• March 19 2015

A forest of stone

The rocks at Meteora

However often you see them, the rocks at Meteora still inspire a sense of amazement and awe, confirming once again the old cliche that nature is the greatest artist of all! Carved from stone, as if by the hand of a master sculptor, and crowned by the monasteries perched on their upper slopes, treasure houses of Orthodox art, they invite you to listen to the pulse of the centuries, filling your soul with the peace and tranquillity of their ancient faith. The rocks of Meteora are a rare geological phenomenon, located between the Koziakas and Antihasia mountain ranges, looming over the town of Kalambaka. In 1989 they acquired UNESCO World Heritage status as a site of extraordinary cultural importance. There is no definitive explanation of how the rocks were formed, only theories, the most widely accepted being that of the German geologist A. Philipson, who studied the area in the late 19th century. He maintained that the huge rocks were created from river stones, sand and mud, at a time when the whole area was submerged beneath a gigantic lake, whose waters made their way into the sea after a powerful earthquake, leaving behind them the valley we see today. Originally a single mass, the rocks were eroded over time by the action of water and further earthquakes, gradually assuming the shapes we see today. 

The name Meteora is not found in any ancient historical sources. The place takes its name from the saint Aghios Athanasios Meteoritis, founder of the Monastery of the Transfiguration (also known as Megalo Meteoro), who arrived here in 1344, almost a century after the site had become a sanctuary for hermits and ascetics, laying the foundations for what was to become the most important monastic complex in Greece, after Mt. Athos. The organization of the ascetics into a community dates from the mid-14th century and is generally attributed to the monk Neilos, who gathered together the monks hitherto living in isolation in their caves. Work gradually began on construction of the monasteries, which numbered nearly thirty by the time of However often you see them, the rocks at Meteora still inspire a sense of amazement and awe, confirming once again the old cliche that nature is the greatest artist of all! Carved from stone, as if by the hand of a master sculptor, and crowned by the monasteries perched on their upper slopes, treasure houses of Orthodox art, they invite you to listen to the pulse of the centuries, filling your soul with the peace and tranquillity of their ancient faith. The rocks of Meteora are a rare geological phenomenon, located between the Koziakas and Antihasia mountain ranges, looming over the town of Kalambaka. In 1989 they acquired UNESCO World Heritage status as a site of extraordinary cultural importance. There is no definitive explanation of how the rocks were formed, only theories, the most widely accepted being that of the German geologist A. Philipson, who studied the area in the late 19th century. He maintained that the huge rocks were created from river stones, sand and mud, at a time when the whole area was submerged beneath a gigantic lake, whose waters made their way into the sea after a powerful earthquake, leaving behind them the valley we see today. Originally a single mass, the rocks were eroded over time by the action of water and further earthquakes, gradually assuming the shapes we see today. the community’s heyday, the 16th century. The monks experienced the inevitable consequences of Turkish occupation (1393 to 1881), but never entirely lost their status and their influence over the local population, who turned to Meteora as a place of sanctuary and hope, despite the difficulty of reaching the monasteries – originally pilgrims had to ascend by stairs attached to the rocks, by rope ladders or in a basket or net. It was only much later that the stairway was cut into the rock, allowing easier access to the monasteries and their rich hoard of treasures. Just six of the monasteries are still occupied: those of the Transfiguration, the Holy Trinity, Aghios Nikolaos and Varlaam are for monks, Rousanou and Aghios Stefanos for nuns. All of them boast Byzantine decorative art of the highest quality, created by important painters of religious subjects, including Theofanis and Frangos Katelanos. There are other treasures too, such as portable icons, bibles, reliquaries, vestments and sceptres, and hundreds of other ecclesiastical treasures of inestimable cultural and religious value. Some of the most important of these are the Byzantine and post-Byzantine manuscripts and documents, including the Bible of the Varlaam Monastery, believed to have belonged to the Emperor Constantine Porphyroyennitos. Finally, the Aghios Stephanos Monastery is home to the miracleworking head of Aghios Haralambos. 

1. Monastery Of The Transfiguration Of The Saviour 
The largest of all the monasteries, and the oldest, with a preeminent place in the history of Meteora. Also known as Megalo Meteoro. Sights to see in the surrounding area
 
2. Varlaam Monastery
Situated opposite the Megalo Meteoro, on a plateau on a smaller rock, at a height of 373m. It was founded by a contemporary of Athanasios Meteoritis, Varlaam, from whom it took its name.

3. Rousanou Monastery
Located between the Varlaam and Aghios Nikolaos Monasteries, Rousanou covers almost the whole area at the top of the rock.

4. Aghios Nikolaos Anapausas
This is the first monastery you come to when you ascend from the village of Kastraki; it is built on a relatively low rock, at a height of just 85m.

5. Holy Trinity Monastery
The most inaccessible of all the Meteora monasteries, Holy Trinity is located over an area of around 1.5 acres. The view is stupendous.

6. Aghios Stefanos
Looking out across the town of Kalambaka, this is the one monastery which can be approached without a climb. Of particular interest is the chancel screen in the modern catholicon, dating from 1814.