On the State of Preservation of the Holy Mountain

in view of the 32nd  Session of the World Heritage Committee, summer 2008


February 2008                                



World Heritage Committee


Α. Introductory

The Holy Community of Mount Athos has recently ascertained with satisfaction that motions of positive interest in regard to it have come forth at the level of the World Heritage Centre and in fact at the Regular Sessions of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, specifically at Sessions 28 (Suzhou, China, 2004), 29 (Durban, South Africa, 2005) and 30 (Vilnius, Lithuania, 2006). We note with pleasure the particular interest demonstrated during the visit to Mt Athos by the joint UNESCO - ICOMOS  - IUCN mission from 30 January to 3 February 2006, as a result of which Resolution 30 COM 15B.37 called upon the state Party to submit a progress report by February 2008.


The Holy Community of Mount Athos has repeatedly endeavoured in writing to bring to the attention of the Greek authorities the following, relevant correspondence: letters from the Holy Community ref. F.2/9β nos. 1501/5-18.8.2006, 2057/5-18.11.2006, 2246/2-15.11.2007, and 2314/14-27.11.2007. As, however, there has hitherto been no response, and it is not known whether the above-mentioned progress report has been submitted, and, if it has, what its contents are, the Holy Community submits the present Memorandum as a contribution to the general discussion by the directly concerned Mount Athos, in view of the 32nd Meeting of the World Heritage Committee in the summer of 2008*.


Β. The Particularity of Mt Athos and its Institutional Framework

Intervention in an area such as Mt Athos is entirely different from intervention in an ordinary monument of cultural or environmental heritage, for it must aim at the preservation and promotion, not of some part of it or only certain of its aspects, but of its composite whole, meaning, in the last analysis, of the spirituality inherent in its existence: a spirituality that created, cultivated, preserved and will hand down to future generations the unique Athonite unity of culture and nature in the form of a living and constantly evolving monument.


If on the contrary an intervention does not succeed in respecting and keeping intact the unique quality of the Mount, and furthermore in protecting, promoting, and - even more importantly - safeguarding the particularity of the Holy Mountain, it may in the end even have deleterious effects since it does not comprehend the true meaning of Mt Athos, while at the same time constituting a threat to what it has signified throughout the ages.


In the case in point, the parameters of preservation of cultural monuments and the natural environment are clearly spiritual. In a monastic community, buildings are the sites of man’s meeting with God, while the natural environment serves the spiritual elevation of the soul, which finds therein the sacred meaning given to it by the Creator. When man loses the sense of the holiness of creation, he acts as dominator. In a monastic environment, however, he acquires a discerning, preservationist attitude and a proper sense of ecological management, since asceticism is intended to cure the spirit of fallen man as well as preserve and, as far as possible, bring life to the rest of Creation, which, by reason of the Fall of Man, “groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8, 22).


The spirit of friendly coexistence between nature and man has been a constituent element and aim of monasticism from its origins, and has, throughout the ages, governed all aspects of the monastic life of the Holy Mountain, and typifies it in its survival to this day.


This unflagging faith of the monks has indissolubly and inseparably connected the material heritage of Mt Athos with its immaterial liturgical practices and traditions, so that daily life, nature, architecture, art, worship, intellectual life, institutions, administrative formations, exchanges and social activities should equally serve human needs as well as support the creativity, spiritual cultivation and the work of reconciliation, inherent in the effort of a monk – and of mankind in general – to grow in likeness to his Creator.


The dedication of the monks to these principles is proven to be resolute when one considers the impetus that has been evident on Mt Athos during recent decades, both in terms of human resources and significant activities. Numerous young people have sought and struggle to serve the millennial, sacred institution of Mt Athos, in the active transmission of insight and meaning derived from ancient buildings and institutions with regard to faith, liberty, respect for creation and the human person, solidarity, and genuine identity. This, moreover, has always been done combining the traditional with the modern, based on careful conservation and harmonious development.


Consequently, the notion of special responsiveness in regard to the preservation of sacred areas is consistent with the above concepts, as was also put forward in the framework of the IUCN Delos initiative, which we congratulate. We are equally in agreement with the view of the Culture Ministry’s Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments (document DΒΜΜ/ΥPPΟ**, 2260/5.6.2006) on the subject of moving away from the static notion of monument or of combined (cultural – natural) value to the dynamic notion of the cultural landscape.


This is also apparent from the report of the above-mentioned joint UNESCO – ICOMOS – IUCN mission, most particularly in the chapter of significant content entitled “Traditional management framework”, which aptly expresses the indissoluble combination of the Holy Mountain’s material heritage and spirituality, saying in effect that any approach to the long-lasting preservation of Mt Athos must recognize the priority of the vital character of its heritage, and incorporate the treatment of the natural coefficient within the framework of the preservation of the living traditions of its religious heritage - these being features which extend also into the form of governance valid on Mt Athos. It is of course natural that this correct stance could not be adhered to in the entirety of the report’s sections. However, the final observation concerning the form of governance directly introduces the commonly accepted fact that the crucial factor - which is also the instrument for the shaping, and at the same time the conservation and safeguarding, of the peculiarity of Mount Athos - is its special, privileged institutional framework of self-governance. The institutions of the Holy Mountain virtually identify with its very existence***, and are ensured by Article 105 of the Hellenic Constitution, the Founding Charter of Mt Athos, and the - ratificating it - Legislative Decree 10/16.9.1926. In regard to the issues here referred to, these are among others further complemented by Article 9 of Law 1198/1981 (the KEDAK founding statute), the Regulating Stipulation (Κανονιστική Διάταξη) ‘For safeguarding, maintenance and classification of the sacred heirlooms, libraries and archives’ (FΕΚ 321Β΄/8.5.1996), the Regulating Stipulation (Κανονιστική Διάταξη) ‘For the systematic exploitation and safeguarding of the Forests of the Athos Peninsula’ (FΕΚ 893Β΄/30.10.1995), the Regulating Stipulation (Κανονιστική Διάταξη) ‘For prohibition of hunting in the Athos Peninsula’ (FΕΚ 903Β΄/24.9.1996), the Regulating Stipulation (Κανονιστική Διάταξη) ‘Agencies / Organs taking decisions and giving expert opinions, and special regulations regarding works executed by the self-governing authorities of Mt Athos in accordance with its special form of government, and in harmony with common state legislation’ (FΕΚ 220Α΄/12.9.2007), the Special Regulation for the Port of Ierissos (FΕΚ 511Β΄/22.9.1987) etc., while all these are consolidated also by the Common Declaration in the Act of Adherence of Greece to the European Community of 1979 and the respective texts together with it, in which it is recognized that this special form of government ‘is justified exclusively for spiritual and religious reasons’. It should be recalled moreover that also in Article 2 of Law 3028/ 2002 ‘For the safeguarding of Antiquities and in general of the Cultural Heritage’ (FΕΚ 153/Α΄/ 28.6.2002), it is foreseen that ‘by the present provisions, valid special provisions concerning Mt Athos are not affected’ - meaning all of the above institutional framework. 


