Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Meteora is a complex of massive dark-colored sandstone rocks that rise outside of Kalambaka, near the foothills of the Pindus Mountains and the Hasia Mountains. The monasteries of Meteora, which are built on the summits of some of these rocks, constitute the second most important monastic complex in Greece today, after Mount Athos. Of the historically existing thirty monasteries, only six are operational today, and since 1988, they have been included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

The average elevation is 313 meters.

Studies indicate that the rocks were formed approximately 65 million years ago during the Paleogene Period. Subsequent weathering, erosion, and earthquakes have given them their current shape.

The formation of this geological landscape, although it has intrigued many Greek and foreign geologists over time, has not yet been clearly explained. Interestingly, neither Greek mythology nor ancient Greeks, nor foreign historians have mentioned this area.

The imposing rocks of Meteora dominate over Kalambaka, situated between the Koziakas and Antichasia Mountains. This natural wonder has been revealing its magnificence for centuries, as it represents a unique geological phenomenon and a significant Orthodox monument. Meteora, often referred to as the second Mount Athos, continues the monastic tradition here for approximately six centuries.

History of Meteora

In central Greece, specifically in the northwestern part of Thessaly, between the Hasia Mountains to the northeast and the Pindus Mountains to the west, at the edge of the Thessalian plain, rise gigantic rocks that create a perhaps unique spectacle in the world.

The phenomenon of these rocks is not mentioned in mythology nor by any Greek or foreign historian. It wasn't until about a thousand years ago that historians and geologists began to study the formation of these rocks, formulating various theories.

The prevailing theory comes from the German geologist Philippson, who came to Greece in the late 19th century. According to his theory, a large river had its estuaries in this region, which for millions of years were covered by a narrow and deep sea. The river's waters deposited sediments, rocks, and various materials transported by its waters from the northern parts of ancient Central Europe. The accumulation of these materials formed deltaic cones.

About 25-30 million years ago, due to geological changes that occurred over the centuries, the central part of present-day Greece was uplifted, while the Thessalian region sank, creating a lake. Later, the opening of the Tempe Valley allowed the waters to flow into the present-day Aegean Sea, revealing the Thessalian plain.

During the Tertiary period, during the Alpine folding, the compact masses of these "rocks" were separated from the Pindus mountain range that formed, and over the centuries, the valley of the Peneios River was created between them.

Through continuous erosion by winds, rain, and other geological changes, these rocks took on their current form over millions of years.

In the hollows of these rocks, in their crevices, and on their peaks, the people of the region found protection from the invasions of various conquerors and those who passed through the area.

These rocks also provided refuge for numerous hermits and ascetics who sought inner peace and Christian perfection through prayer. Initially, these ascetics lived in isolation, praying in small chapels known as "prosychadia," not only for their salvation but also for the salvation of all humanity. Their lives were simple, and their work was laborious.

History of Kalambaka

Kalambaka is known throughout Greece and the world for the famous Monasteries built on the summits of the rocks of Meteora, located to the east and north of the town. Millions of visitors from all over the world flock here every year to admire and worship at these monasteries. Consequently, they stay in Kalambaka and Kastraki. Kalambaka is a city with a rich history and important monuments. The most significant of these is the Holy Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, which is located in the northeastern part of the city beneath the towering rock of Aiás.

The city of Kalambaka is built at the base of the rocks of Meteora and on the left bank of the Peneios River, at the point where it enters the Thessalian plain. It serves as a starting point for visitors who wish to explore the landmarks and beautiful locations of Aspropotamos, Hasia, Kozani, and especially Meteora.

Kalambaka is the capital of the homonymous province, which occupies the northwest part of the Trikala prefecture. It offers beautiful hotels, modern campgrounds, restaurants, and tourist shops. The ancient name of the city was Aiginion, as it is mentioned during Hellenistic and Roman times due to its strategic location. The name Aiginion is supported by an inscribed sign found in the eastern part of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. In the early 10th century (901-907), the present-day Kalambaka is mentioned as Stagoi, a name that is still preserved today as the Metropolitan title.

Many travelers have passed through Kalambaka from ancient times to the present, mentioning it either as Aiginion, Stagoi, or by its current name, Kalambaka. In the northeastern part of the city is the picturesque neighborhood of Sopoto, situated beneath the rock of Agia Triada (to the east) and the rock of Altsos (to the north). The city boasts numerous small churches, external chapels from the post-Byzantine era, and several noteworthy frescoes.

The Metropolitan Church of Saint Vissarion was built in honor of Saint Vissarion, the Metropolitan of Larissa, who was the founder and builder of Dousiko Monastery. The entire church has been frescoed by Ioannis Albani.

The Byzantine Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is the most significant and imposing monument in Kalambaka, serving as a reference point and place of worship for all the faithful. Despite the noteworthy efforts that have been made, it is clear that there has been neglect by the authorities regarding the systematic maintenance, both inside the church and in its surroundings. Hopefully, UNESCO, the European Community, and primarily the Greek state will show interest in preserving this valuable Orthodox monument before it is too late.

The Holy Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary dominates the northern part of Kalambaka. The church is built on top of a paleochristian basilica. The finely crafted ambo and synthronon are remnants of this paleochristian basilica, and it is believed that the chest of the Holy Altar is also a paleochristian element.

The church is a triklitos with the aisles separated by colonnades. It has a double narthex and three aisles.

