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The Most Important Monasteries on Mount Athos

The Great Lavra -- The first (about A.D. 960) monastery founded on Athos and hence the foremost, the Great Lavra has the red-painted katholikon characteristic of Athos's monasteries. Its 15th-century frescoes, especially those showing exuberant singers and dancers in the Chapel of Koukouzelissa, are delightful. Call tel. 23370/23-758 to make a reservation to spend the night.

The Monastery of Chelandariou -- This monastery was founded in the 12th century by St. Sabbas of Serbia. Fortunately, Sabbas's father was the king of Serbia, which guaranteed a handsome endowment. Some scholars think that the lovely frescoes in the church here were done by the same painter who decorated the walls of Ayios Nikolaos Orfanos in Thessaloniki. You can try to make a reservation here by calling tel. 23370/23-797.

The Monastery of Dionissiou -- This 14th-century monastery seems to grow right out of a rock above the sea. Its dizzily overhanging balconies are braced by precarious-looking wood supports. Favored by the emperor Alexios III Komnenos, Dionissiou has a superb collection of manuscripts, as well as an icon said to be the oldest on Athos. You can try to make a reservation by calling tel. 23370/23-687 or by faxing 23370/23-686.

The Monastery of Iveron -- Iveron, founded in the 10th century, looks from the sea like a medieval hill town -- only the hill is actually the monastery's solid foundation. Call tel. 23370/23-643 for overnight reservations.

The Monastery of Vatopedi -- Founded only a decade after the Great Lavra, Vatopedi's long outline of red-and-white-tile-roofed buildings is clearly visible from the sea. Call tel. 23370/23-219 for overnight reservations.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.