The Suspended Meteora Monasteries in Greece
Meteora are perched on the pinnacles of Thessaly in central Greece. Without a doubt, Meteora is one of the most remarkable and stunning places on earth. Even their name reveals their uniqueness: Meteora comes from the Greek word meteoros, which means suspended in the air.
Meteora Monasteries feature 24 monasteries, the second larger complex after the monasteries community in Mount Athos in Northern Greece. The medieval monasteries in Meteora are built on top of the imposing rock pillars that dominate the plain of Thessaly close to Kalambaka and Pineios River.
Strange but utterly breathtaking, the scenery in Meteora stuns all visitors. The landscape seems as if sculpted by earth, water and wind over centuries; nevertheless, these vertical rocks attract not only tourists and religious followers, but also climbers who imitate the feat of the hermit monks who were climbing the rocks back in the 11th century AD.
History of Meteora Monasteries
The exact time of the construction of Meteora Monasteries is not known; the predominant theory suggests that during the 10th and 11th century AD, hermits were living in caves and openings in the rocks, which offered them the ideal retreat and refuge from the Turkish attacks.
Towards the end of the 11th century the hermits formed a primordial monastic state, which was called Skete of Stagoi. According to known historical facts, the first monastery established by the hermits was the one of Theotokos (the mother of Christ in Greek) at the end of the 11th century. The monastic communities created afterwards were centered around the monastery of Theotokos, called Theotokos of Doupiani.
At the 14th century, the larger complex of monasteries, Athos, was already under the siege of Turks, as the Byzantine Empire was running to seed. Three of the monks of Athos, Athanasius, Gregory and Moses, left Athos and went to Meteora where they formed some communities of monks, building cells and chapels in the caves and the slopes of the rocks. In 1356 the Serbian Emperor Simeon Uros allowed them to establish a new monastery, known as the Church of the Transfiguration.
Athanasius and John Uros, son of the Serbian Emperor, decided to work on the expansion of the monasteries and the monastic community in the area. By the end of the 14th century, there were almost 20 monasteries and churched built, but soon after the death of the two men, decay hit the complex of Meteora Monasteries.
From the 24 monasteries built in Meteora until the 16th century, only six remain almost intact (or restored): the Great Meteoron (the originally named Monastery of the Transfiguration), Varlaam, St. Stephen, Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas Anapausas and Rousanou.
How to get to Meteora Monasteries
The access to the monasteries in Meteora was very difficult at first; the hermits and the first monks that came later were using ropes and hanging ladders and nets to haul up people and needed goods. According to historians, many people died as the ropes were breaking, but according to the monks it was God’s will to have the ropes replaced when damaged. Monks descended in the net or used the retractable rope ladders that over-hanged the chasm.
Later during the 1920s steps were carved on the rocks, creating the only easy access to the monasteries, while a bridge from the nearby plateau, allowed people to reach the buildings faster. However, the history of the tormented rocks was yet to know a new twist; during the World War II the rocks were bombed and a great amount of the monastic treasury was stolen. The six monasteries remaining today were restored, housing today less than ten residents each.
The Meteora Monasteries are among the protected sites in the UNESCO World Heritage list of monuments.
An interesting story about the Meteora Monasteries
Normally, endless legends and stories accompany the evolution and development of the suspended monasteries in Meteora. One of them is both touching and with a particular effect on the life of Meteora monasteries and their faithful followers:
Once, a Turk went to cut woods in the woodland below the ascetic pillar of St George. During the cutting, a bole fell on him and he was severely wounded. His wife found him and pledged her yashmak to the Saint, urging the Saint to help her husband. Indeed, her husband was saved and the woman dedicated her yashmak to St George.
Since then, on the name day of St George, youngsters climb one of the steep and dangerous slopes hanging handkerchiefs dedicated to the Saint. The following year, these handkerchiefs will be replaced by new ones and so on.
Best time to visit the Meteora Monasteries
The monasteries of Meteora can be visited all year long, but the region features a rather humid climate and weather can be quite cool during January throughout March. The high season for Meteora starts in April and ends toward the end of November, while the weather is still comfortably warm and facilitates the tours to Meteora and the lovely nearby area.