Meteora. Monastery in Greece, Europe

Meteora

Monastery in Greece, Europe

Meteora Photo © Kacper Gunia

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Meteora

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Monastery
	of Varlaam - Meteora
Monastery of Varlaam - Meteora. Photo by Gabriel
Meteora (meaning “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air”, or “in the heavens above”) is one of the largest and most significant complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece – second only to Mount Athos. This remote fortress of impregnable stone towers proved essential to preserving a wealth of knowledge, holding the truth of the rise and fall of Ancient Greece, the only such records that were not seized and destroyed by the Ottomans. What remains of this magnificent community in the sky sits atop clusters of sandstone pillars that mark the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly (Wikipedia Article), in the shadow of the Eastern Pindus Mountains, just beyond the town of Kalambaka. These pinnacles were formed 60 million years ago due to erosion and seismic activity in the area.

By the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire’s 800 year reign over Greece was coming to an end and the Ottoman Empire (Wikipedia Article) was on the rise. A group of monks who lived on the Athos Peninsula set out to find a new home and escape the violence of an impending Ottoman occupation of Greece. The three monks – Gregory, Moses, and their leader, Athanasius – had heard of miracles taking place in the “land of the great rock forest”. They found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge and settled on top of a rock where they founded the Meteoron monastery.

Monastery of Rousanou - Meteora
Monastery of Rousanou - Meteora. Photo by sicolan


Monastery of Rousanou Sunset -
	Meteora
Monastery of Rousanou Sunset - Meteora. Photo by Danel Solabarrieta
Later, Athanasius assembled a small community and constructed a few more dwellings, as well as a chapel, in the caves of a nearby pillar. Legend says that Athanasius did not scale the rock but was carried there by an eagle. By the end of the 14th century, the Grand Meteoron emerged as a dominant community and soon came to encompass a total of 24 monasteries. They attracted, not only the religious, but also philosophers, poets, painters, and deep thinkers. It is believed that, if not for these monasteries, Hellenic culture would have disappeared and modern Greece would be a reflection of the Ottoman Empire with little knowledge of its true history.


The monks maintained complete control over the outside access to their retreat with a precarious system of ladders, nets, and ropes. They descended the cliffs – at an average elevation of 1,027 ft. – in nets or retractable wooden ladders that would then be pulled up and out of reach when not in use. It wasn't until the 1920s that steps were cut into the rocks, making the complex accessible by a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II, when the Germans and Italians occupied Greece, the site was bombed and many treasures were stolen. Today, only six of the original monasteries remain.

Meteora - Meteora
Meteora. Photo by Julien Lagarde


Monastery of the Holy
	Trinity
Monastery of the Holy Trinity

The Monasteries of Meteora

The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron founded by Athanasius, is the largest monastery in Meteora and is built upon the highest rock. When Serbian Emperor Symeon Uros gave the monastery all his wealth and became a monk, it became the richest and most powerful of the monasteries. It contains some of the most beautiful murals and post-Byzantine art that still exist in Greece. The monastery is open from 9 AM to 1 PM and from 3 PM to 6 PM. It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.


The Monastery of the Holy Trinity was founded by the monk, Dometius, in the 15th century. It is decorated with murals from the 18th century by the brothers, Antonios and Nikolaos. To get to the monastery you must climb the steps cut into the rock. It is open from 9 AM to 1 PM every day, except Thursday.


The Holy Monastery of Varlaam, built in 1541, is the second largest monastery in the Meteora complex. It houses an astounding collection of relics, intricately carved wooden crosses, icons and many other treasures, including murals painted by the famous post-Byzantine iconographer, Frangos Katelanos. The monastery is open from 9 AM to 1PM and then from 3:30 PM to 6 PM. It is closed on Fridays.


Holy Monastery of
	Rousanou
Holy Monastery of Rousanou
The Holy Monastery of Rousanou was founded in 1545 by Joasaph and Maximos, two brothers who built it upon the ruined remains of an even older church. To reach it you must cross a small bridge that connects to another peak. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3:30 to 6pm. It is closed on Wednesdays.

The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, with its sweeplng views of the valley below, is the only convent in Meteora. It is not known when the old church was built but the present church, dedicated to Saint Haralambos, was built in 1798. The saint's skull has been kept here since it was given to the nuns as a gift from Prince Vladislav of Wallachia. The monastery was damaged by the Nazis during World War II who believed it to be harboring insurgents. It is open from 9am to 1pm and 3 to 5pm every day.

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapauas, built in the 16th century, is a small church. It was decorated by the Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas in 1527. The monastery is open every day from 9am to 6pm.


A view of Meteora - Meteora
A view of Meteora. Photo by Gabriele Quaglia

Meteora, Greece -
	Meteora
Meteora, Greece - Meteora. Photo by Elisa Triolo

When to Visit

Weather is wet and cool from December through March and crowds can be guaranteed from July through October. May and June are the best months for comfortable weather, low season rates and lesser crowds.

How to Get There

Buses to Kalambaka are available from Ioannina, Thessaloniki and Athens.

Take a train from Thessaloniki or Athens and switch at Larissa.

If traveling from Athens you can take a morning train and enjoy the spectacular scenery.


Monastery
	of Great Meteoron - Meteora
Monastery of Great Meteoron - Meteora. Photo by Neil and Kathy Carey

Planning Tips

Be careful because the paths are crumbling in places and some traveling over uneven ground should be expected. A passing knowledge of Greek Orthodoxy will enhance your appreciation of the monasteries of Meteora and their valuable displays of Byzantine art. There are volunteers at the Church of the Transfiguration who are very knowledgeable on the rich tradition of Byzantine iconography.

Carry bottled water, especially if you are visiting the monasteries by foot. There are refreshment vendors along the road by the monasteries but their prices are excessive.

There is a fee of two euros to enter each monastery.

Proper attire when visiting the monasteries is required. Sleeveless clothing and shorts are prohibited. Skirts must fall below the knee and men must cover their arms and wear long pants.

Nearby Landmarks

  • Trikala, a modern city with gardens, parks, fountains and fortresses to explore.
  • Lake Plastiras, a man-made lake with two beaches for swimming and beautiful trails that can be seen on foot, bicycle or horseback.
  • Kalambaka, a town at the foot of Meteora with plenty of hotels, restaurants, shops and cafes.
  • The Theopetra Caves are south of Meteora and are well known to paleontologists who say they were inhabited for 50,000 years until just 5,000 years ago.

Also See

Taung Kalat Monastery

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Author: kristen7225. Last updated: Jan 24, 2015

Pictures of Meteora

Meteora Monastery - Meteora
Meteora Monastery - Photo by alaskapine

Meteora - Meteora
Meteora - Photo by Vasilis Karamouzos

Sunrise at Meteora's Monastery of Varlaam - Meteora
Sunrise at Meteora's Monastery of Varlaam - Photo by Mateus Pabst

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