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Meteora Monasteries and Kalambaka

The word Meteora means literally 'hovering in the air' and of course brings to mind the word meteor. What created this rare geological phenomenon is one of the mysteries of nature and there are many theories though they remain theories and none have been proven. But as amazing a marvel of nature as these giant rocks are the buildings on the top of these are a marvel of man and seem just as miraculous and make Meteora one of the most spectacular places to visit in Greece.

Meteora, Greece, monasteriesThe area of Meteora was originally settled by monks who lived in caves within the rocks during the 11th Century. But as the times became more unsure during an age of Turkish occupation, brigandry and lawlessness, they climbed higher and higher up the rock face until they were living on the inaccessable peaks where they were able to build by bringing material and people up with ladders and baskets and build the first monasteries. This was also how the monasteries were reached until the nineteen twenties and now there are roads, pathways and steps to the top. There are still examples of these baskets which are used for bringing up provisions. Back in the days when these baskets were the only way to get to the monasteries a nervous pilgrim asked his monk host if they ever replace the rope. "Of course we do" he replied."Whenever it breaks", which I am sure put the guy at ease. But now you don't have to worry about ropes breaking since the monasteries are all connected by a series of pathworks that if you begin early enough you can see them all in one day. They are also connected by roads so if you are coming by car and don't have all day to wander around you can also get close enough and then continue on foot.

meteora, greece, monasteriesDuring the Turkish occupation it was the monasteries which kept alive the Hellenic culture and traditions and were not only relgious centers but academic and artistic as well. It is believed that were it not for the monasteries, Hellenic culture would have disappeared and modern Greece would be a reflection of the Ottoman empire with little knowledge of its roots and history. The monasteries attracted not only the deeply religious, but the philosophers, poets, painters and the deep thinkers of Greece. Today only six of the monasteries are active.

Agia Triada or Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora, GreeceAgia Triada or Holy Trinity was founded by the monk Dometius in the 15th century and was the monastery used for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. It is decorated with wall paintings from the 18th century by the brothers Antonios and Nikolaos. To get to the monastery you walk up 140 steps cut into the rock, past the church of Saint John the Baptis with its wall paintings from 1682. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm every day except Thursday.

varlam monastery, meteora, greeceVarlaam Monastery was founded in 1517 by Theophanis and Nektarios Apsaradas from Ioanina though the first to establish a monastery here was an ascetic anchorite named Varlaam. The monastery houses an important collection of relics, intricately carved wooden crosses, icons, embroidered epitaphoi and many other ecliastical treasures. It also contains frescos by the well-known post Byzantine iconographer Frangos Katelanos.The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3:30 to 6pm. It is closed on Fridays.
Ag Nikolaos, monastery, meteora, greeceMonastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas was built in the 16th Century by Dionysious, the Metropolitan of Larissa and named after an old Patron. The Katholikon is decorated in wall paintings by the renowned Cretan Iconographer Theophanis Bathas-Strelitzas. This monastery is open every day from 9am to 6 pm.

Rossani monastery, meteora, greeceRoussanou Monastery was founded in 1545 by Joasaph and Maximos, two brothers from Epirus who built it on the ruins of an even older church. To get to this monastery you cross a small bridge from another peak. The church contains outstanding wall paintings, wood iconstasis, panel icons and icon stands. The monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3:30 to 6pm. It is closed on Wednesdays.

