Natural environment

The great geological diversity, the complex topography and the relatively high altitude of Mount Athos which rises to 2033 m, in combination with the variety of climate, the isolation of the peninsula and the absence of grazing, resulted in a complex mosaic of several habitat types. These types range from characteristic Mediterranean to alpine habitat types. Apart from the diversity of habitat types this area is also characterised by good to excellent conservation status and great species diversity.

The landscapes of Mount Athos formed by the diverse vegetation and the complex topography are of profound beauty and diversity. Soft coastal landscapes can be found right below deep gorges and alternate with steep coastal rocks or screes originating from over 1000 m. In this diverse landscape, several species of plants and animals live, forming altogether that “magic of the Holy Mountain”. The natural environment is an integral part of the cultural heritage of Mount Athos which should be protected with special care.

Until the middle of the 19th century, the Athos peninsula was covered with thick old-growth forests with a great variety of species, as reported by Grisebach in 1841. Grisebach also wrote that nowhere in Europe had he met such density and fullness as in the sacred forest of the Holy Mountain. But at the end of 19th century, and especially after the Russian revolution in 1917, and Greek rural reformation οf the 20's, the monasteries turned to the exploitation of their forests, mainly of chestnut forests to make up for the lost revenues from their various properties. One of the results of the exploitation of forests was that the majority of them were turned into coppice.

Nevertheless, Rauh who visited the Holy Mountain in the 40's wrote that despite the conversion of many forests to coppice, the vegetation maintained its abundance and fullness like in the times of Grisebach and that it was an oasis in the deforested or poor of forests Balkan Peninsula.

Nowadays the only high forests of Mount Athos are some beech and mountainous Mediterranean conifer forests (pine and fir forests), the forests of Aleppo pine in the northern part of the peninsula and some relics of the mixed forests which can be found in Plagara of the Holy Monastery of Grigoriou, in remote locations of the forest of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras and in remote locations of the forest of the Holy Monastery of Megistis Lavras.

The ecosystems of evergreen broadleaved from which the fuel wood for monasteries needs was taken from were also impacted severely. Even today for many Holy Monasteries, cloisters, and houses an almost exclusive source of energy is the fuelwood and charcoal. As a result the evergreen deciduous formations show various levels of degradation around almost all monasteries.