Integrated management of Mount Athos

Conservation and promotion of natural and cultural heritage

Project description

The Athonite Peninsula in northern Greece has hosted an important monastic community since the end of the first millennium AD. Today the community numbers more than 2,000 monks living in 20 monasteries and a variety of sketes and hermitages. Alongside its unique cultural and spiritual significance resulting from the ancient and uninterrupted tradition of Orthodox monasticism existing on the peninsula, Mount Athos is blessed with a rich natural heritage and high biodiversity.

In 1988, Mount Athos was designated as a World Heritage Site for both nature and culture. Following a mission to the site in 2006, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) requested an integrated management study of the entire peninsula in order to conserve effectively its spiritual, cultural and natural heritage. In 2010 the Holy Community took the decision to proceed with the management study and selected a team of scientists to prepare the first phase of the project, asking Thymio Papayannis to coordinate all related activities.

A Preliminary Report was completed by the end of 2010, which included the basic principles on which the final Management Study would be based. In 2011 it underwent repeated review by the members of the Committee on Institutional Matters of the Holy Community and was discussed within Mt Athos. In December 2012, after the process of consultation was completed, the Holy Community approved the Preliminary Report and decided to proceed with the preparation of the main study entitled ‘Strategic Framework for the conservation and management of Mt Athos natural and cultural heritage’ (the Integrated Management Study). The Preliminary Report was presented and debated at a meeting organised by the Ministry of Culture and the Holy Community, with the assistance of MedINA, in Thessaloniki in January 2013. It was adopted by both sides and then translated into English by MedINA and submitted to the WHC on February 2013.

Soon after, MedINA began preparing the technical specifications for the Integrated Management Study, which were based on both Greek and international experience, taking into account the guidelines and advice of the WHC. A first draft, both in Greek and English, was presented at another meeting in Thessaloniki in 2013 organised by the Ministry of Culture, again with the assistance of MedINA and at the request of the WHC. This time, the workshop had a broader audience, including UNESCO representatives as well as IUCN and ICOMOS experts. This workshop successfully brought together all involved parties, providing the opportunity for constructive dialogue and paving the way for the next steps of the process.

Extensive internal consultations followed to debate the results of the Thessaloniki meetings and two important formal meetings took place on Mt Athos in 2013 and 2014 prior to a positive decision finally being reached with the official establishment of a Working Group tasked to coordinate all matters pertaining to the preparation of the Integrated Management Study. In accordance with the conclusions of the Thessaloniki workshop and the decisions of the Working Group, MedINA undertook the responsibility to make the necessary amendments to the Technical Specifications and to prepare a detailed budget estimate for preparation of the Integrated Management Study, including its accompanying Strategic Environmental Assessment and Action Plan. These two documents were essential in order to launch the process of investigating potential funding sources.

Following multi-level consultation, further refinements to the Technical Specifications were made and an executive summary was prepared and submitted to the Holy Community, so as to facilitate review by the Athonite representatives. The final drafts of the Technical Specifications and Budget were submitted to the Holy Community for approval in March 2015. The Holy Community gave the green light to proceed with investigating the necessary funding sources for launching the first phase of the Study in August 2016. To this day, however, funding to initiate the Integrated Management Study has not been confirmed.

Since 2016, MedINA, through Thymio Papayannis, has continued to provide advice to Mt Athos on matters related to culture and nature. During this period, Thymio Papayannis has represented the Holy Community, upon the latter’s request, at two international UNESCO expert meetings on the management of World Heritage Sites with religious values (Paris, February 2016; and Kiev, October 2018).