From the World Heritage inscription for Meteora:
‘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.
Meteora is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Greece. This property was added to the list in 1988 and is located in Thessaly, Greece. This is a rock formation that is home to the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in the region. There are six monasteries that make up this UNESCO site. All of them are built on hill-like rounded boulders and pillars that overlook the local region.
These unique columns of rock are located beside the Pindos Mountains in Greece. These rock columns rise from the ground and are among the most unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Meteora is a nearly inaccessible UNESCO site that was built in the 11th century. These sandstone peaks are home to one of Greece’s most recognizable features and cultural sites. The monks lived in the so-called ‘columns of the sky’ since the 11th century. There are 24 monasteries that make up Meteora. The geological difficulties of these rock columns are part of the indescribable challenge of building these monasteries.
Prior to the building of monasteries in Meteora, these caves were inhabited about 50,000 to 5,000 years ago. A stone wall that served to block the entrance to Theopetra cave was the first known man-made structure in the region. This stone wall was constructed about 23,000 years ago. Many believed that the stone wall was built to protect the cave settlers from the cold winds.
The monks first made their way to Meteora in the 11th century. They occupied the caverns in Meteora during this time. The monasteries that now stood at the UNESCO site were not built until in the 14th century. The monks needed a place to hide and live in in the face of the Turkish attacks in Greece. During this time, the monks were able to access the monasteries through windlass or removable ladders. Today, there are steps built to make access to the monasteries a bit easier. The steps were built in the 1920s.
There are 24 monasteries that are built as part of the Meteora UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, only 6 of these 24 monasteries are functioning until today. Each monastery is housed by less than 10 people.
Below is a list of the 6 monasteries that were part of the Meteora UNESCO site:
Monastery of Great Meteoron: This is the largest of all the 6 monasteries that are still functioning in Meteora. As of 2015, this monastery only houses 3 monks. It was built in mid-14th century and has undergone numerous restorations from the late 15th to the mid-16th century. One building in this monastery is open for tourists as a museum.
Monastery of Varlaam: This is the second largest monastery in Meteora. In 2015, this was the monastery that had the most number of monks at 7. The monastery was built in 1541 and was decorated in 1548.
Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara: This monastery was established in the mid-16th century. It was fully decorated by 1560. This is used as a nunnery and serves as the residence of 13 nuns.
Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas: This monastery was built in the 16th century. It comes with a small church that was decorated by artist Theophanis Strelitzas. As of 2015, only one monk resides in this monastery.
Monastery of St. Stephen: This small church was founded and built in the 16th century. This is one of the rare monasteries in Meteora that is built on a plain rather than on a cliff. It was turned over to the nuns in 1961 and have been reconstructed to a full functioning nunnery with up to 28 nuns residing here.
Monastery of the Holy Trinity: This monastery is located on top of a cliff and was built in late 15th century. It underwent remodeling in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are four monks that lived in this monastery as of 2015.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.