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Meteora Monasteries

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Meteora Monasteries
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Central Greece. Due north of Kalabaka, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly, near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountain. Six striking monasteries sit perched precariously atop natural sandstone rock pillars. The Metéora is one of Greece's largest and most eminent Eastern Orthodox complexes, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and breathtaking collection of architectural achievement.

The Monasteries of Metéora weren't always planted so close to heaven. For fifty millennia Orthodox monks lived in the area's caves, but moved to higher ground around the 9th century when raids became prevalent. Monastery access was originally, deliberately difficult, with entry requiring long ladders roped together, or large nets to haul up both goods and people. Improvements, and removal of the "leap of faith" element associated with reaching the monasteries, came in the 1920s when steps were cut into the rock, and a bridge constructed to allow for traversing via the nearby plateau. Today, hiking amongst the peaks and valleys surrounding Metéora still makes for strenuous, albeit sought-after work.

Guided tours to the Metéora Monasteries typically leave from Athens, though many also partake in self-guided spiritual experiences of the six holy abodes. Note that no matter how you get to them, the monasteries enforce a strict dress code: all shoulders must be covered, men must wear long trousers, and women must wear long skirts.

The Six Metéora Monasteries

Much of the buildings' architecture is classified as Athonite in origin.

The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron. The largest of the monasteries at Metéora, the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron was erected in the mid-14th century AD, with restoration and embellishment projects completed in 1483 and 1552. It serves as the complex's primary tourist museum.

The Holy Monastery of Varlaam. This is the second largest of Metéora's monasteries, built in 1541 as a church dedicated to All Saints. It features the traditional Athonite cross-in-square with dome and choirs, and a spacious esonarthex (lite) surrounded by a dome. The Holy Monastery of Varlaam's old refectory is used as a museum.

The Holy Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara. Founded in the middle of 16th century AD, and decorated in 1560.

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas. Built in the 16th century AD, the Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas is a small church. It was decorated by the Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas in 1527.

The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen. A small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545, the Holy Monastery of St. Stephen is the only one that rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. During WWII, it was damaged by the Nazis, who believed it was harboring insurgents. Following the war, nuns took the monastery over and reconstructed it.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity. Built in 1475, this monastery was remodeled many times, in 1684, 1689, 1692, and 1741.

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