What is Meteora?

Brendan McGuigan

Meteora is the name given to a series of Eastern Orthodox monasteries located in Greece. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1988. The name means suspended in the air or, more poetically, hanging in the heavens, and one visit to the site reinforces what a perfect name that is.

Although the historian Herodotus mentions the Plain of Thessaly in his writings, there is no reference to Meteora.
Although the historian Herodotus mentions the Plain of Thessaly in his writings, there is no reference to Meteora.

The Meteora are settled in the Plain of Thessaly, perched atop awe-inspiring natural pillars of sandstone that jut up into sky. The tallest of these pillars reach more than 1800 feet (550m). These pillars are the result of uplifting in the seabed, and the subsequent wearing away of the surrounding land by water and wine.

Meteora is not mentioned in the classical Greek texts.
Meteora is not mentioned in the classical Greek texts.

Historically, Meteora is not mentioned in the classical Greek texts. The Plain of Thessaly itself is mentioned by Herodotus sometime in the 5th century BCE, but he makes no mention of the massive stone pillars. The strangeness of this oversight has led some to speculate that the pillars didn’t exist in the time of Herodotus, but in the absence of an alternative geological explanation for the pillars of Meteora, most experts simply shrug it off.

There are six monastaries still in operation at Meteora: the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, the Holy Monastery of Varlaam, the Holy Monastery of Rousanou or Saint Barbara, the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas Anapausas, the Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen, and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

Sometime in the 9th century, Christian hermits began to inhabit natural fissures in the towers. The remote location of Meteora, as well as the difficulty in ascending the towers, made it an ideal location for hermits. A small chapel was constructed at the foot of Dhoupiani, and there the hermits would meet collectively for Sunday mass.

In the 12th century, an ascetic community had formed at Meteora, for similar reasons as the earlier hermits. In the mid-14th century, a group of monks came from Mount Athos, led by Anthanasios Koinovitis, and established the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, on Broad Rock. This was one of the safest monasteries imaginable, virtually impregnable, as the monks could simply pull up the rope ladder that led to the monastery if they ever felt threatened. As the Turks were beginning to take a violent interest in the Plain of Thessaly at the time, this was particularly welcome.

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity was built next, near the end of the 15th century. Next came the Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas Anapausas, followed by the last three monasteries in the middle of the 16th century, including the Monastery of Saint Stephen, which is the only of the monasteries at Meteora for women.

Although originally intended as fairly remote and hermetic monasteries, in recent years Meteora has grown to rely heavily on tourism, and has built an infrastructure around that. The Great Meteoron is the largest monastery, and serves as a museum for visitors. Many of the monasteries require a small entry fee to visit them, and they all offer various icons for sale as mementos.

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Discussion Comments


@waterhopper: There are about 32 hotels in the area. Meteora hotels often offer breathtaking views. You shouldn’t have a problem finding lodging. If you are interested in visiting the monasteries, here are a few that are frequently visited:

The Great Meteoroon is the oldest monastery and is now a museum. The Varlaam is the second biggest monastery and the old refectory is now a museum. St. Stephen is the easiest to get to if you do not wish to hike great distances. It is also a museum. Holy Trinity is the hardest one to get to but offers the best view. Rossanou is a monastery that is now a convent for nuns.


Are there any hotels in the area?


@dill1971: Meteora is a huge place for tourism. Not only is the history amazing, the view is amazing as well. If you are looking to visit Meteora, I wouldn’t really recommend visiting during the winter months. It is very damp and cold during that time. Autumn and spring are the best times to visit, more specifically during the Orthodox Easter.

As far as visiting the monasteries, different ones are opened on different days. Many of the monasteries are still functioning and there are days set aside for the monks to pray and do other chores. Some of the monasteries are now museums. So, if you plan to visit a specific monastery, you need to check the schedule ahead of time.


Has anyone ever visited Meteora? I would love to find some information on visiting there.

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