Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Mount Athos

Vladimir Putin made an historic trip on September 9 as the first Russian head of state to visit the monastic community of Mt Athos in its thousand-year history. His visit is still being talked about, particularly by the monks and officials who met him. Slim and fit, Putin did not wait for the gangplank to be lowered when his boat docked at the port of Daphni but jumped ashore to shake hands with Giorgos Dalakouras, civil administrator of Mt Athos, who welcomed him on behalf of the Greek state. At the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon, headed by a 90-year-old Russian abbot, the atmosphere was as friendly as it could be among expatriates – all the monks at Mt Athos have Greek citizenship. Dalakouras, a shipowner and former deputy in Parliament and the European Parliament, said that the Russian president was deeply religious. A visit to the Iviron Monastery was included in his itinerary because the icon of the Virgin in Moscow’s Red Square is a copy of one at the 900-year-old monastery, which has the largest collection of Georgian documents in the world. When the delegation sat down to dinner at the St Panteleimon Monastery, Dalakouras told Putin, «We have exhausted you, covered you with dust (on the dirt roads) and now we will starve you.» He was referring to the Friday dietary restrictions according to which the meal be limited to non-meat dishes – in this case chickpeas, vegetables and grapes – although it was accompanied by red wine from the monastery vineyard. A few more details of the visit: All Putin’s security detail were out of uniform apart from two officers who followed his every footstep bearing a small metal suitcase. The photographs accompanying this report were taken by Michalis Dalakouras.