It is undoubtedly an omission that in the chapter of the state legislation regarding our case (Protected Area Legislation at the national level) the entire, above-mentioned fundamental institutional framework is missing, probably due to an oversight and deficient information of the compilers of the report.


In any event and specifically with relevance to the issues here under discussion, we will summarily touch upon the following as now valid:


Mt Athos is a self-administered part of the Greek state, which maintains its unaffected dominion over it. All public administration is carried out by the Holy Community and the Holy Monasteries; the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and spiritual supervision, whereas the Greek State, through the Governor, has supervision of the adherence to the institutions and the responsibility for public order and security.


The entire peninsula is in the exclusive possession of the Holy Monasteries, which also have complete rights of proprietorship, occupancy, and possession of the monuments and their heirlooms. The Holy Monasteries, under supervision by the Holy Community, have immediate and direct rights, responsibility, and competence for the safeguarding and protection of their monuments and heirlooms, in conjunction with the assistance of the public agencies. The forests and the natural environment of Mt Athos are managed, cultivated, and protected directly by the Holy Monasteries according to their own system - with the exception of the general forestry legislation - and there is a separate domestic Forestry Service (Ephorate). Hunting is absolutely prohibited, access to the Mount requires prior approval from the Holy Superintendence, and likewise prohibited is the approach to the coast (and thus fishing) of less than 500 metres.


There also exists a self-devised system for conservation of monuments and heirlooms in the care of the Holy Monasteries, which act as the agencies for the application of the measures and are the end-beneficiaries of most of the works. With a view to assist them in their work, the state initiated a Centre for the Preservation of the Heritage of Mt Athos (KEDAK), which necessarily approves all studies/plans and supervises or superintends the proper execution of the works. To KEDAK have also devolved the competencies of the ministries of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, Culture, and Agricultural Development in the region of Mt Athos. The activities of the Services of the above ministries are assigned them by KEDAK, which is consequently the sole agency responsible and not a party involved.  


The remarks made concerning the necessity for collaboration of all parties and all agencies in the conservation of the special institutional framework as an inseparable part of the Athonite heritage are in the right direction. However, the opposite pertains when this particularity is seen as an obstacle or a problem, or at most as requiring tolerance in relation to the promotion of the preservation of the remainder of the heritage: such an attitude has no place on Mt Athos.


In fact, the recommendation by the UNESCO committee for a cohesive approach by the Monasteries in decision-making is already legislated for in the Athonite polity, inasmuch as the Holy Community of 20 Representatives meets twice weekly at Karyes; the Body of 40 Representatives (Extraordinary Double Assembly - EDIS) comes together at least twice a year or more if necessary; while the legislative body of 20 Abbots Καθηγουμένων obligatorily meets twice yearly. All these Bodies are concerned with numerous issues, and certainly with such as regard the preservation and the quality of care for the Mountain’s heritage. Furthermore, the reinforcement of a cohesive approach on the part of the competent agencies in the making of decisions regarding conservation (as was, for instance, the case with the Most Holy Church of the Protaton), albeit presents difficulties, but is nevertheless desirable and required.


It is evident that for lack of the proper information the above institutional structure was not entirely taken into account in the course of the discussion on Mt Athos at the level of UNESCO. Mainly, however, at many crucial points the competent bodies and those directly concerned, i.e., the Holy Community and the Holy Monasteries, are absent, with negative consequences both for the correct information of the World Heritage Centre and for the proper and effective targeting of the recommendations.


C. Clarifications

At the 12th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Brazil (December 1988), upon a proposal by the Greek Culture Ministry, it was decided to include Mt Athos among the properties: areas - monuments of UNESCO’s World Heritage Catalogue of the World Heritage Centre, under Catalogue No. 454. This was in itself a positive step. However, Mt Athos not only did not participate in this process but was not even officially notified and was informed unofficially and indirectly. We take this opportunity to note that the IUCN evaluation dated 21.12.1988, regarding the non-exceptional value of the natural environment of Mt Athos, may at that time have been understandable given the data then available, but is no longer the case for the present day when there exist more complete data of scientific research - which we shall explain in a chapter below.


In 2003, the World Heritage Centre obtained certain information concerning the restoration works under execution in the Mt Athos World Heritage Property. In a letter dated 28.8.2003, the Centre requested further information from the Greek Delegation relating to the current restoration works, the implementation of the 10th EBA conservation programme, and the prospects for the compilation of a new comprehensive management plan, which was to include the natural sector of this Mixed Site. At the same time, the letter notes that in the course of recent years a number of reports had been received from the IUCN and other non-governmental organizations relating to threats menacing Mt Athos’ natural environment. However, at no time whatsoever was any of this made known to Mt Athos, so that it could provide complete and authoritative information.


