The great monastic colony of the Mount Athos in Greece includes some of the great western Byzantine monasteries ever known. The “Holy Mountain” of Athos forms a promontory on the coast of Thrace and was along the sea shore of this peninsula that the ancient Byzantine monasteries were built. These Athonite monasteries house rich collections of well-preserved Byzantine and medieval artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value. The oldest of these monasteries is called “The Lavra” founded by St. Athanasius the Athonite (963 AD) and its library keeps the richest collections of Greek manuscripts in the world. Another monasteries built years later include the monastery of Vatopedi (2nd half of the Xth century) and the Iviron monastery, founded by the Iberian monks from Georgia (between 980-983). Besides these monasteries 12 more were built, thus forming a true independent monastic republic known today as Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. The whole history of Byzantium from the X century is reflected in the monasteries of Athos. The basic layout of these monasteries is characterized by a square precinct with the different rooms surrounding a central courtyard where the main church was built.
The Byzantine Empire promoted the evangelization of the Balkan countries and even of some other countries located in the eastern part of Central Europe. Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, both of Thessaloniki, preached Christianity in Moravia and Bohemia since 863. With Serbia and Wallachia (today modern Romania), Bulgaria was a brilliant province of Byzantine art since before the fourteenth century, when the type of Byzantine church with Greek cross floor plan crowned by domes spread throughout Europe. As examples from this type of Byzantine church are the Bulgarian Cathedral of Tarnovo, the Serbian Church of Gracanica, and the church of Curtea d’Arges in Wallachia.
The mural painting was well developed in Serbian art in earlier centuries, as it is manifested in the wonderful frescoes of the Nerezi church or St. Panteleimon (1164), the Studenica monastery (1205), and the Mileseva monastery (ca. 1235). Frescoes of similar quality are found in the Bulgarian cathedral of Tarnovo (1186) which originated the “Tarnovo Artistic School” an important and influential branch of the Bulgarian fine arts between XIIIth and XIVth centuries, and in the Church of Boyana (1259).