Greek Orthodox monasteries

Meteora (Greek: Μετέωρα, Metéora) is one of the gems of Greece. Near the town of Kalambaka (Καλαμπάκα, Kalabáka) (Population: 21,991 (2011)) in northwestern Thessaly, it consists of a number of rock pinnacles topped with a total of 24 monasteries, 6 of which are still in use and open to visitors, while the others are abandoned.

View of Meteora with Agias Varvaras Rousanou monastery in the foreground

UnderstandEdit

HistoryEdit

Emerging about 25 million years ago as the elevated seabed material that was the outcome of strong tectonic movements, the Meteora rocks became a shelter of humankind. The first hermits arrived in this area to seek spiritual isolation and inhabited the caves of the rocks, with the sole aid of ropes and ladders.

Common existential needs and strong religious faith compelled them to live united in the first monastic communities, their common drive of faith guiding them towards the unrepeated construction of monasteries of highest architectural and artistic value.

The 24 monasteries emerged on the countless summits of the rocks from the 14th until the 16th century, 6 of them remaining to be explored and admired by all. These monasteries became the centers of the Orthodox creed in the Byzantine era, having produced some of the best pieces of religious art and craft and still possessing a collection of precious manuscripts, which today are on display in their museums.

Modern day MeteoraEdit

The Meteora monasteries have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Meteora-Antichassia region has been officially declared a Natura 2000 Ecological Zone by the Greek Ministry of Environment, for the protection of rare species of birds and flowers.

ClimateEdit

The mountain range to the east and north of the site experiences a wide climatic variation from baking heat in summer to severe cold in winter with heavy snowfalls. Summer is the driest time, storms occurring all year round especially at higher altitudes.

Information OfficeEdit

  • 1 Public Tourist Information Office, Patriarchou Dimitriou 1.

Get inEdit

By trainEdit

From Athens you can take either a train or a bus up to Meteora train station (Kalambaka). The trains servicing the northern part of Greece leave from the "Larissa station" in Athens, while the buses serving that part of the country leave from Terminal B, at Liossion Street. Train schedules can be obtained from TrainOSE and buses usually leave once every two hours. Both rides are long (about 3.5 to 4.5 hours by train and 5 hours by bus) so make sure to bring a good book. There are also train connections from Thessaloniki (about 3 hours), Volos (about 2 to 3.5 hours) and from Larissa (about 1 to 3 hours). Usually you change trains at Paleofarsalos station. If the train to Paleofarsalos is delayed, they often make the train to Meteora wait.

By busEdit

There are daily bus connections (Travel agency) to/from Kalampaka from/to Trikala and Larissa. From Athens, Thessaloniki and Volos you can take the bus to either Trikala or Larissa and then take a bus to Kalampaka.

There are also buses from Athens that allow you to visit Meteora as a day trip. They depart at 7:00 and arrive at noon and return at 17:15 arriving around 22:30.

Timetables from Athens and Thessaloniki.

By carEdit

The monasteries are well served by good roads and are safe and well sign posted. There are various lay-bys and free parking spaces around the area and near monasteries.

By planeEdit

You can fly from Central Europe to Volos, Central Greece airport [1] which is in Nea Anchialos and then travel by car for approximately two hours to Meteora. You can also take the train or bus from Volos to Kalampaka, but it will take much longer.

Get aroundEdit

In 2005, you could hire a taxi right at the train station to take you to all the monasteries for about €30-40. However, reaching the spires by foot gives visitors a much more tangible feeling of the Meteora's majesty. It is a difficult hike, but experiencing the sanctuaries like the monks did a few hundred years ago only increases its wonder. In the summer, be prepared for the Greek heat, and as the hike takes a whole day, bring a few litres of water.

For those not willing to make the climb on foot there are local buses (1.60€) that depart Kalampaka at 9:00 and go to Great Meteoron.

From there they depart at 11:20 to St. Stephan and then return from there to Kalambaka at 13:00.

 
Megalou Meteorou monastery

SeeEdit

The following monasteries can be visited and are located nearby the road circuiting Meteora. The largest museums with the most comprehensive exhibits can be found at Great Meteoron and Varlaam monasteries. The largest, most frequently visited monasteries are Great Meteoron, Varlaam, and St. Stephen. Rousanou, St. Nicholas, and Holy Trinity are smaller monasteries in more rugged locations and do not have museum exhibits. No restaurants or food vendors are available at the monasteries, except for food trucks that serve food outside Great Meteoron and Varlaam during opening hours.

