The Ancient Monasteries
There are 6 Meteora monasteries perched on the huge cliffs people can visit today. Serene, spiritual, magical, mystical, extraordinary, breathtaking, immense, inspiring, impressive. These are only some of the words people very often use in an effort to describe the Meteora monasteries. Visit Meteora, even if your interests are not deeply religious. It is the only way to enrich your feelings of spirituality that this area already exudes, no matter how long or brief your sojourn in our beautiful land.
A visit to Meteora monasteries offers a unique perspective of nature’s grandeur in conjunction with history, architecture, and man’s everlasting desire to connect with the Divine. From the early Christian times, the cliffs of Meteora were regarded as a perfect place to achieve absolute isolation. A place for people to find peace and harmony and, thus, to support mankind’s eternal struggle for spiritual ascension.
Meteora today is the largest archaeological site of Greece in terms of the area that it covers. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989 and an official holy place for Greece since 1995. A vast complex of giant rock pillars with monasteries made on the picks of the sandstone cliffs centuries ago creates a truly surreal landscape found nowhere else in the world!
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The origins of Meteora Monasteries
The first ones to use the cliffs of Meteora for spiritual reasons were Orthodox Christian hermit monks. They came to this place between the 9th and the 10th century to find quiet and to isolate themselves in the many caves found scattered among the cliffs. For centuries those monks lived in complete isolation. Exposed to weather elements and to all sorts of dangers they relied heavily on the help of the locals. They will regularly receive donations of food, water, clothing, wood, essential things to allow them to survive. The locals saw them as holy men who came to dwell in the area, worthy of their support.
This early period is the first stage in the monastic development of Meteora, dominated by the ascetic figures of the first hermit monks, living unorganized and in isolation in the caves of the area. This first stage lasts for a couple of centuries, up until the 12th century, and the start of the second phase in the development of Meteora’s monastic tradition. The development of the organized skete of Doupiani in the 12th century marks an important milestone in the long development of monasticism here at Meteora.
Around the 12th century, a monk named Nilos decides to gather the scattered hermit monks of Meteora into a more organized monastic community. He set up rules and cannons for the hermit monks of Meteora to follow. Thus initiating the second phase of a more organized monastic development at Meteora. The focal point of this first organized monastic community became the chappel of Doupiani, still found today standing beneath the synonymous cliff on the northwest side of Kastraki village. The hermit monks of Meteora will gather every Sunday in the chapel of Doupiani to attend the Sunday service and to share provisions.
Two centuries later, in the 14th century, another monk named Athanasios climbed on the second-highest rock to establish the first of Meteora monasteries, the Great Meteoron. He is regarded today as one of the most important figures in the long history of Meteora monasteries being the founder of one of the most important monastic communities of the Orthodox Church, second only to Athos. By the 16th century, at the height of Meteora’s monastic community, the number of monasteries existing in the site had reached a total of 24.
The 16th century was by far the best period of Meteora monasteries. During that time we see the largest population of monks and the biggest number of active monasteries. A century later, in the 17th century, the downfall came and for the next 3 centuries, Meteora monasteries constantly decline. Today and out of the initial 24 monasteries, only 6 remain active.
The Monasteries today
The six active Meteora monasteries create a truly inspiring and sensational setting of overwhelming rock formations with these ancient monuments occupying their picks. In essence, Meteora today has become a preservation ark for the 2000-year-old Christian Orthodox creed. Today, out of initially 24 monasteries that used to exist, only 6 remain active for people to visit.
Check the map to have a better idea of where the 6 active monasteries of Meteora are located. Out of those 6 active monasteries, 2 of them (Agios Stefanos & Roussanou) are convents with nuns and the rest 4 are male monasteries with monks. In total, today there are approximately 50 nuns and 17 monks still living in the active monasteries of Meteora.
The List of Holy Monasteries of Meteora
The Monastery of Great Meteoron
The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, located at Meteora-Greece, is the biggest and oldest one of all. It is called the monastery which remains “suspended in the air” (meteoro), because of the cliff formation of a gigantic rock on top of which it was built. The Great Meteoro Monastery or “Megalo Meteoron” was founded in the 14th century by a monk named Saint Athanasios the Meteorite.
The Monastery of Varlaam
The Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second biggest monastery of Meteora. Located very close to Great Meteoro Monastery, it was founded in the mid 14th century by a monk named Varlaam. Varlaam managed to climb on the cliff around 1350 and followed by a few other monks he was able to establish the monastery.
The Monastery of Roussanou
The Holy Monastery of Roussanou, located at Meteora was first established in the 14th century. It received the name probably from the first hermit-monk who settled on the rock during that period. The main cathedral was founded at the end of the 16th century and was decorated thirty years later by a monk who lived at the monastery.
The Monastery of St. Stephen
The beginning of monastic life on the rock of Agios Stephanos dates back to early in the 12th century. Hosios Antonios, in the first half of the 15th century, and Hosios Philotheos, who renovated or rather rebuilt from its foundations the old small and elegant Catholicon, the present church of Agios Stephanos, in 1545 are mentioned as its founders.
The Monastery of Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity Monastery (Agia Triada) at Meteora is one of the most photographed monuments in the area. At the same time, it’s the most difficult to reach. Those who will attempt to reach it will be rewarded with the panoramic view of the surroundings which is simply captivating!
The Monastery of St. Nikolaos
The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas or Agios Nikolaos is the first active Monastery we encounter on our way to Meteora and was founded at the end of the 14th century.
If you wish to plan for a visit to the monasteries make sure if you haven’t done it yet, to read our blog post about the important things you should know before you plan your trip. There you will also find details about the dress code required for men and women, as well as the opening hours of monasteries. In that same article, we also discuss the accessibility of each monastery and why it’s not always a good idea to drive your car especially during the pick period in the Summer.