The Meteora is one of the largest and most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos.
The Meteora literally means “middle of the sky“, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”
In the Byzantine times, monks had the inspiration to construct monasteries on top of these rocks so that they would be closer to god.
The rock masses were formed some 60 million years ago, their distinctive and varied shapes sculpted over time by earthquakes, rain, and wind.
Rising high above the Thessalian plain, the sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built average 300 metres (1,000 feet) in height, with several reaching 550 metres (1,800 feet).
The foundation of Meteora monasteries began around the 11th century. In the 12th century, the first ascetic state was officially formed and established a church to the Mother of God as their worshiping centre. Activities on this church were not only related to worshiping God, but hermits used these occasions to discuss their problems and exchange ideas relating their ascetic life there.
Although 24 monasteries were built, each containing a church or two, monks’ cells, and a refectory, only 6 remain: Great Metéoron, Varlaám , Roussanou, St. Nikolas , Holy Trinity , and St. Stephen .
In the 14th century, Saint Athanasios Meteorites, a scholarly monk from Mount Athos established the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron and named this huge rock Megalo Meteoro, which means Great Place Suspended in the Air. This monastery is also known as the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ and it is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora.
The frescoes of the katholikon date from 1497-98 and are well-preserved. They are painted in the Macedonian style.
The Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second largest monastery in the Metéora complex. It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. A church, dedicated to All Saints, is in the Athonite type (cross-in-square with dome and choirs), with spacious exonarthex (lite) is surrounded by a dome. It was built in 1541/42 and decorated in 1548, while the exonarthex was decorated in 1566.
Its frescoes were painted by post Byzantine iconographer Frangos Katelanos.
The Holy Monastery of Roussanou was founded in the middle of 16th century and decorated in 1560, the easily-accessible The Holy Monastery of Roussanou Monastery occupies a lower rock than the others of the Meteora. Rousannou Monastery was founded around 1545 by Maximos and Ioasaph of Ioannina. The reason for the monastery’s name is not known – it is actually dedicated to St. Barbara.
The frescoes in Roussanou’s Church of the Transfiguration of Christ, which is essentially a smaller version of Varlaam’s church, date from 1560.
Founded in the early 14th century, Agios Nikolaos Anapaphsas is a monastery in the Meteora notable for its unique construction.
Splendid frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk.
The only monastery in the Meteora visible from Kalambaka,the Holy Monastery of St. Stephen’s was founded around 1400. It has a small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545. This monastery rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it.
The old katholikon, which was rebuilt in 1545 and frescoed shortly thereafter, still stands. The new
katholikon of Agiou Stefanou was built in 1798 and is currently being frescoed by a modern artist.
The Monastery of Holy Trinity is very difficult to reach. The visitor has to cross the valley and continue high up through the rock before we arrive outside the entrance. The church is in the cross-in-square type with the dome based in two columns, built in 1475-76 and decorated in 1741. The spacious barrel – vaulted esonarthex was founded in 1689 and decorated in 1692. A small skeuophylakeion was added next to the church in 1684.
The frescoes in the church date from the 18th century and the those in the narthex from the 17th; they have been well restored.
U.N.E.S.C.O has characterized the Holy Meteora as a “monument of Humanity that has to be maintained“. They don’t belong only to Greece but also to the entire world. The monasteries of the Meteora are included in the Monuments of world cultural Heritage, because they are a unique harmonious matching of Byzantine architecture and natural beauty.
The buildings of the monasteries seem like a continuance and a natural ending of the rocks. They are a
priceless artistic and heirloom treasure. Moreover, the presence of many monasteries in such a small place, as well as the Orthodox spiritual life and exercise have provoked the admiration and the interest of people all over the world.