Megalo Meteoro, monastery, meteora, greeceMegalo Meteoro or Metamorphisis, the first church of the Transfiguration is the best known of the Monasteries and is built upon the highest rock. Founded by Athanasios the Meteorite, one of the most well-known figures in Orthodox monasticism, work was begun before 1382 and later completed by the Monk Joasaph. Because  the Serbian Emporor Symeon Uros gave the monastry all his wealth and became a monk it became the richest and most powerful of all the monasteries and contains some of the most beautiful wall paintings and post Byzantine Mural art that can be found in Greece as well as a museum collection in the refectory. The katholikon has a twelve sided dome 24 meters in height with a striking series of frescos by Theophanis which depect the persecution of Christians by the Romans in somewhat gruesome detail. The monastery is open from 9 to 1 and from 3 to 6. It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Agios Stefanos Monastery, Meteora Agios Stefanos is the only convent in Meteora and has an unimpeded view of the plain towards Kalambaka. It is not known when the old church was built but the present katholikon dedicated to Saint Haralambos was built in 1798. The saint's skull which was given to the nuns as a gift from Prince Vladislav of Wallachia is kept here. The church of Saint Stefanos has a timber roof and wall paintings by the priest Ioannis from Stagoi painted in 1545. The monastery is open from 9 to 1pm and 3 to 5 pm every day.

Meteora General Information

Meteora, monastery, GreeceThere is a 2 euro fee to enter each of the monasteries and proper attire is required. Women must wear skirts below the knees though in some monasteries these are provided for women in shorts or slacks. Men's arms must be covered and they must wear long pants. Monasteries are closed between one and three every day.  The monasteries themselves, besides prividing an incredible view are full of religious treasures, wall paintings, icons and libraries rich in old manuscripts. Most of them were built in the 1500's and then added to over the centuries.

The Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides to Greece provides information on getting from one monastery to the next and of course there are local guidebooks available. Meteora is also a great place to go rock climbing and there is a rock climbing school for beginners as well as programs in the area for beginners and advanced climbers. See Rock Climbing in Meteora

Kalambaka, kastraki, meteora, GreeceThe two closest towns to Meteora are Kalambaka and Kastraki and these are where most people stay. See Hotels

The name Kalambaka comes from the Turkish word Kalembak which means beautiful fortress. The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, a three-aisled basilica built in the time of Justinian and rebuilt in 1309 by Andronicus Paleologus is worth the visit. The town itself was destroyed by the Germans in World War Two so it is pretty modern with apartment buildings and a downtown that looks like a small city. Nearby is the Theopetra, a cave inhabited from Palaeolithic times.

The village of Kastraki in the shade of the rocks of Meteora is a popular destination for the rock climbers who can walk out the door of their hotel and be climbing in a few minutes. It's a great place to take walks to and from. Because of the popularity of Meteora this little town can get pretty busy in the summer.

Restaurants Around Meteora

kokoretsi, kontosouvli at Neromylos Taverna near KalambakaThere are some good restaurants in Kalambaki and Kastraki though most of them are the tourist variety and you may have to search to find something that does not have large signs that scream "Mousaka!" and other familiar Greek plates. For serious meat, which is what the people in the area eat most of, there is O Houtos on the road into town or Panellinion on the square by City Hall which is recommended by George the Famous Taxi Driver who comes to Meteora about fifty times a year and should know good food. In Kastraki try Paradisos, a psistaria (grill house) or Bakalarakia which specializes in bakaliaro (salted cod). But the best place to eat is Neromylos on the edge of the village of Dhiava which was recommended by Rough Guide and turned out to be one of the best restaurants of a week long journey through the mainland. It is a combination psistaria-fresh trout restaurant with big tanks of trout farm-raised in the former water-mill which the restaurant is named after. The fish and all the meat, which includes kontosouvli (pork on a spit), roast lamb, roast whole pig, kokoretsi (lamb entrails wrapped in intestines and roasted on a spit), souvlakia as well as their vegetables comes from their farm and others in the surrounding agricultural area. We were there in early July and were the only foreigners. If it is summer you may want to skip the kokoretsi, no matter how much you feel compelled to eat it. I have an iron stomach but suffered after eating a little too much, probably in combination with their delicious red and white wine, or perhaps the tsipuro they gave us. OK. I overdid it. But if you go there you will see why. Medieval monasteries hovering over the plain on giant rocks you can find just about anywhere, but a farm-raised trout and grill house this good is rare.

You can read about our visit in 2009

  

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