Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 13 June 2015
Saturday 13 June, to the monasteries in the Meteora
One of the things we want to see in this area is the Meteora area where a lot of monasteries are built on high rocks. It is about an hour and a half drive from our apartment and we go further and further into the mountains. Sometimes it rains a bit, but luckily it gets better when we are almost there. From a distance we see all the strange sandstone rock formations where the monasteries are built. In the village of Kastraki, at the foot of the Meteora, we first drink coffee and read our guide for information about the monasteries.
The rocks have been worn out by sea and wind and deep, sometimes perpendicular, gorges have formed between the rocks. In most rocks are also burrows and caves and in one remains of a wall were found that protected a part of a cave from 23,000 years ago so people lived here in prehistoric times. Strangely enough, Meteora is never mentioned in Greek mythology and classical antiquity. But it was an ideal place for the Christian hermits who already came here in the 9th century. Later, more monks from other regions (such as Athos) founded monasteries from the 13th or 14th century.
The first monastery we see is the St. Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas) monastery that is built on top of a protruding rock and I am really astonished when I see it. How did they manage to build that? It is difficult to describe what you feel when you see this for the first time: especially awe but also disbelief. That must have been literal monks work to get all those building materials up. It seems that one monk still lives here.
Confusing are all those names: is this the Rousanou or St. Barbara monastery? Oh, they are the same. The monastery has been built around the top of the rock and somewhere at the bottom we see a bucket with a cable on the ground. With this, goods are lifted upwards and in the past the monks themselves alos, so we read. Before that, net were used. I would not like to go up in one of those. Women were not allowed to come here anyway for a long time. This is now a nunnery that has been inhabited since half a century.
The largest monastery is the Great Meteora monastery where 3 monks live. Now it is reasonably accessible through carved steps but in the past you could only enter via long ladders that were lifted in case of danger. Are they not afraid of earthquakes here? It seems that the monastery can slide off the mountain just like that. On three sides the rock goes almost straight down, on the 4th side there are connecting stairs and there is a large parking lot full of tourist buses so that the illusion of an unreachable rock is a bit lost.
In the Grand Meteora monastery a museum is situated and a church that you can view but I cannot enter the way I am clothed now with bare arms. Fortunately there are formless dresses and shawls ready for all those too little dressed tourists. There are still 7 monasteries which can be visited although they all have different opening hours and are not open every day. The Ypapanti monastery is the smallest (uninhabited) and to reach it you have to climb quite a few stairs (always better than going up in a net!) But there is a beautiful chapel. There are still a lot of old murals and icons in the various monastery churches, although in the 2nd World War quite a lot was destroyed and art treasures were stolen.
By car we drive back and forth through the area and we are overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of these amazing rock formations. The whole Meteora area is about 6 by 10 kilometers, so not that big but oh so impressive. Between the rocks, which, according to mountaineers, have a high degree of difficulty, we see the plain and the mountains behind. Often you have a view of several monasteries at the same time that seem to be floating in the air, which seems to be the meaning of the word Meteora. I would like to see this area when there is fog and the tops are above the clouds!
No less than 7 monks live in the Varlaam monastery. That they have not all fled yet for the tourists amazes me. They will not have a lot of rest, we see dozens of large coaches driving through the area. Although the St. Stephen monastery lies on the end of a cliff, it lies on a plateau so that it is easiest to visit. Behind it we see the town of Kalambaka lying on the plain.
There are a few reasonably wide roads through the area and you can park pretty easily along the way and there are a number of places where you can climb the rocks for the view. I think it's fantastic, truly incredible, this is one of the most impressive things I've seen so far in Greece, or perhaps of all journeys. The monasteries to be visited are now reasonably accessible, although you have to climb a lot, but the Trinity of the Trinity or Trinity is perhaps the most difficult with 140 rock steps. James Bond seems to have climbed the rocks in For your eyes only.After this impressive visit we need a break and in the village of Kastraki there are plenty of restaurants for something to eat and drink. It seems that most tourists go to the nearby town of Kalambaka and we believe that because here it is nice and quiet. Because we also have to drive back another hour and a half, it is pretty late when we are back at our apartment but this place was worth a visit. What a fantastic day.
In 2018 we will go there again and there you can even more photos. But then we knew what to expect and it was less overwhelming than today.