Suitcase and World: Meteora.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou at Meteora (Photo from

Kalambaka is a small town located about 350 kilometers from Athens.  The main reason for going to Kalambaka is to visit Meteora.  When I first saw images of Meterora, I thought it was a single monastery atop a freestanding boulder.  But in fact, it's a complex of monasteries located near Kalambaka and the neighboring town of Kastraki.

Meteora (Greek for 'suspended in the air") is  one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox Christian monasteries in Greece.  The monasteries were all built atop free standing rock towers, some of which reach 550 meters (1800 feet) above ground level. 

Setting aside how the geology of the landscape came to be which is still being speculated on, it's believed that an ascetic group of hermit monks moved into the region some time in the 9th century, living in caves and fissures in the rock.  For several centuries, the monks lived in solitude and while the exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown, there is some belief that they were constructed when the monks needed refuge during an age of Turkish occupation of Greece.  Beginning in the 14th century,  twenty four monasteries were built of which six remain today.  Some were only accessible by climbing a long ladder, which was drawn up whenever the monks felt threatened; baskets were used to bring up provisions.  Nowadays, there pathways and steps leading to the top of each monastery and there are roads connecting the monasteries.  It's quite something and I'm really looking forward to visiting the monasteries.

Three of the six are located within two kilometers of town and the other three within 10 kilometers. I think if we get and early start and don't linger too long at each place, we should be able to cover all six in the time that we're in Kalambaka.  The one factor will be visiting hours - each monastery has their hours and they differ depending on whether it's summer or winter.  Question is where does September, which is when we'll be visiting, fall in terms of season?

Moni Agias Triados

Moni Agias Triado (Holy Trinity)

Of all the monasteries, Moni Agias Triados undoubtedly has the most remote feel - I'm just amazed at it's location, perched on the the top of a rocky precipice over 400 meters high!  No wonder it's the least visited of the Meteora monasteries!  The monastery was first built in 1362 and rebuilt and expanded in 1475.

The monastery’s main cathedral was constructed in the 15th century and decorated with frescoes in 1741 by two monks.

At one time, fifty monks lived at Agios Triados but currently, only one monk lives there, working as a guide through the church, refectory, and the courtyard.

Moni Agiou Nikolaou (Photo from

Moni Agiou Nikolaou (St. Nickolas Anapausas) is located about 2 kilometers from the nearby town of Kastraki.  The monastery was built in the 15th century, and the exceptional frescoes in its cathedral were painted by the monk Theophanes Strelizas from Crete.

Winter Hours: Closed.
Summer Hours: 9:00a - 6:00p.

Moni Varlaam

Moni Varlaam is named after the hermit who climbed the rock and made it his refuge in 1350. In 1517, two brothers from Ioannina, Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades climbed on the rock and rebuilt the deserted chapel Varlaam had created.

Theban icon painters decorated the monastery first in 1548 and then in 1566.  Besides the wall paintings the monastery houses an important collection of manuscripts and artifacts.

Winter Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:00p - 5:00p. Closed on Thursdays and Fridays.
Summer Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:30p - 6:00p. Closed on Thursdays.

Megalou Meteorou (Photo by janmad)

Moni Megalou Meteorou (Transfiguration of Christ) is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora.  Founded in the 14th century by a monk from Mount Athos, Megalou Meteorou  became the richest and most powerful monastery thanks to the Serbian emperor Symeon Uros, who turned all his wealth over to the monastery and became a monk.  The monastery houses many historical artifacts, wood carvings, and paintings.  There is also a library with 640 handwritten manuscripts, the oldest one written in 861 BC.  Oddly, the skulls of the monastery's founder along with those of other monks are stored in one of the rooms.

The monastery is the most visited of the six and the only way to reach its entrance is to climb up the 400 steps!

Winter Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:00p - 5:00a. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Summer Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:30p - 6:00p. Closed on Tuesdays.

Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou

Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou  (St. Barbara) was founded in 1545 by Joasaph and Maximos, two brothers from Epirus who built it on the ruins of an even older church.  You have to admit, the rock tower that the monastery is situated atop is imposing and steep!  The monastery covers the entire terrace of a long-narrow rock and it is accessed by several steps and two bridges.  Inside the church, there are outstanding frescoes of the Resurrection and the Transfiguration of Christ as well as a collection of superb wooden icons. 

Winter Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:00p - 5:00p. Closed on Wednesdays
Summer Hours: 9:00a - 5:45p.

Moni Agiou Stefanou

Moni Agiou Stefanou (St. Stephen) is the only convent in Meteora.  It is not known when the original church was built but the present day one which is dedicated to St. Charalambos was built in 1798. The saint's skull which was given to the nuns as a gift from Prince Vladislav of Wallachia is kept here. The nuns do a thriving trade selling religious souvenirs.

Winter Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:00p- 5:00p. Closed on Mondays
Summer Hours: 9:00a - 1:00p and 3:30p - 6:00p. Closed on Mondays

Driving Map.
Since we're driving ourselves around, I was keen on finding a road map that laid out the locations of the various monasteries, a task that proved to be more difficult than I would have expected.    On the web, it is interactive so you can see an image of each monastery.   We'll actually be staying in the small village of Kastraki so I think there's only one main road leading from the village to the monasteries.  We'll figure it out.

Map from Mapping Europe

Planning Notes.
  • Entry fee for each monastery is €1.5. 
  • Women are required to wear skirts covering the knees and have their shoulders covered as well.
  • Men are required to wear trousers covering the knees.
  • Wear sturdy walking shoes!
I love monasteries and these intrigue me.  This should be an interesting visit.