METEORA: THE MONASTERIES IN THE SKY

 

In a word, Meteora is otherworldy.  While in Greece, travel to this stunning complex of 'floating' monasteries -- where the border between the heavens and the earth is subtly blurred.

 

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Meteora refers to a group of Eastern Orthodox monasteries precipitously-built atop magnificent, naturally-formed sandstone rock columns outside the city of Kalambaka in central Greece. Exhibiting 5 of the 10 criteria used to select UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Meteora is an awe-inspiring site for a number of factors, including its natural geological beauty, impressive Byzantine art and architecture, religious sanctity, and its role as a conveyor of history and culture in the region.


History of Meteora

Though this area has been inhabited for centuries, sources generally point to the 10th century as time period during which hermits began settling at Meteora. The cloisters of the Holy Ghost, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the Stagi (or Doupiani) were all said to be established between 950AD and 1160AD

An ascetic state was established here in the 12th century, marking the beginning of a very prodigious period for the community of monks that inhabited this area. The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mount (now known as the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro) was established in the 14th century. This was followed by the construction of over twenty additional monasteries by the end of the 15th century.

At its peak, Meteora had 24 monasteries -- but due to a series of conflicts, raids, and invasions during ensuing centuries -- only 6 monasteries are still functioning today. These include the Holy Mon Great Meteoro, Varlaam Monastery, the Saint Stephen Monastery, the Holy Trinity Monastery, the Saint Nicolas Anapafsas Monastery, and the Roussano Monastery.

Saint Stephen Monastery overlooking Kalambaka

What to See at Meteora

The most accessible monastery is St. Stephen’s, a functioning nunnery with active nuns in residence. This site doesn’t require visitors to climb stairs to enter, so it’s ideal for visitors with limited mobility. St. Stephen’s offers visitors the opportunity to explore a 16th century cathedral -- severely damaged by WWII and the Greek Civil War -- and the main 18th century cathedral dedicated to Saint Charalambos.

Though each of the six monasteries is worth visiting, be sure to spend some time at the Monastery of the Great Meteoro. It is the oldest and largest of the monasteries, and possesses beautiful frescoes from 16th century. It has a museum, and also allows visitors to explore the kitchen of the monastery, the wine cellar, and even the sacristy -- where bones of former residents are stored and on display.

The kitchen at the Monastery of the Great Meteoro

Meteora is truly a breathtaking site. A proper visit should include sufficient time spent in appreciation of the natural beauty and spiritual aura of this one-of-a-kind place. Though hiking tours are available, there are some well-marked trails and footpaths that make independent exploration relatively easy. Pick up a map at your hotel or stop by the Kalambaka Tourist Centre in the heart of town, which also has some online information about hiking trails around Meteora

Holy Trinity Monastery with a breathtaking view of Kalambaka and the Pindus Mountains

If there’s particular monastery you hope to visit, be sure to plan ahead and know when it’s open to visitors. Visiting hours vary between monasteries and according to the season, and each monastery is closed at least one day of the week. The Kalambaka Tourist Centre offers a helpful guide to the Meteora monasteries on their website.

YouTube user Elia Locardi put together a stunning video of Meteora from above.

Don’t miss the opportunity visit Meteora or a similarly inspiring destination to experience for yourself the power of travel to broaden perspectives, promote understanding, and bring about more respectful and compassionate ways of life.  Call illume today to plan a group travel program for your family, friends, colleagues, or other constituency!

 

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