The tragic fire of 2004 at the Chilandari Monastery provoked justified international concern, also expressed at the 28th Suzhou Session (Resolution 28 COM 15B.37), while at the same time a plea was recorded for the compilation of a new comprehensive management plan. None of this was transmitted to Mt Athos even in the form of simple information.


The Greek authorities’ report, dated 31.1.2005 relative to the efforts undertaken to deal with the consequences of the fire, remains equally unknown to us, as does the Resolution 29 COM 7B.32, which followed in the same year. This latter refers to fund-raising for the benefit of the Chilandari Monastery; provisions for the total fire-fighting protection measures and for earthquake preparedness; and, as well, to the decision to send a committee to assess the effects of restoration works and the perils of road-works, logging, and so forth.


We have also not been informed of the letter from the Greek Government of 16.1.2006, nor have the directives and instructions on how to deal with earthquakes, etc. (as per the document mentioned under ref. No. 2260/5.6.2006) as yet been communicated to Mt Athos by the Culture Ministry’s Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments.


The visit of the joint mission took place from January to February 2006 without any prior information or preparation. Mt Athos was not ready for the visit, resulting in deficiencies in cooperation with the Greek authorities and the members of the mission, who consequently were not always fully briefed. It is however noteworthy that a climate of trust and collaboration was nevertheless established.


The report in question and the resolutions of the 30th Session were at last communicated, but with considerable delay so that they were outdated. They were, furthermore, received only after a complicated bureaucratic convolution through three or four other Services, the subject of which procedure the Holy Community put in writing.

In all the preceding time, the sole contact with Mt Athos on this the matter was a communication (o

nce more with several months’ delay), dated 11.4.2005, from the WHC, routed through the ministries of Agricultural Development and of Foreign Affairs, in which questions were asked relating to logging on Mt Athos. To this communication a reply was sent, under ref. F.2/24α/1634/18-31.10.2005, including the following as a summary:


a) the question does not arise for clearing further forest firebreaks, since what was needed has been done; b) timber felling in the Athonite Peninsula is carried out in an exemplary fashion according to traditional practices, with respect for natural beauty and the unique landscape, constituting a model of management for the remainder of Greek forestry; c) similarly, and beyond the incorporation into the Natura network, the dangers brought about in other areas by parcelling out of building plots and grazing areas do not exist, and d) in a case of dire necessity, extensive timber felling was judged by experts to be unavoidable in the framework of the measures countering the chestnut-tree ulcer.”


D. Achievement of Goals

We shall attempt to set out below in brief some of the basic premises relevant to the issues that have concerned the Centre: first of all, two basic tools, the ‘Athos’ Programme and the actions of the Special Environmental Study, together with the Life-Natura Programme, followed by some other thematic entities.


The general recommendation of the WHC for the ‘immediate compilation of a comprehensive management plan based on assessment of the existing state of affairs, the traffic, the sustainable forest management, preservation of the natural environment and of the cultural landscape, management of solid and liquid waste and the dangers - principally of fires and development of a cohesive approach among the Monasteries’, has in fact constituted the goal and constant concern of the Holy Community for at least the last 15 years.


D.1. The ‘Athos’ Programme, KEDAK Programmes

In the mid-1990s, the Holy Community compiled a comprehensive programme of preservation and development for of Mt Athos, which was named the ‘Athos’ Programme. Based on studies carried out, existing needs, and the actions for protection and exploitation in regard to the total number of the Monasteries, the request for funds to cover the respective works was set at the sum of one billion euro, with a far-reaching time limit for its application (20 years). This programme, as to planning, supervision and coordination, was assigned to the Holy Community, while KEDAK is responsible for approving the total studies, made either by themselves or by private consultants upon assignment by the Monasteries as well as supervision and follow-up of works. This programme is far-seeing, complete, scientifically documented, and applied in accordance with the provisions of the Regulating Stipulation for ‘Agencies who decide and give an expert opinion, and special regulations on matters of works carried out by the Mt Athos self-administrating authorities according to the special regime of Mt Athos, and in harmony with the common national legislation’ (FΕΚ 220Α΄/12.9.2007), i.e., with the joint efforts of the Holy Monasteries, the Holy Community - as coordinating agency - and KEDAK. In the meantime, a series of very expedient technical infrastructures have been developed on Mt Athos, such as the Technical Services of the Monasteries and the Holy Community, and the Mechanism of Technical Support and Preventive Control of the Holy Community, functioning in parallel with the KEDAK Technical Service.


The first period from 2000 to 2006 was completed with funding for the first phase of the Programme in the framework of the 3rd Community Support Framework in the amount of almost 80 million euro, while at the same time significant mid-term KEDAK programmes were developed. In this initial period, works of immediate necessity were targeted, which in the main were of restoration. Works were carried out according to the approved studies and the rules of art and science, under the direction of the Monasteries’ Technical Services, the support of the Mechanism of Technical Support of the Holy Community, and under the supervision and superintendence of KEDAK, meanwhile under repeated controls on the part of the Control Units of the Special Management Service of the District of Central Macedonia at multiple levels, with very satisfactory results that were warmly praised. Remarks alleging that expenses are not controlled or that their outlay does not respect the values of world heritage, or follow the prescribed patterns are untrue. It must also be clarified that there is no question of control exerted by the Ministry of Culture as this competence is legally KEDAK’s. In general, nowhere does a problem arise relative to works under joint funding from the EU.


It must at this point be clarified, for the sake of history and exactitude, that, as appears in writing in our recent correspondence, the works executed on the church of the Protaton - specifically mentioned in the report - are the responsibility of the Holy Community, with its own funds, studies and supervision and with all legally foreseen participation of KEDAK, moreover in this case under superintendence by the Culture Ministry where the 10th ΕΒΑ (10th Ephorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities) takes part in relation to its expertise.


