The imposing cluster of "columns in the sky" has been in Meteora for centuries. In addition to a religious landmark, Meteora is a sign of unparalleled beauty in Greece as well as a global, majestic geological phenomenon. It is no coincidence that Meteora has been characterized the most important monastic state after Mount Athos. Today, it remains at the top of the list of the most popular attractions in the country and one of the top day trips from Athens.
About 350 km from the city of Athens, the Meteora stone rocks, which embrace Kalambaka, are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Geologists say, the formation of these pinnacles of rock originated between the Pindus Mountains about 30 million years ago when the sea covering the area began to recede and the stacking rocks at the bottom stabilized over the years. Just look at the stone columns wrapped in fog and you'll understand what led the monks to seek solitude here 1,000 years ago.
Over the years, monasticism developed first in the caves of the rocks and then in the monasteries, a tradition whose roots date back to the 11th century. Indeed, at times, due to the geological peculiarity of the area, scales and tunnels were carved into the rocks, making the monasteries accessible, while for many years their traditional method of communication and refueling was with ladders, cables, pulleys and baskets. The life of the monks was austere, ascetic, with deprivation and hard work. It is characteristic that in every monastery, wherever you look, you feel awe and incredible peace and tranquility.
The wild and rocky landscape provided a fertile ground for Christian ascetics and hermits who sought to settle there. In fact, the name Meteora is attributed to the builder of the monastery of the Great Meteoro, Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, who named the " Broad Rock" on which he first ascended in 1344 "Meteoro".
Walking the Monasteries of Meteora
Today, of the 24 monasteries of Meteora, only six operate: The Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ or the Grand Meteoro, the Monastery of Varlaam, the Monastery of Rousanou, the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, the Monastery of St. Stephen and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The monasteries of the Transfiguration, Varlaam, St. Nicholas Anapausas and the Holy Trinity are male while the monasteries of Rousanou and St. Stephen are female. All six monasteries are preserved and restored, and at the entrance of each, there is a basket of skirts intended for women in order to enter appropriately dressed.
The Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ or the Grand Meteoro
Begin your tour of Meteora at the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ or the Grand Meteoro. Perched on an imposing rock, it is the oldest, largest and, as everyone claims, the most important of the Meteora's surviving monasteries to date. It was founded shortly before the middle of the 14th century by a scholar and monk of the Athos, Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. An important figure also his successor and the second builder of the monastery was monk Saint Iosaph, the one-time king Ioannis Uresis Paleologos who abandoned worldly power to become a monk here in c.1373. In about forty years of his monastic life, he built cells, a hospital, a cistern and renovated the church of Transfiguration and was one of the founders of the monastery of Ypsilotera ("Highest of the Heavens"), built on a steep and inaccessible rock opposite the monastery of Grand Meteoro.
When on a tour of the Grand Meteoro, do not miss the well-preserved frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the museum devoted to the struggles for Greek independence and WWII. In addition, the library of the monastery is one of the richest and most remarkable of the monasteries, since, despite adverse historical circumstances, monks have preserved priceless treasures to date, such as early printed texts by Plato and Aristotle, old gospel parchments and rare manuscripts.
The Monastery of Varlaam
Then work your way down to the Monastery of Varlaam, the second largest monastery. You will need to climb about 146 steep steps to get to this historic monastery. In 1350 a bold ascetic, Varlaam, climbed the rock and built three temples, a small cell and a water tank. You can still see the old rope basket that was used to lift the supplies. The Monastery of Varlaam is of particular architectural interest and has fine late-Byzantine frescoes by Frangos Kastellanos and a remarkable collection of manuscripts. According to the monastery officials, the transfer of materials lasted 22 years, while the construction took only 20 days. In addition, the Varlaam Monastery's nursing home is preserved as an independent ground floor building on the south-eastern edge of its rock. In the Byzantine and post-Byzantine times it was an important element of the monastery building program for the exclusive care of sick monks. In the museum of the monastery, visitors can browse the history of the monastery and admire its treasures.
