Meteora in Greek means “Suspended in the air”!
The impressive beauty of the towering rocks and the monasteries perched on their tops is living proof of our Spiritual and Cultural Heritage.
Meteora is a vast rock formation placed in central Greece, between the mount range of Pindus and the west plain of Thessaly. This phenomenon was formed through many series of earth movements which count back to 60 million years ago.
Meteora was formed of deposits of stone, sand, and mud from streams flowing into a delta at the edge of a lake, during the Paleogene period.
The continuous earth movements pushed the seabed upwards, creating a high plateau, causing many vertical fault lines in the thick layer of sandstone.
What makes Meteora’s appearance special, is the uniformity of the sedimentary rock constituents deposited over millions of years leaving few signs of vertical layering, and the localized abrupt vertical weathering.
Along with the mountains of Pindus, river Pinios, gorges, and picturesque villages, Meteora is referred to as one of the most exquisite in the world.
The architecturally elaborate monasteries crown the tops and create a landscape of inimitable beauty. In the 10th century A.D. there were 24 monasteries, only 6 of which are active nowadays. It is a unique landscape and spiritual phenomenon of world-wide significance.
Meteora has been declared a Monument of World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 1988.
And how “Suspended in the air”? Because of the feeling, you have if you visit a Holy Monastery at a non-crowd time and how the first Monk of Great Meteoron, Osios Athanasios felt when he first time climbed on the rock of “Platis Lithos”. “Between God and Earth”
Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron Monastery or The Holy Monastery of Transfiguration of Jesus was founded shortly before the middle of the 14th century by Holy Athanasios the Meteorite, who was the first founder organizer of the Monastic Coenobium at the largest rock of Meteora, “The Wide Rock”!
The foundation of the Great Meteor Monastery of Metamorphosis is the starting point of organized monastic life in Meteora.
This monastery is the oldest, largest and most official of the existing Meteora monasteries, as its name implies “Great Meteoron”.
Perched on the most imposing rock, it occupies an administrative position among the monastery complex of Meteora.
The successor of Athanasios and the second founder of the monastery was the holy monk Ioasaf, former “King” Loannis Uresis, son of the Serbian-Greek “King”, who resided in Trikala, Simeon Ouresis Paleologos. He was appointed to take the place of Athanasios.
Today, as one climbs the Byzantine stairway to the monastery, on the left, just before the entrance, one can see the scene of St. Athanasios in the natural crack in the rock arranged as a humble and basic residence with the basic chapels. Here, according to tradition, the holy hermit first lived by himself after escalating ” Wide Rock ” and before building a church on the rocky outskirts and cells for the monks who began to gather here very early.
The monastery flourished in the mid-16th century.
The Museums of Great Meteoron
The Great Meteoron Monastery created several admirable museums, for the better presentation of its valuable heirlooms and the promotion of our national heritage, our history and tradition.
Portable icons, gold-embroidered and wood carved depictions, manuscripts, codices, incunabula and early editions, liturgical utensils of worship authentic national heirlooms and simple items of the everyday life as well as modern works of art, specifically created in order to present and promote ideas, moral values and ideals, exude the fragrance of love for Christ and our neighbours, the expectation of God’s Kingdom, the continuous prayer, the life-long patience and the genuine patriotism.
The visitors can walk throughout the area and admire the following:
- Exhibition Room named “Laz. Deriziotes”: It is housed in the restored old ward for the elderly monks. In this, there are depicted portable icons, gold-embroidered shrouds of Christ, priests’ vestments, altar doors, and other ecclesiastical treasures. The same building houses a small shrine dedicated to Sts Anargyroi (Unmercenaries), painted by Vlasios Tsotsonis.
- Manuscripts’ and Newmartyrs’ Exhibition Rooms named “D. Sofianos”: They are housed on the top floor of the restored old Hospital. There are exhibited significant old manuscripts, documents, and early editions, artful wood carved crosses and holy paintings of New-martyrs, painted by Vlasios Tsotsonis too.
- Exhibition Room of the Theological and Historical Gallery named “G. Tsioulakis”: It is housed in the restored old Refectory of the Monastery. Inside, there are exhibited oil-paintings on canvas with theological and historical content painted by the talented artist Constantine Adamos from Kalambaka as well as two holy paintings: “The holy Mandeylion’ (the image of Our Lord impressed on cloth) and the Virgin Mary, painted by Vlasios Tsotsonis.
