For more than one thousand years the monastic republic of Mount Athos has been one of the most chronicled and yet least accessible places in the Mediterranean. Difficult to reach until the last century and strictly restricted to male visitors only, the Holy Mountain of Orthodoxy has been known in the Eastern Christian world and in western Europe more through representation than through direct experience.
Most writing on Athos has focused on its Byzantine history and sacred heritage. Imagining Mount Athos uncovers a set of alternative and largely unexplored perspectives, equally important in the mapping and dissemination of Athos in popular imagination. The author considers Mount Athos as the site of pre-Christian myths of Renaissance and Enlightenment scholarship, of shelter for Allied refugees during the Second World War, and of a botanical and sociological laboratory for early-twentieth-century scientists. Each chapter considers a different narrative channel through which Athos has entered Orthodox and western European imagination: the mythical, the utopian, the sacred, the scholarly, the geopolitical, and the scientific.
Della Dora has assembled a wealth of unique textual, visual, and oral materials without ever having had the opportunity to visit this holy place. In this sense, in addition to making an important contribution to existing scholarship on Mount Athos, the book adds to current theoretical debates in cultural geography and humanities generally about the circulation of knowledge.
Imagining Mount Athos’s appeal is international and spans Hellenic studies, cultural geography, environmental history, cultural history, religious studies, history of cartography, and art history. The book will be of interest to scholars as well as to a general audience interested in this unique place and its fascinating history.
This is an extraordinarily original and innovative book. Although at first it might seem strange for a female scholar to write a book about a place she can never visit, Dr. della Dora turns this challenge to her advantage by focusing on the Holy Mountain as an ‘object of desire,’ and analyzing how various perceptions of it were transmitted over the centuries to viewers and readers, most of whom themselves never set foot on Athos. The book is not intended to be the ‘inside story’ of Athos, from the point of view of the monks, but Athos as seen "from the outside."
Veronica della Dora is a topophiliac, a person in love with a specific place. But like a woman who falls in love with a prisoner, she has lost her heart to somewhere that she is forbidden to visit.... Athos is a place where myths, and versions of myth, have superimposed themselves to form a virtually impenetrable conglomerate.... They are candles to light other candles, to keep alive the flame of the pure faith.
Among the many books written about the Holy Mountain, this is one of the most exciting and original. It uncovers an aspect of Athos hitherto little explored and makes a genuinely significant contribution to existing scholarship. Veronica della Dora is concerned not with the external history of the monastic peninsula but rather with the part that it has played over the centuries, and continues to play, in the imagination of monks, pilgrims and travelers. Beautifully written, scrupulously researched, fully illustrated, this is a visionary work, remarkable in its insight.
"This is a book that could well be read by general readers for its literary qualities alone, but it is likewise important scholarly work due to the insights it gives into fields ranging from intellectual history to cultural geography, to cartographic history, to geopolitics, and to science."
"Della Dora has managed to be startlingly original, sifting the accounts of the centuries in search of patterns. These patterns -she finds many- have become the subject of a book often beautifully written, always intriguing, which anyone curious about Athos should have on the shelf."
Veronica della Dora is Lecturer in Geographies of Knowledge in the School of Geographical Sciences at Bristol University and the coeditor of High Places: Cultural Geographies of Mountains, Ice, and Science.