There furthermore still exists a serious problem of shortage of funds because of the very small size of the ‘packages’ in relation to the large number and extent of the works. This results in priority being given to the restoration of buildings - as these are vital for the conduct of the life of the monks - and works on environmental restoration being relegated to second rank although they are included in the approved studies.


For the next programmed period 2007 - 2013, Mt Athos has compiled a comprehensive programme and has foreseen further intervention other than for restoration, constituting Phase 2 of the overall ‘Athos’ Programme.

At this phase the programme has the following priorities:

-   The use of environmentally friendly renewable energy sources (sun, wind, water).

-   Construction of environmental and fire protection infrastructures.

-   Preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, its historical elements (footpaths, springs) and ecosystems.

-   Restoration and enhancement of the built-up environment of Karyes and Daphne.

-   Essential maintenance of the buildings of the Monasteries and their infrastructures.

-   Measures of intervention for the preservation and enhancement of the heirloom treasures.


In particular, regarding specifically environmental measures, the 2007-2013 Programme comprises these basic keystones:

- Energy: Transfer from energy-costly, counter-environmental and noise-polluting systems (e.g. petrol-fuelled electro-generators) to environmentally friendly renewable energy sources (sun, wind, water, etc.).

- Solid and liquid waste management infrastructure: Creation of environmental protection measures for solid and liquid waste management for the whole of Mt Athos. This measure foresees the treatment and exploitation of the organic portion of solid waste on the spot for each Monastery, the collection and disposal of the inorganic portion to a trans-shipment station at Daphne, the end conveyance of the compressed product to respective facilities of the Thessaloniki Prefectural Self-Administration, in view of the fact that the relative agreement has already been concluded, in accordance moreover with the incitement and expectation of UNESCO’s welcome recommendations. It furthermore foresees the creation of small liquid waste treatment facilities per each Monastery, as well as at Karyes and Daphne. The relevant study for management of solid and liquid waste has been elaborated and dispatched to the Central Macedonian Directorate of Environment and Physical Planning, for the respective amendment of the Central Macedonian District’s environmental plan, which is still pending. At the same time, the study for the rehabilitation of the previously utilized area of the Karyes refuse-dump has been elaborated and approved and awaits the necessary funding.

- Ecosystems: Preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, of its historical elements (footpaths, springs) and ecosystems of Mt Athos. To be specific, this measure includes the development of infrastructures and equipment for wildfire prevention and fighting by the clearing of firebreak zones, construction of water reservoirs in isolated spots, the installation of smoke-detecting and warning alarm systems, the supply of efficient and modern fire-fighting equipment, and communication, anti-erosion measures with works of torrent management and reforestation (without detracting from natural characteristics), reconstruction - enhancement of the historical elements of the natural environment such as historical footpaths, sources and springs.

- Transportation: Environmental conservation of the area in the Mt Athos vicinity listed as of particular natural beauty by the institution of an Ekistic Control Zone - the object of protracted endeavours on the part of Mt Athos - decongestion and relief of the passenger and tourist sea traffic from and to Mt Athos, with the establishment of a specifically designed Pilgrims’ Station at Ouranopolis (port and land installations).


The Holy Monasteries and the Holy Community are already preparing the necessary studies for all of the above interventions.


The Holy Community is in the course of negotiations with the Greek government for the funding and realization of the ‘Athos’ Programme Phase 2, outlined above. In particular, in regard to the ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, it has been requested to undertake funding for all of the above actions, while a substantial portion of works of a cultural nature will be funded by the Central Macedonian Peripheral Venture Programme.

A very significant plan and execution of works is in motion together with the above, of both environmental as well as of restoration and infrastructure, with direct funding through the Centre for the Preservation of the Mt Athos Heritage (KEDAK). It is within its exclusive competence to approve the whole of the works, exercise quality control, approve its environmental conditions, intervene in issues of structural sufficiency and risk mitigation etc.****


We may therefore remark that a major portion of the general and specific recommendations of the Committee’s report, and on virtually all basic points, interventions in satisfactory manner are being undertaken by the actions of the ‘Athos’ Programme Phase 2, 2007-2013, and by KEDAK’s mid-term programmes in course and in planning.


D.2 Special Environmental Study, Natura, Life et al.

Among the efforts, actions and measures for the preservation of the built-up and natural environment, Mt Athos has been incorporated in the Natura 2000 network, while maintaining certain reservations appropriate to its particular form of government. With this step the Monastic Polity recognized the efforts for protection of the natural ecosystems undertaken on a pan-European level, and declared its intent to participate to the degree corresponding to it in this effort. A concrete first and fundamental step in this direction was the elaboration of the Mt Athos Special Environmental Study (EPM), commissioned by, funded, and supervised by the Holy Community.


The EPM’s central goal was the cataloguing of the management measures necessary for the area under preservation - that is, the whole area of Mt Athos - with all the biotic and abiotic factors composing it, by means of the promotion of a model, compatible with the protection of the environment, of regional financial and social development.


The specific goals for preservation are:

·  Preservation, improvement and sustainable forest management of natural habitats and species of flora and fauna, especially such as are under protection by international agreements.

·  Establishment of principles and rules of utilization of natural resources in such a fashion as to ensure preservation of the species as well as sustainable forest management and completed utilization of resources and, with planning and development of a package of measures to lead to the preservation and protection of the natural and human environment.

·  Spatial planning with the objective of solving problems of conflict arising between the protection and the utilization of the area for productive or other activities.


a. Characteristics of the area

 The following are added mainly as a contribution to the 1988 IUCN evaluation.

The area has a varied relief configuration. At the centre there lies a moderately undulating range of hills with a gradually increasing altitude from sea level between 450 to 990 m, ending at the south-eastern edge at the altitude of 2,033 m, the mountain summit.


