The Meteora monasteries rise at the centre of Greece, where
Pinios river emerges from the deep canyons of the Pindus range
and surges into the Thessalian plain.
These are gigantic rocks
etched by time into a variety of shapes; grey stalagmites rising
towards the sky, they appear as nature's gift to the pious who,
dnven by faith, have opted for solitude and a life of worship.
The Monasteries, with their wooden galleries and corniced
rooftops, crown the summits of these formidable pinnacles.
Precariously hanging over the sinister abysses, with the Pindus
range at their back and the vast plain, woods, gorges and
picturesque villages below, these unwordly hermitages compose
one of the most breathtaking sites on earth.
In the late Byzantine period and during Ottoman rule this monastic
community became a sanctuary of the persecuted. On these
barren and inaccessible rocks a centre of Byzantine art was
created. The history of the Meteora monastic community begins in
the 11th century. During the 9th century hermits settled in the
caves and crevices of the rocks. On Sundays and important
holidays they gathered in Doupiani, near Kastraki (where the
monastery and church of the Virgin Mary was later built), to read
mass. As monks increased, the cloisters of Doupiani and Stagi
The development of the community, however, may be more
thoroughly traced from the 14th century onwards when the first
monasteries were established.
Between 1356 and 1372 the monk Athanasius founded what was
to become the most important of all the Great Meteoron at Platis
Athanasius imposed very strict rules on the community,
including the exclusion of women from the area.
In 1388 John
Uresis, a disciple of Athanasius and a grandson of the Serbian
prince Stephen, retired to the monastery as monk Joasaph and
endowed it with many riches and special privileges.
Soon the Great
Meteoron gained preponderance over all of the communes and
hermitages of the area.
The development of the monasteries as
well led to the illustrius period of monastic life particularly in the
15th and the 16th centuries.
Gradually the community began to deteriorate; of the twenty-four
monasteries that had been built throughout the years, only very few
continue to operate. In fact only five monasteries are still inhabited
today -the Great Meteoron, Agia Trias, Varlaam, Agios Stefanos
and Roussanou (the last two by nuns).
A good paved road makes access to each of the main monasteries
easy and interesting. They may be visited in succession on a
single trip (21 km from Kalambaka and back).
On the left of the
road to the monasteries, at the foot of the Meteora, stands
Doupiani hermitage and the 12th century chapel of the Virgin.
Nearby are the ruined monasteries of Pantocrator and Doupiani.
3 km from Kalambaka and again on our left is the monastery of
Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas. Built slightly before 1510 it was
decorated in 1527 with beautifully preserved frescoes by the
famous hagiographer Theophanes the Cretan.
Close by are the
ruins of the monastery of Agia Moni, built around 1315.
Six km out, the road forks south and northwards. At the truning, on
our right we go by the Roussanou monastery, probably built in
1288 and renovated as a monastery in 1545. It contains frescoes
of the Cretan School, made in 1560.
Following the southern route, which will eventually take us to the
monastery of Agios Stephanos, we first come upon the Agia Trias
monastery, built between 1458 and 1476 by the monk Dometius.
Situated on a particularly beautiful pinnacle, it is reached by a
circular flight of stairs (approximately 140 steps).
At the end of the
road is the nunnery and Museum of Agios Stephanos.
gorge separates the pinnacle from the main cliff; the two rocks are
connected by a bridge.
Referred to as a hermitage at the beginning of the century, in 1333
Agios Stephanos was visited by Emperor Andronicus the III
The head of the saint is preserved in the monastery's
cathedral Agios Haralambos. In the old church of Agios Stephanos
(1350) one can still admire the beautiful gold-leaved wood
carvings, wall paintings and old icons.
Back to the crossroads and on the northern route one soon comes
upon the monastery of Varlaam by climbing 195 steps. It was built
as late as 1517 by the brothers Theophanes and Nectarios, sons
of a rich family from Janena, on the site of the old hermitage of the
The frescoes in the chapel of All Saints are by the
famous hagiographer Franco Catellano, done in 1548; the Narthex
in 1566. The chapel of the Three Hierarchs was renovated in 1627.
The road stops at the Great Meteoron, the biggest and the most
important of the monasteries. In older days ascent to the
monastery was made by jointed ladders and by nets or baskets.
Today one goes up a flight of 115 steep, irregular stairs cut into the
Thanks to lavish endowments the Great Meteoron
became autonomous and acquired many valuable works of art.
One should also visit the exquisite church of the Transfiguration
with fine frescoes, fascinating to the visitor, and an intricate twelve
- sided dome.
Of interest too are the monastery's Refectory - today a Museum -
and its Library's numerous manuscripts and rare books.
When stopping at these isolated monasteries and looking at the
Pindus range and the Thessalian plain down below, one
understands why the hemmits chose this spot in order to serve
God and approach him.