- Location: Near the town of Kalambaka, Greece
- Attraction Type: Secluded monasteries atop mountain cliffs, Wall Paintings, Byzantine Art, Greek Orthodox Faith, Relics, Nature, Rock Climbing Best Time to Go: July to September are the busiest season. But the off-season is less crowded and will give you more space to explore the monasteries and attractive accommodation rates.
- Significance: Monasteries
- How to Reach: Kalambaka is your starting point to visit the Meteora. If you are traveling from Athens, take a train to Volos and a connecting narrow gauge train to Kalambaka. You can also avail of rail services from Thessaloniki. Buses reach Kalambaka from Athens via Trikala. You can also take a direct hired car from Athens for Meteora, with the help of an experienced guide.
- Nearest Airport: Athens International Airport
If a monastery needs to be ideally secluded, then Meteora is an extreme exercise in seclusion. Located at unapproachable heights above mountain cliffs, these unapproachable repositories of Orthodox faith in Greece were largely responsible behind the preservation of Hellenistic values even in the face of a violent Turkish rule. Was it not for these monasteries, and their preservation of the Greek faith, philosophy, painting, and manuscripts, Hellenism as we know today would have been long lost to the world? It is important to remember that these nooks of monastic habitation attracted an equal number of scholars, artists, and thinkers, along with monks, of course.
Presently, Meteora is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece, both for its amazing scenic beauty, its great collection of historic materials and sacred relics, its famed seclusion (which, thanks to modern modes of communication, is not that secluded anymore) and for rock climbing. Many visit it, of course, because of its famed appearance in the James Bond film of For Your Eyes Only. These days, it is much easy to approach the monastery network and visit all of them because of well-maintained pathways. At one point in time, a basket lifted up was the only way to approach them. Not the safest option, no doubt, but there was seriously no other way and visitors had to risk it.
History of Meteora Monasteries
The origins of the Meteora monasteries are obscure. Nobody quite knows who built them. However, by the 12th century AD, monks were already residing in parts of the cliffs and the caves of the mountains. As the Turkish invasion succeeded and their influences started to grow, the monks started to move upwards on the mountain. Finally, at some point in time in the 15th and 16th century, they reached the very top.
The building materials were laboriously carried from lower parts of the mountain using ropes, ladders, and baskets. A number of monasteries, away from the public eyes, were developed on the crags and the cliffs of the mountains. Gradually, it became a heaven for monks, thinkers, and gradually attracting scholars and artists. The monarchy and the nobility often took refuge in the monasteries and thus contributing to their wealth. However, even till fifty years back, the most distinguishing feature of the monasteries was their absolute, undisturbed and uninterrupted seclusion.
Monasteries in Meteora
There were many monasteries that were present atop the Meteora Mountains. However, only seven of them continue to be functional. Each monastery is unique in its collection and its charm, and you can also travel from one to another in a very short time using modern conveyances. The monasteries that you must visit include:
Megalo Meteora or Metamorphosis: The first church of Transformation is the most visited and richest church of the entire group. It is known for its magnificent interiors and a great collection of artworks and manuscripts. Founded by Athanasios the Meteorite, the church gained prominence when Symeon Uros, the Serbian Emperor, joined it as a monk and bequeathed all his wealth to its development. The frescoes of Theophanis depicting the persecution of Christians by Romans and the great post-Byzantine mural arts make this monastery the greatest attraction of the Meteorite collection.
Opening Hours: 9am-1pm, and 3pm-6pm
Closed: Tuesday and Wednesday
Agios Stefanos: Also known as Saint Stephen’s monastery, this is the only convent in the group. Its katholikon was built in 1798, although the church itself dates to a much earlier period. The notable features of this monastery include 16th-century wall paintings by priest Ioannis from Stagoi and the relic of the saint’s skull received as a gift from Prince Vladislav of Wallachia.
Opening Hours: Everyday 9am-1pm, and 3pm-5pm
Roussanou Monastery: This monastery is a magnificent setting can be approached only by a bridge. It was built by two brothers Joasaph and Maximos on an older church and is known for its excellent wall paintings and wooden iconostases.
Opening Hours: 9am-1pm, and 3:30 pm-5pm
Monastery of Agios Nikolas Anapafsas: Dionysius the Metropolitan of Larissa built this church in the 16th century and named it after his earlier patron. Again, there are great wall paintings by Theophanis Baths-Strelitzias the renowned iconographer from Crete.
Opening Hours: Every day, 9 am — 6 pm.
Agia Triada or Holy Trinity: This is the monastery immortalized in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Founded by Dometius in the 15th century, this monastery has a spectacular array of wall paintings by brothers Antonios and Nikolaos. Climb a stairwell cut into the rock for 140 steps to reach the monastery.
Opening Hours: Everyday 9 am — 1 pm.
Varlaam Monastery: This monastery has the most impressive collection of relics, and some meticulously carved wooden crosses, many icons and plenty of other ecclesiastical treasures. The great frescoes by Byzantine iconographer Frangos Katelanos add to the attraction of this monastery built by the brothers Theophanis and Nektarios in 1517.
Opening Hours: 9 am — 1 pm.
The neighboring town of Kalampaka is the usual place where tourists seek accommodation for a tour to the monasteries. There are quite a few hotels in Kalambaka catering to the need of tourists from various ranges of budget. Some of the most popular hotels include Pension Arsenis, Divani Kalambaka, Edelweiss Hotel and Amalia Hotel. You can also start your tour from Athens in a hired care with an experienced guide to complete your Meteora tour.