Greece has two of the most important orthodox monasteries in the world: the Monasteries of Athos and the Monasteries of Meteora. In Greece, the Church is one of the most important state institutions. The Greeks are known all over the world for their outstanding churches, monasteries and chapels. In fact, the legends say that some islands have more churches than houses.
Meteora means suspended in the air, because indeed, the 6 monasteries encompassed in this compound are situated on top of the strange, but breathtaking pinnacles that rise towards the sky, just beyond the town of Kalampaka, in the northeast corner of Thessaly. 64 gigantic rocks rise from the ground in the heart of northern Greece. The magnificent landscape has been sculpted by wind and water over thousands of years.
The numerous caves that have appeared in these rocks have served as shelters for the orthodox monks. When raids became prevalent, the monks decided to move to higher ground, thus, the monasteries have appeared. When this happened, there were no steps, but the access was deliberately difficult. Monks descended in the nets or on retractable wooden ladders up to 40m long to the fertile valleys below, to grow grapes, corn and potatoes.
The first mentions of Meteora are lost in the mists of time and traditions. Historical sources attest the existence of the first ascetic communities in the hollows of the rocks at Dopionis, in the late 11th and early 12th century. On these bare rocks, the monastic life has appeared since the 19th century.
The Monastery of Holy Trinity is the most difficult to reach, but once you get to the top of the cliff the view of the surroundings is something you have never seen before! Visitors have to follow a pathway that directs them initially to the foot of the rock, before they start climbing about 140 steps. The monastery’s main cathedral was built in the 15th century and decorated with frescoes in 1741 by two monks.
The Monastery of Varlaam, the second largest after the Megalo Meteoro, and it was named after the hermit Varlaam, who found refuge here in 1350. Ha built a small chapel; in 1517, two brothers from Ioannina, Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades, raised the monastery we see today over the chapel. Theban frescoes dating from the years 1548 and 1566 are still visible.
The Monasteries of Meteora may be visited year round but the weather is wet and cool from December to March. Crowds and high season rates are guaranteed from July 1st to October 15th. May and June are the best months for comfortable weather, low season rates and the opportunity to leisurely explore the area.
Buses to Kalampaka are available from Ioannina, Trikala, Thessaloniki and Athens. It is also possible to take the train from Thessaloniki or Athens with a switch at Larissa. If you are traveling from Athens, take a morning train so that you can enjoy the spectacular scenery as you pass through the mountains between Livadia and Lamia.
Visit these monasteries for the adventurous ascent, the striking view and their peculiar architecture!