Each of the monasteries has a gift shop with books, souvenirs, and religious items. The entrance fee is €3 to all of the six monasteries. Long pants are required for men, while women are requested to wear skirts or sarongs not pants; sarongs can be borrowed at the entrance fee collection stations. Photography and video are not allowed instead the inner church sanctuaries but are allowed elsewhere. Clockwise you'll find:

  • 1 St. Nikolaos Anapafsas (Άγιος Νικόλαος Αναπαυσάς). Summer timetable: 09:30-15:30, closed on Fridays. The Holy Monastery of Saint Nikolas of Anapafsas was founded at the end of the 14th century. The monastery is a 1 km walk from Kastraki village. It can be reached via a 10-minute uphill climb on a stone path leading up from the parking area at the main road connecting Kastraki village and Great Meteoron. It is the smallest monastery in Meteora. €3.    
  • 2 St. Barbara of Roussanou (Αγία Βαρβάρα Ρουσσάνου). Summer: Th-Tu 09:00-17:00; winter: Th-Tu 09:00-14:00. The Holy Monastery of Roussanou has received the name of the first probable hermit who settled on the rock. The main cathedral, celebrating the memory of Santa Barbara, was founded at the end of the 16th century and was decorated 30 years later. The monastery can be accessed via a stairway that leads from a parking area above, or alternatively can be reached via a short uphill cimb from a parking area below. €3.
  • 3 Varlaam (Βαρλαάμ). Summer: Sa-Th 09:00-16:00; winter timetable: 09:00 to 15:00. The Monastery of Varlaam is the second largest monastery of Meteora. The name Varlaam comes from a monk named Varlaam who scaled the rocks in 1350 and began construction on the monasteries. Varlaam built three churches by hoisting materials up the face of the cliffs. After Varlaam’s death, the monastery was abandoned for two hundred years until two monk brothers, Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades, came to the rock in the 16th century and began to rebuild the churches in October 1517. The two brothers from Ioannina spent twenty-two years hoisting materials to the top of the rock formation, however, the building only is reported to take around twenty days. Monks have been present since the 16th century, however, there has been a constant decline in their presence since the 17th century. Today the monastery is accessed through a series of ladders that scale the north side of the rock. The museum is open to travelers and contains a wide array of relics and ecclesiastical treasures. As of 2015 that there are seven monks remaining in Varlaam. €3.
  • 4 Great Meteoron (Μεγάλο Μετέωρο). Summer: W-M 09:00-17:00; winter: 09:00 to 14:00. The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron is the oldest and largest of the monasteries of Meteora. The monastery is believed to have been built just before the mid 14th century by a monk from Mount Athos named Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. He began the build with a church in dedication to the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. He later added small cells so that monks could concentrate and live atop the rock formations.The Monastery thrived in the 16th century when it received many imperial and royal donations. Being the largest among all the monasteries allows it to have a particular layout filled with many buildings. The katholikon is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus and was the first church of the monastery. The hermitage of the first founder of the monastery is a small building carved in rock. The kitchen or what is commonly referred to as the hestia is a domed shaped building near the refectory. There is also a hospital, with its famous roof of the ground floor made of brick and supported on four columns. The three old churches or chapels include: The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist which lies next to the katholikon sanctuary, The Saints Constantine and Helen Chapel which is an aisle-less church with large vault, and finally the chapel of Virgin Mary situated in the cave €3.
  • 5 Holy Trinity (Αγία Τριάδα). Summer: F-W 09:00-16:00; winter: F-W 09:00-16:00, closed on Thursdays. The Monastery of Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) is the most difficult to reach, but once you get to the very top, the panoramic view of the surroundings is simply captivating! €3.
  • 6 St. Stephen (Άγιος Στέφανος). Summer: Tu-Su 09:30-13:30 and 15:30-17:30; winter: 09:30-13:00 and 15:00-17:00. This is the most accessible monastery, where instead of steps you simply cross a small bridge to reach the entrance. It is ideal for visitors who cannot use the steps and yet they wish to have a real experience of a Meteora monastery. It is a nunnery today, although in the past it was a male-only monastery. €3.

Inexpensive, mass produced icons may be purchased in the monasteries for as little as €1.

In the high season, the monasteries can become incredibly crowded with large groups virtually filling the chapels and other areas within the monasteries. If possible, visit early in the day! The monasteries were not built for tourism. Tourism, though essential to the monasteries' survival, has also destroyed their character. They are no longer contemplative.

There are two main travel agencies organising guided tours around the monasteries. Visit Meteora and Meteora Thrones. The tours are generally well reviewed, offer hotel pick-up and most cost between 22€ and 35€, excluding 3€ entry prices for the monasteries. (Updated september 2021). Tours can be booked online, both companies also have an office in the center of Kalampaka.