The church has undergone several repairs, with the most significant one occurring in 1573 when it was entirely frescoed. The exact date of the construction of this remarkable monument is not precisely determined. This Middle Byzantine church is dated around the 10th to 12th century.

Monasteries of Meteora

1) The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior, also known as the Great Meteoron.

It was founded in the mid-14th century by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite (the first founder and organizer of the monastic community) on the largest rock named "Platys Lithos."

His successor and the second founder of the Holy Monastery was the monk Saint "Ioasaph," formerly known as John Uresis, the son of the Serbo-Greek King Symeon Uresis Palaiologos, who had his seat in Trikala.

The sacred catholicon contains important frescoes of the Macedonian school, while the remarkable frescoes in the main church and narthex are believed to belong to George, a student of Theophanes the Cretan. In the aforementioned Holy Monastery, there are chapels dedicated to the Mother of God (Panagia of Meteora Stone), Saint John the Baptist, Saints Constantine and Helen, and Saint Nectarios (contemporary).

The most significant buildings include the refectory (kitchen), the infirmary, and the treasury. The Great Meteoron Monastery houses a rich and valuable collection of manuscripts, icons, and sacred relics.

2) The Holy Monastery of Varlaam

It is located across from the Great Meteoron Monastery. It was founded by the ascetic Varlaam in the mid-14th century. Later, it was renovated by the brothers Apsaras Theophanes and Nektarios from Ioannina.

The catholicon (main church) of the Holy Monastery is dedicated to the memory of All Saints and was built by the monk brothers Theophanes and Nektarios between 1541-1544. The frescoes in the catholicon are mainly the work of Frangos Katelanos from Thebes.

Also, in the Holy Monastery, there is the chapel of the Three Hierarchs, built on the first small church by the recluse Varlaam. Significant buildings include the old treasury, the refectory (kitchen), and the infirmary (hospital). Additionally, the monastery houses a rich and valuable collection of manuscripts, icons, and sacred relics.

3) The Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen

Originally, it was a male monastery, but since 1961, it has been inhabited by a female sisterhood. The founders of the monastery were the holy monks Antonios in the early to mid-15th century and Philotheos, who rebuilt the Church of Saint Stephen in the mid-16th century. The first frescoes of the church are believed to date back to the 16th century.

In 1798, during the episcopate of Paisios of Kleynovo from Kalambaka and under the leadership of Abbot Ambrosios, the current catholicon (main church) was built in memory of Saint Charalambos, whose skull is preserved there as the most sacred and miraculous relic. The frescoes in the catholicon were created by one of the most important contemporary iconographers, Vlasios Tsotsos.

In the Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen, the old treasury has been converted into a museum, housing a significant and rich collection of manuscripts, icons, and sacred relics.

4) The Holy Monastery of the Holy Trinity

Located on one of the most impressive rocks of Meteora, it has been an organized monastery since 1362, and the main church was constructed from 1456 to 1476. The frescoes in the monastery were created by the brothers Antonios the priest and Nikolaos in 1741. In the narthex, there are frescoes dating back to 1692.

Inside the Holy Monastery, there is the chapel of the Precious John the Baptist, carved into the rock, with significant frescoes from 1682. The manuscripts of the Holy Trinity Monastery are preserved in the treasury of the Monastery of Saint Stephen.

5) The Holy Monastery of Roussanou

Originally, it was a male monastery, but now it is a female one. The first founder or founders built the monastery in the 14th to 15th centuries.

Its current form dates back to the early 16th century when it was renovated by the brothers hieromonks Ioasaf and Maximus from Ioannina. The catholicon (main church) is dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior. Additionally, the memory of Saint Barbara (December 4th) is also honored here. The frescoes are notable and were created by an unknown painter who was influenced by the Cretan school, possibly under the guidance of Hieromonk Arsenios, and maybe even by George, a student of Theophanes the Cretan.

6) The Holy Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas

This is the first monastery you encounter when ascending to the Holy Meteora. Its founding dates back to the early to mid-14th century. The catholicon (main church) was constructed during the episcopacy of Dionysios Eleimon, Metropolitan of Larissa, and under the guidance of Hieromonk Nikanor.

In 1527, the completion of the frescoes in the catholicon was achieved by Theophanes Strelitzas, a Cretan painter who is considered one of the most important iconographers in Orthodoxy. The frescoes exhibit great mastery in the design of figures and excellent color rendition.

Additionally, the Holy Monastery contains the chapel of Saint Anthony, where remnants of frescoes from the 14th century are preserved. The few manuscripts of the monastery are kept in the treasury of the Monastery of Saint Stephen.

How will you get there?

By road To get to Meteora by road, it is 360 kilometers away from Athens. Prefer the shortest route through Domokos - Karditsa - Trikala. In Trikala, you will see signs directing you to Kalambaka (Meteora). From Trikala, the KTEL Trikala bus network connects to the town of Kalambaka with regular routes. If you are traveling from Thessaloniki via the Larisa - Trikala route, you will need to cover about 230 kilometers by road. Access from the port of Igoumenitsa is done through Ioannina - Trikala (E92) with a route of approximately 210 kilometers.

By air

From Nea Anchialos National Airport in Volos, and then you will need to travel by car for about two hours to reach Meteora. You can also take the train or bus from Volos to Kalambaka, but it will take much longer.


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