The Saturday schedule of Vladimir Putin's official visit to Greece envisages a trip to Holy Mount Athos, a 1,500-year-old self-governed Orthodox monastic republic on the Athonian Peninsula, Northern Greece. It will be the first visit by a Russian leader to the Holy Mount in its entire history, which dates back to the Byzantine times. The president is coming to Athos without his spouse -- according to an ancient rule which Athonian monks introduced in 422 A.D. and which is strictly observed to this day, women are not allowed on the Holy Mount. The official program of Putin's trip to Athos begins with a visit to the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon, the almost 900-year-old center of Russian monkhood on Mount Athos. The monastery was moved to the southwestern coast of the Athonian Peninsula in the second half of the 18th century. Before that, it was situated in the heart of the peninsula, in the place now occupied by the skete Stary Russik. According to handwritten acts found on Athos, the monastery of St. Panteleimon was transferred to Russian monks in 1169. However, surviving manuscripts testify that the history of Athos' Russian monkhood dates back to even more ancient times. The monastery of St. Panteleimon, with its 50 Russian monks, is one of the 20 Athonian monasteries. Just like other Athonian monasteries, sketes and cloisters that belong to Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians and Romanians, it attracts pilgrims from all around the world. From the monastery, the Russian president will move on to Karyes, the capital of Athos and the seat of the Holy Mount's government, which consists of Father Superiors of Athonian monasteries. After that, Putin will visit the skete of St. Andrew, which is situated just outside Karyes. The choice of this particular skete originated from the fact that it was once inhabited by Russian monks. Nowadays, it belongs to the Greek monastery Vatopaidi. Nevertheless, it remains a historical fact that the cathedral of the skete was built with money donated by the Russian royal family. The foundation of the cathedral was personally laid by Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, son of Emperor Alexander II, on June 16, 1867.
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