People visit Greece for its historical monuments found all around the country, countless beaches on the islands in the Aegean Sea but, there is a place that needs to be seen to be believed: Meteora.
Tower-like rock formations with Eastern Orthodox monasteries built on top of them, Meteora is located near the town of Kalambaka in Central Greece.
There are six monasteries that can be visited: St.Stephen’s, Holy Trinity, Roussanou, Varlaam, St.Nicholas Anapausas and Great Meteoron. Each one of them is different but, the common theme, apart from the spectacular location, is their richness in religious artifacts, sacred icons and, a certain mysticism that will be felt by anyone visiting, regardless of which religion one follows. Leaving Kalambaka, a pretty little town at the foot of the rock formations, all the monasteries opened to the public can be visited in one day.
Great Meteoron is the biggest of the monasteries; like the others it was built in the middle of the 14th Century and here four chapels can be visited and also some other buildings like the kitchen and the dining hall. Most of the monasteries were connected to the town below by a system of rope-ways, some of them consisting of a net that would be lowered from the top of the rocks to hoist both people and goods up.
Nowadays visitors can access the monasteries in a more conventional way, by climbing steps from the foot of the rocks. The monastery of St.Stephen’s, now a nunnery with beautiful gardens is the most accessible as there are no steps but only a bridge to cross. It has two churches one of which is dedicated to St.Charalambos; his relics are kept there and it is believed that they help to ward off illnesses. Beautiful wall paintings depicting the life of Christ can also be seen here. The monastery is very popular with tour coaches so it can get a bit crowded at times.
The monastery of Roussanou, is also an active nunnery with a small courtyard, it is accessed by crossing a small wooden bridge.
The Holy Trinity Monastery is probably the one in the most dramatic location. Perched on the top of a small rock accessible by climbing 140 steps, James Bond fans will recognize it as some scene of the 1981 movie “For your eyes only” were filmed here. From here there is a good view of the rock formations around the area and of some of the other monasteries.
Varlaam Monastery was founded by an hermit, it has a small garden and a rich collection of manuscripts and religious heirloom; it is here that the net and the rope-way system used in the past to access the monastery can be seen.
Last but not least is the Monastery of St.Nicholas of Anapafsas which is actually the first monastery that people walking up to Meteora encounter; it is built vertically on floors and the church of St.Anthony can be visited there.
A tour of the monasteries of Meteora is offered by travel agents as a day trip from Athens but, taking into account the distance, (about 350 kilometers) and the time spent in each monastery, it is probably better to spend the night in Kalambaka. A few hours in the town will give the opportunity to visit the beautiful church in the shadow of the rocks of Meteora and have a meal in one of the many tavernas before travelling back to Athens.