Meteora Monasteries in Greece: where are they, how to get there and what to see? History, description, time, work, ticket prices 2023, photos.
Tourists, as you know, go to Greece to swim in the warm sea and sunbathe in the hot sun. And also for impressions, because this country is so rich in historical attractions. Which can be literally found in any Greek cities or islands.
But the most striking and unusual attraction of Greece, which can be equally called historical and natural, in our opinion, are the monasteries of Meteora. And everyone who comes to Ancient Hellas should definitely visit this place.
- Regardless of whether you are going to Greece in April-May, or decide to relax here at the height of the summer season!
Meteora are called rocks, which are located in the north of Greece, in Thessaly. They formed millions of years ago and were once the bottom of a prehistoric sea. The cliffs were formed from sandstone and rock, reaching a height of more than 600 meters.
And got their name for a reason. Translated from the Greek “Meteor” means “soaring in the air”. Indeed, they look exactly like this: hanging, frozen in the air, blocks are something fantastic and unearthly.
The most outlandish thing is that Orthodox Greek monasteries are located on these rocks. Because of that an influential monastic center today has become not only a place of prayer, but also a magnet for visitors from all over the world.
Meteora was included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1988. Thanks to the unique architecture and the general beauty of the complex, which is of great religious and artistic significance.
History of Monasteries
Meteora became known long before the 10th century, when the first Byzantine hermits, seeking solitude, climbed these stony and impregnable, cut off from the world, rock tops to be alone with God. At that time they lived in caves or in rocky depressions.
The first skete on Meteora was the one of the Holy Spirit, which was built by the hermit Barnabas in the period from 950 to 970. Then the monk Andronicus from Crete in 1020 erected the skete of the Transfiguration. In 1160, the Stagi Skete was built, which marked the beginning of an organized monastic community in these places.
Until the 13th century, the monasteries of Meteora lived in peace and tranquility, then the invasions of the conquerors began. Crusaders, Albanians, and the Ottoman Turks, sought to capture this region of Greece.
the monk Athanasius, expelled from Mount Athos, arrived in Meteora, who wanted to create a well-organized complex of monasteries in this place in the likeness of Athos. He gathered 14 like-minded monks, and climbed with them to a giant rock 619 meters high. Starting a truly grandiose business for that era – the construction of the first buildings of the subsequently famous monastery Great Meteoron or the Monastery of the Transfiguration.
The cliff on which unfolded the construction site, the monk Athanasius called “Meteoro”, as it seemed to hang between heaven and earth. Monastic life in Meteora flourished in the 16th century. The grandeur of this place and its natural safety over time turned it into a large organized monastic community.
During the entire existence of the community, 24 monasteries were built on the peaks of Meteora. And this is not counting the large number of single cells, chapels, sketes that were scattered throughout the region.
It was possible to get into the monasteries only through hinged wooden stairs, or in special nets, which were climbed by the monks themselves. In the same way, all building materials for the construction of monastery buildings, food and other things necessary for everyday life were raised to the top of the rocks.
Trough the 20th century, roads were laid to the monasteries. And stone steps were cut in the rocks for the rise of monks, pilgrims and ordinary tourists.
What to See in Meteora
Having suffered from destruction and looting during the Second World War, the monasteries quickly recovered. And today Meteora is one of the most popular tourist sites in Greece.
Unfortunately, to date only six monasteries have been preserved and are in good condition. Four men’s are of:
- Great Meteoron
- Holy Trinity
- St. Nicholas Anapausas,
and two women’s monasteries:
- St. Barbara or Rousanou
- St. Stefanos.
The rest of the monasteries are either ruins or not preserved at all.
The Monastery of the Transfiguration
This monastery, also known as the Great Meteoron or Megala Meteora, is the very first religious complex built here. Its founder is considered to be St. Athanasius of Meteora, who was forced to leave the monastery on St. Athos. A few years later, in this place, he decided to create the first meteor brotherhood on the model of Athos monasticism.
- The Great Meteoron was founded around 1340, it is located on the highest and largest rock in area, 619 meters high.
The main cathedral of the monastery – Katholikon – was erected in honor of the Transfiguration of Christ already after the death of Athanasius of Meteora, in 1388. It rises in the center of the entire constructed monastery complex and is a cross-shaped vaulted temple.
In the middle of the 16th century, during the period of the highest prosperity of the Meteor monastery complex, the Monastery of the Transfiguration was waiting for a new stage of reconstruction. During which a significant part of the buildings that have come down to us was built: a hospital, a kitchen, a refectory, a home for the elderly monks. The Cathedral of the Great Meteoron was expanded, carefully restored and acquired its current appearance.
During the 600 years of its history, the monastery has repeatedly been subjected to severe trials. In the 17th century it burned and was subjected to numerous attacks and robberies by the Turks, in the 20th century it suffered during the Second World War.
the ascent to the monastery was carried out with the help of successive rope ladders and nets. But then, for a safer ascent to the monastery, steps were cut through the rock.
The net, which was previously also used to climb to the monastery, still exists. But only for lifting products and building materials.
