Meteora's Mystical Mountain Monasteries

  • Varlaam - Meteora, Greece

    Precipitous Columns of Spirituality

    A "forest" of enormous strangely formed sandstone columns, some up to over 1,200 feet, have been crowned by Greek Orthodox Monasteries in Meteora. Construction was started as early as the 11th century by using only rope and baskets to pull up building materials and people. This region in Northern Greece near the plains of Thessaly offers a sacred, peaceful and mystical fascination that continues today. Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Ambari Kalambaka - Meteora, Greece

    Meteora Caves: A Haven for Hermits

    The first "modern" arrivals in Meteora were hermits and ascetics seeking peace and refuge from the Serbian wars in the 11th century. In order to better protect themselves, some of them united to build on top of the massive columns where the monasteries were established. Others remained for centuries in the slit-like caves that are prolific in the region. Pictured here are the Ambari peaks with caves located where the Kalambaka city limits end and where the astonishingly mystical monumental mountains begin.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Demetrio - Meteora, Greece

    Tucked Away for Centuries

    The natural slits in the Meteora sandstone mountains provide ideal conditions to embed smaller monasteries. This one, called Demetrio, can be seen by hikers in the Northwest part of the region which reveals many wonders; geological as well as human. They have constructed a type of manual elevator that can be seen between the two buildings to bring up goods and their own people. 

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Kastraki Pangia Doupiani - Meteora, Greece

    Prayer Boxes Throughout Meteora

    Greek Orthodox prayer boxes can be found all around the region, even in the most remote places. They range from ancient to the more modern, such as this one near the village of Kastraki, a charming place of less than 800 inhabitants and not far from the main town of Kalambaka. Kastraki residents welcome many pilgrims and hikers into their homes, which are located very close to a lot of trailheads. Hiking the region offers some of the most heart-stopping views.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Agia Trias Holy Trinity - Meteora, Greece

    Holy View Over Kalambaka

    You may recognize the Holy Trinity Monastery if you're a James Bond fan, as some of the film For Your Eyes Only was shot here. At the entrance, there's a chapel hewn out of the rock with ancient, exceptionally beautiful frescos painted on the walls inside. To reach the monastery, one must hike to the base of the giant pillar and then climb up to the top on a most vertiginous trail followed by 140 steps carved in the rock. 

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Agios Stefanos - Meteora, Greece

    Stefanos Taken Over by the Sisters

    Although the Stefanos Monastery was inhabited by men since well before the 13th century, the 1960s changed that. In 1961, it became a nunnery – The Holy Convent of Saint Stephen – where the sisterhood engages in painting traditional icons. The oldest church is closed to visitors, but they are welcome in the "new" 18th century church. The only access to this monastery is a 26-foot-long bridge crossing the void that connects the steep column to a larger mountain. 

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Roussanou - Meteora, Greece

    Roussanou Honors Saint Barbara

    Thought to have been named after the first monk to live on the rock, Roussanou, this monastery was built lower in the Meteora region and was founded in 1380. It is well known for its beautiful frescos, icons and relics of saints including Saint Barbara and her skull (at one time). Originally, there was only a rope ladder to reach it, but sturdy bridges were added. In 1988, it became a convent and is now run by women.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Varlaam - Meteora, Greece

    The Opulent Treasures of Varlaam

    The monk Varlaam was the first to inhabit this pillar (which is near the Great Meteoron) and build a small chapel in 1350. This monastery, the second largest in Meteora, contains relics of many saints as well as sacred crosses, liturgical vessels, ancient gospels, parchment manuscripts and hundreds of books. At first there was only a rope and net to carry people and goods up and down. In 1922, stairs were carved into the sandstone rock for pilgrims, but it was apparently a walk of terror. Today, one can arrive by safer stairs.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Megalo - Meteora, Greece

    Megalo Meteoro: the Oldest, Largest and Highest

    The Great Meteoron, known as Megalo Meteoro, dominates when compared to the other monasteries at 2,045 feet. Established in 1340, it was fortunate to be supported by royalty and nobles throughout history. Thus, there has been much development over the centuries and one can visit many chapels, a large refectory, a kitchen, a lovely courtyard, terraces, a museum, a wine cellar and 360° views that are otherworldly and unforgettable. Getting to the entrance requires a long climb of winding stairs carved from the steep rock.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Megalo Monastery Transformation - Meteora, Greece

    Former Monks of the Great Meteoran

    There are many interesting sections of the Megalo monastery to discover and some are somewhat surprising to the non-monastic traveler. In a discreet part of a hall, there is an enormous wooden door with a tiny window which reveals an ossuary with shelves.  The shelves are lined with the skulls of former monks who lived in this monastery. In this same curious, yet sacred room, there are also some displayed icons and relics as well as lighted candles.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

  • Megalo Monastery - Meteora, Greece

    Mystical Meteoron's Endless Views

    The last view upon the rock of the Great Meteoron monastery, on the right, is from the lush hiking trail below which descends to the valley. Beyond all of the mystical columns and Meteoron mountains lies the town of Kalambaka and Thessaly, bordered by the coastal mountains of Óssa and Pelion in the east with the Aegean Sea on the other side.

    Photo courtesy of Sonja Holverson

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