Meteora beyond monasteries: a unique place in central Greece.
We are always in Greece…..this time for discover monasteries on rock pillars, once accessible only by frayed ropes. It’s well known, that the Orthodox church has always had the ability for picking spectacular locations for its sacred buildings, and Meteora is no exception. Even if it weren’t the site of the second most important monastery complex in Greece, it would still be a place absolutely to visit. In the foothills of the Pindus mountains, above the central Greek plains of Thessaly, is a series of geological wonders that stick out from the ground. The name Meteora means “suspended in the air” or “suspended rocks” and it is the truth. Here wind, water, and the harsh temperatures have carved out a series of gigantic sandstone pillars, some of them hundreds of meters high.
The first hermit monks appeared in this area as early as the 11th century, even if the monastery complex only began to grow up after the Ottoman conquest of Byzantine empire in 1453. Due to persecution and worries about the Ottomans, orthodox monks sought refuge in increasingly remote locations. There was no better place to establish a monastery then in, as Meteora is sometimes translated, “the heavens above”.
Access to the monastery, once was possible only coming up a series of ladders tied together or be dragged up via a large net. According to the monks, the ropes up to Meteora were only replaced “when the Lord let them break.”
Today steps have been carved into the rock and a bridge built from a nearby plateau. At its peak the complex included 20 monasteries, however only six of them remain today: five are for men only, and the sixth for women. Great Meteora (or the Transfiguration of Jesus) is the largest and most often visited by tourists, followed by the others: the Varlaam, the Saint Stephen, the Holy Trinity, the Saint Nicholas Anapafsas and the Rousanou Monastery. All these monasteries are on the top of Meteora rocks.
There is also a legend, told to all children (but not only) of the zone, about the old times when there was a Dragon who lived in a huge cave underneath Varlaam monastery. The dragon each night used to go to the near village of Kastraki to feed on the people and their livestock. People was very desperate and, unable to deal with the dragon alone, they went to seek out help on the monastery of Varlaam. A monk who saw their desperation decided to sacrifice himself in order to help them. He cursed the dragon and then jumped from the cliff and died. Immediately after the monk’s death, the ceiling of the cave collapsed and the dragon was finally killed. Still today from the road travelling upwards and after one passes Agios Nicholaos monastery, it’s possible see the vast dragon’s cave underneath Varlaam monastery with the collapsed ceiling. All locals know the cave with the name of drakospilia, which means, in fact, dragon’s cave. But there is really a dragon buried under the collapsed huge blocks of rock still visible today? According to the legend yes…..;)
If you want visit this place…attention, because each monastery has slightly different open hours, so some planning up ahead is needed if you want to visit all 6 monasteries. And is required proper attire: skirts below the knee length for women and long pants for men! 😉