The Monastery of Great Lavra is the first monastery built on Mount Athos. The founding of the monastery in AD 963 by Athanasius the Athonite marks the beginning of the organized monastic life at Mount Athos. Athanasius began the construction according to the will of his friend and Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who funded the project. The emperors gave also the Great Lavra many other lands of property including the island of Saint Eustratius and the Monastery of Saint Andreas in Thessaloniki.
The building project, according to the biography of Athanasius the Athonite, began with the protective wall and continued to the church and cells. After Athanasius' death, the monastery continued its operation normally. The emperors favored its development and during the 11th century there were 700 monks, while smaller monasteries had been ceded to Great Lavra.
In the 14th century the monastery suffered, like all the other monasteries of Mount Athos, from Catalan and other pirates. The result of the crisis was the formation of a peculiar way of monasticism, the Idiorrhythmic Way, despite the objections of the official Church and the emperors. In 1574, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Sylvester, helped and the monastery operated again under cenobitic monasticism, but soon the peculiar monasticism was again introduced.
In 1655, the Patriarch Dionysios III, who also became a monk, donated his personal fortune for the return to the cenobitic life but again these attempts were insufficient and the peculiar monasticism remained until the 20th century (1914), when there were new attempts for the return to the cenobitic life but without results. Since 1980 the monastery has been cenobitic.
The main church (Katholikon) was found by Athanasius who lost his life together with 6 other workers when one of the domes fell during the construction. The architectural style of the temple is characterized by the two large areas of the chorus and the prayer. This style was then consecrated and was copied by the other monasteries. The frescoes were made in 1535 by the great painter Theophanis. However, the narthex was painted in 1854.
North of the narthex (liti), there is the chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in which there is the grave of Athanasius. South of the liti, there is the chapel of Saint Nicholas, painted by Franco Cantellano, in 1560. The trapezaopposite the central entrance has a shape of cross and is the biggest on Mount Athos. Its interior is full of frescoes, painted by Theophanis or his school.
The library of the monastery is located behind the main church. It contains 2,116 Greek manuscripts and 165 codices. There are also over 20,000 printed books, and about 100 manuscripts in other languages. The collection is one of the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world.
The vestry is behind the main church. Some of the most important artifacts are a manuscript of a gospel with a golden cover which is a gift from Nikephoros II Phokas and the list (Kouvaras) of the monks since Athanasius. There are also 2,500 icons which cover the whole history of hagiography of the second millennium.References:
The city walls of Avila were built in the 11th century to protect the citizens from the Moors. They have been well maintained throughout the centuries and are now a major tourist attraction as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk around about half of the length of the walls.
The layout of the city is an even quadrilateral with a perimeter of 2,516 m. Its walls, which consist in part of stones already used in earlier constructions, have an average thickness of 3 m. Access to the city is afforded by nine gates of different periods; twin 20 m high towers, linked by a semi-circular arch, flank the oldest ones, Puerta de San Vicente and Puerta del Alcázar.