How could anyone describe Meteora, this astonishing geological phenomenon, the breathtaking landscape, the inspiration and spirituality felt, the awe for man’s achievements in an effort to express his religious drive, when these are only some of the many things a traveler experiences when visiting this phenomenal land!
These immense, solid rocks, split by earthquakes, weathered by water and wind over millions of years, are nature’s authentic masterpiece.
Emerging about 25 million years ago as the elevated seabed material that was the outcome of massive tectonic movements, the Meteora rocks became a shelter for humankind.
The first Christian hermits arrived in this area to seek spiritual isolation and inhabited the caves of the rocks, with the sole aid of ropes and ladders, in the early medieval period.
They sought out Meteora as the perfect spot to remove themselves from society and experience the wonder of God’s creation.
Meteora and its monastic communities
Common existential needs and strong religious faith compelled them to live united in the first monastic communities, their common drive of faith guiding them towards the construction of monasteries of highest architectural and artistic value.
The 24 monasteries emerged on the summits of the rocks from the 14th until the 16th century, with six of them remaining to be explored and admired by all.
These monasteries became the centers of the Orthodox world in the Byzantine era, having produced some of the best pieces of religious art and craft — and still possessing a collection of precious manuscripts, which today are on display in their museums.
Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders latched together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people.
This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break.”
In the words of UNESCO, “The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 meter (1,224 foot) tall cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley, symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”
Until the seventeenth century, the primary means of conveying goods and people from these eyries was by these means of baskets and ropes.
In the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements. Steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau.
The Meteora monasteries have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Meteora-Antichassia region has been officially declared a Natura 2000 Ecological Zone by the Greek Ministry of Environment, for the protection of rare species of birds and flowers.