Perched high up in the cliff-tops of Greece, the Meteora monasteries served several purposes for the ascetic monks who built them.
These monasteries were inaccessible enough that only the most dedicated followers tried to reach them, while they also made the monks feel like they were closer to God in a place of peace and solitude.
Today thousands of tourists make the pilgrimage to these incredible monasteries which are balanced on thin pillars of rock hundred of metres up in the air.
The word ‘Meteora’ is Greek for suspended in the air, so it is no wonder that these amazing monasteries have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status in recognition of their unique beauty.
The monasteries were built in Central Greece, to the north west of the Thessaly Plain. The presence of the nearby Pindus Mountains and the Pineios River combine to make the setting for the Meteora Monasteries even more stunning.
The monasteries were founded in the 9th century and etched onto huge stacks of grey sandstone rock which rise more than 550 metres out of the ground. Not only are they very high up but the cliff faces are sheer, so climbing them is no mean feat.
The Meteora Monasteries are one of the largest collections of monasteries of the Eastern Greek Orthodox religion. The first inhabitants lived a life of solitude here meeting only on Sundays to pray and worship. One of the most important churches here was the Mother of God church, Theotokos, where a monastic state was formed in the 11th and 12th century. Between 1356 and 1372 the great Meteoron monastery was founded on Broad Rock.
As the Meteora Monasteries developed over the years the monks created a rope ladder for access which could be drawn up whenever they felt threatened. In fact they had complete control over whoever entered the monasteries. This made them feel safe from the political upheavals of the time.
This sanctuary became particularly useful when Turkish expansion was threatening the Byzantine Empire. As the Turks advanced into the Thessaly Plain during the 14th century, more monasteries were built by hermit monks.
Today each of the six remaining monasteries has less than ten inhabitants. Five are filled with men, one with women. The largest monastery, the great Meteoron monastery, (open 9am-5pm) is now a museum.
The second largest monastery – The Holy Monastery of Varlaam (open 9am-4pm) contains a church which is surrounded by a large dome and dedicated to All Saints. It was built in 1542.
The Holy Monastery of Rousanou (open 9am-6pm) and the Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas were both founded in the middle of 16th century AD, as was the Holy Monastery of St. Stephen. The latter was damaged by Nazis during the Second World War as they believed insurgents were hiding there.
Perhaps the most spectacular monastery is the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (open 9am-5pm), which occupies a gravity-defying location. It was used as a filming location for a villain’s lair in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
Be warned that there is quite a lot of hiking involved to get up to the pinnacle of the Meteora monasteries. You may wish to avoid the blistering heat of Greek summer time, but if that is when you plan to visit, bring lots of water. Entry to the Meteora monasteries is very cheap at only two Euros. Women should cover their legs and their shoulders.