The monasteries of Meteora in Greece: jewels perched in the air

Between sky and earth, in an almost unreal balance, stand the monasteries of Meteora in Greece. Nestled atop imposing rock formations, these architectural gems defy the laws of gravity and invite exploration steeped in mystery and spirituality. Let’s set off to discover these unique places, witnesses of an ancient heritage and harmony between man and nature.

Heavenly columns

In the central mountains of the Greece, rise brown sandstone pillars, like giant fingers of stone, almost touching the sky. These majestic rock formations, known as Meteora, are home to some of the most spectacular monasteries in the world. The term “Meteora” literally means “columns of the sky”.

Since the 11th century, monks took refuge in these almost inaccessible peaks, inhabiting natural caves in search of solitude and meditation. These caverns, which can still be seen from the road, were once sanctuaries for those seeking to escape the distractions of civilization.

A heavenly escape

Beginning in the 15th century, twenty-four monasteries were built in Meteora in a revival of the eremitical ideal. Today, six of these monasteries and one convent are still in operation, vibrant with monastic life and centuries-old traditions.

The oldest monastery, founded in 1382, was built during the Turkish occupation. The monks, seeking to avoid pillage, climbed ever higher. They used rope ladders to transport building materials and supplies. Although roads now connect the buildings, monks still favor ancient methods, including baskets suspended from cables to transport their supplies.

A visit to the main chapel

The main chapel of the Megalo Meteoro, or Metamorphosis, monastery is decorated with frescoes depicting scenes of persecution of Christians by the Romans. Entering this chapel is like immersing yourself in a Renaissance painting, where blood and torn flesh bear witness to the trials endured by the saints.

The monastery of Agia Triada, built in the 15th century, is known to be the most photogenic. It was even featured in the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. It is undoubtedly the modern symbol of Meteora.

Byzantine treasures

Varlaam Monastery, founded in 1517, houses a valuable collection of Byzantine relics, including carved crosses, icons and finely embroidered altar vestments. Le Roussanou, built in 1545, is the most inaccessible. You have to cross a wooden bridge between two peaks to reach its portal. Roussanou is renowned for his collection of icons.

The daily life of the inhabitants of Meteora

Life in the monasteries of Meteora seems frozen in time. The monks and nuns lead an austere existence, in accordance with the traditions of their ancestors. Wine is still made there in giant oak vats where monks crush the grapes with their bare feet.

Visitors are welcome, but must respect certain strict rules, particularly regarding dress. Novices are willing to provide aprons and capes to cover visitors’ shoulders and knees.

Meet the artisans of faith

In Meteora, locals continue to practice traditional techniques. A monk, for example, makes earthenware bowls using hand bellows on a kiln. Another paints icons using pigments ground by hand and bound with egg yolk, a technique almost extinct today.

Icons are works of art and devotion, and their making has been an unbroken tradition for centuries. The monk even applied gold leaf using his skin’s natural oils for adhesion.

Practical advice for the visit

To get to Meteora, it is best to take a bus or take a train from Athens Larissis station to Volos town, then continue by narrow gauge train to Kalambaka. Once in town, any taxi can take you to the monasteries, located about a kilometer and a half north of Kalambaka.

Where to stay

  • Hotel Divani Meteora, a four-star luxury hotel with 165 rooms, swimming pool, restaurant and bar.
  • Antoniades Hotel, a two-star hotel popular among backpackers and climbers with 59 rooms and a restaurant.

For travelers looking for comfort, the hotel Divani Meteora Hotel in Kalambaka is a perfect option. Travelers on a more modest budget will prefer theAntoniades Hotel.

To visit the monasteries of Meteora is to step back in time and discover a world where spirituality and natural beauty meet in perfect harmony.