The Monasteries of Meteora

meteoraMeteora is a special geological phenomenon. Combined with the sanctity of the monasteries and hermitages and the abundance of nature that surrounds them, they compose a landscape of incomparable natural beauty, rapture and spiritual bliss. This uniqueness has also been recognized by UNESCO and other international organizations declaring Meteora a world heritage site.

Meteora It is a group of cobblestone rocks that were created about 25 to 30 million years ago when the Thessalian plain was still covered by the sea. Sea currents accumulated huge amounts of rock and sediment creating large formations on the seabed.

After strong seismic tremors, Thessaly was raised and the opening of the valley of Tempe occurred, resulting in the waters pouring into the Aegean and revealing the huge boulders.

A series of continuous geological changes and extreme weather phenomena, such as strong winds, glaciers and high temperatures, caused successive erosions in the rock formations which, over millions of years, took their current form.

In their hollows, crevices and peaks, the people of the region found, from time to time, protection from various raiders and conquerors. In the 12th century a small ascetic community flocked to the area seeking peace and solitude for prayer and worship and refuge in the inaccessible meteor towers.

The name Meteora, meaning “hanging rocks”, is due to Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. It is about the founder of the monastery of Megalo Meteoros, who named the wide rock where he climbed for the first time in 1344 Meteoros. In 1372 he built the first monastery there.

Over the years, the monastic community of the area began to grow and in its heyday the number of monasteries reached 24. The great height and verticality of the rocks, on which they were built, gave the monasteries the character of fortresses. They were accessible only by using a long windlass and hand winches. Today there are six monasteries.

The Monasteries

All the monasteries have organized museums with large collections of unique Byzantine icons, religious relics and archaeological findings. They also have libraries with rare books, writings and papyri. In addition, thanks to their strategic position, they offer an unobstructed view of the Thessalian Plain and the Pindos Mountain Range.

Holy Monastery of Rousanos

meteora-rousanou-monasteryThe monastery covers the entire plateau of the top of the rock, as a result of which it appears as its natural end, while its current building form took on the third decade of the 16th century. The monastery consists of a three-storey complex, with the catholicon and the cells on the ground floor, as well as reception rooms, the mansion, the exhibition and auxiliary spaces.

In the information note of the monastery it is stated that the name of the monastery was given by the first inhabitant of the rock or the builder of the first church in the 13th or 14th century.
Between the years 1527 and 1529 two brothers, Ioasaf and Maximos, received permission to settle and monasticize on the rock of Rousanos.

When they got up there, they found nothing but ruins and ruins. That is why they developed a special construction activity. In 1530, they built the catholicon on the site of the ruined church of the Transfiguration of the Savior and renovated the monastery.

The monastery’s catholicon is dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior, but the patron saint of the monastery is Saint Barbara. The iconography of the catholicon was done in 1560, when the abbot of the monastery was Arsenios, while the iconography is one of the most famous sets of post-Byzantine painting after 1550.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Great Meteoro)

meteora-monastery-great-meteoronThe monastery, which is perched on an imposing rock, is the oldest, the largest and, as everyone claims, the most important of the surviving monasteries of Meteora. It was founded shortly before the middle of the 14th century. by a learned and saintly monk, the holy Athanasios the Meteorite.
His successor and second founder of the monastery, the holy monk Ioasaf, former king John Uresis Paleologos, was also an important figure.

In the approximately forty years of his monastic life, the holy Joasaph created cells, a hospital, a cistern, renovated the temple of the Transfiguration and was among the founders of the monastery of Ypsilotera (the Calligraphers), which is built on a steep and inaccessible rock opposite the Great Meteoron .

Also, it is estimated that in 1544-1545 the current majestic main church was built and a little later the bank, the kitchen, the hospital – nursing home, the tower, small chapels and stairs going up from the tower. In addition, the monastery’s library is one of the richest and most valuable monastic libraries, since, despite the adverse historical circumstances, the monks have preserved and rescued to this day priceless treasures, e.g. manuscript codices, documents and rare writings.