The rugged relief is complemented by lateral, more or less deep and steep ravines, alternating with less abrupt folds. 82.1% of the total surface area under study is at an altitude above sea level of less than 500 m (hilly formation), 14.4% is semi-mountainous (altitude 500 - 1,000 m) and only 3.5% is mountainous (altitude > 1,000 m). The sharp relief of the Athos Peninsula is due to the considerable differences of altitude from one area to the other and principally due to the steepness of the slopes rising virtually from sea-level.


Mt Athos’ flora is yet another characteristic of its uniqueness and particularity. The varied relief, with numerous gullies and streams, sheer slopes with diverse exposures and gorges, the altitude divergence from sea level to 2,033 m of the towering peak, the great diversity of rock formations and climatic types have contributed to and support a substantial diversity of habitats.


The flora of Mt Athos comprises 1453 plant species and subspecies, representing 539 plant genera in the area and 109 families. Of the above taxa, 26 belong to the Fern class, 12 to the Gymnosperm and 1415 to the Angiosperm class.


This diverse flora comprises regional endemic, Greek endemic, and Balkan endemic species, proliferating in sections of or all over the Balkan Peninsula.


The peninsular flora consists of 70% Mediterranean elements, 15% of elements of north-eastern origin, 9% Balkan, 4% Central European, and 2% locally endemic elements.


The biodiversity, and by extension the significance of the area, is demonstrated by the appearance of 58 important classification units. Among them 22 species are endemic in Greece (14 of them locally endemic) and 6 species are contained in Appendix II of Directive 92/43/EEC. 5 species are comprised in the WCMC and/or the European Red Data List, 10 species are protected by the Greek Presidential Decree 67/1981, and 3 species are rare in Greece and/or reach the limits of their geographic extent in Northern Greece. Finally, 6 species are endemic in the Balkans and the principal area of proliferation of one species is the Balkan Peninsula, extending also into Turkey.


On the basis of extant bibliography and in the floral wealth of the Peninsula in general, with special emphasis on the number of significant and particularly interesting species - such as the endemic, the rare and the endangered - the area is considered to be one of the richest of the Greek territory.


The Athos Peninsula is most important for the preservation of the ecosystems of stands of Quercus frainetto and Quercus ilex contained in Appendix I of Directive 92/43/EEC.


The area under scrutiny is characterized to an absolute degree by the predomination of forest ecosystems and, by extension, by all those natural processes ensuring their functioning / services. The forest vegetation cover of the area in question is dense, consisting mainly of chestnut forests in the central and southern section of the Peninsula, of hard-leaved evergreens, tree-sized, mixed forests of oak and chestnut and Aleppo Pine forests in the northern part. In the Mt Athos southern part there are spots of primeval forms of vegetation, with forests of beech, fir and black pine.


There have been recorded to date in Mt Athos 173 species of fowl fauna. Of these, 102 species are assessed as belonging to the reproductive type (seasonal presence), while many belong to the rare or protected species. Specifically, 29 species belong to the Red Book species, 40 are contained in the 79/409/EEC Directive, 134 to Appendix II of the Berne Agreement, 80 to the Bonn Agreement, 2 to worldwide endangered species, 23 with the principal volume of population in Europe and, finally, 43 are species whose principal volume of population is outside Europe.


41 species of mammals have been recorded in the Athos Peninsula. The majority concerns forest- or semi-forest living small mammals, particularly rodents. There are also 6 carnivorous species, and the larger land-living (herbivorous) mammals are boar and deer. 9 species of cheiroptera (bats) are recorded and 6 marine species (cetacean and seal). In general, of Mt Athos’ mammals, 22 species are in the Red Book, 10 of which are in the K Category (endangered), 9 in the TP Category (disadvantaged) and 3 in the S Category (rare), 24 are in Presidential Decree 67/81 (On the protection of the indigenous flora and wild fauna, determining the procedure for coordination and control of research on them), 18 species are contained in Appendix II, IV and V of Directive 92/34/ EEC, 16 in Appendix II of the Berne Agreement, and finally, 10 species are in Appendix II of the Bonn Agreement (one also in Appendix I).


The harmonious interaction in the course of centuries between the man-made and the natural environment is evident in Mt Athos. The species of vegetation; its structure and composition; the manner of its cultivation and general management; the method of harvesting forestry produce; the fashion of land reclamation and clearing of cultivable land, testify to the century-old symbiosis of Man and Nature on Mt Athos, in conditions peculiar to it and on mainly spiritual criteria.


The combination of the particular characteristics of the area’s landscape, such as the diversity of configuration of its terrain with a relief of multiple hilly folds, the special rock formations, the religious establishments with their specific architecture, the relatively restricted human activities and, finally, the effect of the position and agency exercised by Mt Athos, make the Peninsula one of the most significant lands of the Greek and European area. 


b. Functions

Productive function

The productive function consists in the productive capacity of the forests of Mt Athos. The area’s forests are characterised by a relatively high capacity of yield in diverse sectors such as timber, pasture material – irrespective of the non-existence of the processes of animal husbandry – the exercise of agriculture with traditional methods, bee-keeping, herbs and aromatic plants, as well as of water. All of the above, which also constitute renewable natural resources, are a valuable source to cover the needs of the monks in maintenance and subsistence as well as the works of restoration and up-grading of the Monasteries’ building complexes. They furthermore constitute a source of revenue, either for the monastic communities themselves or for the neighbouring local populations, mainly of the Halkidiki Prefecture, either directly (the labour force employed in the Monasteries) or indirectly (development of pilgrims’ traffic).


Protective function

Protective function is mainly focused on:

·  Preservation of the forest character of the area of Mt Athos.

·  Preservation of natural landscapes of especial natural beauty.

·  Preservation of the major number of plant species and particular formations of forest vegetation.

·  Preservation of the major number of species and populations of fauna such as boar, deer, jackal,  as well as of marine species, Mt Athos being qualified as a wildlife refuge.

