros, and Lemnos.
The slopes of the Holy Mountain itself are dotted with
farms and monastic buildings, about which lie bright
patches of cultivated land, which have been reclaimed by
the hands of the monks. Perhaps the most beautiful
ride is along the south-east coast of the peninsula ; in
this part you are sometimes in the midst of brushwood
close to the sea, sometimes in shrubberies excluding the
sun, through which here and there you get peeps of
the ^gean far below ; from these again you penetrate
inland, from time to time, into dells filled with planes
and chestnuts, and embowered with creepers — a wilder-
ness of leafy shade — places which Shelley would have
delighted in ; from the openings in which the majestic
peak is frequently visible, its lower slopes melting into
purple haze, Avhile its summit assumes that unearthly,

Chap. III. Climate. 57

ethereal, lilac-grey tinge, which I have before mentioned.
The positions of the monasteries are singularly pictu-
resque : a few are built in secluded positions on the
higher ridge, but the greater number of them are situated
on the seaboard, either at the mouths of gorges, or rising
from promontories of rock which project into the sea.

The principal exports are wood, charcoal, and nuts, of
which last article a large quantity is carried to Constan-
tinople. The climate is healthy and the air extremely
fine. The monasteries which lie under the western pre-
cipices are much exposed to the summer heat, and on
some of those higher up the mountain snow often lies in
winter for several days together ; but on the whole the
temperature is equable, and epidemics are almost un-
known. It may have been owing to this that, in ancient
times, according to Lucian,^ the inhabitants of Athos
were celebrated for their longevity, being said to reach
130 years of age. In one or two of the larger monasteries
there are resident physicians ; but many of the monks,
partly perhaps from being unaccustomed to medical
treatment, seem to take rather a fatalist view of diseases.
At one place where there were lepers, I asked whether
they came to Athos to be cured. " No, not to be cured,"
was the reply ; "they get well whenever the Holy Virgin
pleases :" and on another occasion some of them said,
"We have brethren in the monastery who can treat slight
maladies ; the greater diseases we leave to God." We
shall not perhaps be far wrong in tracing here the influ-
ence of Mahometanism. But the same feeling existed
among the ancient Greeks as well. In the 'Odyssey,'
when the Cyclops at the mouth of Polyphemus' cave

* Lucian, 'Macrobii,' cap. 5.

58 Mount Athos. Chap. III.

enquire the cause of his ravings, they are represented as
saying, " It is in no wise possible to escape disease sent
by mighty Zeus." ^

My companion and I had spent a week in this 'inte-
resting place in the spring of 1853 ; but as there were
many objects which we were obliged to leave unseen at
that time, and many points in connection with the life of
the monks which we were anxious further to investigate,
we were glad to have this opportunity of revisiting it.
We expected to find that the number of visitors would
have greatly increased since our former stay, particularly
as a Russian steamer from Constantinople had begun in
the interval to touch on the western coast. We were
consequently surprised to discover that fewer travellers
come there now than formerly. At one monastery, when
we asked the monk who waited on us whether they saw
many strangers — "Oh! yes," he replied, "they come
from all the kingdoms of the world" — an instance of the
Scripture phraseology which not unfrequently occurs in
the monks' conversation : however, when we questioned
him more closely, he allowed that no one had been there
for two years. On several occasions, when we asked
Avhat they supposed to be the reason of this change, we
received almost identically the same answer, that they
could not altogether account for it, but they thought
" there was misfortune and poverty abroad in the world."
Eight years had sufficed to work numerous changes.
Many of the old superiors, whom we had seen in 1853,
were now no more ; parts of two monasteries had been
shaken doAvn by earthquakes ; other buildings had suf-
fered from the effects of fires ; and one monastery had
altered its constitution and form of government. We

^ voviaov S' ou7ra>s %.<jti Aibs fj.eya\ov a\eaadai. — Od. ix. 41 1.

Chap. III. Rigorous Fast. 59

noticed also, what to us was particularly agreeable, a
marked improvement in respect of cleanliness in the
rooms we occupied. In one respect our visit was some-
what ill-timed — for the day of our arrival coincided with
the commencement of a fourteen days' fast, which pre-
cedes the festival of the Repose of the Virgin, the strictest
in the year next to Lent. As the monks do not eat meat
even on feast days, we had not expected to have our
carnivorous appetites satisfied ; but we were rather dis-
mayed at finding that we could not even get fish — not
because the monks wished to make us conform to their
rules, for they gave us the very best of what they had,
but because they did not catch fish at that time. On one
or two occasions they paid us the acceptable compliment
of sending out a boat to take some for us; but the
greater part of the twelve days of our sojourn there we
subsisted on rice, eggs, vegetables, and wine. We had,
however, some compensation in being able to observe the
extreme rigour of an Athos fast.

