The Monasteries of the Meteora – Thessaly, Greece
A Rock Forest and Its Ancient Inhabitants
Perched on seemingly inaccessible pinnacles of rock 1,000 feet above the Peneus Valley, what remains of a once-flourishing monastic community is as removed from earthly distractions as possible. The spikes, cones, and cliffs of this otherworldly landscape were created by the sea that submerged these plains 30 million years ago.
Meteora means, literally, “in the air,” and there are more than sixty pinnacles, looking like chimney-top storks’ nests. The earliest religious community was established here in the 10th century, and by the 16th century there were twenty-four monasteries and hermitages. Four survive essentially as museum pieces, while just two others function as religious outposts, with a handful of monks.
Of those that can be visited, Megalou Meteorou is the grandest and the highest, having held sway over the area since it was built of massive rocks on the highest peak (1,360 feet) in the 14th century.
All the monasteries open to the public are worth visiting for the religious artworks collected over the centuries, the views, and the chance to observe the life of hermits and ascetics and some of the weirdest real estate on the planet.
Until the 1920s the only way to reach them was by retractable ladders or nets. Since then steps to the monasteries have been hewn into the rocks. The adventure world has discovered Meteora’s rock forest, and rock climbers can usually be spotted in the distance, looking like flies as they inch their way up the vertical pillars.