·  In the hydronomic and fire-fighting measures of protection (protection and preservation of forest land, protection of the water supply of the springs, cultivation of forests consisting of flammable species as well as measures for development of a systematic control mechanism for fire prevention and fire fighting


c. Forestry management

Management of the Mt Athos forests was conducted by the monks under traditional forms until 1990. The non-intensive nature of the monks’ forestry and their prudence aided in the preservation of the forest


After 1990, the chestnut forests began to be managed and exploited on the basis of 10-year management plans, in which it was attempted to upgrade the unregulated re-grown forests to regular forests, resulting in a more rational management and exploitation.


The chestnut cultivation applied in Mt Athos was exemplary and was adopted in other Greek chestnut forests, in fact the particular method was named the ‘Athonite Method’.


Today our efforts tend in general to revert to the traditional way of ‘Athonite’ forestry management, which entails the absence of commercialized management – even with specific regulations – with the aid of compensatory subsidies drawn from special programmes and the application of sustainable forest management – viable development (thinning of all forestry species at regular alternating times, so that the forests should at all times remain tall, grown from seed and mixed, with the capacity of renewal of their species) with, in parallel, complementary felling – without commercialization – and for the basic needs only of the life of the monks (heating, constructions).


d. Man-generated effects

In regard to the man-made environment, the area is a special case due to the habits and behaviour of the monks. The landscape of the more than millennial history of Mt Athos has not been submitted to grave adulteration from human intervention. There are no major infrastructure works in the area such as high-speed motor highways, irrigation and sewer networks, major dams for the production of electric power or for irrigation needs. The sole infrastructures, extant in the region for over a thousand years, are the building complexes of the Monasteries and sketes (hermitages), which may be considered an extension of the natural and cultural environment of Mt Athos. In recent years, the most significant intervention in the Mt Athos landscape deriving from the human presence was the establishment of a network of forest tracks, for the most part dirt tracks of little width with simple and minor accompanying technical works. The necessity for opening forest road axes came principally from the fire-prevention measures for the protection of the Mt Athos forests, mainly in the areas consisting of grouped flammable fire-liable forest species.


The Monasteries are very serious about the application of their forest management. This sacred task or mission (diakonia) has been undertaken by monks with exceptional experience and intuition and who have carried out their work - as recognized with general esteem - so successfully as to have been named, by the scientific community of foresters - and by others besides - as ‘the forest rangers’.


It is in general apparent that the spirituality and calm way of thought of the Athos monks have been expressed not only in spiritual creativity but also in the management, exploitation and preservation of the Monasteries’ ecosystems and forests. It is judged essential that this trend should be maintained to this effect in the future too, so that the traditional - cultural element of the special Athonite management of forests and eco-systems should not be lost.


e. Proposed measures of environmental management

It is becoming clear that the general strategic goal of any management of the Mt Athos area has to be exclusively for the preservation of the integrity and authenticity of the site, as a place of religious worship and spiritual creativity. This goal consequently incorporates within itself and comprises the protection and preservation of both the specific cultural as well as the specific environmental values as a uniform whole, through the stages below, which are in principle guidelines until they should be finalized by the Holy Community.


f.  Evaluation of the natural environment

Evaluation of the area is from the point of view of both the values and risks of the natural environment as of their contribution to the financial, social and cultural development of the area. The indices potentially examined as criteria for evaluation of the natural environment are mainly:

·  Rarity

·  Fragility

·  Degree of disturbance

·  Representative character

·  Social and financial value

·  Extent size 

·  Diversity

·  Possibility of recovery and restoration

·  Landscape quality


Plant and animal species of the region are evaluated with particular meticulousness in combination with the dynamics of their populations. Also evaluated are the habitats of fauna and birdlife of the area, bringing about conclusions on the suitability and necessity of protection and management. The types of οικοτόποι (regions of ecological concern) found in the region are, finally, evaluated. The international agreements are taken into account when evaluating species and their populations, as well as the Greek legislation and the existing Community directives and regulations.


g. Objectives

Giving priority to the goals of protecting and managing the region is a precondition of the zoning and delimitation of areas. Specifically, three basic goals are served: the environmental, the institutional, and the socio-cultural.


The environmental objective comprises:

·  Preservation of significant types of habitats (vegetation) and species.

·  Rational management of natural ecosystems.

·  Diversification of the species, the intensity and the extent of production activities in relation to the degree of rarity, sensitivity and fragility of the ecosystems.

·  Systematic observation and control of development and preservation of natural ecosystems, as well as taking mandatory intervention measures relating to all functions governing the area (natural, cultural, religious environment and human activity).

     The institutional objective comprises:

·  Delimitation and formalizing of protected areas.

·  Establishment of a management agency with the aim of coordinating actions, control and realization of measures, as well as the organization of a system of follow-up of the results of the management of the protected area.

      The socio-cultural objective comprises:

·  Ensuring a sustainable forest management production process and exploitation of natural resources of the area (territory, hydro-capacity, forest produce potential) with the aim of preserving the particular environmental and religious parameters of the area.

·  Protection of the elements of the cultural and religious heritage.

·  Creation of infrastructures and undertaking of informative initiatives with the aim of sensitizing the pilgrims/visitors to the Mt Athos area.


g. Zoning

For the realization of the objectives of the area’s protection and management, the basic factor is the zoning and delimitation of sectors.


The protection zones are in the main for functional purposes: of organization, grouping and classification per site and time, so as to facilitate taking protection and management measures for the area to be protected. In each of these there are specific principles governing them, determining the constituent parts of the protection and management measures. The proceedings concern the entire area within the administrative borders of self-governing Mt Athos, including the marine zone of 500 m from the coastline.


i. Environmental Management Agency

For the attainment of the strategic objectives of management of the Mount’s cultural and environmental values, the basic instrument is the operational administrative agency, functioning according to the Communitarian and national legislation and the special institutional framework of Mt Athos.


