Monasteries of Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece
GPS: 39.723801671762, 21.632102908243
Located in northern Thessaly of mainland Greece, Monasteries of Meteora (which translates as “rocks suspended between heaven and earth” in Greek) are rock monasteries perched 300 metres high on massive rocky outcrops. These Greek Orthodox places of worship dominate the valley and gorge of the Pineiós River. According to geologists, this natural site of sandstone pinnacles was once a lake. The lake gradually emptied into the Aegean Sea when the Thessalian Plain lifted. The steep cliffs were formed from the deposits of sediment and have been shaped by erosion over tens of millions of years.
Since the 11th century, hermits have occupied isolated caves in the Pineiós Valley seeking solitude for meditation. At the beginning of the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, and in the hope of escaping the oppression of the Ottoman Turks, monks found refuge in the caves. They belonged to a monastic community that originated on Mount Athos and revolved around the central figure of Theophore Athanase, a Christian theologian and a future Orthodox saint. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, more than 20 monasteries and hermitages, including the Great Meteor, were built on rocky terraces. Confined to their isolation, the monks lived the utopian dream of independent self-sufficiency, practising self-denial in search of spiritual perfection. It was not until the 1920s that the monasteries of Meteora could be accessed by a network of steep steps and suspension bridges.
The second largest monastic community in Greece, after the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos, Meteora today comprises six active monasteries accessible to the public. Another active monastic site, remote from the others and closed to visitors, is the Ypapantis Monastery, also known as the Monastery of the Ascension of the Saviour. This is a former Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery that forms part of the Meteora monasteries architectural complex in Thessaly. Each sacred monastery has its own aura of spirituality, a panoramic view of the region, and a religious heritage of inestimable wealth. A 17-kilometre circuit starting from the town of Kalabaka or the village of Kastraki allows passage to all of the monasteries of Meteora by foot or by car. With the opening to tourism in recent years, the cliffs have become a drawcard for rock climbers from around the world.