From the World Heritage inscription:
‘Suspended in the air’ (the meaning of Meteora in Greek), these monasteries represent a unique artistic achievement and are one of the most powerful examples of the architectural transformation of a site into a place of retreat, meditation and prayer. The Meteora provide an outstanding example of the types of monastic construction which illustrate a significant stage in history, that of the 14th and 15th centuries when the eremitic ideals of early Christianity were restored to a place of honour by monastic communities, both in the Western world (in Tuscany, for example) and in the Orthodox Church.
Built under impossible conditions, with no practicable roads, permanent though precarious human habitations subsist to this day in the Meteora, but have become vulnerable under the impact of time. The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 m cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.
The monasteries are built on rock pinnacles of deltaic origin, known as Meteora, which rise starkly over 400 m above the Peneas valley and the small town of Kalambaka on the Thessalian plain. Chemical analysis suggests that the pinnacles were created some 60 million years ago in the Tertiary period, emerging from the cone of a river and further transformed by earthquakes. The Meteora are enormous residual masses of sandstone and conglomerate which appeared through fluvial erosion. Seismic activity increased the number of fault lines and fissures and hewed the shapeless masses into individual sheer rock columns. Hermits and ascetics probably began settling in this extraordinary area in the 11th century. In the late 12th century a small church called the Panaghia Doupiani or Skete was built at the foot of one of these ‘heavenly columns’, where monks had already taken up residence.
During the fearsome time of political instability in 14th century Thessaly, monasteries were systematically built on top of the inaccessible peaks so that by the end of the 15th century there were 24 of them. They continued to flourish until the 17th century. Today, only four monasteries – Aghios Stephanos, Aghia Trias, Varlaam and Meteoron – still house religious communities.
What to say about Meteora….
This is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been. The monasteries and the rock formations are incredible and like something you will probably never see anywhere else in the world.
When people think of Greece they often think of the Acropolis or of white buildings on islands in the Aegean. I think the pillars of Meteora should be considered on of, if not the, iconic image of Greece.
The town of Kalabaka lies below Meteora and is where most people stay. While cruise ships do visit by bus, it isn’t really a day trip from anywhere. Plan to spend at least one full day in the area visiting monasteries and taking photos. I actually spent 3 days taking photos, which was well worth it. The weather was different on each day, which made for great photography.