Travel Article

Meteora: Greece's spiritual pinnacles, "suspended in the air"!

By: Barney Jeffries
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Exploring the geological pinnacles of Meteora, Greece are part of a Greek walking holiday. If you were designing another planet, you might invent somewhere like Meteora. Geologists remain perplexed by the towering pillars of smooth sandstone that demand a myth to explain their origin: petrified giants, perhaps, or a perfect place for Zeus to store his thunderbolts. The word Meteora means "suspended in the air" - meteor comes from the same root. It's a perfect name, both for the natural landscape and for the area's other attraction: the medieval monasteries that top many of the formations.

Heading north from Trikala, we first see the rocks from a distance, looming out of the flat landscape. I can't take my eyes off them. Gloriously incongruous at noon, silhouetted against the setting sun, or eerie and huge in the floodlights at night, they're an awesome sight.

The rocks themselves are so overwhelming that it takes a while to notice the monasteris. When you do, you will think your eyes deceive. Is that a bell tower on a vertical pinnacle hundreds of feet high or a conical dome of a Byzantine church profile against the sky?

The first hermits came to seek solitude in Meteora's caves a thousand years ago. In following centuries, as the Byzantine Empire crumbled at the end of the 14th century and Greece fell to the Ottoman Turks, many more monks found refuge atop the rocks. Their climbing skills must have been admirable, with the earliest monasteries reached only by climbing articulated removable ladders. With patience and probably numerous casualties, they managed to build complex monasteries on such unlikely foundations that divine intervention seems the only explanation.

Monastery of Agia Triada, Meteora, Greece. How the Monasteries Came to Meteora

There were once some two dozen monasteries here. Six remain active, while ruins of others are abandoned and inaccessible. Untile the 1920s, provisions and indeed the monks themselves were hauled up in nets on a windlass. This required quite a leap of faith -- the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only "when the Lord let them break." Today, visitors reach the monasteries via bridges and steps hewn out of the rock.

The monks may now be safe from the threat of the Turks, but the world encroaches ever closer. With a million visitor to the area each year, opportunities for solitary contemplation must be limited. Guided tours and sales of souvenir postcards and icons are now part of their daily lives.


Two Favorites: Metamorphosis and Moni Agia Triada


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Meteora: Greece's spiritual pinnacles, "suspended in the air"!