In case you didn’t know, Metéora is a complex of six Orthodox monasteries in Greece. It doesn’t sound at all impressive when I put it like that. Actually it sounds boring. What if showed what they look like?
I have to admit, when I first saw the photos of the UNESCO protected monastery complex I got a little engineering erection. How the hell did they build something like this? And why? I decided that I have to see this place, and, finally, I got that chance. When I got there I realized something important, all the pictures I saw were total crap. Metéora is just one of those things you have to see before you die.
When we arrived, the first thing we noticed is the nature. These giant sandstone pillars stand in the middle of the Thessaly valley. Looking like something only NASA would publish or a scene from a science fiction movie, the stone towers are rising from the dense forest more than 400m into the sky. Just for comparison, the last floor of the Eiffel Tower is just under 300m high. It took nature more than 60 million years to create this astounding masterpiece. Parts of mountains were separated by earthquakes, shaped by water and wind and then conquered by humans.
Separated by abysses full of forests the mountaintops are pretty hard to reach, even now in the 21st century. Nevertheless, first inhabitants came here in the 9th century. The first monks came here in search for peace, calmness and enlightenment. They must have developed insane climbing skills to get up there. From now on we will call them spider-monks.
Anyway, despite the hermits already lived here the first monastery wasn’t constructed until the 14th century. A group of monks arrived here from Mount Athos, which is to Orthodox Church what Vatican is to the Catholics, and settled on one of the highest pinnacles and constructed the Great Meteoron. The isolated location was perfect for them to get away from literally everything and devote themselves completely to religion. The only way up or down to this bizarre mountaintop was by ropes and ladders which the monks controlled. It is said that they changed the ropes only when they broke by the force of God, which means that every trip up or down was a death lottery.
Life in the rocks changed during the expansion of the Ottoman empire in the end of the 14th century. While the Turkish army was busy invading Greece, our crafty spider-monks built 24 monasteries on the pinnacles of these geological wonders. From those 24 only six are operational today. There are currently four operating monasteries and two nunneries.
The largest and most touristy monastery is the Great Meteoron. The others are Varlaam, St. Nicholas and Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The nunneries are Roussanou and St. Stephen. We only had the chance to visit the Great Meteoron, since we were on a tight schedule.
In the spirit of the adventure-loving monks, there is a lot of opportunities for outdoor activities and extreme sports around Metéora. From hiking to rock-climbing, all the information can be found on this website.
Although we only got a preview of the Metéora miracle, I think that a two-day stay in the local town of Kastraki would be enough to experience the incredible tranquility of the region. The magical views from the monasteries will stay with you for the rest of your life as a perfect example of the interaction between humans and nature.