Even without world-famous monasteries, this place is an unusual natural phenomenon. More than a thousand towers, like a stone forest, grew from the land of the Thessaly Valley. According to geologists, in prehistoric times there was a huge sea or lake, which covered all the surroundings and gradually shredded over millions of years. But the Meteora monasteries, built on the tops of these stone formations directed at the sky, are not only remarkable for their unique location.
A miracle soaring in the sky
Greece is the world center of Orthodox monasticism: millions of pilgrims come to Athos alone every year to honor holy relics and pray to ancient icons, asking them for intercession and blessings for earthly affairs. However, another monastery complex is comparable with Mount Athos in Greece – Meteora, which grew near the town of Kalambaki in the north of the country a little more than a thousand years ago.
Meteors are not in vain called soaring in the air: monasteries really somehow inexplicably stay on the very tops of sandstone cliffs, leaving a feeling of a miracle happening in front of our eyes.
According to various sources, among the meteor mountains there used to be 21, 22, or even 24 cloisters. Time and world shocks did not spare most of them: until now only six monasteries have survived, but the fate of the rest has been destruction and oblivion.
The stairs to the remaining monasteries were originally rope ladders and scaffolding, but by the 20s of the last century they all simply rotted, so I had to cut through the rocks much more convenient, safe and durable steps.
As a result, UNESCO, a well-known scientific and cultural organization, included in the list of World Heritage sites in the late 80s the Meteora monastery complex that literally rose from the ashes – Greece thus received the fifth of seventeen existing and officially recognized world masterpieces. Meteors are listed under No. 425 on this impressive list.
The sensations of being in Meteor temples are somehow different from everything that I experienced before. It seems that you see the same thing as you crossed the threshold of an ordinary Christian church: gilded iconostases, majestic icons, holy faces of skillful murals on the walls of temples.
But the mysterious light of unquenchable lamps and the flickering flame of candles, and most importantly – the realization of how many years (centuries) to everything that you see around you now – all this together makes it clear that this time you are not in an ordinary place. And if you are lucky enough to get into a monastery when there is not a large influx of tourists, then everyone who has ascended to at least one of the monasteries and has examined his treasures will experience these sensations.
Megala Meteor, Great Meteoron (Great Meteoron Monastery), or the monastery of the Transfiguration
On the largest meteor cliff of Platilitos (613 m. From the sea) and 475 m above Kalambaki and Kastraki, the largest of the remaining monasteries is located. The first temple was built by Athanasius in 1380, then it was supplemented by the monk Joasaph in 1387–1388, and Simeon renovated and completed it in 1541–1542. 154 steps lead to the monastery.
One of the most stunning masterpieces of the Great Meteora – the magnificent iconostasis and the hegumen throne, inlaid with mother of pearl – is something that you must certainly see. Amazingly beautiful frescoes will amaze the imagination – the creation of the masters of temple painting of the 16th century. Photo and video shooting of many relics of Meteora’s monasteries is undesirable, so watch and absorb: you can share what you’ve seen with other people only in words.
The museum monastery is the repository of the wonderfully embroidered shroud of the XIV century, as well as unique icons: the Birth and Crucifixion of Christ, the Torment of the Lord and the Grieving Virgin.
Here you can also bow to the holy relics – the relics of the founding fathers of Meteora, other no less revered saints. Once upon a time, patriarchs and monarchs of Byzantium loved to visit mountain monasteries, bringing many gifts to monks. All of them are lovingly preserved to this day, as well as 600 volumes of priceless manuscripts stored in this museum.
At the heart of the architectural complex of the Transfiguration Monastery:
- St. Athanasius Cathedral
- chapel of St. John the Baptist (beginning of the XVII century)
- chapel of St. Constantine and Helena (XVIII century)
The continuation of the museum, but already under the open sky, became examples of post-Byzantine architecture – the holy of holies of monastic life, usually hidden from worldly eyes – cells, a refectory with a kitchen, a monastery hospital. There is also a folklore museum.