At the entrance to the monastery there is a dilapidated skete of St. Athanasius, in which the founder of the monastery lived before its construction. At present, this temple houses a large number of ancient icons of the XIV-XVI centuries. The museum of monastery treasures is located in the former refectory.
- In winter, from November 1 to March 31, it is open daily, except Tuesday and Wednesday, from 9 to 16
- During the summer period from April 1 to October 31, complex is open daily, except Tuesday, from 9 to 17 hours.
Monastery of Varlaam
In the middle of the XIV century, at about the same time as the construction of the Great Meteoron, on a nearby rock 573 meters high, the monk Varlaam erected several cells and a church dedicated to the Three Hierarchs. There he lived in complete solitude until the end of his days, after which all the premises remained uninhabited for many years, and began to collapse.
In 1519, two brothers, the monks Nektariy and Feofan, who had previously lived for several years in the nearby Monastery of the Transfiguration, climbed a rock in order to restore the Church of the Three Hierarchs, built by Varlaam, which had turned into ruins.
It is Nectarios and Theophanes who are considered the real founders of the monastery, which was called the Monastery of Varlaam or of All Saints.
In 1549, the brothers built a new spacious cathedral – Katholikon, dedicated to All Saints. Being similar to other Athos churches, it was a cruciform vaulted four-column temple with two domes.
- It is believed that monks has built the temple in just 20 days!
- But the materials for its construction were lifted and collected on the rock for 22 years.
In 1560, the cathedral was painted with frescoes by the great icon painter Franco Catelano.
After the death of the brothers Theophanes and Nectarios, the monastery continued to flourish. Receiving lands, vineyards, olive plantations and villages from believers. In addition to the Cathedral of All Saints and the Chapel of the Three Hierarchs, a hospital, a nursing home and the chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries appeared on the territory.
There is a museum in the monastery refectory. Which houses a large collection of rare manuscripts, shrouds embroidered with gold, carved wooden crosses, portable icons, as well as the Gospel of Emperor Constantine.
- From November 1 to March 31, it is open daily, except Thursday and Friday, from 9 to 15
- From April 1 to October 31, except Friday, from 9 to 16 hours.
Monastery of the Holy Trinity
There is no reliable historical information about when and by whom the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, built on a cliff 400 meters high, was founded. According to one source, it was founded by the monk Dometius in 1438. According to others, the first construction was built between 1460 and 1476. Meanwhile, there is a mention of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Megala Meteora, dated 1362.
It is only known for certain that in 1476 a cathedral was erected on the rock – this is indicated by an inscription on one of the facades of the temple.
The two-column cruciform vaulted cathedral of the monastery was built in the Byzantine style. Inside, it is painted with frescoes: the decoration of the nave was carried out at the very end of the 17th century, and the main temple was carried out in 1741.
To the right of the altar is the sacristy, most of whose treasures, together with the monastery bells, disappeared during the time of foreign conquests. The surviving ancient icons and manuscripts of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity are now kept in the nearby monastery of Varlaam and of St. Stephen.
When climbing at the entrance, there is a small church of St. John the Baptist carved into the rock, built and painted in 1682 by the monk Nikodim.
In addition to the temples, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity has cells for monks, a kitchen, a refectory, two cisterns for rainwater and a small plot of cultivated land. Behind the Cathedral there is a balcony. Which offers a picturesque panorama of the neighboring lands, the city of Kalampaka. And also on two neighboring rocks, on which monasteries which have not survived to this day once operated.
- From November 1 to March 31, open daily, except Thursday, from 9 to 16
- From April 1 to October 31, it is also open daily, except Thursday, from 9 to 17.
Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas
This complex is located on a relatively low rock, 419 meters high. The exact time of foundation is unknown, but the first ascetic monks appeared here already in the 12th-13th centuries.
The first written mention of Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas dates back to 1392. The architectural data and the remains of wall frescoes confirm the version that it was built in the XIII or XIV century.
The buildings, which has survived to this day, were erected in the last years of the 15th century on the ruins of an older construction. Their founder was the monk Nikanor Anapausas, after whom the monastery was named.
The narrow and limited surface of the rock, on which the construction is located, has a small area, so all the buildings were built in height at several levels, one above the other.
On the first level there is a chapel dedicated to St. Anthony, on the second – the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. It began to be erected in 1527 on the entire area of the rock.
The cathedral was built in the form of a rectangle without windows, consists of a quadrangular nave and a cruciform main temple, and is crowned with a low dome.
On the third level
of the monastery of St. Nicholas Anapavsas there are cells, a refectory, the church of St. John the Baptist and a crypt where the relics and skulls of monks are kept.
At the entrance to the monastery, in the gorge of the rock, there is a small church of St. Simeon.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Monastery of St. Nicholas was empty, its buildings gradually fell into disrepair, and the valuable manuscripts stored in it were transferred to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. In the 1960s, the friary was restored and is still in operation.
From November 1 to March 31, it is open daily except Friday, 9 to 14.
From April 1 to October 31, the opening hours are extended to 16 hours.
