The largest and most important monastic state in the Orthodox East is also named ‘the garden of the Virgin Mary’. The monastic state of Athos, which occupies the easternmost, wildest ‘leg’ of the three-pronged Halkidiki peninsula, Mount Athos is the second-most important religious place of pilgrimage, after Jerusalem, for the more than 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
Now hosting 20 monasteries, Mount Athos forms an autonomous region within the Greek state, while spiritually it falls under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Although it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, all females are forbidden entry. But any adult may visit the Holy Mountain, regardless of faith or nationality, simply by obtaining a Diamonitirion or residence permit.