Meteora, Greece and its Monasteries in the Sky
Located in central Greece at the edge of the plains of Thessaly, Meteora is unmistakable. Almost as if they were boulders that giants had dropped amid the empty space, Meteora's sandstone pinnacles abruptly rise to heights of nearly 400 meters from the ground. The sheer cliff faces make the rocks seem like massive pillars, and to this day, they support the structures of centuries-old Eastern-Orthodox monasteries that balance precariously atop them. Meteora, which means "suspended in air," truly lives up to its name as it is not only a place where you will feel dwarfed by the soaring monoliths; it's also where, as the clouds drape overhead, you'll feel like you're standing on a floating island in the sky. With its amazing history and incredible scenery, supported by its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Meteora is a destination you cannot miss in Greece.
The rocks and cliffs of Meteora date back 60 million years, and although there is no complete agreement about how they might have arisen, one theory describes them as the result of deposits from a river delta. Regardless of their origins, the landscape they form is a sharp contrast to the lush fields and gentle, rolling hills of their surroundings. Meteora is a drastic environment, and this is what unexpectedly attracted the humans that later settled here.
During the 9th century, hermit monks seeking total isolation from the outside world climbed up the rocks of Meteora and found refuge in its caves and crevices. Believing that the location would bring them closer to their faith, they led lives devoted to worship and prayer, and a few centuries later, grew to become an established community.
However, it was only toward the end of the 14th century that the foundations of the famous monasteries seen today were built. With the fall of the long-standing Byzantine Empire, the settlements at Mount Athos, the center for Eastern-Orthodox monasticism, on the northeastern coast of Greece faced increasing threats from Turkish plunderers. As a result, three monks set out in search of a new home which they soon found at Meteora.
Settling atop the towering pillars which were only accessible by removable ladders and ropes, Meteroa's cliffs served as the perfect refuge. Despite the dangerous and extreme conditions, the protection Meteora provided allowed the settlement to flourish. A total of 24 monasteries were eventually established on the different rock columns, and the residents managed to sustain themselves by growing crops and even keeping livestock on the ground below. It seems impossible that the monasteries were able to be constructed so long ago, and it's certainly an incredible sight to see them today as they have nearly become one with the surrounding landscape.
In the following centuries, even as times changed, Meteora continued to thrive as a place removed from the rest of the world. When Christianity wasn't as restricted in the 16th century, Meteora saw a resurgence. When Greeks fled severe Ottoman rule during the 17 and 18th centuries, Meteora became a preservation for Hellenistic and ancient Greek culture which may have even been lost without it. Unfortunately, Meteora suffered from bombings and the looting of many of its treasures during the Second World War, but you can still visit and have a glimpse of its once living and breathing community. Six of the original monasteries remain in operation, each with about ten resident monks and nuns that keep it alive. Being a rich piece of history and a marvel of nature, Meteora is now visited by millions of tourists each year, and we can perhaps still appreciate its isolation that captured those centuries before us.
We visited Meteora in 2017 during our year-long trip around the world. Click on the link to read more!