meteora rocks

Suspended in the air (which is what meteora means in Greek), the monasteries of Meteora represent a unique architectural achievement. The six Greek Orthodox monasteries are built on spectacular natural rock pillars on the edge of the Pindus Mountains in northern Greece. Hermits and ascetics have clambered up the sandstone peaks of the Meteora to seek solitude since as early as the 10th century. In the late 12th century a small church called the Panaghia Doupiani or "Skete" was built at the foot of one of these "heavenly columns," where monks had already taken up residence. Monasteries were systematically built on top of the nearly-inaccessible peaks in the 14th century as places of refuge when the area came under attack by the Turks. By the end of the 15th century, there were 24 Meteora monasteries. They flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries, but by the 17th century the monastic population had dwindled to one-third of its original size. Access to the monasteries was originally extremely difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and humans.

monasteriesIt is difficult to imagine how the monasteries were built on their pinnacles in the first place. In the words of UNESCO, "The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373-meter cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction." In about the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements. Steps were cut in the rock that could be reached by rather flimsy bridges from the nearest solid rock.
During World War II the site was bombed and many art treasures were stolen. Only six of the monasteries remain today, tended by a few monks and nuns. The monasteries are regularly visited by tourists and pilgrims and now serve primarily as museums. The Meteora monasteries were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988 as representing "a unique example of monastic life since the 14th century" with frescoes that "are a fundamental stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting." Fun fact: The Agia Triada or Holy Trinity monastery was used in the final scenes of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.