- Exhibition Room of the Historical and Folk art Museum named “C. Matzanas”: It is housed under the old Refectory. It displays authentic historical heirlooms from the Greek War of independence of 1821, the Macedonian War (1904-1908), the Balkan Wars (1912-13), the epic years between 1940-1941, traditional national costumes and several other relevant articles.
- Exhibition Room of Coloured Historical Lithographies named “N. Komines”: They are housed in the hall out of the Historical and Folk art Museum. It includes remarkable authentic historical colored Lithographies of the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and of the epic years between 1940-41.
- Old Hestia (kitchen): It is 1ocated alongside the north wall of the old Refectory and it has a large collection of copper, pottery and wooden cooking and other vessels, formerly used by the monks.
- Cellar – Old Carpenter’s Workshop: It is located on the ground floor, in the north of the central entrance of the Monastery. The visitor can find in it a great number of traditional rare and old wooden barrels, buckets, wine-presses, leather skin bags, flagons, plows and other carpenter’s tools like a workbench, planes, drills, lath-hammers. wooden saws, e.t.c.
- Ossuary: It is located in the north of the central stairway from the ground floor to the top floor of the Monastery and it safeguards the relics of the reposed fathers and brothers of the monastery.
- Ascension tower: It is located in the north of the upper central entrance of the Monastery and it was used as a manually-operated lift for carrying up and down building materials and other kinds of things needed as well as for the fathers of the monastery, before the construction of the ascension stairway (1922).
- The noteworthy depiction of ‘Christ the King of Glory’ on the exterior wall on the south side of the refectory is the work of the iconographer Vlasios Tsotsonis. Here, Christ is depicted with the prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament; ancient Greek wise men (poets, philosophers and orators), who sowed the seeds of wisdom and prepared mankind for the Messiah and the plan of salvation, are portrayed in a second section below.
Monastery of Varlaam
The Monastery dedicated to ‘All the Saints’, well known as Varlaam, is built on an imposing rock at the northwest edge of the stone city of the Meteora. It is situated between the Monastery of Rousanou and the Great Meteoron.
According to the legendary, the first inhabitant has gone there 600 years ago during the first part of the 14th century. He was contemporary of Saint Athanasios, the ascetic-anchorite Varlaam who also gave his name to the monastery. First founders of the Monastery were the two brothers, priest-monks from Ioannina, Theophanis and Nektarios Apsaradas, of an eminent Byzantine family Known as “The Apsaradon” of Ioannina.
The catholic of the Holy Monastery honors All Saints and was built by the monks and brothers Theophanis and Nektarios in 1541-1544. There is also the chapel of the Three Hierarchs built upon the first small church that the hermit Varlaam built. Important constructions are the old “Trapeza” (dining hall), the Center (kitchen) and the Old Hospital.
Monastery of the Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity Monastery is the most difficult to reach, but once you get to the very top the panoramic view of the surroundings is simply captivating and magnificent.
On the south, at the foot of the rock lies the town of Kalambaka with the river Pineios flowing peacefully and the mountain Massifs of Koziakas and Pindos further away. On the west, the Monastery of Varlaam is spotted out and a further away from it is the Monastery of Great Meteoron. On the East, The Monastery of St. Stephen is positioned.
In the past, a rope ladder and the traditional preserved net were used by the first monks for their ascent and descent from the rock. In 1925 during the bishopric of the Metropolitan Polycarpos [Thomas] and the abbacy of Nikanor Stathopoulos, the chiseled staircase with 140 steps was constructed and by today this is used to visit the rock.
Since 1962 it has been an organized monastery and the Catholic was built in 1456 and 1476. The present frescos were created by the brothers, Anthony a priest and Nicholas in 1741. At the narthex, there have been frescos since 1692. At the holy Convent is the chapel of Holy Baptism, inside a curved rock with important frescos dating back to 1682. The manuscripts of the Holy Monastery are kept in the Sacristy of the Holy Monastery Saint Stephen.
