Greece Day 3: One of my most highly anticipated days of the trip!!!! METEORA
Not even kidding guys, I have been wanting to experience Meteora FOREVER. It’a short and steep climb ( on a bus! hehe) from the town to the first monastery St. Stephens which is.. by far the most accessible as there are NO STAIRS to reach this one, only a narrow foot bridge.
The inside of the monastery was soo peaceful and undisturbed as we were one of the first groups to get there in the morning. If you can picture any sacred place and invoke that feeling in your mind, you will understand how we felt exploring these beautiful monasteries.
For reference, the monasteries, as most churches in Greece, are Greek Orthodox and are still in operation today by diligent nuns AND monks.
To add to that, I’d also like to point out that St. Stephen’s is a Convent so it is run by nun’s. This is important as the monasteries only would not allow us females in on tours! So…. we visited the Meteora convents I should say. As they are first and foremost churches (not tourist traps) it is required to dress modestly with longer skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. (Women HAD to wear skirts, pants were not permitted however they did have wrap skirts you could borrow at each monastery)
We started our tour in a church which ABSOLUTELY took my breath away. If you have ever been in an Orthodox church then you know what I mean. Floor to ceiling gold and colorful paintings of the icons and the most ornate furniture and wood screen to hide the altar I’ve ever seen. I think the part that also blew me away was how devoted the monks must have been to build something so beautiful and devoted to God in such a challenging landscape.
It was also an incredible experience to witness the devotion STILL of people today as they moved around
what I’m positive is our annoying tour groups, and worshiped within the small churches. It is to be noted that Meteora is a place people will consider pilgrimages they need to go to.
Brief history of St. Stephen’s Monastery: The foundation dates back to the 12th century, approx 1191 however the church within St. Stephen’s is recorded as being rebuilt in 1545 when many of the other buildings were added such as rooms for the monks. The monastery was also very heavily hit and damaged during WWII and the following civil war within Greece so a majority of what we saw/ pictured was recently done in the 20th century and in 1961 it was re-dedicated as a convent. While the grounds are not huge, the walls contain 2 chapels (only 1 of which we were allowed to visit) and enough room for 28 nuns to live within.
Operating hours (if you wish to go on your own) are daily from 9:30-1:30, 3:30-5:30 and closed on Mondays. I do recommend going with an organized tour however, especially if you are not familiar with Greek Orthodox as it was an amazing experience to learn about not just the history of the places, but the beliefs and reasons for the way they decorate the interior of their churches.
The entrance to the 2nd
monastery convent that we visited: The Holy Monastery of Varlaam. This one… had steps to get up to it but I will say it wasn’t too bad and if you look at the picture below.. the view while you climbed up was amazing and it was a lot more fun (to me) to feel I was making a climb for something so special.
The beautiful courtyard at the top of the stairs and main entrance. You can see the road cutting along the cliffs across the way (how we got up there). I think there was a period of time when we could see as many as 4 or 5 monasteries at a time in the distance.
As we were not permitted photos within any of the buildings, this is the only photo I could get with artwork (as it is only the covered entrance to the church, we weren’t inside a building yet. AND YES I still asked permission before taking this photo)
History of Varlaam: In 1350 a daring ascetic named Varlaam ascended to the rock. The monastery was named after him. He built three churches, a small cell and a water tank. After his death the rock remained abandoned for about 200 years. In 1517/1518 the two founders of the church, began to construct additional buildings. They renovated the little church of the Three Hierarchs and they erected the tower (more on this structure later). They also built in 1541/1542 the central church of the monastery dedicated to All Saints (which is the one guests are permitted to visit). The transportation of the materials lasted 22 years and the building only 20 days.
“Since 1350, the ascent to the monastery was made by wooden ladders, each of which had about 25 rungs. The ladders were hanging from the rock with the help of pegs on the north side of the church and a gap was created between them. The monks often had to jump from one ladder to another risking even their own lives. This difficulty was due to the peculiarity and the morphology of the rocks. There were about 4 or 5 ladders consisting of 95 rungs at maximum. “
With the addition of the tower that was built, the monks and materials were hoisted by hand in a rope net using a pulley system. It was not until the 1920s when the stairs which we use today were carved into the rock to allow for easier access.
Although this is the 2nd largest monastery, only 7 monks currently reside and run the day to day functions. Again, women are required to wear long skirts with shoulders covered. Men are also required (in all monasteries) to wear long pants. No shorts permitted.
Buildings within the monastery to note: the old refectory( which is now a wonderful museum and not to be missed), the tower where you can see the old pulley system, behind the church is a room storing one of the MASSIVE barrels that they used to collect rain water, and the chapel of Three Hierarchs which “is a small aisle-less church with very beautiful frescoes and it was built in 1627.”
I also forgot to mention that in both monasteries there are “modern” restrooms available. (for women with our long skirts be aware these are of the “squatty potty” variety where there is no toilet but merely a flushing hole in the ground)
Hours for Varlaam Monastery are daily from 9AM to 4 PM and it is closed on Friday.
Between the 2 I enjoyed Varlaam more as the experience to get in was much more exciting, the museum is a lot larger and has a lot more information contained, the church itself has frescoes from the 1600s that have NOT been retouched at all so that is really cool. (St. Stephen’s as mentioned before the chapel was rebuilt as WWII so while the frescoes are a lot more vivid in color, they are A LOT less old), the views look out to other monasteries instead of down on Kalambaka, and I do feel as if there is more open to the public to explore. There was also a very friendly monk that would smile and speak to me in Greek everytime we passed by and eventually asked “Ameria?” to which I said yes and that the monastery was beautiful. All in all so welcoming and friendly!
Ok a little information on the area: It is still a bit of a mystery as to how the Meteora rocks were formed but the most recognized theory is that they were deposited by an ancient river which once the river was gone, erosion did the rest. This is theorized by the make up of the boulders (sedimentary rock) and that they found pebbles that dated back to the same age as the larger boulders. Either way these rocks are unlike anything in the world.
Total cost for day: 88.70