The town of Karyes is the administrative center for the monastic republic of Mount Athos. The town is located in the middle of the peninsula at an elevation of a little over 1,000 feet (370 meters). The town is the seat of the governing body of Mount Athos and of the protos (primate) of the monastic community.
Karyes has been the administrative center for the monastic communities since the tenth century. The Holy Community consists of twenty members, one representative from each of the twenty monasteries on the peninsula, The Protos, who is the spiritual leader of the monasteries, is chosen for life from among the body of abbots of the Athos monasteries. The Holy Community is responsible for administrative matters common to the monasteries. In civil matters the community is subordinate to the foreign office of Greece that is represented at Karyes by a civil governor.
Settlement of disputes between the monasteries is accomplished at annual meetings. The monks assemble usually on the feast day of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, August 15 in the Protaton church in Karyes. At these meetings the disputes, mainly over land holdings, are discussed and settled.
The town is located in a forest of walnut and hazel trees adjacent to the Koutloumousiou Monastery in the middle of the Athos peninsula. Traditionally, Karyes is said to have been established originally by Constantine the Great and later destroyed by Julian the Apostate. When Karyes was founded in the tenth century the settlement consisted mainly of smaller, older monasteries and buildings that were residences for the representatives of the distant monasteries.
The population of the town includes, in addition to the monks, various laymen, all male, who trade in forest products and ecclesiastical objects. In 1981, the population was 235. There are numerous building in the town. These are mainly owned by the twenty monasteries. These buildings are generally small and have two stories. The Skete of St. Andrew which was founded with the help of the Russian Czars is near the town.
The most prominent building in the town is the Church of Protaton. The church was built in the early part of the tenth century and is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin. The church is used for daily services and official ceremonies of the Holy Community. The church is a basilica with three aisles and two narthexes, although the north narthex is a simple portico. The church was repaired late in the thirteenth century during the reign of emperor Andronik II Palaeologus. A tall rectangular bell-tower was built near the north-east corner of the church in 1534-5 under the direction of Protos Serifim.
A few years into the fourteenth century Manuel Panselinos, of the Macedonian school, painted frescos on the interior of the church. His arrangement was divided into four zones. The lowest zones consists of full length rendering of saints of the Church. The next zone above is a composition of the Dormition of the Virgin. The third zone consists of scenes from the New Testament. The highest zone presents figures of the prophets and ancestors of Christ.
In mid twentieth century the church was restored again, including replacement of the wooden roof with one made of cement and Byzantine styled tiles.
The church contains a library of 117 manuscripts of which 47 are on parchment. A miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary is kept on the altar. Also, kept in the records room is the First Ritual of Mount Athos.