Published in Travel Guides
Meteora, these unusually sculpted rocks, crafted by nature for man to wonder at, seem to be suspended between the solid earth and the ethereal translucence of the heavens, as the Greek word implies. They are unquestionably among the most imposing and majestic sights in this country. Most probably, the rocks — which rise 100 to 150 m straight out of their flat surroundings — once formed part of the bed of a vast river that flowed from the Hassies mountains, flooding the plain of Thessaly.
Gradually over the millennia, its stones, sand and mud were compressed into a single cone-shaped mass and when the water in the lake finally drained into the Aegean, leaving the mound exposed, the erosive force of the wind, rain and earthquakes carved and moulded it into the shapes we see today.
Visitors to Meteora can find accommodation in nearby Kalambaka (6,000 inh.) on the banks of the Pinios river, an open town laid out on a grid, and flourishing on tourism, or the even closer village of Kastraki with its pretty square and good tavernas.
Hermits shunning the material world started seeking refuge here around the 12th c. The first monasteries were founded some two centuries later, when the monks constructed inaccessible eagles’ nests in the crannies of these rocks, out of reach of violence and looting. The oldest monastery was the Panagia Doupiani, whose abbots thereafter bore the title of First among the Ascetics; one of them, Kyr Neilos, founded another four monastic communities on rocks in the vicinity in 1367. Between 1356 and 1372, Athanasios the Stylite founded the Great Meteora with nine brothers, according to an extremely strict set of rules. In 1388, his disciple Ioasaph, son of the king of Serbia, expanded the monastery. The 16th c. saw the construction of most of the other monasteries and the renovation of the older ones. At that time, it is said that over twenty were inhabited, but disputes over ownership of their various estates eventually brought about their decline. Today only six monasteries are in operation.
9 am-1 pm, 3 pm-6 pm, closed on Tuesdays and holidays
Built on Platys Lithos, the tallest and largest rock in the district — it is 613 m high and covers an area of 50,000 sq. m — this is the most imposing of all the Meteora monasteries. One must climb 250 m from the parking lot to the front gate. It was founded by the monk Athanassios Meteoretes. Its church, a Greek cross-in-square with a 12-sided dome and side niches, is considered an architectural marvel. Its frescoes, dated 1552, are thought to be by the master of the art, Theophanes of Crete. The refectory, now a museum, has a fine collection of ecclesiastical objects, including a wooden cross which took a monk named Daniel 14 years to complete. There are three other churches dedicated to St. John the Baptist, SS. Constantine and Helen and St. Athanassios. The net and rope ladder were replaced in 1923 by a tunnel hollowed out of the rock and 146 steps.
9 am-1 pm, 3 pm-6 pm, closed on Fridays and holidays
Perched on a pinnacle, this small monastery was initially accessible only by a succession of four rope ladders.
Later, visitors used to ascend in a net hauled up with a pulley and it was not until 1923 that the 195 steps one climbs today were carved out of the rock. In 1350, the first monk to come here, Varlaam, founded the chapel dedicated to the Three Hierarchs, while the present monastery was founded in 1518 by two brothers who rebuilt the church and added two more, dedicated to All the Saints and St. John the Baptist. During the Nazi Occupation, it was looted and abandoned, and reopened in 1961. Make sure to see the Treasury with its collection of manuscripts and a gospel bearing the signature of the emperor Constantine Porphyrogennitos. The katholikon is completely covered with frescoes, including a vivid rendering of the Last Judgement. The chapel of the Three Hierarchs also has frescoes, painted by one Ioannis of Kalambaka.
9 am-1 pm, 3 pm-6 pm, closed on Thursdays and holidays
This monastery, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, stands on a rock 65 to 100 m high, whose area at the summit is 6,000 sq. m Since 1925, one climbs 140 steps carved into the rock to gain access to it. It was founded in 1476 by the monk Dometios, but the narthex of the katholikon dates to 1692 and the frescoes were not painted until 1925. Looted during World War II, it was renovated in 1972 and 1997. Have a look, also, at the chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, erected in 1682.
9 am-1 pm, 3 pm-6 pm, closed on Mondays and holidays
Occupying the southernmost rock of the Meteora, this monastery was founded and reached its peak (no pun intended) in the 14th c. It is separated from the rest of the mountain by a ravine, straddled now by an 8 m long bridge. The hermit Ieremias was the first to retreat to this position around 1192, while in 1398, the abbot Ioannis Vradislaos, a Wallacho-Hungarian, expanded the monastery and donated the miraculous skull of St. Haralambos.
It acquired the epithet “royal” because the Byzantine emperor Andronikos Paleologos spent some time here. In 1545, it came under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which it is to this day. The monastery, now a convent, was badly damaged by bombs in World War II. But the recent frescoes in the rebuilt katholikon, dedicated to St. Haralambos, and the 14th c. church of Agios Stephanos with its original 16th c. frescoes by Nikolaos are both worth seeing. In the monastery museum there are rare manuscripts, precious icons and a gold embroidered "epitaphios" of 1857.
9 am-1 pm, 3 pm-6 pm, closed on Wednesdays and holidays
The walls of this tiny, but impressive convent rise straight up from the sheer cliff overlooking the Kastraki-Meteora road. It seems to have been founded before 1545 by Ioasaph and Maximos. Its katholikon is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ and it contains some rather graphic frescoes depicting the trials of martyrdom executed in the style of the Cretan School in 1561. The bridges connecting it to the outside world were not installed until 1936. The convent’s other church is dedicated to St. Barbara.
Closed, but visits can be arranged by making an appointment, tel. 0030 2432022375. You can get there by taxi from Kalambaka or on foot, following the signs. This small monastery is built on an 85 m high rock which seems like a rampart jutting out from the Great Meteora. Its church was built by the metropolitan of Larissa on the ruins of an earlier half-ruined church. It was rebuilt in 1961, and in 1972 its marvellous frescoes, painted by Theophanes Strelitzas of Crete in the 16th c., were restored. Make sure you see his naif rendition of Adam naming the animals with the Kimissi tou Ephraim painted over it. In addition to the main church, there is also a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
Ideally with your own transport or with an organized tour.
By intercity bus (KTEL), from Kifissou Station, Athens, Tel. 00302105124913, 00302105124911
Do as much walking as you can from monastery to monastery; that way you’ll get the most out of the extraordinary landscape and discover magical places for picnics.
All year round but not at its best when mist or fog conceal the awe-inspiring sight.
Kalambaka Municipality 0030 2432022346