It is noted here that at the International Working Meeting of the ‘Delos’ initiative at Ouranoupolis on 24-28 October 2007, data and basic principles of the Mt Athos Special Environmental Study were presented, and that in the ensuing discussion the instance of Mt Athos was deemed an exemplary approach to the management of natural areas, in the framework of the efforts for promotion of areas under management by local communities (CCA - Community Conservation Areas), while the intent of the Holy Community to establish a Management Agency under its auspices and with the participation of experts was especially esteemed. A positive reference to all of this was couched in the Conclusions of the Working Meeting to be communicated also to UNESCO.


 We consider that the recommendation on the part of the committee for greater involvement of the ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works has the meaning of processing in priority the proposals submitted to it by Mt Athos (Operational Environment Programme, Cohesion Fund, Life, etc.), for which there has not always been the necessary care.


We wish however to add that in the framework of the incorporation of Mt Athos in the Natura network - specifically in the Life Programme framework - the Mt Athos Holy Community submitted a proposal for rehabilitation of the aria tree and oak tree forests. The endeavour in question is specifically coded 03/NAT/GR/000093 entitled «Rehabilitation of coppice Quercus frainetto woods (9280) and Quercus ilex woods (9340) to high forests», which Mt Athos, in collaboration with experts and the Greek Biotope/Wetlands Centre applied with complete success as unanimously acknowledged by the competent controlling agencies of the EU, receiving praise, and qualitatively evaluated among the optimal top initiatives of the Programme.


The Holy Community has in fact already submitted a fresh proposal entitled «Application of best practice management methods in chestnut coppice forests (Castanea sativa woods 9260) of Mount Athos» in the framework of the LIFE +2007 programme, and its furthering is pending.


In the same context it is worth noting that in the preceding twelve years special programmes of forest fire safety have been realized through the EU Regulations, by means of the Arnaia Forestry Service, for the sector of Non Public Forestry, with construction of water reservoirs and networks, fire guard posts and more.


At the same time, through the National Institute for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE - Thermi, Thessaloniki) a highly significant programme for countering the Chestnut Ulcer (Entothia parasitica) has been applied.


Among other things, furthermore, another programme has been realized in the past two years with regard to the Mt Athos forests, with the incorporation of plans for private investment by the Holy Monasteries in the Macedonian Peripheral Venture Programme (P.E.P.) of Central Macedonia, Priority Axis 4 (agricultural Development), Measure 4.6 (Forestry), Action ‘Development Studies and Works for Non Public Forestry’. The programme comprises studies and works of fire-fighting protection, forestry techniques of torrent management etc., of importance being that that the actions presupposed detailed studies of environmental rehabilitation - approved by KEDAK - and, principally, the elaboration and authorization of ten-year management planning for the forests of every monastery.


D 3 Chilandari Monastery.

It is reasonable and correct to expect a detailed professional report on the actions taken to confront the havoc wrought by the fire of 4.3.2004. We think only KEDAK is competent to do this and it must be requested from them through the proper channels. *


References made in the joint mission’s report concerning a programme separate from the 10th ΕΒΑ (10th Ephorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities) and separate from the KEDAK are not correct. Issues concerning competencies and repeated disregard for the distinctive Athonite form of government resulted in delaying the elaboration and approval of the studies and execution of works and a justifiable incomprehension on the part of the monks, as set out in letters from the Monastery to the Holy Community. According to all that is explained at the beginning of the present report, the undisturbed and smooth continuation of the life of the monastic fraternity is of first priority, and is followed by the need to restore the buildings. If the establishment of a consultant committee, also referred to in correspondence with your Centre, had been effected in collaboration with the Monastery as well as KEDAK, it would have had a more beneficial contribution to the evolution of the works.


It is pointed out that KEDAK systematically continues the compilation of studies and the supervision of work on the site. The disposition of funds for the Hiliandriou Monastery restoration is of course welcome but we have nevertheless to mention that the subsidies of disproportionately minor sums thus far, is due to the delays as described, and the low, in the occurrence, absorption thereof.


D 4 Threats to the monument; Protection of heirlooms; Further Training

The degree of readiness in case of danger has not yet reached desired levels in all sectors. It must however be stressed that KEDAK’s fire protection programme - mentioned in the report - is at the finishing stage and has proved much more essential, broad-based and effective than it is said to be.


As was mentioned above, major works have been carried out in the same sector, including the Monasteries in communitarian programmes through the Arnaia Forestry Service (water reservoirs, networks, etc.). There is in general a satisfactory state of readiness and sensitization, and also substantial further training of the monks.


Conservation of the movable heritage and of frescoes, etc. continues to be a thorny issue, usually assigned to the 10th ΕΒΑ, with, according to the law, decisions by KEDAK. Of great interest is the proposal of instituting an ad hoc forum for the elaboration of a conservation charter. It is in any case a standard requirement on the part of the Holy Monasteries and Community that procedures be prescribed for heirloom conservation works equal to those for restoration (compilation of a detailed study and budget, substantiation, etc. instead of the empirical practices in effect), without, however, any response to date.


It is our hope that the special institutional framework of Mt Athos should not be ignored, also in accordance with the relative explicit provision of the archaeological law. That there should be joint programme planning, under the cohesive agency of the 20 Monasteries and, naturally, their agreement - also foreseen by law - or at least their being informed. The chief Monasteries should be aware of the substantiation of works, if it exists, before and after conservation and, in general, that the Athonite agencies should be able to exercise their contracted competencies and responsibilities in regard to their heirlooms.


