Meteora

Meteora is in Central Greece overlooking the villages of Kastraki and Kalambaka. The area is full of amazing rock formations made even more amazing by the monasteries that have been built atop them. Many are in ruins now but six are still inhabited and open to the public. At least one more is still inhabited but privately. Their history is quite young compared to the ancient Greek history of Delphi, we are only talking 14th-16th centuries here, but it is fascinating nonetheless, and quite spectacular.

Some of the monasteries are still inhabited by monks, at least two of the six by nuns. The largest of all has only one permanent resident. Our tour guide explained the reason as being monks’ dislike in general of tourists, especially women, and as a result many prefer to live at Mt Athos, a more remote collection of monasteries that have quite strict restrictions on visitors and no women are allowed.

Oops, I mentioned a tour guide. Having mentioned more than once my distaste for group tours, I now turn full hypocrite because I took two of them at Meteora. It was the only way I felt I could see enough of the area in the one day I had there, and they really weren’t too bad.

I took two tours on my full day in the region. A half day tour that filled the morning and a sunset tour in the evening. Both tours were run by Visit Meteora and I really enjoyed them both. Having no car I was a bit restricted and with limited time I appreciated the coverage the tours gave. The tour guides were very informative while we were on the mini bus but left us to our own devices once in the monasteries. So it was really just transport with a bit of information thrown in. Exactly what I needed.

The half day tour picked me up from my accommodation at the foot of Meteora. I stayed in Kastraki and was actually the last to be picked up as I was closest to the rock formations. We visited three monasteries and stopped at least twice that many times at good spots for photos.

The first monastery visited was the largest, the Great Meteoran monastery. It has an awful lot of steps to negotiate to get up to it, but given that the original monks did everything via a pulley line, climbing some steps didn’t seem so bad. The pulley line is still used. The views from the monastery grounds spectacular.

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The second monastery we visited was my favorite. Varlaam monastery is just across from Great Meteoran and there are wonderful views of it to be had from there.

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Construction work was underway at Varlaam, old school.

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The monastery itself was stunningly beautiful and the views again spectacular.

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Our third stop was Roussanou Monastery. This is now a convent. There is quite a walk down to it, our friendly tour company dropped us at the top and picked us up at the bottom to save us a long walk back up. The monastery itself is quite small but the views spectacular. And there was a cat.

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Aside from the three monasteries we had plenty of stops along the way to capture the true splendour of the area.

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The half day tour was great, we visited three of the six monasteries and had ample time at each.

Late afternoon I was again picked up for the sunset tour. This one was a little different. We only visited one more monastery but also headed into Kalambaka to visit an incredibly old Byzantine  Church, The byzantine Church of Virgin Mary. This was the one place where the tour host played guide and actually took us through and explained some of the history of Greek Orthodox churches and how they are designed. The history of the church was quite incredible, able to be traced back 25 centuries to ancient Greek times. He pointed out that the outer walls of the church demonstrated the recycling that had been done over the centuries, with stones from ancient Greek buildings being reused in the construction of the church. He also explained the way in which the interior of the churches were decorated with an increasing heirarchy of importance as the paintings got higher, from common people to saints to images of Jesus and God. No photos were allowed in the church, which I respected and purchased a picture as I was so blown away by the beauty, history and symbolism within.

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The monastery that we visited on the sunset tour was St Stephens. Another monastery that is now inhabited by nuns, it is also the most accessible with few steps to navigate. It is the monastery that overlooks Kalambaka, again spectacular views, but also beautiful gardens.

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Before sunset we visited another site. A rock, of course, on the side of which is a private monastery recently rebuilt after fire, you can see the blackened rock above it, and further along the rock, the home to the last hermit monk of Meteora. At one time there were many hermit monks, I don’t think it is wrong to say that monks preferred their own company. The last hermit monk died many years ago but his home can still be seen high up on the rock along with the precarious scaffolding that he relied on to move between his home and chapel and to lower himself down to accept food that was sent up to him. Hermit monks were totally reliant on those who sent them supplies. It was also a sin to starve to death so they had to strive hard to stay alive while in seclusion. His time was devoted to prayer and apparently he had a quite remarkable chapel in one of the rock hollows. After he died, monks climbed up and filmed it, the first time anyone had seen it. It may be online, my google skills have failed to find it.

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From here we went to a couple of spots where we could photograph the villages and the rocks while we waited for the sun to go down.

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We ended with a stop to photograph the sunset. For the photography obsessed I wouldn’t recommend it as your one sunset opportunity. They herded us up and we had to leave pretty much as soon as the sun went down, but we all know that often the best colours come for some time afterwards. It was still nice to be sitting out on the rocks as the sun went down though.

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Meteora was magical. It probably deserves more than one day, but with a tight itinerary I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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