November 13, 2023

Mount Athos is Getting Its First Major Supermarket

AB Vassilopoulos is a Greek supermarket chain that currently has 636 stores, and this November it will open a new location in Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos. Because Mount Athos only allows males, it will be entirely staffed by men.

The supermarket, which will have an area of approximately 400 square meters, is to be located in what used to be the Cell of Saint Nicholas (the so-called Samaradiko [Saddlery]), which belongs to the Monastery of Great Lavra, and is located directly across from the Church of Protaton, the central cathedral of Mount Athos.

Specifically, this is a multi-purpose building which was constructed architecturally fully in harmony with the area, and has hospitality dormitories, a restaurant-café, a physical therapy clinic, a store with ecclesiastical items, an optical store, and the soon-to-be supermarket chain store.

The building, fully integrated into the morphology of Mount Athos, extends over 2,500 m2 and was built on a 650 m2 plot where the so-called Samaradiko building was located in the past.

The wear and tear of time had damaged the building in question, with the result that it could not be used since the 1970s. The Monastery of Great Lavra, although it tried to reconstruct it, due to the conditions, the lack of infrastructure for its restoration and the general difficulties, it was not possible.

The construction of the new building which retains the Samaradiko name started in 2020 and was recently completed. The spaces it hosts are now on the launch track for their operation. The new Samaradiko is the second modern building built in the last 400 years in the area.

The building was implemented by SATTO IKE through the OIKODOMAIN IKE company of the brothers Demetris and Stavros Suanis. In an interview, Demetris Suanis spoke of their investment in the building:

"The amount of the expenditure exceeded 5 million euros. The cost of the project increased from the original budget as due to the war in Ukraine, there was a surge in building materials. In addition, the coronavirus also created delays, due to the unexpected conditions it caused. The use of the building by our company has a duration of 45 years and there is a possibility of extension for another 15 years."

Stavros Suanis added:

"The location of the building was the main challenge for its construction. The requirement that it fulfill every possible condition for a building located in the heart of Mount Athos, besides any sacred meaning it may have, at the same time this building must be properly constructed, with a foundation on sliding soils and in such a form as to adapt fully in the architectural and aesthetic data of the Holy Mountain."

It is worth noting that according to data, the number of visitors to Mount Athos tends to exceed 150,000 per year, making the need for accommodation and hospitality areas imperative.

It will have 24 accommodation dormitories primarily for employees, of which there are currently about 1,000, who are primarily construction workers. The permanent population of Mount Athos is 1,746.

The dining area that was created and is based on the cuisine of the Holy Mountain also aims for the best service. The restaurant can serve both the pilgrims who are in the area of Karyes, as well as the workers who are daily employed within Mount Athos. In the same area there is coffee and pastry products.

The optician's office/store has an ophthalmologist and an optometrist.

The store with ecclesiastical items already operates as well as the physical therapy clinic, providing the monks with health services, within Mount Athos, without having to travel to Thessaloniki. Possibly in the future there will be an office for other medical specialties.

The ever-increasing traffic within Mount Athos has made the 400 square meter supermarket one of the main pillars of its orderly operation. With the operation of the supermarket, a long-standing problem of Mount Athos is solved.

Of course, there are those who oppose such structures, fearing that it will only serve to make Mount Athos into a secular tourist destination. The counter-argument however is that these establishments will help to keep both the monks and employees nearer to their homes instead of seeking these services far off in Thessaloniki. This discussion echoes a larger discourse around the intersection of commercial interests and the preservation of spiritual and cultural heritage within the unique environment of Mount Athos. The decision to establish a supermarket within Mount Athos underscores the complexities of accommodating contemporary needs while respecting the historical and spiritual significance of Mount Athos as a center of Orthodox Christian monasticism.

If some people are surprised and shocked by the functioning of a large commercial enterprise on Mount Athos, then reality itself resolves any issues: in the monastic state, there is already “entrepreneurial activity”, with monasteries who run ultra-modern online stores “on the mainland” through which they send orders of all kinds, from incense, wines and local products to hats with the “Agion Oros” logo, aprons, cups, medallions, ointments, notepads and souvenir magnets, not only to Greece, but also abroad, with considerable turnover.

The supermarket is set to house 3,000 product codes. Contrary to what one might imagine, the sale of specific products such as meat or alcoholic beverages will not be prohibited, since not only the monks, but also all those who from time to time visit or work in the monastic state will receive their goods. However, AB Vassilopoulos is aware of the special conditions prevailing in the community, and intends to create a special store that, among other products, will sell codes available for wholesale and products produced in Mount Athos with a special label.

In Karyes, which is the administrative center of Mount Athos, there is currently a police station, a medical clinic, a post office, a bank, bakeries, a courier company, a tailor’s workshop, a bookstore, various workshops, small grocery stores and other shops selling everything necessary – from church utensils to building materials. Also in Karyes there is a theological secondary school and the Athoniada school.

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