Finally, in the building complex of the monastery, the hermitage of the first founder of the monastery, Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, stands out, among others. It is a small building literally nestled in the rock, on the left as we climb the stairs, just before the entrance to the monastery.

Barlaam Monastery

meteora-varlaam-monasteryAbout 146 steep steps need to be climbed to reach this historic monastery. In 1350, a bold ascetic figure, Varlaam, climbed the rock, after whom the monastery was named. He built three temples, a small cell and a tank for water. In the period 1517-1518, the two founders of the monastery, the hieromonk brothers Theofanis and Nektarios, the Apsarades, ascended.

The Holy Monastery of Varlaam has a rich painting decoration that refers to the Theban painter Franko Catellano, a remarkable collection of manuscripts, which are close to 300, while it is of special architectural interest. According to the officials of the monastery, the transportation of materials lasted 22 years, while the building took only 20 days. Also noteworthy is the enormous barrel of the 16th century, which has a capacity of 12,000 liters. Its water was drinkable and was also used for agricultural and construction work.

In addition, the hospital-nursing home of the Barlaam Monastery is preserved as an independent ground-floor building on the southeastern edge of its rock, to the south of the Catholic church, at a lower level than it. In the Byzantine and post-Byzantine era, it was an important element of the building program of the monasteries for the exclusive care of sick monks. In the museum of the monastery, the visitor can browse the history of the monastery and admire its treasures.

Holy Trinity Monastery

meteora-trinity-monasteryAccording to historical sources, it is estimated that it was built between 1458-1476.
About six acres is covered by the top of the rock on which the monastery is located. There is no specific information about its founder. However, according to historical sources, it is estimated that it was built between 1458-1476.

And here in the old years, the monks and pilgrims used to climb up with wind-stairs and the traditional net. However, in 1925, when Nikandros Stathopoulos was abbot of the monastery, 140 steps were carved, which, through a narrow path at the base of the rock, lead to the monastery.

Today there is also a cable car mainly for transporting products and materials. Inside the monastery there is a small Byzantine-style church with a low dome and it consists of the sanctuary, the main church and the narthex. There are few windows, so the temple is relatively dark.

Monastery of Agios Nikolaos

agios-nikolaos-monastery-meteoraThe rock on which the monastery was built is very small, as a result of which it is formed in successive layers and the monastery is made up of three floors. It is the first monastery we come across on the way up to Meteora. The rock on which the monastery was built is very small, as a result of which it is formed in successive layers and the monastery is made up of three floors.

In all probability, the name of the monastery is due to its location, because it is considered to offer physical and spiritual rest, peace and rest. The catholicon of the monastery was painted in 1527 by the famous Cretan painter Theofanis Strelitza, who may have been a monk at the time. Under each hagiography he made, he put the monogram of H.M.

The iconography of the catholicon of the monastery of Agios Nikolaos is the oldest known work of this great artist of the Cretan school. On the first floor of the monastery there is the very small chapel of Agios Antonios which is of particular importance because it preserves the remains of old frescoes from the 14th century. There is also the crypt, where the codices and relics of the monastery were kept in the past.

Monastery of Saint Stefanos

saint-stephen-monastery-meteoraThe history of the first years of the monastery is lost in the depths of the centuries and covered by traditions. The first testimonies date back to its establishment at the end of the 12th century, around 1191-1192. Probably the first faithful hermit who dwelt in some rock cave was called Jeremiah.

In the course of its history, the monastery received the high protection and help of nobles of Byzantium, the Transdanubian hegemonies and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1798, the present imposing catholicon was built in honor of Agios Charalambos. The frescoes of the temple, cleaned and preserved today, form an interesting group of post-Byzantine iconography. Today, 154 manuscripts dating from the 11th to the 19th century are kept in this monastery.