The Monastery of Rousanou
Visible from most of the valley, the Monastery of Rousanou covers the entire plateau of the rock top and is one of Meteora’s most spectacularly situated monasteries. The monastery consists of a three-storey complex, with the katholikon (nave) and the cells on the ground floor, as well as reception areas, and auxiliary spaces. The monastery's cathedral is dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior, but the patron saint of the monastery is Agia Varvara. The iconostasis was painted in 1560, when the abbot of the monastery was Arsenios, while the hagiographies form one of the most celebrated collections of post-Byzantine painting after 1550. These frescoes belong to the Cretan school and are attributed to Tzortzes, a pupil of Theophanes Strelitzas from Crete. Since 1988 the monastery has been occupied by a small community of nuns who engage with visitors by selling their jam and honey and leading group tours.
The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas
The rock on which the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas was built is very small, resulting in the monastery being built on three floors. It is the first monastery we come across as we go up to Meteora. Most probably, the name of the monastery is due to its location, because it is considered to offer physical and spiritual rest (anapausis) and serenity. The katholikon of the monastery was painted in 1527 by the famous Cretan painter Theophanes Strelitzas, who at that time may have been a monk. The iconostasis of the monastery of St. Nicholas is the oldest known work of this great Cretan artist. On the first floor of the monastery, there is the very small church of Agios Antonios, which is of particular importance because it preserves remains of old frescoes of the 14th century.
The Monastery of St. Stephen
The Monastery of St. Stephen is located on the southern edge of the cluster of Meteora, just above Kalabaka. The earliest testimonies date back to the end of the 12th century, around 1191-1192. Probably the first saintly hermit to inhabit a rock cave was called Jeremiah. In the course of its history, the monastery received the high protection and assistance of the nobles of Byzantium, the Danish hegemonies and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1798 the present imposing cathedral was built in honor of Saint Charalambos. The frescoes of the church, cleaned and preserved today, constitute an interesting painting set of post-Byzantine hagiography. The monastery currently holds 154 manuscripts dating from the 11th to the 19th centuries.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity
Of all the Meteora monasteries, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which featured in the final scenes of the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, feels the most remote. It has the most dramatic location where you can enjoy a rare view of the other monasteries and the Meteora rocks; the rock face is a sheer drop and the rock itself is a lot more slender. According to historical sources, it is estimated that the monastery was built between the period 1458-1476. The top of the rock on which the monastery stands is about six acres. Here again in the older years, the monks and pilgrims went up and down in the traditional net. However, in 1925, 140 steps were carved, which, through a narrow path at the base of the rock, lead to the monastery. Today there is a cable car mainly for the transportation of products and materials. Inside the monastery, there is a small Byzantine church with a low dome that consists of the sanctuary, the main church, and the narthex. The windows are few, so the temple is relatively dark.
Kalambaka - The City-Gate to Meteora
Chances are you will be visiting the commercial and tourist center of Kalambaka when on a day trip to Meteora from Athens. The tourist-friendly town remains fairly inexpensive, despite the volume of people passing through. Kalambaka is the fabulously slow pace with high-quality souvenir shops, cafés, and tavernas that will make sure to offer you the dream holiday. It is worth taking a walk through the old town, which has been redeveloped and visit the traditional hagiography and wood-carving workshops.
When to Visit Meteora from Athens
The mystical atmosphere in the Meteora monasteries is unique at Easter. Winter fog may surround the city and the Meteora Stone Forest with a mystery, but spring is the perfect time to browse the monasteries and walk the trails.
The imposing Meteora columns in the sky is a location with the beauty and magnificence of religious awe beyond imagination, beyond all reason and worth visiting at least once in your life. Discover even more ancient temples, heavenly monasteries, medieval castles, lush landscapes and the most stunning coastlines on one, or even several, of these top 10 day trips from Athens.
- Meteora Full Day Tour from Athens - Columns in the Sky
- Delphi, the Oracle of Apollo – The Navel of the Earth (full day)
- Cape Sounion & Athenian Riviera Beach Escape
- Ancient Corinth & Corinth Canal Photo Stop
- Nafplio on Foot & Palamidi Fortress - A Walking Tour (3-4h)
- Nafplio with a Visit to Ancient Mycenae (4h)
- Nafplio - Mycenae - Epidauros & Photo Stop at Corinth Canal (8h)
- Achaia Clauss Winery & Church of Agios Andreas in Patras (full day)
- Kalavryta & Monastery of Mega Spilaio (full day)
- Ancient Olympia Private Day Tour from Athens