The most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Hellas, i.e. Meteora, are located to the North and more precisely near the town of Kalabaka and the village of Kastraki. These two settlements are blessed to be situated in an extremely beautiful area where the first morning sun beams light up their scant greenery as well as the nearby huge rocks resembling giants. Some folklore tales say that once upon a time the latter were really old earth-born giants that turned into stone. At the early hour of the day, simandrons (the Orthdox call to prayer) and church bells call the monks of the monasteries to matins (services of morning prayers) while ordinary villagers get ready for the daily work in the fields under the echoes that are heard across the valley and the giant ravines.
Μ ε τ έ ω ρ α (M e t é o r a)
The name of the monastery complexes shows explicitly where they were built – they are suspended in the air. Their importance has also been recognized by UNESCO as well and Metéora has been included as a unique phenomenon of cultural heritage in the World Heritage List. Nowadays it’s considered the second biggest and most important and fundamental complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Hellas after those in the Mount Athos.
Metéora was initially inhabited by hermits who lived a solitary life. They usually lived in caves hidden in rocks which were the perfect place for meditation and religious practice in the 11th century. Unfortunately, times became rather unsure because of the numerous invaders in Thessaly and that’s the reason why hermits chose to climb up the rocks higher and higher and seek a shelter in the wildness and in the inaccessibility of the terrain which was dominated by extremely high peaks. Thus all these solitary hermits and monks who firstly prayed alone in rudimentary chapels, started sharing more fully Christian life by building small monasteries called sketes.
These first monasteries were built on the inaccessible 400-metre rock giants by bringing up material and people with ladders and baskets. This was the way how the monasteries were reached till 1922 when steps and then paths were constructed which facilitate greatly the visits of the monasteries nowadays. By the way, baskets and ladders have still been used for bringing up provisions which make the monasteries unique.
Initially twenty-four monasteries were built and all of them popped up on the natural tops of the high rocks, thus monks being much closer to God in the blue air of their summits and dwellings. Unfortunately, most of them have disappeared and only six of them are inhabited nowadays. Here they are … 🙂
Megalo Metérora (or Great Meteoro): The Monastery of Transfiguration/Metamorphisis is the biggest of the Meteorite monasteries and it was built on the highest and largest rock (2011 feet above sea-level and 1544 feet above the bed of the Peneios River) by Antonite hermit Athanasios. Four churches (St Athanasios, SS Constantine and Helen, St. John the Baptist and the Transfiguration of the Saviou) were erected on its summit. The Church of Transfiguration (or also the Church ”Katholikon”) was founded by the monk himself in the middle of the 14th century and it was rebuilt twice after that – by monk Joasaph in 13887/1388 and by monk Symeon (Serbian Emperor Syemon Uros) in 1541/42. Today it’s the oldest and largest holy building in Metéora and the most richly and opulently decorated owing to the Serbian Emperor who became a monk there and gave all his wealth to the monastery. If you plan a visit to the Megalo Meterora, don’t worry about the access. You should not use a ladder and a net to reach it because they were used till 1923 when a staircase pathway was chiseled out.
Varlaam (Barlaam) Monastery: Monk Barlaam is supposed to have been the first inhabitant of the rock where he built a small church of the Three Hierarchs (of the Three Bishops) and a few cells. After he died the place was abandoned for about 200 years. The two brothers of one of the important families from Ioannina (i.e. Theophanis and Nektarios Apsaradas) got the church rebuilt from the ruins in 1518. They also added two other churches to the monastery complex, i.e. the churches of All Saint and St John the Baptist. Nowadays the the Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second biggest and largest after Megalo Metéora.
Roussanou Monastery: It is the monastery built on the most isolated rock between the Barlaam and the Holy Trinity monasteries. It was founded by two monks – Nikodemos and Benedict in 1380. Most probably the named it Roussanou after the first hermit to settle down here. Later, more precisely in 1545, two other monks Maximos and Joasaph from Ioannina rebuilt it.
Aghia Triada (or the Monastery of Holy Trinity): It was built by monk Dometius in the 15th century and it decorated in 1741. It is the most inaccessible of all of the monastery complexes because pilgrims and visitors have to cross the valley and continue high up through the rock. Then they ought to climb up the steps cut into the rock itself. But once there, they get the best, the most beautiful and characteristic views to the Pindos mountainous range, the Agrapha mountains, the Peneios River, and the Thessaly Plain.
Agios Stefanos (or the Monastery of Saint Stephen): If you decide to visit the 5th, you will be challenged by a flight of innumerable stairs. There you can you will enjoy the awe-inspiring views of the plain towards Kalambaka as well as the St. Stephen Church and the katholikon dedicated to Saint Haralambos.
Agios Nikolaos (or Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas): It is the first monastery complex to be seen when coming from Kastraki to Metéora. It was built by Dionysious (the Archibishop of Larissa) in 1527. The katholikon and the monastery complex itself are dedicated to the old patron, i.e. to St. Nicholas. It was decorated by Cretan painter – Theophanis Strelitzas or Bathas by name, in 1527.