Elisabeth & Teije's reis website

Monasteries in the impressive Meteora

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 10 July 2018

Tuesday 10 July, monasteries in the impressive Meteora

Shrine at Trygona Inside the shrine along the roadWe especially came to Ioannina because we want to visit the monasteries of the Meteora again. We were there a few years ago but it has made such an impression on us that we want to go there one more time. Along the way we encounter here and there an iconostasis, chapels in places where, for example, an accident has been. They are small monuments and often there is a lighter inside to light a candle.
We approach the Meteora, marred by overhead cables We are approaching the MeteoraAfter almost one and a half hour drive we see the characteristic rocks looming in the distance. Once upon a time there was an inland sea and the water and the wind turned the soft sandstone into steep peaks with deep gaps in between and the whole area is called the Meteora, which means 'up in the sky' or 'highly elevated'. It is an impressive area but is not mentioned at all in classical antiquity. Maybe it was too inhospitable to inhabit then.
A mountain with caves in the Meteora We see stuff in the holes, MeteoraThe rocks sometimes tower 500 meters above the ravines and some have natural caves where in the 9th century hermits sought refuge to live in seclusion. More and more came to this area, however, and on Sundays and holidays, the hermits came together, and gradually in the 12th century a kind of ascetic society grew, but to live alone remained the main goal to be here.
The Roussanou monastery, Meteora The Roussanou monastery, MeteoraWhen Serbian and Turkish armies invaded the region at the beginning of the 14th century, a group of monks from Mount Athos, led by Athanasios Koinovitis, came to this area in order to escape the violence and political pressure. Between 1356 and 1372, the first (and largest) monastery was built. They had only ropes and nets to get the building materials from a 400-meter lower plateau. Via ladders, which were sometimes 40 meters long, one could climb up and down and in case of danger, the ladders could be removed. The monastery thus became a safe fortress that could not be taken.
The Great Meteora monastery Visitors down at the Roussanou monasteryIn the centuries that followed, more and more monks came and more monasteries were built. You read everywhere that there have been 24 monasteries but experts doubt that. Now there are still at least 4 in use, but we can imagine that the monks, who come here for isolation, are not always happy with the busloads of tourists who come here to gape at them daily. It is almost a wonder, the way these monasteries are stuck on the mountain peaks and they just do not fall off. The access roads have become somewhat easier with carved steps into the rocks but it is still a steep climb to most of them.
The Great Meteora monastery Monastery of St. Nicholas AnapavsaAt some monasteries, a rope hangs from a window that goes all the way down and to which a basket is attached, still the easiest way to get goods and food up. In the past, visitors were sometimes hoisted up that way too, which should not have been a nice ride if you are above a ravine and are dependent on the strength of the rope and the men who lift you up.
It seems that some monks are still going up this way, but unfortunately we do not see that spectacle ourselves.
Monastery of St. Barbara-Roussanou The Agios Stefanos monasteryThere are 6 monasteries to visit but not all of them are always open. You also have to take into account the dress code. For example, men are not allowed to walk in shorts and for women, pants are completely out of the question, just like a short skirt or sleeveless shirts. Fortunately, in most monasteries you can get long trousers, a wide dress or wrap skirt that you hang over your clothes so that you are walking around 'decently'. Well, it is a bit old-fashioned, but the monks are in charge, just as on Mount Athos where no women are allowed at all.
We have seen a monastery inside on our previous visit but this time we come especially for the fantastic view. Nevertheless, we are less impressed than the first time we saw this area. Then it was still completely new and unexpected.
Monasteries in the Meteora Holy Trinity monasteryThere are only two roads through the area but despite the crowds you can stop almost anywhere. There are several vantage points from where you have a nice overview of the area and the many monasteries. But sometimes you have no idea what monastery you are actually looking at and it may be that we do not have all the names in the photos correct.
The area has become a real tourist attraction and we can imagine that more and more monks are leaving, there is not much seclusion anymore.
Holy Trinity monastery The Agios Stefanos monasteryThe Great Meteora monastery is the oldest and largest and can be reached by climbing 115 steps. There are regular exhibitions and you can visit the old church. The Nicolaos monastery has several floors because there was too little space on the rock for a single-storey monastery (the others all are). This monastery has beautiful and old murals.
The Agios Stefanos monastery Elisabeth on the edge, MeteoraThe Stefanos monastery is the most accessible because it is located along the road and this is also the only nunnery in this area. At first there were no women admitted in the area, just like Athos, the nunnery only exists since 1961.
But in the 17th century the monastic life was somewhat in decline and there are even stories of monks who smuggled women, dressed up as a monk, into the monasteries, not really according to the rules.
Monastery in the Meteora The Great Meteora monasteryThe rock walls of the Roussanou monastery are so steep that no stairs could be cut and there are two bridges to enter. And then there is the Varlaam monastery, named after the hermit who built a first church on this rock. Another monastery is the Holy Trinity Monastery, that is best known because James Bond climbed up the walls in For your eyes only. It is less well known that the Germans plundered the treasury in World War II.
The Roussanou monastery, Meteora The Metamorfosis monasteryIn the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the monasteries were also used to flee from the rulers or occupiers and rebels or function as a base for resistance fighters who acted as guerillas. During the 2nd World War, the monasteries have suffered quite a lot of damage, but gradually they are rebuilding everything and the money that the tourists bring in can of course help well.
In 1988 the monasteries were included on the Unesco World Heritage List.
The Metamorfosis monastery Cable lift in the Metamorfosis monasteryAt the Grote Meteora monastery we see a kind of cable lift where men are busy with something that looks like a fridge. We are watching for a long time, but even though people are busy pulling and pushing the device, nothing happens. Too bad, we had wanted to see how they did it, because we do not see pulleys or something, just a few cables. The monks can make better use of the visiting tourists to bring stuff in the monasteries. There seem to be no more than 30 monks and nuns and no longer any hermits at all.
Painting at the Metamorfosis Sotiris monastery Painting at the Metamorfosis Sotiris monasteryIn a chapel in front of the Great Meteora monastery (also called Metamorfosis Sotiris) we see some nice icons, especially the colors are often very clear, even when they are centuries old. And many of the oldest preserved icons of the Greek Orthodox Church are found on the Athos peninsula and in the monasteries here.
There has been a lot of struggle in the past about the purpose of icons and finally they came to the compromise that the depicted people were allowed to be honored but not worshiped. Lesser theological issues have already caused religions to split. Fortunately, we only have to admire them as art objects that tell something about the period in which they were made.
Meteora from Kalambaka Sunset in PeramaAfter a few hours we have seen enough and in the village of Kastraki we look for a terrace, it is quieter here than in the town of Kalambaka where most tourist buses go. We drive through it, though, to photograph the Meteora from this side. Actually, the Meteora is only a very small area but definitely worth the long way to drive here.
We have now seen it twice and that is sufficient. Fortunately, today it is sunny and dry, otherwise it is a lot less pleasant to drive in the mountains. At dusk we are back home and we can sit on the balcony for a long time, enjoying the warmth.


© Teije & Elisabeth 2000 - 2024 To the top of the page