A spectacular monastery complex Meteora is the second biggest in Greece, after Mount Athos. Meteora, which means “suspended in air”, is a perfect name for a complex of six monasteries placed on natural rock pillars, one of the greatest attractions Greece has.
The monasteries were founded in the 11th century by monks who built them here because they wanted to be closer to God. Originally there were 23 monasteries but only six remained. In the past, the only way monks could reach the monastery was to be pulled up in big nets. According to legend, curious bystanders used to ask the same question: “How often do you change the ropes?” and the answer was always: “When the Lord let them break”. Today you can visit the monastery by foot or by car using many roads, paths and steps cut into stone. The impressive smooth and vertical rocks the monasteries are made on rise from the middle of the Thessalian Plain toward the skies. In every monastery there’s a central courtyard surrounded by chapels, dining rooms, and monks’ cells which were actually carved into the rock itself. In the center of courtyard is the main church – Catholicon; here you can also see tombs with the remains of all the monks that dwelled here. You need special attire to enter the monasteries – no sleeveless shirts, shorts and miniskirts are allowed.
If you plan to stay for more than a day and visit all the monasteries, you can find accommodation in the neighboring cities of Kalambaka and Kastraki. If you are staying in Thessaloniki you got to drive to Meteora about 216 km (135 miles) and it takes about 2.5 hours. There is also 3 hours bus ride.
Opening hours for the monasteries are 9-5, 6 days a week on a rotation and the best way to tour is to go clockwise – start with the Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, where you can see some of the finest colorful frescoes painted by famous iconographer from Crete, Theophanes Bathas – Strelitzas. Then move on to the second largest monastery in the complex – the Holy Monastery of Varlaam to check beautiful carvings in wood and Byzantine frescoes and, before the lunch break, visit the Great Meteoron, also called the Monastery of the Transfiguration, which is the largest monastery here, located 623 meters (2044 ft) above ground and take a peek at the Catholicon and its 12-sided dome covered with breathtaking frescoes, some of them the most beautiful in Greece.
After lunch, continue over the narrow pedestrian bridge and visit Rousanou and the Holy Trinity to see more frescoes, icons and wooden iconostasis. The James Bond series movie “For your eyes only”, was shot in the dangerous cliffs of Meteora and mostly in the monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity). Finish with the only female monastery on Meteora – St. Stephen, and buy some souvenirs from lively nuns.
Even if you are not religious at all, the untainted nature surrounding the monasteries will amaze you. Lots of people come here to go hiking and free climbing since the relief is perfect for that. In the case you have some time and breath left after visiting Meteora, just 4 kilometers away is the Cave of Theopetra where you can see 140,000 years old fossils of human soles and foots.
Photo by: elianemey