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It occupies the best part of the Athos peninsula in Halkidiki.
It consists of a range which runs south-east for thirty miles from Xerxes' Canal, where Xerxes the Persian King cut a canal across the peninsula for his ships to pass.
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Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, mentions a number of cities there and an oracle of Apollo.
In 885 the Emperor Basilios the Ist issued a (imperial edict) officially recognising Athos as a territory belonging exclusively to monks.
It declared that only religious men should live there and all other laymen, shepherds etc, were forbidden to enter the "Garden of the Virgin".
The history and fortunes of Mount Athos were turbulent and varied through the centuries.
Grandeur alternated with decline, prosperity was followed by poverty, destruction with rebuilding.