The Scribblaire recently visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Meteora, a dramatic rock formation which rises above the plain of Thessaly in Northern Greece. The other-worldly landscape is breath-taking in itself, the rocks being in stark contrast to the lush plain which surrounds them. The layered, curved and pitted combination of sandstone and conglomerate rise hundreds of metres above the plains having been formed over sixty million years ago and manipulated into shape by earthquakes and water.
The site is most famous for the monasteries which sit on top of the rocks and is apparently second only to Mount Athos as a sacred monastic site in the Greek Orthodox church. Between the 11th and 17th centuries, 24 monasteries were build on the rocks, though only four now remain. Originally, the site was inhabited by hermits who lived in the natural caves formed in the rocks and later claimed by monks seeking a site where they could be nearer to God and practice their religion in peace and solitude. The monasteries were built using ropes and pulleys to carry building materials and people to the top of the rocks. The remaining buildings now have roads and bridges to provide access and it would be difficult enough to build on the site now, let alone 800 years ago with no machinery or access.
We visited the Grand Meteora monastery, the largest of the remaining sites. The building itself would be of no great architectural interest, except that it seems to grow out of the rock. The oldest parts date back to the 15th and 16th century, although there are newer buildings as well. Most stunning were the frescoes in the church which are beautifully preserved and cover the walls and ceilings of the rooms. Photography is banned in the church so the Scribblaire has no record of these and it would be difficult to do it justice in any case.
Although the site was full of tourists, it is still possible to sense the solitude and peace of the place. There is only a handful of monks still living in the monastery, but it is a working religious community. Whilst we were there, we witnessed an exorcism taking place in a corner of a building. Why this would take place at the same time as there are tourists around I have no idea, but it seemed to be a real event and the sounds emanating from the woman being exorcised were something I wouldn’t want to hear too often.
After visiting the monastery our tour party visited the nearby town of Kalambaka. The rocks dominate the view from one side of the town and provide the inhabitants with much needed income from the hoards of tourists who visit.
Our visit to Meteora was amazing and it is impossible to describe the impact that the place has. We plan to visit again one day.