Nicknames: ‘Suspended Rocks’, ‘Suspended in the Air’ and ‘in the Heavens Above’
Where: Thessaly, Greece
When: Monasteries were built in the 14th Century
Meteora is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece. The monasteries are built on protruding rocks made of natural sandstone that are believed to be 60 million years old. They are located at the northwestern edge of the Plains of Thessaly near the Peneios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. These rocks were shaped by weathering and earthquakes that pushed the seabed upwards creating a high plateau. Herodotus famously wrote in the 5th century BC that the locals believed the plain of Thessaly to once have been a sea, however there was no mention of the rocks in any ancient Greek texts leading some to believe that the pinnacles were formed sometime between a thousand to two-thousand years ago. A theory dismissed by modern geologists.
Although it is unknown when the monasteries of Meteora were established, as early as the 11th century AD hermit monks were believed to be living among the caves and cutouts in the rocks. By the late 11th or early 12th century a rudimentary monastic state had formed called the Skete of Stagoi and was centered around the church of Theotokos (mother of God), which still stands today. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge.
As many as 20 monasteries were built in the 14th century, but only six remain today. Originally, access to the monasteries was very difficult, requiring long ladders and nets used to haul up goods and ropes for people. This required quite a leap of faith as if they fell it would be to their death bed. The ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break”. In the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements and steps were cut into the rock and bridges were built.
“Meteora” – Greece: