Nature and natural values of
the Hilandar monastery and Mount Athos area

The Hilandar Monastery is, in many ways, a specific center of Serbian spirituality and religion. Territorially separated from the motherland of Serbia, it has been and remains for centuries the stronghold of Serbian Orthodoxy and an example of indisputable existence and continuation.

The Hilandar monastery estate includes about 9.000 ha, which makes up almost a third of the area of the entire Mount Athos (Holy Mountain). It is located in the northwestern part of the Athos Peninsula.

The nature and natural values of Hilandar area, as well as Mount Athos, have not been comprehensively and systematically researched so far. The existence of our ancient monastery and the monastic community there, as well as individual pilgrimages of associates of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, have created an opportunity to discuss and initiate a project of explorations of the nature and natural values of Hilandar monastery and Mount Athos area.

The restricted access and specific way of life of the monastic community have, over time, made Mount Athos a unique place in Europe, in which natural processes had for centuries been developing at their pace, largely undisturbed by human activities. Therefore, in addition to religious and cultural aspect, Hilandar and Mount Athos are of exceptional importance as a true and rare oasis of almost pristine nature.

The Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia is an expert institution of the state of Serbia, the activities of which are related to the protection and conservation of natural resources and nature in general. The activity of the Institute is, above all, reflected in the research and evaluation of natural resources and values with the aim of their protection, monitoring of the state of nature's components and their conservation for the benefit of present and future generations.

Preliminary explorations of nature and natural values of Hilandar and Mount Athos began in 2014 and were intensified in the coming years. They have usually been implemented in several days of field research (10-11 days), during the spring, summer and autumn. The primary object of our research is the various components of nature, both living and inanimate. Surveys of inanimate components of nature include geographic, geological, geomorphological, hydrological and climatological research, while research of living components of nature involves the collection of various data on wildlife. In this regard, appropriate expert teams were formed.

Due to the scope and versatility of the research, the size and the so far unexplored nature of the area, activities are being carried out successively. The number, duration and spatial scope of field activities are conditioned by the seasonal dynamics of natural cycles and processes. Daily field surveys include transects and/or tours of the area in the perimeter of 20-30 km along predetermined routes.

The results of research have already provided an abundance of new data and insights into the nature of the area. With the blessing of the Council of Elders of the Holy Monastery of Hilandar, part of the research results was published in the form of a thematic publication entitled: "Amphibians and Reptiles of Athos Peninsula and Hilandar Monastery", of the following authors: Rastko Ajtić, Milivoje Krvavac and Danko Jović. The publishers are the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and the Holy Serbian Imperial Lavra Hilandar on Mount Athos. This monograph is written in Serbian and English. The publication of other thematic and synthesizing editions of a monographic character has also been planned, which will certainly represent a unique account of the nature and natural values of Hilandar and Mount Athos.

Associates of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, as well as colleagues from other research institutions involved with the Institute in the realization of this project, were given a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open the doors of these, hitherto almost unexplored, treasuries through explorations of the natural values of Hilandar andMount Athos. Impressions of passing through the Mediterranean pine forests, the almost impassable vegetation of macchia and garrigue, discovering and exploring the sources of crystal clear water, streams and hidden gorges of nameless and unknown streams, geological and geomorphological phenomena, walking for miles on the pristine sandy shores splashed by the waves of Aegean sea, views from breathtaking viewpoints and diving into the underwater world, listening to the sounds of life all around you and daily encounters with wildlife would forever last in the memory and mark the professional carrier of every naturalist.

Above all, the peace and serenity one may feel within the walls of the holy place, the impression of timelessness and eternity, the asceticism of the monks witnessed each day and conversations with them make up the other, perhaps even more valuable and more significant, dimension of our entire enterprise, which would certainly enrich the spiritual and moral self of everyone.

According to one of Hilandar’s monks, in addressing the Institute's associates:

"The Lord has kept this nature for centuries, and you are here actually for your sake and the salvation of your souls. You are called from Him and that is why you are here! "

What an honour, indeed!