The Monasteries of Meteora

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The word Meteora means literally ‘hovering in the air’ and of course brings to mind the word meteor. What created this rare geological phenomenon is one of the mysteries of nature and there are many theories though they remain theories and none have been proven. But as amazing a marvel of nature as these giant rocks are the buildings on the top of these are a marvel of man and seem just as miraculous and make Meteora one of the most spectacular places to visit in Greece.

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The area of Meteora was originally settled by monks who lived in caves within the rocks during the 11th Century, but as the times became more unsure during an age of Turkish occupation, brigandry and lawlessness, they climbed higher and higher up the rock face until they were living on the inaccessible peaks where they were able to build by bringing material and people up with ladders and baskets and build the first monasteries. This was also how the monasteries were reached until the nineteen twenties and now there are roads, pathways and steps to the top. There are still examples of these baskets, which are used for bringing up provisions. Back in the days when these baskets were the only way to get to the monasteries a nervous pilgrim asked his monk host if they ever replace the rope. “Of course we do” he replied. “Whenever it breaks”, which I am sure put the guy at ease. But now you don’t have to worry about ropes breaking since the monasteries are all connected by a series of paths that if you begin early enough you can see them all in one day. They are also connected by roads so if you are coming by car and don’t have all day to wander around you can also get close enough and then continue on foot.

During the Turkish occupation it was the monasteries which kept alive the Hellenic culture and traditions and were not only religious centers but academic and artistic as well. It is believed that were it not for the monasteries, Hellenic culture would have disappeared and modern Greece would be a reflection of the Ottoman Empire with little knowledge of its roots and history. The monasteries attracted the deeply religious, but the philosophers, poets, painters and the deep thinkers of Greece. Today only six of the monasteries are active.

To enter each of the monasteries, proper attire is required. Women must wear skirts below the knees though in some monasteries are provided for women in shorts or slacks. Men’s arms must be covered and they must wear long pants.

The monasteries, besides providing an incredible view are full of religious treasures, wall paintings, icons and libraries rich in old manuscripts. Most of them were built in the 1500’s and then added to over the centuries.

 

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Megalo Meteoro or Metamorphisis Monastery

is  the first church of the transfiguration is the best known of the monasteries and is built upon the highest rock. Founded by Athanasios the Meteorite, one of the most well-known figures in Orthodox monasticism, work begun before 1382 and later completed by the Monk Joasaph. Because the Serbian Emperor Symeon Uros gave the monastery all his wealth and became a monk it became the richest and most powerful of all the monasteries and contains some of the most beautiful wall paintings and post Byzantine Mural art that can be found in Greece as well as a museum collection in the refectory. The katholikon has a twelve-sided dome 24 meters in height with a striking series of frescos by Theophanis, which depict the persecution of Christians by the Romans in somewhat gruesome detail. The monastery is open from 9 to 1 and from 3 to 6. It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

 

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Agia Triada or Holy Trinity Monastery

was founded by the monk Dometius in the 15th century, was used for the James Bond film, ‘For Your Eyes Only’. The brothers Antonios and Nikolaos decorate it with wall paintings from the 18th century. To get to the monastery you walk up 140 steps cut into the rock, past the church of Saint John the Baptist with its wall paintings from 1682. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm every day except Thursday.

 

 

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Varlaam Monastery

founded in 1517 by Theophanis and Nektarios Apsaradas from Ioanina, though the first to establish a monastery here was an ascetic anchorite named Varlaam. The monastery houses an important collection of relics, intricately carved wooden crosses, icons, embroidered epitaph and many other ecliastical treasures. It also contains frescos by the well known post Byzantine iconographer Frangos Katelanos. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3:30 to 6pm. It is closed on Friday .

 

 

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Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas

was built in the 16th Century by Dionysious, the Metropolitan of Larissa and named after an old Patron. The Katholikon is decorated in wall paintings by the renowned Cretan Iconographer Theophanis Bathas-Strelitzas.  This monastery is open every day from 9am to 6 pm.

 

 

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Roussanou Monastery

was founded in 1545 by Joasaph and Maximos, two brothers from Epirus who built it on the ruins of an even older church. To get to this monastery you cross a small bridge from another peak. The church contains outstanding wall paintings, wood iconostasis, panel icons and icon stands. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3:30 to 6pm.  It is closed on Wednesdays.

 


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Agios Stefanos

is the only convent in Meteora and has an unimpeded view of the plain towards Kalambaka. It is not known when the old church was built but the present katholikon dedicated to Saint Haralambos was built in 1798. The saint’s skull, which was given to the nuns as a gift from Prince Vladislav of Wallachia, is kept here. The church of Saint Stefanos has a timber roof and wall paintings by the priest Ioannis from Stagoi painted in 1545. The monastery is open from 9 to 1pm and 3 to 5 pm every day.

 

The Ossuary in Megalo Monastery                    The Ossuary in Megalo Monastery 2

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Icon in Megalo Meteoro Monastery

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Icon in Varlaam Monastery

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Don’t look down…

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His Greece Travel Guides have been around since 1995, before the word blog even existed. Read more on Matt on our About Us page!

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