Monastery of Roussanou
The Holy Monastery of Rousanou stands between the monasteries of St. Nicholas Anapafsas and Varlaam on the way from Kastraki to Meteora. It is built on the most striking pinnacle and its complex of buildings covers the whole plateau of the steep rock in such a way that looks like a natural continuation of the rock.
Over there the visitors and the pilgrim enjoy the beauty and magnificence of the unique Meteora landscape and the faithful Christians feel a spiritual uplift to heaven where the souls of the saintly anchorites and hermits have hallowed these rocks with their deeds and ascetic life.
On the east one can see the Holy Trinity and St. Stephen monasteries and on the west the Varlaam Monastery and the Great Meteoron further away. All around the rocky forest of the innumerable gigantic crags stretches away and deep in the horizon, the mountain massifs of Koziakas and Pindos capture the visitors’ eye.
To escalate the Monastery a rope-ladder was used but today it can easily be done by cement steps and two small solid bridges constructed in 1930 with the donation of Daphne Bouka from Kastraki during the bishopric of Polykarpos [Thomas]. Earlier in 1868 during the abbacy of Superior Gedeon, a wooden bridge was constructed replacing the dangerous rope-ladders on account of easier and safer access to the rock.
Since 1982, after its basic renovation and restoration from the Archaeological Department of the region (7th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities), the Monastery of Rousanou has been functioning as a nunnery.
The origin of the name of the Rousanou Monastery is not verified yet. Several explanations have been proposed but most of them are unreliable. Probably it has received the name of the first probable hermit who settled on the rock or the founder of the original church (14th/15th century). Under the name of Rousanou, this monastery is mentioned in official documents and texts from the third decade of the 16th century which means that this rock was originally known by this name.
At first, it was a male Monastery, while now it is a female one. It took its present form in the early 16th by the monks and brothers Ioasaf and Maxim from Ioannina. The catholic is devoted to the transfiguration of Jesus. Also, the memory of Saint Barbara is honored (4th December).
The Monastery of Saint Stephen
The Monastery of St. Stephen is situated on the southeast at end of the complex of the Meteora rocks, right above the town of Kalambaka and is the only monastery that one can visit without using stairs because the approach can be done by a small bridge.
The view from the balcony of the monastery is outstanding and striking. Down in the valley lies Kalambaka and further away from the Pineios river and the valley.
Since 1961 this monastery is a nunnery with a large and active sisterhood, who along with the rich spiritual and charitable work, can show a remarkable renovating and building activity in the monastery. An old tradition connects this monastery with female monasticism.
Jonas Bjorn Stahl, a Swedish orientalist and Greek philologist who visited St. Stephen on 3 April 1779, notes certain things for the monastery which he probably had heard by monks and nearby residents:
“At the beginning, this monastery was for women who loved quietism but later became abandoned until re-inhabited by monks”.
Monastery of Saint Nicholaos Anapafsas
The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas is the first monastery someone can encounter on the way to the Holy Meteora through the village of Kastraki. Across the board, we can see the ruins of monasteries of Prodromos, Aghia Moni and Pantokrator and the church of Virgin Mary of Doupiani.
The rock, where the monastery stands, is very small and narrow at the top. This reason influenced the whole structural formation of the monastery which could not grow wider. So finally, a consecutive storied construction was the solution to the problem.
Going up the first staircase, we meet the very small chapel of St. Antonios and the crypt where in the past, were kept the codices and heirlooms of the monastery. This chapel is of great importance because of its walls. There are a few remaining of old paintings, dated back to the 14th century perpetuated or safeguarded.
On the next floor, closely to a long corridor, stands the catholicon of the monastery, the church of St. Nicholas and on the last floor the old refectory decorated with paintings (Virgin Mary holding the Holy Infant, the parable of the rich and the poor Lazarus) not very important from an artistic point of view. Today the renovated refectory is used as a grand reception room. On the same last floor, there is also the ossuary and the recently renovated (1971) chapel of St. John the Baptist.
The origin of the name of the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas is not ascertained yet. It probably bears the name of one of its early founders at the beginning of the monastic life on this rock around the 14th century. Others connect the origin of the name Anapafsas with the verb “anapavomai” which means “I rest” and this way Anapafsas means a place for rest and refreshment.