1. Overall View
From the first moment that the monastery comes into
view for pilgrims descending the rough road leading from Karyes
to Pantokrator, its buildings give the impression of a well-fortified
castle, with its imposing battlemented tower dominating the whole
area, while its outer walls seem to try to hide and protect the
katholikon and the other internal buildings. This obviously defensive
arrangement, reminds one of the historical adventures of Pantokrator
(and the other Athonite monasteries) which, at critical stages of
its life, and in particular during the period of Turkish rule, was
confronted by various enemies and raiders.
Balcony in the north wing.
All those who have studied the architecture of the monastery agree
that its shape, as defined by its ground plan, can be described
as irregular and polygonal. This has probably been the result of
numerous structural alterations and expansions over the centuries.
Indeed they have been so extensive that “the building compound we
face today basically dates from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”
As a result, it is now thought that the only original buildings
preserved are those on the north-west side of the present day complex,
the katholikon and the surrounding monastic cells. The extensions
to the south-east must be dated to somewhere between 1483 and 1535.
This can be gathered from recently discovered evidence that confirms
the accounts of Barskij and Komnenos according to which “the new
courtyard” of the monastery was a project of Barbulu.
The individual buildings do not rise to more than three storeys
and they are distinctive for their massively-built arched galleries
and abundant ceramic decorations on the inside, as well as for
their balconies and projected galleries on the outside which provide
a magnificent view of the open sea and the steep peak of Athos.
At the south-eastern corner of the enclosure is located the main
entrance. Above it is a small square tower with the chapel of
St Panteleimon housed on its top floor. This tower was also furnished
with a parapet and cannons that are depicted in old engravings
of the monastery.
View of the monastery and the skete
of Prophet Elijah from the sea.
In front of the monastery’s entrance and attached to it, a four-columned
arched porch has been constructed, on the right of which the visitor
can see a marble fountain placed there during the renovation works
of the eighteenth century financed by Sacristan Cyril and George
as can be gathered form a relevant inscription on it.
(The wisdom of God, according to Solomon, calls, “Come and drink
my drink for the soul,” and this spring cries out to all who are
thirsty, “Come and drink this sweetest drink for the body, prepared
for you by the toil and at the expense of Sacristan Cyril and
George. But now as you enjoy this earthly running water make a
wish that they may be rewarded with the heavenly nectar.
O spring, water well both the body and the mind as I intend you
A few metres to the south of the
porch, on the edge of a steep cliff, stands a square wooden kiosk
that has been there at least since the time of the drawings made
by V. Barskij in 1744. From that vantage point the visitor has a
unique view of the sea, the nearby monastery of Stavronikita and
on the horizon the rocky summit of Athos.
On entering the monastery, the visitor finds himself in a courtyard
that slopes up gently towards the north where the katholikon stands.
This was originally in the centre of a courtyard. At some point,
probably in the middle of the eighteenth century, another smaller
and connecting courtyard was built. According to Barskij, visitors
passing through the main entrance first found themselves in this
small courtyard. The two yards were separated by a wall so that
the monks could be isolated from the technicians and workers who
lodged in the rooms surrounding the small courtyard.
On the left, and approximately in the centre of the west wing, the
visitor can see the second marble fountain built at the expense
of Sacristan Cyril and bearing the following well- known palindromic
(Wash away your transgressions and
do not just wash your face.)
Today most of the quarters surrounding
the katholikon have been renovated or are in the process of being
renovated. The exception is the east range which was reconstructed
by the Archaeological Service after the devastating fire of 1948
when it had been reduced to ashes.
After the reversion of the monastery to coenobitic status, the guest
quarters in that wing were restored, as was the large room at its
southern end which was converted, at the expense of the entrepreneur
Mr V. Theocharakis, into a salon where pilgrims could gather and
View of the snow-covered west wing.
The north range, which has recently been
rebuilt by the new brotherhood, is made up of the cells of the Fathers,
the administrative offices, the abbot’s chambers, and the chapels
of Sts Ioannikios and Andrew, the Archangels and St George. This
wing was part of the original building complex destroyed by fire
in 1392. Over the centuries it underwent a series of restorations,
the most important being that of the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus
and Patriarch Anthony IV and that of 1781 by the Sacristan Cyril
and George as an inscription commemorating the restoration records.
Translated it reads: “Owing to its age this side of the wall was
ruined but it was restored to its height and beauty at the expense
and by the contribution and sweat of the Sacristan sacred Cyril
together with George whom Christ save from any harm. 1781.”
It is worth noting that in the basement of this wing an earthen
cask is preserved that is related to the miracle of the flowing
oil connected with the icon of the Blessed Virgin Gerontissa.
In the west wing, the restoration of which has almost been completed,
there is the kitchen (its construction dating from the sixteenth
century), the refectory, the chapel of St John the Forerunner, and
some cells for the monks. Earlier restorations of parts of this
wing in the years 1637 and 1776 are evidenced from inscribed tablets
attached to its outer walls.
The south wing is now in its final stage of restoration. Housed
in this wing in the past were the abbot’s chambers, the refectory,
the guest house (archontariki) and some cells for the monks. On
completion of its current restoration, it will house a meeting room,
a number of public reception rooms and the chapel of St Nicholas.
Outside the monastery, to the north and west, are several dependent
auxiliary buildings and kathismata erected at different times as
well as two aqueducts, one to the north and another to the south
of the monastery.
The first, an aqueduct of the Byzantine type with arches, was most
probably constructed when the monastery was founded. A marble inscription
set at the base of the stairway leading up to the refectory mentions
a restoration of this aqueduct in 1537 by Totrousian, the Great
Logothete of Moldavia.
(This aqueduct was restored at the expense and through the
efforts of the most honourable lord Gabriel Totrousian,
Great Logothete of Moldavia and Wallachia, 1537.)
According to another unpublished marble inscription, which today
is kept in the monastery’s library, the construction of the second
aqueduct dates from 1780.
At a short distance to the west of the monastery
there is a garden with a chapel of St Tryphon surrounded by olive
trees and the cemetery with a chapel of the Anargyri. Near the
small harbour can still be seen a well in which the monastery’s
icon of the Blessed Virgin Gerontissa lay hidden for almost eighty