The "floating monasteries" on the Meteora cliffs are among the most popular destinations in Greece. Besides the historically valuable complexes, the overwhelming view is also worth a visit!
In the middle of the mountains in the heart of the country is one of Greece's most spectacular sights, which is also on our list of the top 10 sights of Greece. Balancing on the steep rocky cliffs, the Meteora Monasteries have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and are one of our top 10 monasteries in the world worth seeing.
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PICTURES: Meteora Monasteries
In the morning mist, the Meteora monasteries seem to float, which also gave them their name: Meteore means "to lift up into the air". Apart from the 24 monasteries, the Meteora rocks are among the most popular climbing destinations in Greece. In 2001, the Austrian Felix Baumgartner, world famous since 2013 with his parachute jump from the stratosphere, completed a base jump from one of the cliffs.
History of the Meteora Monasteries
The Meteora monasteries originated from hermitages in rock crevices, which according to tradition date back to the 10th century. The first monastery called Doúpiani dates from the early 13th century, but only a chapel remains of it, which is still used and preserved.
However, the religious blossoming of the monasteries did not occur until 1334, when the monk Athanasius fled from the monastic republic of Athos to the Meteora monasteries to escape Turkish rule. He founded the largest monastery to this day, called Metamórphosis, and wrote the first rules of monastic life. The monks in the Meteora monasteries lived in the Cenobitic system, i.e. without possessions, in community and cut off from the outside world.
In the following decades, further monasteries were built, most of whose founders have not survived by name. Due to their difficult accessibility, the wealthy monasteries were never plundered or raided and the monks could go about their business in peace.
Visiting and best time to visit the Meteora monasteries
Those six monasteries where monks and nuns still live today are open to visitors. The monasteries are closed every now and then, but all on different days, so some of them can certainly be visited during a visit.
Also worth seeing is the spectacular panoramic view over the Meteora cliffs that open up from the forecourts of the monastery complexes. Organised excursions to the Meteora monasteries start in the nearby town of Kalambaka.
The best time to visit the Meteora monasteries, in terms of weather, is certainly summer. However, this is the high season, the monasteries are completely overcrowded and it becomes difficult to capture the spiritual aura of the monasteries. Early in the morning is the least busy.
In the off-season, there is a greater risk of rain, but you can explore the monasteries at your leisure. Guided tours are also available in winter, but at irregular intervals.
Tip: To visit the Meteora monasteries, knees and shoulders must be covered, women ideally wear skirts or dresses. Women in trousers are asked to put on an apron at some monasteries before entering.
Metamórphosis Monastery (Megálo Metéoro)
With an area of 60,000 square metres, Metamórphosis is today the largest monastery in the Meteora cliffs. The monastery, which was built in 1334, lives up to its name "Floating", because until 1923 it could only be reached by rope ladders or a net that could be pulled upwards.
For an easier visit to the founding monastery, a stone staircase with 143 steps now leads into the interior of the monastery. The hermit's cave of the monastery founder Athanasius can still be seen at the entrance to the monastery today, and in the monastery church you can admire artistic frescoes from 1552.
Monastery Agía Triáda
The spectacular Holy Trinity Monastery was built in the mid-15th century and, like the Megálo Metéoro, could only be reached by winches and rope ladders. Here, too, a staircase was built in 1925 that requires some stamina.
In addition to the centuries-old frescoes, the main church of the Agía Triáda impresses with a Gospel from 1539 that is engraved in silver. The real reason for the monastery's worldwide fame, however, is its role in the James Bond film "On a Deadly Mission" as the villain's stronghold.
Monastery of Agios Stéphanos
The first hermit is said to have lived on the spectacular cliff as early as 1192 and the monastery was founded around 1400. Its nickname "The Royal" recalls the visit of Andronikos III, King of Byzantium. He was so delighted by the hospitality of the monks that he made generous donations to them.
Agios Stéphanos has been a women's monastery since 1961, can be reached by car almost without a footpath and is worth seeing primarily because of its mother-of-pearl decorated church lecterns.
A monastery was built here in 1518 after a hermit had lived on the rock for many years. The place was not accessible to women at that time. Today it is the second largest of the Meteora monasteries and the only monastery church with two domes. Remains of the lift, which consisted of rope and net, can still be seen.
Monastery of Agios Nikólaos Anapavás
The monastery merges directly into the rock and is one of the most impressive buildings on the Meteora cliffs. It can be reached via the nearby village of Kastraki. The complex is, so to speak, the tomb of the Meteora monasteries, for the skulls of former monks are kept in the church of John the Baptist. The frescoes and paintings are also worth seeing.
It is not known exactly when the Rousánou monastery was founded. Its special features also lie in the elaborate wall paintings. The monastery was renovated in the 1950s and is now reserved exclusively for nuns. From a rock in the valley, Rousánou offers a spectacular photo motif.
More Meteora Monasteries
Most of the other monasteries have crumbled into ruins. Worth mentioning are Filakaé Monakón, according to tradition a rock cave where monks were sent who did not abide by the monastery rules, and Moní Ypsilotéra, also called Kaligráfon because of the manuscripts written there.
The ascent to the uninhabited monastery ruins is very difficult and in some places also dangerous. Because of the danger of collapse, it is forbidden to enter the ruins.
The Theopetra Cave is the most famous cave in the area of the Meteora cliffs. It hides the oldest man-made structure in the world. The stone wall, which was most likely meant to protect the cave's inhabitant(s) from wind and cold, is an incredible 23,000 years old.