An Orthodox spiritual centre since 1054, Mount Athos has enjoyed an autonomous statute since Byzantine times. The 'Holy Mountain', which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The layout of the monasteries had an influence as far as Russia, and its school of painting influenced the history of Orthodox art. Mount Athos is an Unesco heritage list.
The monasteries of Athos display the typical layout of orthodox monastic establishments: a square, rectangular, or trapezoidal wall flanked by towers, which constitutes the peribolus of a consecrated place, in the centre of which the community's church (catholicon) stands alone.
The monastic ideal has at Mount Athos preserved traditional human habitations, which are representative of the agrarian cultures of the Mediterranean world and have become vulnerable through the impact of change within contemporary society. Mount Athos is also a conservatory of vernacular architecture and agricultural and craft traditions.
Today Athos includes 20 monasteries, 12 skites, and about 700 houses, cells, or hermitages. Over 1,000 monks live there in communities or alone, as well as in the 'desert' of Karoulia where cells cling to the cliff face rising steeply above the sea.