Breathtaking and magical. Six monasteries on top of huge rock pillars that seem surreal. No words nor pictures can capture the beauty and impressiveness of this Greek landmark, where history, spirituality, nature and architecture truly come together. No wonder Meteora is on the UNESCO world heritage as well as the Natura 2000 list. Definitely visit this place when you’re around in Greece!
Thessaly, Central Greece
Nature / Religion
to 3 days
€3,- p.p. per monastery
Meteora is located in central Greece, in the Thessaly region. Thessaly’s landscape is extreme. From the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus, to endless cultivated plains around Trikala and Larissa. The most unique part of Thessaly’s landscape is Meteora. Where giant rock columns rise from a lush green forest.
How the rock pillars at Meteora are created remains kind of a mystery. The rocks consist of a mixture of sandstone and something called conglomerate. Conglomerate consists of small rounded pebbles and sand, created from sediment deposited by fast-flowing rivers or by waves on beaches.
There are multiple theories about how nature was able to create the pillars of Meteora. They could have been created by the sea, rivers, earth-movement, or extreme weather conditions. Most probably, Meteora is a result of a combination of all of the above. However, a real scientifically proven origin is yet to be found. What is known, is that the pillars date back about 60 million years ago and are a true natural wonder.
Like all unexplainable or unique natural locations, Greek mythology has a story to explain the existence of Meteora. The Olympian Gods, led by Zeus, fought a war against their ancestors, the Titans. The fight flattened the earth, creating the large valley around Meteora. However, the Titans who lost the battle turned into stone and stand in the landscape as large rock pillars.
The rock pillars of Meteora have always been a special place for humans. In the most famous cave in the area, the Theopetra cave, signs of the transition from Neanderthals to modern humans have been found. As well as the change from hunter-gatherers to farmers.
The history of Meteora as a holy place for the Greek Orthodox church starts in the Byzantine era. In the 9th century A.D., monks searched for the caves in the rock pillars to practice their faith in peace and solitude.
Later, from the 11th century, the caves of these hermits became the place to hide from Turkish occupants. In the 14th century, the first of the twenty monasteries on top of stone pillars were constructed.
Access to the monasteries was originally difficult and required a literal leap of faith. A long ladder or large net was the only way to reach this religious site. Since the 1920s, improvements in accessibility have opened the monasteries up to the public.
During the Second World War, Meteora was bombed. And in the 1950s an earthquake shook the famous rock pillars. Fortunately, this marvelous and unique place still exists today.
In the 14th and 15th century, a total of twenty monasteries at the tops of the stone pillars are constructed in Meteora. Six of them still remain standing today. The other fourteen have unfortunately become inaccessible ruins, taken over by nature.
Today, there are multiple ways to explore the unique and beautiful area of Meteora. You can visit the monasteries by car, or with a guided tour. A concrete road takes you through the area of Meteora. Along this road are various viewpoints are well as parking areas from which you can easily access the monasteries by bridges and steps.
But you can make the experience of Meteora as religious or adventurous as you want. It is possible hike up the rock pillars from the village of Kalabaka and in the area are various hiking trails with different levels of difficulty.
No matter how you choose to discover the unique landscape of Meteora, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of the area. During every season and every time of day, this landmark is marvelous.
- The name Meteora comes from the ancient Greek word meteoros. This means, raised from the ground, which is exactly what the monasteries at Meteora look like.
- Have you seen Game of Thrones? Real images of Meteora were used in the view from Tyrion’s cell in the castle Vale, above the clouds.
- The Thessaly region is known as the hottest part of Greece. During summer, temperatures can easily rise up to 35 or even 40 degrees. Bring enough water and plan your visit early in the morning. Even better is to visit in spring or fall.
- Even when you’re not able to climb these, due to physical reasons or fear of heights, the area is still worth your visit, you don’t actually have to get inside one to be impressed by this landmark.
- Monasteries in Greece often close early and have one day a week on which they do not open at all. When you want to visit one of the six monasteries in particular, make sure to check the opening hours before planning your trip. A tip for visiting in summer is to wear appropriate clothing, covering your shoulders, upper arms and knees. Read our guide for visiting religious sites in Greece before your visit.
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