Sketes, Hermitages and Chapels

In addition to the six holy monasteries, in Meteora there are also various monasteries, hermitages, hermitages and chapels. Some have been restored and are functional such as the Monastery of Ypapanti which is a share of the Monastery of Megalo Meteoros.

Also, in the beautiful location of Kofinia, between the theorized Pixari and Batovas boulders, there is a small settlement of hermitages and temples. This is the quietest corner of Meteora with the strong aroma of seven centuries of ascetic life.

On one rock dominates the hermitage of Agios Nikolaos of Batova, built in a cave, several meters from the ground. High in front of it, the beautiful restored hermitage of Agios Antonios, built in a natural cavity of the Pixari rock, impresses.

Next to it, at a height of 30 meters, is the cavernous hermitage of Agios Grigorios with its wooden balconies. In addition, between the rock towers, in the middle of the small plateau, dominates the church of Genesis of the Virgin.

Also, in Meteora there are the chapels of the Zoodochos Pigi of Dupianis, of the Holy Spirit and of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Finally, on the imposing rock of the Holy Spirit is the cave with the old hermitage of Saint George of Mantila.

At the roots of the rock there is the homonymous temple. Every spring, on the day of the feast of Saint George, the custom of handkerchiefs is revived. Climbers climb into the cave and hang colorful handkerchiefs as offerings to the saint, replacing the old ones they use as amulets. The hanging handkerchiefs are visible from the main road leading to Meteora.

Outdoor Activities

Visitors often start with the monasteries, which are the main attraction. The six active monasteries, accessible via staircases cut into the rocks, offer a glimpse into monastic life and feature beautiful frescoes and artifacts. Exploring these monasteries provides not only spiritual insight but also panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

Rock climbing is another popular activity in Meteora, given its impressive cliffs and rock faces. Climbers from around the world are drawn to the challenging routes and the breathtaking scenery that accompanies them. The climbing experience here is suitable for a range of skill levels, with professional guides available to assist newcomers to the sport.

Hiking and walking trails crisscross the area, offering more opportunities to appreciate the natural environment and the geological wonders of the towering rocks. These trails vary in difficulty, providing options for casual walkers as well as more experienced hikers seeking a strenuous adventure.

Photography is another favored activity in Meteora due to its unique landscape and the ever-changing light conditions, which create stunning visual effects. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical times for capturing the beauty of the rocks and monasteries.

For those interested in cultural experiences, Meteora has several museums and cultural centers that delve into the history and traditions of the region, including the history of the monasteries and the local crafts.

How to Get there

Traveling to Meteora from either Athens or Thessaloniki is straightforward, with multiple transport options available, making this stunning location accessible for visitors.

Starting from Athens, the most popular way to reach Meteora is by train. The journey from Athens to the nearest town, Kalambaka, takes approximately four to five hours. The trains are comfortable and offer scenic views, particularly as you approach Meteora. This is a convenient option as the train station in Kalambaka is just a short taxi or bus ride from the Meteora monasteries.

Driving from Athens to Meteora is another viable option. It allows more flexibility to stop along the way and enjoy the Greek countryside. The drive takes about four to five hours, covering a distance of roughly 360 kilometers via the E75 and E65 highways. Renting a car at the Athens airport or in the city can be easily arranged, and the roads are well-maintained and clearly signposted.

From Thessaloniki, the journey to Meteora is slightly shorter. By train, it takes about three to four hours to reach Kalambaka. Trains depart several times a day from Thessaloniki, making it a convenient option. The route is known for its picturesque landscapes, especially as the train passes through the Vale of Tempe.

Driving from Thessaloniki to Meteora is also an option, taking about two and a half to three hours via the E90 and E92 highways. The route is approximately 230 kilometers long and, like from Athens, features beautiful scenery that makes the journey itself a pleasant part of the trip.

Additionally, for those preferring not to drive or use public transport, there are numerous tour operators in both Athens and Thessaloniki that offer day trips or multi-day tours to Meteora. These can include not only transport but also guided tours of the monasteries and sometimes other nearby attractions.