Meteora – Kalabaka, Greece - Atlas Obscura


Kalabaka, Greece

Monasteries on rock pillars, once accessible only by frayed ropes. 


The Orthodox church has always had a knack for picking spectacular locations for its sacred buildings, and Meteora is no exception.

Even if it weren’t the location of the second most important monastery complex in Greece, Meteora would still be a site worthy of awe. In the foothills of the Pindus mountains, above the central Greek plains of Thessaly, is a series of geological wonders that stick out from the ground. The name Meteora means “suspended in the air” or “suspended rocks” and it is appropriate. Wind, water, and the harsh temperatures have carved out a series of gigantic sandstone pillars, some of them hundreds of meters high.

The first hermit monks appeared in this area as early as the 11th century, however the monastery complex only began to flourish after the Ottoman conquest of Byzantine empire in 1453. Due to persecution and concern about the Ottomans, orthodox monks sought refuge in increasingly remote locations. What better place to establish a monastery than in, as Meteora is sometimes translated, “the heavens above”?

To gain access to the monastery one originally had to climb a series of ladders tied together or be dragged up via a large net. According to the monks the ropes up to Meteora were only replaced “when the Lord let them break.”

Today steps have been carved into the rock and a bridge built from a nearby plateau. At its peak the complex included 20 monasteries, however only six of them remain today; five are for men only, and the sixth for women. Great Meteora is the largest and most often visited by tourists. Roussanou is located on a relatively smaller rock, and this makes it an excellent point for spectacular photos of the Varlaam monastery and of the Metamorfosis church.

Know Before You Go

Each monastery has slightly different open hours so some planning up ahead is needed if one intends to visit all 6 monasteries. Proper attire is required, skirts below the knee length for women and long pants for men.

Seasoned hikers can make the hike up, but there is a twice-daily bus from the nearby town of Kalabaka for those less enthusiastic to walk.

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