 
Town of Kalambaka view from top of Meteora

DoEdit

HikingEdit

Meteora offers more than 20km of hiking trails, ranging from easier to more challenging ones. Most of them can be completed in less than 4 hours and almost all of them lead to the monasteries. Most of the trails are not marked, so some experience or GPS tools might be necessary. On 2021, a project to map the entire trail network of Meteora began, which now consists of 14 interconnected trails covering the entire area. Many of the trails are marked with red "MTR" (Meteora Trail Running) signs.

  • Watch the sunset from one of the many vantage points.
  • Climb the rocks. There are more than 170 peaks and 600 bolted climbing routes in the area. You can buy the 2 guidebooks containing almost every route from the local bookstores. It is to be noted that there is no option for renting equipment so one should either bring his own or get a climbing guide.
  • Drive the road connecting monasteries.

EatEdit

Kastraki has a number of restaurants, but if you are looking for a light meal, the ouzeri on the main road slightly downhill (towards Kalambaka) was excellent and cheap. Live music when the owner's friends come along at night.

  • Meteora Panorama is a good choice with open wifi and view to the mountains and the valley.

SleepEdit

The nearby towns of Kalampaka and Kastraki both offer different kinds of accommodation. Choose Kastraki if you want to stay close to the rocks, and also for the village atmosphere.

  • Dellas Boutique Hotel - meteora experience, Kalambakas - Kastrakiou Street, Kalambaka [Kastraki], Meteora | Trikala, Thessaly - Greece, +30 24320 78260, fax: +30 24315 00000, . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. This hotel is in the shade of the rocks of Meteora. from €50.
  • San Giorgio Villa - meteora's budget accommodations, Kalambaka [Kastraki], Meteora | Trikala, Thessaly - Greece, +30 24320 75255, fax: +30 24315 00123, . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. San Giorgio Villa is small budget accommodation property, the so-called "Meteora's Budget Accommodations", on the road to the holy rocks, in Kastraki village. from €35.
  • Also's House, 5 Kanari St. 422 00 Kalampaka (Head towards the back of town with the footpath to Meteora. It is there alongside two other places, Elena and Koka Roka), +30 2432024097. A quality establishment at decent prices, cheaper than most places in the area. If it is not busy, price may be reduced if you don't want breakfast or AC. Great view of the rocks, free internet and Wi-Fi. Clean, comfortable, and nice. You will get your money's worth here. The owner is a great guy as well, speaking excellent English and offering good advice. single private is €35.
  • Archontiko Mesohori, in Kastraki, +30 24320 77125, +30 6936786418 (Mobile), fax: +30 24320 77164, . In the old habitation of one of the most impressive picturesque villages of Greece, this old mansion of the 19th century has been renovated to become a most attractive luxury small hotel. €110 per suite.
  • Theatro Hotel Odysseon, Kalampaka, +30 2432022320, fax: +30 2432075307, . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Just on the foothills of Meteora with panoramic view to the rocks, you can find this charming and cheap hotel on the way from the center of the town towards Meteora and Kastraki Village just before you exit the town. 50.00 euro for a double room breakfast included.
  • Hotel Rex, Patriarhou Dim St 7, +30 2432022042, . 3-star hotel in Kalampaka. Don't forget to take your coffee or drink at the rooftop bar with views over the Meteora. All rooms have A/C and there is free breakfast and Internet Singles: €40, twins: €55, triples: €75.
  • Toti (Totis Theano) (a few blocks off the main square, towards the Meteroa footpath in the back of town). Clean, comfortable, close to the centre of town. Some rooms have partial views of the monasteries. There been complaints about the behaviour of the owner. Double without/with breakfast from €30/45; triple with breakfast from €36.
  • Tsikeli Hotel, Kastraki (Kalambaka - Thessali), +30 2432022438. Excellent hotel. Comfortable. Air condition (silent and efficient). Amazing view to the Cliff of Meteora. Warm and friendly atmosphere. the hotel provides personal care, good breakfast in a beautiful garden. Wi-Fi access. Near cafes and restaurants.

RespectEdit

While visiting the monasteries, women are required to wear skirts covering the knees and have their shoulders covered, too. Most of the monasteries do provide wraps for women who come unprepared, but if you bring your own, especially one with bright colors, you'll get a smile from the monk or nun at the entrance.

Along the same line, men are required to wear trousers covering the knees. This too can be borrowed from the stock at the entrance but that clothing isn't washed after every user so you may not feel comfortable wearing these skirts. One size fits all for men!

Go nextEdit

  • Vergina, 174 km, site of UNESCO listed Ancient Aigai site of ancient tombs of Philip II of Macedon
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