Mt Athos has pinned fervent hopes upon a confrontation dealing more seriously with the problem, arising out of the dynamics of the matter themselves, which would come about with the incorporation of heirloom conservation projects in the ‘Athos’ Programme and specifically in the part contained in the Regional Operational Programme for Central Macedonia in the 3rd Community Support Framework, in the amount of € 6,000,000. The project has been undertaken by the 10th EBA, the corresponding credits have been absorbed, with no more positive outcome and, finally, the briefing of Mt Athos - which has not yet occurred - as to the actions and results of this endeavour, still expected.


In the same sector, the good news is that several Monasteries have recently undertaken projects for the classification, substantiation and digitalization of the contents of their libraries and sacristies in the framework of the Operational Programme ‘Information Society’. Indeed, for the new programmed period from 2007 - 2013, the incorporation is sought of an integrated proposal on the part of Mt Athos into the Operational Programme ‘Digital Convergence’ of the ‘Information Society’ (Ministry of Economy & Finance).


Staying on the same subject, we note that the Holy Community, in a leading role, supported the institution at Thessaloniki’s Aritotelion University of a trans-disciplinary Post-Graduate Programme of Conservation and Restoration of Architectural Monuments and Cultural Works, and also a trans-disciplinary Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Monuments, with the aim of providing comprehensive further training for those who undertake such projects in Mt Athos.


 Furthermore, after efforts of many years’ duration, the Holy Community achieved the institution by the Greek state of an Institute of Professional Formation of Ecclesiastic Arts and Environment, with its seat at Karyes, Mt Athos, (Mt Athos IEK), (article 13 of Law 3369/2005, FΕΚ 171 Α΄/6.7.2005), with departments for preservation and conservation of heirlooms, environmental protection and management, Athonite handicrafts and arts, etc. for further training of monks, of which it is expected that it will constitute a determining intervention in a major part of the issues brought up in the report. Unfortunately this ambitious project has met with obstacles in its realization and remains yet at the stage of elaboration of a study for the necessary new buildings.


D 5 Environmental rehabilitation

As mentioned above, the greatest problem of environmental rehabilitation is not due to any indifference on the part of the Monasteries. It is the object of their attention and is foreseen in every study, but realization of its goals is related to lack of funds at disposal. The special regulations of the Founding Charter of Mt Athos, the Regulatory Stipulations (Κανονιστικές Διατάξεις) mentioned at the outset of the present report, the operation, of long date, of the Forest Ephorate’s controlling and advisory competencies, the incorporation into the Natura network, the realization of Life and other programmes, the establishment, currently under scrutiny, of an Agency of Environmental Management, etc. all together constitute a web demonstrating on the one hand the constantly increasing awareness of Mt Athos of the sensitivity of environmental protection issues and on the other hand guarantees that essential conditions be adhered to and that actions for the preservation and conservation of the centuries-old attitude of Mt Athos to the environment are undertaken.


D 6 Conclusion

Mt Athos, with a positive stance, is agreeable and open to any initiative relative to the preservation of its heritage, which objective is its own concern and to which end it exerts itself and works with all its might. Through a process of long date structures and institutions have been developed which satisfactorily cover necessary aspects in all the sectors (buildings, heirlooms, environment, vital continuation of the ancient monastic existence), also taking best advantage of the welcome contribution of all agencies.


It may be said in general that of the general and specific recommendations by the UNESCO Committee virtually all of them are taken into account, with the respective interventions undertaken by Mt Athos’ institutional agencies, not that there is not yet some way to go.


The special institutional framework of Mt Athos and the interactive collaboration of all competent agencies have brought about dynamics, which – albeit not being impressive in advance planning and announcements – nonetheless succeeds in producing results which adequately protect the Mount, demonstrating its holistic approach and completeness, and at the same time ensuring its continuing existence as a living monument without deleterious jolts. The internationally expressed concern would be even more helpful if there were a direct dialogue with the Mt Athos Community itself.


In concluding, we should like to point out two crucial issues that could play a decisive role in the preservation of Mt Athos:

a. The preservation of the unique Athonite institutional froms as the essential coefficient of the continuing existence of the Athonite State, constituting of itself a spiritual monument worthy of preservation on both the communitarian level (ratification of a special legal nexus) as well as the national level (legislative and prescriptive regulations and actions).

b. Priority to the actions for Mt Athos on the part of the communitarian and national agencies and the necessary funding, so that an integrated and systematic response may be effectively developed, which is the wish of all parties.


Herein the WHC’s positive contribution can be of significance.





The Holy Community of Mt Athos













DBΜΜ: Directorate of Byzantine & Post-Byzantine Monuments.

ICOMOS: International Council on Monuments & Sites

IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature

PΕP: Regional Operational Programme

PΚΜ: Region of Central Macedonia

UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization

WHC: World Heritage Centre & World Heritage Committee

ΕDΙS:. Extraordinary Double Holy Assembly

ΕPPΕR: Regional Operational Programme

ΕPΜ:. Special Environmental Study

ΕTHΙΑGΕ: National Institute of Agricultural Research

ΕΒΑ: Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities

ΕΚΒΥ: Greek Biotope/Wetlands Centre

ΚEDΑΚ: Centre for the Preservation of the Mt Athos Heritage

ΚΧΑΟ: Founding Charter of Mt Athos

ΥPPΟ: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

ΥPΕΧODΕ: Hellenic Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works


* The present Memorandum had been completed when document No. 145/30.1.2008 from the Centre for the Preservation of the Mt Athos Heritage (KEDAK), addressed to the Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO, was communicated to the Holy Community, which constitutes a further contribution to the discussion, similar to ours.

** A list of Greek acronyms, with Latin characters, may be found at the end of the Memo.

*** These terms are also stated in the KEDAK document mentioned in the previous note: “The ancient origins of the self-governance of Mt Athos, and the unique existence, world-wide, of such a special monastic community constitute of themselves a monument.”

**** A summarised but very comprehensive presentation of KEDAK’s activation is contained in the document previously mentioned.

* As was mentioned in previous Notes, KEDAK has undertaken direct intervention and the document contains an excellent report on the subject.