Varlaam Monastery, Meteora GreeceWe 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

Varlaam Monastery, Meteora Greece

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.

Varlaam Monastery, Meteora GreeceUsing 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.

Varlaam Monastery, Meteora GreeceDuring  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.

Varlaam Monastery, Meteora GreeceWhen it  was rebuilt in the 16th century, the Varlaam Monastery housed 35 monks. Today, only seven monks live in the monastic community.

The Great Meteoron (“Megalou Meteorou”)

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, GreeceEstablished 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.

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron), Meteora, Greece

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. 

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, Greece

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.

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, Greece

 View of the rope basket from the top of the tower. 

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron), Meteora, Greece Instead of ropes and windlass, people nowadays can access The Great Meteoron by climbing 400 steep steps carved on the rocks.

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, GreeceThe candles lit for offering by the pilgrims.

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, GreeceThe preserved frescos in the church.

Monastery of Megalou Meteoroo (Great Meteoron),  Meteora, GreeceIn 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

Monastery of Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa, Metoera GreeceThe 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

Roussanou Monastery

Roussanou Monastery, Meteora, Greece

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”)

Monastery of Agias Triadas (Holy Trinity), Meteora, Greece 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 Agias Triadas (Holy Trinity), Meteora, Greece In the olden days, the Monastery of Agia Triada housed the most monks among the Meteora monasteries. Today, only four monks are  in residence.

 Monastery of Agiou Stefanou

Monastery of Agiou Stefanou, Meteora, GreeceThe 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.

Monastery of Agiou Stefanou, Meteora, Greece

The courtyard of the Monastery of Agiou Stefanou.

View from Monastery of Agiou Stefanou, Meteora, Greece View of the neighboring village of Kalambaka from Monastery of Agiou Stefanou.

Monastery of Agiou Stefanou, Meteora, Greece View of Monastery of Agiou Stefanou from the neighboring village of Kalambaka.

Monastery of Agiou Stefanou, Meteora, Greece

View of Monastery of Agiou Stefanou from the neighboring village of Kalambaka.

Rocks of Meteora, GreeceThe rocks of Meteora.

Iconographer, Meteora, GreeceMeteora is also known for iconography.  This is an iconographer at work at one of the workshops we visited. 

Iconography,  Meteora, Greece

 Finished iconography works.

Meteora, Greece In front of the many rock formations of Meteroa.

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.



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16 responses to “Meteora: Monasteries in the Sky

  1. Danica Moran

    What an amazing place! I thought I know a loft of places in Greece but I have not heard about Meteora. It has a very interesting landscape and history. Another one on my list.

    • Traveling Solemates

      We have not heard about Metoera either until few months before we went on a trip. A friend we met on one of our trips, who’d been to most countries in the world, mentioned that it was one of his favorite places so we looked it up. We could see how he was so enthralled by it.

  2. Carrie Sieber

    Wow, another incredible place I have not heard about! Meteora and the monasteries look and sound fascinating. When I hear or read about Greece travel, it’s always about the ancient ruins and the Aegean islands. Thanks to your blog, now I know about Meteora.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Carrie, our pleasure. We’re glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Kira

    I don’t think I have heard of Meteora before. Now I want to see that James Bond movie to see the scene with the monastery. Nice photos as usual.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Thanks Kira, We hope you enjoy the movie:)

  4. Bama

    The first time I heard the word ‘Meteora’ was back then when I was still in college. When I found out what that was, I was instantly amazed and captivated by those monasteries. Marisol, you and your husband seem to travel to places I’ve wanted to go since a long time. :)
    Bama recently posted..Tracing Jakarta’s HistoryMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Bama, you’re one of the few people I know who actually heard of Meteora. Yes, those monasteries are indeed captivating. I have no doubt that you’ll get there someday.

  5. Hannah

    Wow, what an amazing place! I’ve never heard of it before, but have bookmarked your post and will be sure to check it out when we make it to Greece. Your photos are stunning as always – I can’t stop looking at them :)
    Hannah recently posted..Our lovely little house in GoaMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Hannah, it was an amazing place indeed. I’m sure you’ll be even more amazed when you see it for yourself. Glad you enjoyed photos:)

  6. Jan Sullivan

    Wow!!! Looks magical! It’s incredible how they built the monasteries. I see some kind of wires/lines connected to one of the monastery (the James Bond one), is it use to transport stuff?

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Jan, yes those wires are used to transport supplies to the monastery. We understand that it’s a motorized gadget that even the monks can ride on them if they don’t want to climb the stairs.

  7. craig simone

    Wow, what an interesting place! I’m embarrass to admit, I have not heard about it.:( Where was I? I can’t stop staring at the photos. Thanks again for taking me to an amazing place from my armchair.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Craig, our pleasure. We’re glad you enjoyed the travel from your armchair:)

  8. I have seen a lot of web posts about Meteora. I think this one has the most complete set of photographs. An amazing piece of work. Well done!

  9. Apostolis

    Great article about the monasteries of Meteora! Here’s also a beautiful Meteora timelapse

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