We visited a town in Central Greece that enthralled us with its very dramatic landscape dominated by natural rocks jutting high up to the sky. The town is called Meteora which means “suspended in the air.” But what makes this landscape of pinnacles even more spectacular are the monasteries that are perched precariously on top of the high rock pillars. They look mystical and intriguing. Who built them? How and why were they built?
We learned that the hermit monks of Meteora built the monasteries on top of the cliffs in the 14th and 15th century. They figured that the inaccessibility of the top of the rock pillars would provide the ideal refuge they seeked for their spiritual practice as well as protection from the invading Ottoman Turks. By 15th century, there were 26 Eastern Orthodox monastaries built on the high cliffs; only six of them remain today.
Varlaam Monastery was the second largest among the Meteora monasteries. It was built in 14th century by an ascetic named Varlaam. After his death, It was abandoned for about 200 years. In 1521, two monk brothers, Theophanes & Nektarios Apsarades, rebuilt the monastery and added a tower.
Using ropes and pulleys, it took 22 years to hoist the materials for the construction of the monastery to the top of the cliff. Once all the materials were hoisted, it only took 20 days to complete the construction.
During the days of Varlaam, the monastery was accessed using series of hanging wooden ladders. When it was rebuilt in the 1500’s, the monks were hoisted by hand using nets and ropes. In 1923, steps were carved on the rocks providing easier and safer access to the monastery, but breaking centuries-old tradition of isolation.
The Great Meteoron (“Megalou Meteorou”)
Established in 1340, the Great Meteoron is the oldest as well as the highest and largest monastery in Meteora. It was founded by a monk named St. Athanasios Meteorites who, according to legend, was carried to the top of the cliff by an eagle.
This Church of Transfiguration in Great Meteoron was built in 1373 by John Uros, later known as Saint Iosaph, a Serbian king who gave up his power and priviledge to become a monk in this monastery. He donated all his wealth to the Great Meteoron, making it the richest and most powerful among the monasteries of Meteora.
The ascent tower with the windlass and rope basket that was used in the olden days to hoist monks and supplies. In the 1600’s, during its prime, The Great Meteoron housed 200 monks. Today, only three monks live in the monastery.
View of the rope basket from the top of the tower.
In high monasterial fashion! We did not know that women were not allowed to wear pants or shorts inside the monastery and men cannot wear shorts. Hence, we had to wear the funny skirt and pants provided to us upon entry.
Monastery of Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa
The Monastery of Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa was built in the 15th century. It is known for valuable frescoes that were painted in 1527 by Theophanes Strelitzas, the famous leader of the Cretan school of painting. It was abandoned in the 1900s and was re-inhabited in the 1960’s. Today, only one monk live in the monastery
The Roussanou Monastery was established in the 15th century on a low rock. It can be accessed by a small bridge from a plateau or by 134 steps from the road. Today, the monastery is run by 13 nuns.
Monastery of AgiasTriadas (“Holy Trinity”)
If the Monastery of Agias Triadas looks familiar, it is because it was the setting in the finale scene of a James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. The monastery was built in the 14th century and can be accessed today by climbing 140 steep steps.
Monastery of Agiou Stefanou
The Monastery of Agiou Stefanou (“St. Stephen”) was built in the 1400’s by St. Antoninus Cantacuzene, a son of Serb ruler. The monastery became a nunnery in 1961 and is currently inhabited by 28 nuns.
The courtyard of the Monastery of Agiou Stefanou.
View of Monastery of Agiou Stefanou from the neighboring village of Kalambaka.
Finished iconography works.
Meteora Travel Tips:
- On how to get from Athens to Meteora, click here.
- There is a €2 entrance fee to each monastery.
- Dress codes are stritctly observed in the monasteries. Women must wear long skirts and men must were long pants. Sleeveless is not allowed. The monasteries provide skirts and pants at the entrance If you arrive not wearing propert attire.
- Lonely Planet has a good direction on how to get from one monastery to the other.
- For visiting hours and telephone numbers for each monasteries, click here.