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.
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
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
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.