When most people think of Greece, the white-washed dwellings topped with domes the color of the Aegean Sea in Santorini or the Acropolis in Athens naturally come to mind.
But if you’re planning a trip to this land of ancient history and ouzo, I suggest adding a visit to the monasteries of Meteora on your itinerary. Only about a 4.5-hour drive from Athens, you can either rent a car or a more practical option might be to join a tour (which normally includes the entrance fee of 3€ for each monastery).
Meteora literally means “suspended from the sky” – and these monasteries do seem to be kissing the heavens above. Meteora is one of the most important and largest complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in the world earning it a spot on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and justifiably so.
Overlooking the picturesque town of Kalambaka, the monasteries are not only architecturally beautiful but are built in a setting as equally breath-taking surrounded by mountains and vast valleys. The stunning monoliths stand stoically among the terracotta roofs of the houses clustered together; it almost seems like the iconic pillars are protecting the villagers. However, the most impressive aspect of these monasteries is where they sit perched way up high on the edge of the mountains – making them a man-made wonder painstakingly built by the calloused hands of hermit monks.
Dating back to the 14th century through to the 16th century, there were originally 24 such monasteries of which only 6 remain today. The monasteries were built by monks who considered themselves hermits living a solitary life in the nearby caves. At some point in time, all the monks agreed on living united as a community and thus the construction of these majestic monasteries began.
The monks used simple, rudimentary methods such as ropes, baskets and ladders to carry all the materials (including heavy stones) to the top of the rock formations (some of which stand at 1200 ft). It took years to complete the construction of all the monasteries – I can only imagine how terribly difficult that must have been! Monks (and nuns) still inhabit the monasteries today which only recently obtained electricity and water.
Visitors are permitted to enter some of the chapels where ancient religious relics are kept. The inside of the chapels made up of stone walls are equally impressive especially knowing they were also built by the hands of the humble hermit monks. Nowadays, stairs are used to climb to the top of the monasteries but back in the day, monks used ladders which precariously leaned against the jagged rocks. Or they set themselves in woven baskets tied with ropes to then be lifted by fellow monks – and unconditional faith.
If you want to experience an incredibly inspiring and unique place then make sure to visit Meteora – it will possibly be one of the highlights of your trip to this country of mythological gods. It certainly was for me!
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Have you been to Meteora? What were your impressions of this majestic site?