The Meteora monasteries are in Thessaly, an area of central Greece dominated by enormous sandstone rocks, rare geological formations sculpted by wind and water over millions of years. Meteora means "hovering in the air" and as if nature's rocks aren't enough, the human-made buildings on top make them spectacular so spectacular, more than a million people visit every year.
Meteora was settled by hermit cave-dwelling monks in the 11th century. During Turkish occupation, times were unsteady so the monks climbed higher and higher up the rock face until they were living on inaccessible peaks.
They were able to take people and material up with ladders and baskets on crude pulley systems and by the 14th century had built extraordinary monasteries on such unlikely foundations that even today professional rock climbers struggle to comprehend the feat.
The monasteries were reached by ladders until the 1920s, when roads, pathways and steps were installed. There are still examples of the baskets which were used to take up provisions.
During Turkish occupation, the monasteries kept Hellenic culture and traditions alive. They were not only religious centres, but academic and artistic too. They attracted the deeply religious, philosophers, poets, painters and the thinkers of Greece.
It is quite likely that if it were not for the monasteries, Hellenic culture would have disappeared and modern Greece would reflect the Ottoman empire, leaving little of its real roots and history.
Today only six of the original 24 monasteries remain, two of which are nunneries. Many were destroyed during WWII. If you begin your day early enough, it is possible to see them all. Women must wear skirts below the knees. Some monasteries will provide skirts for women wearing shorts or slacks. Men's arms must be covered and they must wear long pants.
Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) was founded by the monk Dometius in the 15th century. It is reached by 140 steps cut into rock, past the church of St John the Baptist with its wall paintings from 1682 which was used for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Varlaam monastery was founded in 1517. It houses an important collection of relics, intricately carved wooden crosses, icons, embroidered epitaphoi and other ecclesiastical treasures. It also has frescoes by the post-Byzantine iconographer Frangos Katelanos.
Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas was built in the 16th century by Dionysious and named after an old patron. Its wall paintings are by a renowned Cretan iconographer.
Roussanou monastery was founded in 1545 by two brothers from Epirus and built on the ruins of an older church. It is reached by crossing a small bridge from another peak. It contains outstanding wall paintings, wood iconstasis, panel icons and icon stands.
Megalo Meteoro, or Metamorphisis, the first church of the Transfiguration, is the best known of the monasteries and built on the highest rock. Founded by Athanasios the Meteorite, one of the most well-known figures in Orthodox monasticism, work began prior to 1382 and was completed by the monk Joaspah.
The Serbian Emperor Symeon Uros became a monk and gave the monastery all his wealth, making it the richest and most powerful of all the monasteries. It contains some of Greece's most beautiful wall paintings and post-Byzantine mural art. Its refectory also has a museum collection. The katholikon has a 24-metre-high 12-sided dome, embellished with striking but gruesome frescoes depicting the persecution of Christians by the Romans.
The Agios Stefanos is the only convent in Meteora and has uninterrupted views of the plain towards Kalambaka. It is not known when the church was built, but the present katholikon, dedicated to St Haralambos, was built in 1798. Prince Vladislav of Wallachia gave the saint's skull to the nuns as a gift and it remains there. The church has a timber roof and wall paintings by the priest Ioannis from Stagoi, painted in 1545.
Papua New Guinea to Australia's north.
Agia Triada is open from 9am to 1pm every day.
Varlaam monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3.30 to 6pm. It is closed on Fridays.
Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas is open every day from 9am to 6pm.
Roussanou Monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and then from 3.30pm to 6pm. It is closed on Wednesdays.
Megalo Meteoro monastery is open from 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm. It is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Agios Stefanos is open from 9am to 1pm and 3pm to 5pm every day.
The Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre has two-day coach tours from Athens for $219 per person twin-share. Accommodation, breakfast, dinner and entry costs are included.
Entry to each monastery is around $2.
Emirates has return flights to Athens.
- Melbourne, $1948
- Brisbane, $1949
- Perth, $1950
- Sydney, $1964
- Adelaide, $2576
- Darwin, $3348
For sale until February 23, 2007, and for travel between October 4 and November 11, 2007. Prices quoted are correct at February 22, 2007.
Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre
Suite 2, 644 Botany Rd
Alexandria NSW 2015
Tel: (02) 9313 4633; 1300 661 666
Fax: (02) 9313 4475
Ph: 1300 303 777