Monastery of St. Nicholas (Μονή Αγίου Νικολάου Αναπαυσά)
The path to it is not long and even somewhat tiring: 143 steps to the foot of the cliff from Kastraki, and then another 85, but already cut in the cliff itself.
The monastery was built at the end of the 15th century, erecting it on three levels. Each of them has its own temple:
- Chapel of St. Anthony
- Church of St. Nicholas with a spacious nave and refectory. The uniqueness of its architectural solution lies in the complete repetition of the relief of a flat rock adjacent to the southern wall of the monastery
- Church of St. John the Baptist with attached cells and crypt
It was founded by Nikolai Anapavsas, the tranquilizer, an ancient monk who received his nickname, obviously, for his humble service to God and a personal example of Christian patience.
The monastery is famous for the fact that the murals of the church of St. Nicholas were made by the famous artist-monk from Crete Feofanis (“Bafias”). On one of the walls his inscription is preserved: it testifies that the master completed the last stroke of his first masterpiece in life in 1527.
Then there were other, no less magnificent creations of his – the painting of the walls of the Athos churches.
Varlaam Monastery (Μονή Βαρλαάμ) or All Saints
This is the second largest monastery of all operating in Meteors, built on a 375-meter cliff. Her story began with a church erected by Hieromonk Varlaam in 1350 and called the Three Saints. A little later monastic cells appeared here. The monk brothers, Nektarios and Feofanis Apsaradon, after 200 years continued the work of their predecessor, for which they fell into world history as the real founders of the monastery.
They turned the church into a full-fledged temple of the Three Saints, covering it with a wooden roof and doing rich painting on the temple walls.
Then came the Church of All Saints. Its basis was a huge tuff stone, which was raised on a rock for 22 long years, but the walls were erected with an amazing speed even for us – in just 20 days. The cathedral was fully finished by the middle of the 16th century.
The monastery became the receptacle of the largest bookshop in Meteora and operated until the XVIII century, after which the era of oblivion and even plunder began: its treasury suffered greatly in the Second World War, having lost almost all of its creations. The new life of the monastery began in the 60s – after the restoration.
The surviving relics of Varlaam Monastery are now safely kept in the museum – the former refectory. Here you can see:
- Famous icons
- Relics of saints
- Shroud of the founders trimmed with gilding
- Crosses, dishes
- Handwritten Parchment Codes
- A large library of nearly three hundred books including the gospel
Holy Trinity Monastery (Μονή Αγίας Τριάδος)
The inscription on its facade says that it was supposedly founded in the 50-70s of the XV century. In the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Meteora, the Venetian Gospel is stored – an ancient relic, very revered by Orthodox Christians. You can get here only after breaking 140 steps cut in the 20s of the last century.
The second temple – John the Baptist – monastery architects skillfully cut down right in the rock. However, not only the architecture of these places is impressive: the bed of the Pinos River flowing at the foot of the cliff, a stone valley and a mountain range overgrown with forests, stretching over the cliff, create one of the most magnificent and bewitching paintings in all of Greece. Amazing panoramic views from the balcony behind the cathedral.
Here you can click the camera with plenty: from here you can see all the other Meteora monasteries – the photos from the cliff are excellent.
Rusanu Monastery (Μονή Ρουσάνου) or St. Barbara
There is no written evidence indicating that Rusanos was the founding father of the monastery. Presumably it was laid in 1380 by the hieromonks Nicodemos and Venedictos, and after about a century, in the 16th century, it was completed by Maxim and Joasaph. Then they spent their whole lives there.
The mural belongs to the Cretan artists: they created here at the peak of the heyday of their school. Openwork carved iconostasis shines with generous gilding on wood. The church keeps icons and dishes, vestments, holy relics.