Monastery of St. Barbara
Also known as the Rousanou Monastery is one of the two female Meteora abbies. It is located in a limited space, on a rock that has a very small area.
There are several versions about the time of the creation of the complex and the origin of its name. According to one of them, its founder was a man Rusanos, a native of the town of Rosana. According to others, the monastery was founded in 1388 by hieromonks Nikodim and Benidikt.
The official founders of the Rousanou Monastery are the brothers Ioasaph and Maxim, who in 1545 restored partly ruined buildings and erected the main temple.
The Church of the Transfiguration is a two-pillar cross-domed structure with a vestibule and has an atypical altar facing north. Many frescoes have been preserved, which were made by unknown icon painters of the Cretan school in 1560-x. The greatest value in the cathedral are the frescoes of the vestibule, as well as the carved wooden gilded iconostasis.
At different times, the monastery was repeatedly plundered. During the Turkish persecutions, as well as during the wars, the inhabitants of the surrounding villages took refuge in its walls.
At first, the monks used rope ladders to climb to the rock. In 1897, two wooden bridges were laid to the monastery, which were later replaced by modern ones.
Rousanou began to fall into disrepair. Since 1950, Elder Eusevia from the village of Kastraki, which is located at the foot of Meteora, has single-handedly preserved the three-story building of the monastery. However, after the death of the old woman in 1971, the abbey was still closed due to poor technical condition.
Only in the 80s of the XX century buildings were restored. And within their walls a convent was opened, which received its second name in honor of St. Barbara.
Most of the monastery’s relics that have been preserved to this day are now kept in the museum of Great Meteoron.
From November 1 to March 31, Rousanou is open daily, except Wednesday, from 9 to 14. In summer, visitors can stay here until 17.
Monastery of St. Stephen
The huge rock, on which this convent is located, became inhabited as early as the 12th century, when in 1192 a certain hermit Jeremiah settled on it. Later, together with other monks, he built several cells here, a cistern to collect rainwater and a small chapel of St. Stephen.
The foundation of the monastery itself, which was named after St. Stephen, dates back to the beginning of the 14th century. It was built by the monk Anthony Katakuzinos, the cousin of one of the founders of the Great Meteoron, Ioasaph.
The church of St. Stephen began to built here in 1350. In 1798, the majestic church of St. Harlampy was also erected.
The latter church, for the most part, has no iconography. But the iconostasis of the cathedral is a unique work of art.
By the end of the 19th century, a large number of monks lived here. But by 1960 the monastery was almost empty. And in 1961 it was transformed into a female convent, the second one on Meteora.
Among the ancient buildings of the monastery, in addition to two temples, the vestibule, the cells of the monks, the hearth, the altar, the courtyard. You should definitely see the monastery refectory built in 1857, which is currently used for the exhibition of relics.
- On the south side of the complex is the hotel for pilgrims and tourists!
Compared to other Meteora’s monasteries, getting up to St. Stephen has always been much easier. Thanks to the drawbridge that connects the rock with the Kukula hill opposite.
Today, there is a modern access road and an 8-meter stone footbridge for passage to it.
In the period from November 1 to March 31, the Monastery of St. Stephen is open daily, except Monday, from 9 to 13 and from 15 to 17. From April 1 to October 31, you can get inside from 9 to 13.30 and from 15.30 to 17.30.
Need To Know
Very often trips to Meteora are offered by travel agencies, including on the territory of hotels. You can, of course, take advantage of their offers, but need to keep in mind the following.
Whatever region of Greece you are in, the travelling to Meteora takes a lot of time. If the proposed tour is designed for just one day, without spending the night in Kalampaka, then you will spend most of the trip on the road. So there will be a minimum of time left for the attractions themselves.
As a rule, as part of such a tour, tourists are given a sightseeing tour with a stop at the main viewing platforms of the Meteora massif. At the same time, they visit only one, rarely two monasteries.
The cost of an entrance ticket to each monastery for an independent visit now is 3 euros.
How to Get to Meteora
It is most convenient to get to the famous attraction by a rented car. In this case, you will not only easily reach the nearest to the monasteries, the city of Kalampaka or the village of Kastraki, where you can stay for the night. But you can also easily move between the rocks, which are several kilometers apart from each other.
If you choose public transport for your trip, you can get to the city of Kalampaka by train or bus.
There is a direct train from Athens Larisis railway station to Kalampaka twice a day. Travel time is about 4 hours.
You can also get there from Thessaloniki by train. But usually not directly, with a change in Paleofarsalos. Travel time – about 3 hours.
The official website of the Greek railways, where you can see the schedule and buy tickets in advance – hellenictrain.gr/en.
From Athens, Thessaloniki and a number of other Greek cities, the Meteora monasteries can be reached by KTEL buses.
To the monasteries of Meteora from the city of Kalampaka through the village of Kastraki three times a day (during the season) runs a local METEORA BUS.
Departure time of from Kalampaka: 9, 11, 13 hours. Back from the monasteries, it leaves at 10, 12, 14.