Meteora the Magnificent
In the heart of Greece, land of the Gods, there lies the most magnificent place in Europe. Created over 600 million years ago by Anemoi, the wind Gods, and Poseidon, God of the sea and earthquakes, these giant sandstone rock pillars rise up from the earth towards the heavens. This is Meteora.
Monks, who originally lived in caves in the area settled on these pillars of the sky from as early as the 11th century. During the 14th century 24 monasteries were built a top these astounding rock pillars. At first the only way to access them was by rope and ladder, now bridges as well as steps carved into the rock help ease access. Sadly, only 6 of the original monasteries remain, 4 inhabited by monks and the other 2 by nuns. Meteora is one of Greece’s many UNESCO sites and is a must see for anyone visiting Greece.
The 6 monasteries include; the Holy Trinity – most famous for being used in one of the James Bond movies, Varlaam Monastery – home to relics, icons and frescos, St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery – home to one monk and famous for the frescos by painter Theophanes Strelitzas, and Roussanou Monastery – an active nunnery that was founded in 1545 and built on an even older church. The last two, the Great Meteron Monastery and St. Stephen’s Monastery I had the privilege to explore.
My visit to Meteora all began with watching the sunset over the magnificent sight near my hotel just outside of Kalambaka. The wheat fields shimmered, the rock pillars of Meteora stood strong against the backdrop of a delicate sunset of orange and pink hues and I stood there in the middle of nowhere and somewhere, smiling and utterly in awe. The next day we started out after a filling breakfast and headed straight towards the pillars of the sky. As we wound our way up we stopped occasionally on the side of the road, and cliff – I may add, for photo ops of the amazing scenery, buildings perched high on cliffs, pillars of sandstone jutting out of the Earth like they were on a mission to stand tall before the sun Gods, and cats wandering the paths and curling up on the stone ledges, soaking in the early sun’s rays.
Our first stop was at the Great Meteron Monastery, the oldest, largest and highest of the remaining monasteries. At over 2000′, the Great Meteron Monastery is a great place to visit as you’ll have access to much of the site. To reach it you must first scale the many stairs cut into the rock. There is a museum collection in the refectory that is full of artifacts and books which are so well preserved for being 100’s of years old. There’s also an old kitchen that draws your thoughts to just how different it was in centuries past, full of primitive kitchen wares, a domed roof with an opening in the center to release the smoke and standing there you can catch a hint of the food once prepared here still lingering. You can also peek into a room, the sacristy, where bones of old monks are placed on shelves within. Then there is the stunning church from the 15th century with 16th century frescoes and a 12 sided dome that is 78′ high that when you stand within and gaze upon their beauty will leave you breathless.
Our next stop was St. Stephen’s Monastery which is one of the two nunneries in Meteora. Across a bridge and into its walls we donned our long skirts that are available and required upon entry. Smaller and much more quaint than the Great Meteron, St. Stephen’s Monastery was full of beautiful gardens, with butterflies dancing about, as well as a museum, more stunning frescos and a fabulous view over Kalambaka below. It also had a great shop , which I encourage you to purchase something, as all proceeds go to their efforts to help people in Kalambaka who are in need.
Meteora completely blew my high expectations out of the park. Standing before it, standing upon it and being witness to its people, its history and its awe inspiring magnificence left me richer and forever grateful for my time spent in its glory.
Do not photograph the monks or nuns
No photography in their churches
Be mindful of your attire, no tank tops or shorts (for both men & women) – at many of the monasteries you will be offered their skirt sarongs if you do not have proper bottoms
If you are visiting without a tour group check times and days when open. Some are closed on certain days and at certain times.