Latest news 02.06.2017 - Apparently George Vlachopoulos, SV1RP during the WPX contest was not active from Mount Athos but from his "alternative shack" in Giannitsa in northern Greece. Read more in my blog entry of June 2nd, 2017.
Last weekend during the CQ World Wide WPX CW contest, I finally managed to make my first ever contact with Mount Athos! Ok, "sort of", as you will read later on.
Mount Athos forms a separate DXCC entity, and let me tell you, it won't be easy to find one that's more mysterious, mystical, magical, obscure, and controversial! Mount Athos is a mountainous peninsula in northeastern Greece stretching out for about 50 km into the Aegean Sea, its width varying between 7 and 12 km, and its highest point reaching about 2,000 m. Although land-linked, the isolated, rugged region is practically only accessible by boat. Spread out over the peninsula are 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Alhough considered part of Greece, Mount Athos is a self-governed, autonomous region, known officially as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. It's commonly referred to simply as the "Holy Mountain", or "Agion Oros" in Greek. Mount Athos is governed by the "Holy Community" which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries.
|Map of Mount Athos showing the locations of the 20 monasteries. Click to enlarge. (source)|
|Part of Mount Athos peninsula seen from the air (source)|
|One of the 20 monasteries of Mount Athos. About 2,000 monks call Mount Athos their home. (source)|
|Another Mount Athos monastry. A list of all monasteries and photos of them can be found on Wikipedia. (source)|
Monk Apollo first came in contact with amateur radio in the middle of the 1980s when his monastery had remained without telephone for over five months and during which a medical emergency occured. When a doctor heard the story, being a radio amateur himself, he suggested somebody at the monastery would become a radio amateur operator, in order to guarantee continued communications during an emergency.
By the end of the 1980s Monk Apollo had obtained his amateur radio licence. But the working days at the monasteries of Mount Athos are long and hard, Monk Apollo's free time is scarce, and his time spent on amateur radio is little. The chances of catching and working Monk Apollo on one of the ham bands are quite slim.
So, not surprising, for many years radio hams have been trying to set up DXpeditions to the Holy Mountain to activate the much sought after entity on the ham bands. In the past, a group of Greek radio amateurs with the help of Monk Apollo were granted permission, but all applications thereafter by other radio amateurs were denied. There have been some hams operating from Mount Athos however, but their operations were "secret" and declared illegal by Monk Apollo and the Holy Community, as there might have been permission from one of the monasteries, but not from the Holy Community! According to Greek law, to operate a ham station from Mount Athos, a written permission is needed from the Mount Athos Holy Community.
|Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A (source)|
In May of 2015 a group of Latvian hams were on their way to Mount Athos to get on the air from the Monastic State as SV2/YL7A. They claimed to have received oral permission for their ham radio activities from one of the monasteries. The group had permits to enter the Monastic State as pilgrims, but as soon as Monk Apollo and the Holy Community found out about their real intentions, access to Mount Athos was denied, the group had to return home, and the DXpedition was cancelled.
|QSL card from the controversial SY/DJ6SI DXpedition of Baldur Drobnica (source)|
|Monk Iakovis is presented his radio amateur licence in the presence of the Koutloumousiou Monastery abbot and George Vlachopoulous, SV1RP (first from the right) (source)|
|Olive trees at Koutloumousiou Monastery, the QTH of SV2/SV1RP/A (source)|
But Mount Athos is more than just a much coveted, exotic DXCC alone. It's also a sanctuary of peace, a sacred place, a different world where time stood still, a home where Monks lead a simple life, away from the hectic, modern, and complicated lifes most of us live today. And such a place is fragile, and maybe that's the only thing Monk Apollo is trying to protect.
What puzzles me though is that resident Monk Iakovos still hasn't managed to obtain the required documents for DXCC approval, but I don't know the whole story here, and thus for now I'll have to refrain on any further comments.
The attitude of the Holy Community and Monk Apollo towards guest ham operators, with which they've practically closed the DXCC entity to non-resident ham operations, and the resulting voices raised by some in the ham community to therefore better delete Mount Athos as a DXCC entity, lead to some controversy of which good examples can be found in the discussion threads on eHam as linked to below. There's also much info on the activations of DJ6SI and SV1RP in there.
I for sure hope Mount Athos will never be deleted from the DXCC list, and hopefully with some luck and a lot of DX Cluster watching, I'll someday get the chance to work the elusive Monk Apollo himself. And to be honest, I wouldn't like to see it any other way; some places should remain shrouded in mystery, some places on the ham bands should remain shrouded in elusiveness.
You can listen to a recording of my contact with SV2/SV1RP/A below.
(1) I'm not sure but I believe the SV2/SV1RP/A callsign in 2015 never was used on the air, only the SV2/SV1RP/T callsign. Vlachopoulos' 2015 QSL does mention the /A though.
|QSL card SV2/SV1RP/A/T (source)|