St. Stephen’s Monastery (Μονή Αγίου Στεφάνου)
This monastery, founded in the late Middle Ages by the monk Anthony, is clearly visible from Kalambaki: it is closest to the city. There are two cathedrals here: one is called old, and the other is St. Harlampius Cathedral. It was built much later – in the XVIII century.
It is famous for its museum, which houses a rich collection of portable icons. This museum was opened in the ancient altar. Monastic cells and monastery stables underwent reconstruction.
The territory is beautifully groomed and cozy, everywhere – flowers and ornamental bushes. And not surprising, because this monastery is one of two active convents in Meteora.
It’s easy to approach St. Stephen’s Monastery: the bridge and the access road are on the same level with the cliff.
Visit times and how to get to Meteor
With a bus tour, all six monasteries can be visited on the same day, but usually the organized tour program includes three monasteries. The rest can be seen and photographed from a variety of angles and at various heights, approaching and driving past the ring to other monasteries.
You can buy such an excursion at any travel agency, and in this case you will not be bothered by the question of how to get to Meteora, and on the way from your hotel and back in a few hours you will still see a good piece of Greece.
From Thessaloniki to Meteor can be reached independently by train (direct and with a change), by bus (Macedonia bus station, 4 flights via Trikala, travel time – 2 hours 45 minutes, a round-trip ticket costs 31 euros) and by car.
For those who need to get to Meteora from Athens (350 km), there are also three ways:
Two daily direct flights from Athens – Kalambaka from Larisis railway station and several flights with transfers (Paleofarsalos). Travel time is 4.5 hours.
Liosion bus station, frequent flights daily flights to Trikala, then transfer to Kalambaka.
E-75 highway, travel time – 4 hours. You can find travel companions in advance on Bla-Bla or have a credit card with you to rent a car. The roads in Greece are wonderful.
You can’t get half-naked in the Meteora monasteries in Greece because of the heat: your shoulders and legs should be closed. Therefore, shorts (for both men and women) are inappropriate. The best women’s clothing for such an excursion is a long skirt with a closed blouse or an almost deaf dress.
|one||Great Meteora (Transfiguration of the Lord)||from 9:00 to 17:00||from 9:00 to 15:00||Tuesday / Tuesday and Wednesday (seasonally)|
|2||St. Nicholas||from 9:00 to 15:30||from 9:00 to 16:00||Friday|
|3||Varlaam||from 9:00 to 16:00||from 9:00 to 15:00||Friday|
|4||St. Rusan||from 9:00 to 16:00||from 9:00 to 14:00||Wednesday|
|5||Holy Trinity||from 9:00 to 17:00||from 10:00 to 16:00||Thursday|
|6||St. Stephen||from 9:00 to 13:30 and from 15:30 to 17:30||from 9:00 to 13:30 and from 15:00 to 17:00||Monday|
Many tourists, after a one-day organized excursion, next time come back here as pilgrims and spend several days in Meteora, staying in one of the many campsites at the foot of the Meteor Mountains or hotels and guest houses in Kalambaki. The spirit of one of the greatest Orthodox shrines is contagious and does not leave many until the next visit.
How to book a hotel nearby, availability of campsites, changes in the seasonal schedule for visiting monasteries and transport schedules, reviews of tourists and pilgrims – all this and much more useful and detailed information about Meteors in Greece can be found on the website of the travel agency of the monastery complex. There you can book a tour and read local news.
Tour address: 2 Patriarchou Dimitriou, Kastraki, Kalambaka 422 00, Greece
Over the centuries, this magnificent place has become a spiritual oasis for thousands of ascetics and pilgrims. They come here in search of a source of spiritual strength and tranquility. And among secular people, ordinary tourists who first came to the rocky monasteries of Meteora, the first look at everything around them at first gives rise to even a certain sense of fear. And then thoughts transfer our thoughts to infinite spaces and celestial worlds.
At least once in your life you need to visit this place.
Watch an informative and beautiful video about the monasteries of Meteor in Greece. The author gives a lot of useful tips that are worth taking note if you are going on a trip.