January 9, 2008 / 11:42 AM / in 13 years

Greek women enter male-only Mount Athos community

ATHENS (Reuters) - About a dozen Greek women violated a 1,000-year ban on the male-only monastic community of Mount Athos on Tuesday during a protest over disputed land, one of the demonstrators said on Wednesday.

The Greek Orthodox community of 20 monasteries on the Mount Athos peninsula in northern Greece has been off limits for women since it was set up more than 1,000 years ago and is regarded as Orthodox Christianity’s spiritual home.

“About 10 women jumped the fence marking the border of the community on Tuesday and spent some 20 minutes on the monks’ territory in a symbolic move,” Litsa Ammanatidou-Paschalidou, an MP who took part in the protest, told Reuters.

“I felt the need to join them and I did,” she said.

The demonstrators, some 1,000 in total, were opposing claims by five of the community’s monasteries to some 20,000 acres of land on the nearby Halkidiki peninsula, among the most popular tourist destinations in Greece.

The demonstrators, among them local mayors, deputies and residents of various Halkidiki villages, say the land belongs to their villages and not to the monasteries.

The self-governed community has a large real estate portfolio outside its borders including hotels and land on Halkidiki as well as other assets in the capital Athens and the northern port city of Thessaloniki.

The monasteries could not be immediately reached for comment.

“This is land that does not belong to them and we broke the no-women ban to highlight our cause to get the land back from the monasteries,” Ammanatidou-Paschalidou said.

A Greek prosecutor has ordered an investigation into the incident because the violation of the ban on women on Mount Athos is a criminal offence under Greek law.

“The prosecutor of Thessaloniki has launched a probe and could file charges as early as in the coming days against the women if he considers they broke the law,” a court official told Reuters.

This is not the first time women have briefly entered the community. Women tourists and archaeologists, sometimes dressed as men, have set foot on the peninsula in the past decades.

Writing by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia

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