Greek Guide

 

Meteora Greece Thessaly, Kalambaka and Kastraki

Meteora is a spectacular mass of majestic rock formations crowned by seemingly inaccessible monasteries which are among the most extraordinary sights in the whole of Greece. The fact that communities of medieval monks managed to scale these near vertical pillars of rock and establish no less than 24 monasteries on top of them seems nothing short of a miracle to the modern day visitor. Despite the coach loads of tourists who pour into this north western corner of Thessaly, in central Greece, both the landscape and the monasteries are soul stirring sights. Small wonder the area was used as a James Bond movie location and has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Exactly how these dramatic pinnacles and cylindrical cones of iron grey, smooth rock were formed remains something of a mystery to geologists. The most likely explanation seems to be that they're the result of silt deposits left behind by a river which flowed into a sea that covered the plain of Thessaly some 25 million years ago.

The countless caverns that puncture this prehistoric rock forest were used by hermit monks as far back as the 11th century. As successive invading armies fought for control of Greek territory, the monks sought refuge at increasingly perilous heights and in the mid 14th century the first monastery was founded at the 613 metre summit of the most impressive of all the stone towers. That was the Moni Megalou Meteorou (Grand Meteora) which is today the most visited of the six monasteries open to the public.

It's believed that the monks scaled the sheer rock faces by inserting pieces of timber into crevices. Building and food supplies and the monks themselves were then hauled to the summit via a primitive and hazardous rope and basket system, used right up until the 1920s. When asked how often each rope was replaced an abbot famously replied "when it breaks".

Many of the original 24 monasteries were left to disintegrate when enthusiasm for the monastic life began to wane in the 18th century. Of the six monasteries which open their doors to tourists, three are occupied by small communities of monks while the other three are used as convents. All six are connected by asphalt roads and accessed by steps hewn into the rock.

You'll need at least one full day to visit all six monasteries, especially if you plan to do the tour on foot which is the toughest but most rewarding way to appreciate the full splendour of Meteora. Be sure to respect the strict dress code of long trousers for men, skirts for women and no bare shoulders. Men with long hair are sometimes asked to roll it into a bun and women who arrive in trousers are offered wraps or skirts to wear over them.

The two local villages of Kalambaka and Kastraki both have a plentiful supply of rooms to rent, hotels and tavernas and there are several campsites in the area.

Most travel agencies offer organised excursions that include overnight accommodation. Regular buses make the five hour journey to and from Athens and there's a train service direct to Kalambaka (four hours).