The name of the monastery under which we landed,
Vatopedi (BaroTra/Stoi^), is derived, according to the
monks, from the legend that the Emperor Arcadius,
when an infant, having been shipwrecked on the coast,
was found miraculously preserved under a thorn-bush ;
and in acknowledgment of this, his father, Theodosius
the Great, erected the monastery and called it Vatopedi,
or " The bush of the child." The story is embodied in
an extremely rude and quaint woodcut of the monastery,
which was presented to us on our departure ; but in
reality there can be little doubt that the name originally
signified "The plain of thorn-bushes " (BaroTreStoz/), thus
describing the comparatively level ground on which it
stands. When we reached the shore we sent on our drago-
man to give notice of our coming, and ourselves proceeded

6o Mojint AtJios. Chap. III.

to bathe ; after which we also made our way to the
monastery. The forms with which a traveller is received
on his arrival are universally the same : after delivering-
his letter of introduction to the porter, who carries it to
the hegumen or warden, he is conducted to the guest
chamber, one of the best rooms in the monastery,
generally commanding a superb view, where he is regaled
with sweetmeats, arrack, cold water, and coffee ; and
when he is supposed to be sufficiently rested, he receives
a visit from the superiors and some of the more intel-
ligent monks, who, before they leave the room, inquire if
he would like to "eat bread." There are ceremonies
also which accompany his departure, though they are not
so regularly observed. These are the stirrup-cup or
" tooth-wash," as it is called {ifkyvohovTiov), a small glass
of good wine, and apologies for any omissions which may
be supposed to have occurred in his entertainment, offered
by the superiors at the gateway. Besides the visits just
mentioned, which are renewed throughout the day, we
had frequent opportunities, during our sojourn in each
convent, of talking to the monks in the courts and
corridors, or while we were seeing in their company the
objects of interest which they had to show ; and as both
parties were equally anxious to ask questions, the result
was that our life on the Holy Mountain became one con-
stant stream of conversation, from which we could not
fail to learn a great deal, not only of the system and
manner of life, but also of the feelings and modes of
thought, of the monks.

The monastery showed evident signs of being in a
flourishing- condition. Its numbers had increased of late
years, and it now contained 300 monks, together with
servants and dependants amounting to about as many
more. Since our last visit they had erected a hospital,

Chap. III. Monastic Opulence. 6i

and they were engaged in rebuilding the walls and
adjacent dwellings in one part which had been burnt
down. The strings of well-fed mules, too, which stood
outside the gate of entrance, suggested the idea of
opulence. As seen from without, its appearance is very
striking, from the vast extent of ground covered by its
buildings, which, like those of all the monasteries, are
enclosed by a high wall, and from the variety of forms it
presents to the eye, and the rich colours of its lichen-
covered roofs. Nor is the aspect of the interior less
remarkable, from the quaintness and variety of the
structures which surround the great court, and the tall
campanile, which rises by itself in the centre of it. It is
not my object, however, to enter into details about the
various edifices, as I hope to give a more minute descrip-
tion of one of the monasteries further on ; but the
principal church should be noticed in passing, as it is
certainly one of the most ancient on Athos. Although
in most of its architectural features and elaborate decora-
tions it is not distinguishable from ordinary Byzantine
buildings, yet there are two peculiarities which argue
a great antiquity. These are the mosaics above and at
the sides of the western doors, and the fact that the
eastern apse is polygonal instead of being semicircular.
When these are found, there is every reason for believing
that the structure to which they belong is not later than
the tenth century. The monks ascribe it to Theodosius,
but this, like most of their statements with regard to
events of high antiquity, is deserving of no credit. One
relic which it contains is the object of the greatest
veneration. This is the girdle of the Virgin Mary, which
appears to be of leather, as far as one can see through
the glass case in which it is kept, and is ornamented with
diamonds and numerous rows of rudely worked and very

62 Mount AtJios. Chap. III.

ancient pearls. So great is the fame of its miraculous
powers throughout the ^gean, that frequently, when a
city is afflicted with pestilence, it is sent for to restore
health to the inhabitants. There is also a cup of the
Emperor Michael Palaeologus, which is composed of a
transparent kind of cement, said to be made out of
twelve different stones ; it is supported by a metal stand
of some height.

When Prince Alfred was in the Levant he paid a visit
to this monastery, and the monks looked back to it with
great pleasure. Among its inmates, at the time of our
stay, were three Greek Bishops, one of whom, the Bishop
of Varna, had retired thither of his own accord, from
preference for the monastic life ; the others were in exile,
for Athos, among the other purposes which it serves,
is used as a place of rustication for refractory prelates,
who are often removed from their sees on very trivial
charges. One of them, the Bishop of Philippopolis, was
said to have been deprived by the influence of the then
French ambassador at Constantinople. I need hardly
tell my readers that the bishops throughout the Eastern
Church are taken from the monasteries, and not from
the ranks of the secular clergy ; it may therefore be
regarded, perhaps, as a merciful arrangement, that when
they are banished, they should be sent to the place from
which they came.

On the hillside, some way above Vatopedi, are the
ruins of an extensive building, which was the scene of a
great experiment on the Holy Mountain. It was a school,
founded in the last century by the enlightened Eugenius
Bulgaris of Corfu, in the hope of making the peninsula
in some measure a centre of learning and education for
the Eastern world. For some time it flourished, and
was attended by numerous scholars, but, like other

Chap. III. Village of Gary cs. 63

schemes of the kind in Turkey, it ultimately failed, in
this instance, rather on account of the opposition of the
more ignorant monks and an uncongenial atmosphere,
than from the remoteness of its situation. Any one who
has seen the number of students that flock to the Uni-
versity of Athos at the beginning of a term from the
neighbouring parts of Turkey, notwithstanding long
quarantines and other obstacles, cannot but feel that
such institutions are needed, and under more favourable
circumstances might be successful. Still further up the
mountain, in a sheltered nook, lies the Russian skete, or
community, of St. Andrew, bearing the name of their
patron saint. It is attached to Vatopedi.

The day after our arrival we proceeded on mules, lent

Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 31)