Greece’s economy is not the only thing on the rocks. On a positive note, it can boast about one of its national treasures that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Meteora sits among a valley of natural rock formations and is home to some of the most interesting history of its religious culture.
Meteora (“suspended in the air” in Greek) is the site of monastic communities that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. During the 11th century, hermits and ascetics were drawn here to seek the divine and settle in rough makeshift caves among the rocks. Eventually, Meteora grew to be a prominent place of retreat, prayer and meditation for the Greek Orthodox faithful. Today as you look across the vista of rock pinnacles in the valley of Kalambaka, it’s hard to imagine that on almost every one of them was perched a monastery built under impossible circumstances with no modern construction tools or proper roads. Today only six remain permanently but precariously perched on a few solid rock columns.
It’s hard to believe something like this exists on earth. You really have to see it to believe it. How on earth did the monks build these giant stone monuments and manage to keep the insulation of their simple monastic lifestyles? Before roads were constructed, supplies and pilgrims were hoisted up the sheer rock faces via a series of pulleys and baskets, hooks and ladders. Some are still in use today. Maybe not this one…
The existing monasteries house anywhere from one monk to 28 nuns. Each has its own distinct presence and in spite of the onslaught of tourist, the monks and nuns carefully guard their monastic lifestyles and go about their everyday life on the rocks. All of the monasteries have at least a small garden or two tucked into the rocks or fashioned onto a terrace. Everything is meticulously cared for and beautifully preserved.
We visited remarkable Meteora in summertime when the air is still and the light is relatively flat. Even then, we were struck by the ever-changing beauty of this mystical place. The first daylight burned away the dewy mist of the morning and the shadows of the late afternoon emerged from behind crevices and lengthened into long fingers covering the valley below. It’s in that late afternoon light that the rocks and the monasteries take on a brilliant golden glow long after the valley succumbs to the shadows of dusk.
After viewing some amazing photographs of the different seasons of Meteora, I long to experience this place in the wild season of winter when snow and ice dust the landscape and the monasteries push up above the low winter clouds into the crisp blue sky. Imagine this: A ring of low winter clouds encircles one of the rock pillars separating the cold dark valley below from the monastery that basks in the sunshine of the blue sky above. A world set apart, figuratively and literally.
Magical, mystical, magnificent Meteora. Push this one up to the top of your bucket list!