The monasteries, built from the 14th century in a breathtaking manner on the steep rock cones, are among the most spectacular monuments in Greece. According to softwareleverage, some of the 24 monasteries were only accessible by cables, others via small bridges and stairs carved into the rock.
Meteora monasteries: facts
|Official title:||Meteora monasteries|
|Cultural and natural monument:||0.375 km² in state ownership and under the administration of the Greek Orthodox Church; to almost unreachable, 60 million ago. Sandstone cliffs that were formed over the years and weathered over time, monasteries with frescoes from the 16th century as evidence of post-Byzantine painting; i.a. Várlaam, Agía Triáda, Ágios Nikêlaos Anapafsás (14th century), Ágios Stéfanos, Megálo Metéoro (Metamorphossis)|
|Location:||Meteora, northwest of Kalambáka|
|Meaning:||on the “pillars of heaven” an originally secluded monastic life|
|Flora and fauna:||wooded hills and valleys with American plane trees, evergreen cypresses and beech trees; Gray wolf and otter; albeit dwindling numbers of birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon, honey buzzard, black kite, Egyptian vulture and lesser spotted eagle|
Meteora Monasteries: History
|11th century||first settlement of hermits|
|1370||Establishment of the Megálo Metéoro Monastery|
|1525||Foundation of the Roussanoú Monastery|
|in World War 2||Damage from bombing|
|since 1972||regular maintenance measures|
Between heaven and earth
To be close to God, which better place – also symbolically expressing this – could have been chosen. Suddenly they emerge from the plain, the rock towers of Meteora. The rocks, some of them gray, some of which shimmer in different shades of red in the sun, look as if they had been imaginatively created by a modern landscaper. Some stick up into the sky like sharp needles, others are reminiscent of stone fingers or ancient towers and pyramids. The leaching of the nearby river Piniós and a weathering lasting over millions of years gave rise to this peculiar stone landscape. The rocks rise up to 300 meters high from the valley of the Piniós, some rock faces drop vertically; the slightly flattened peaks offer limited space for human habitation.
But it was precisely this inaccessibility and distance from normal everyday life that drew people into this loneliness at an early stage, loners who sought closeness to God. As early as the 9th century, hermits had withdrawn into niches and natural caves in these rocks in order to lead a godly life, praying and meditating. They had reached their dwellings on primitive ladders; Once at their destination, they destroyed this only means of access in order to give up all contact with others. The first Meteora monastery was founded in the middle of the 14th century, and others soon followed. Two centuries after the first monastery was founded, there were finally two dozen that towered over the plain like bird’s nests. Until the 20th In the 20th century, they were only accessible via primitive rope winches or rope ladders, through which people and essential goods came with difficulty to the monasteries. The contemplative solitude not only provided protection from marauding soldiers and robber gangs, it was also the basis for the local monasteries – like the Áthos monasteries – to develop into a religious and spiritual center.
From the 16th century, more and more monasteries were abandoned, so that today only six of them are inhabited. Some are only inhabited by monks, others are managed by nuns. But the former loneliness and meditative calm are a thing of the past, as the rocks and monasteries have developed into tourist magnets. So it’s no wonder that souvenir shops and refreshment stands are now part of everyday life in the monastery. Monks and nuns have come to terms with the huge number of visitors; Whole bus loads of more or less interested tourists pour into the former seclusion behind monastery walls every day during the main travel season. Strict dress codes are still observed, shorts or skirts and strapless T-shirts are not tolerated.
Today visitors no longer have to climb dangerous rope ladders to get a glimpse of architecture and art treasures and to get an idea of everyday monastery life between heaven and earth, even if some monastery buildings – such as the Ágios Nikólaos Anapafsás monastery with wall paintings by the Cretan painter Theophánis or Agía Triáda – can only be reached via a strenuous footpath. The access to the nunnery Ágios Stéfanos from the 14th century is far more convenient, as the monastery rock is connected to the opposite mountain by a bridge. The Megálo Metéoro Monastery, founded around 1370, is the largest of the still inhabited monasteries and perhaps the most impressive. More than a hundred steps carved into the rock allow a visit to the monastery museum, in which valuable old manuscripts and icons are shown. Step by step you also go up to the Várlaam Monastery, which is not far away. Its colorful frescoes in the monastery church are of art historical importance, presumably the work of the well-known icon painter Katelános from Áthos.