My trip to Greece was more than what I bargained for courtesy my local friend who did her best to capsulate the best of things to do and see in Greece in the one week of my stay there. One such trip was made to the mystical Meteora.
Unknowingly it was my third trip to a UNESCO declared world heritage site in this Europe trip. The other two were Stonehenge in England and Skocjan caves in Slovenia. I will try to write about them soon.
As you drive up from Kalambaka the nearest town, up towards Meteora gigantic rock formations greet you and the experience is almost science fictional. The Greek word “Meteora” means suspended in air and is quite an apt name for these gigantic high pillars of rock on an otherwise seemingly flat landscape.
Approaching Meteora fills your mind with questions and yet still leaves you with a sense of tranquil. Questions about the every existence of these rock formations are the first ones that will come to everyone’s mind. Nothing in science and the knowledge of scientists in the world can explain when and why these rocks appeared. My friend made an interesting observation though. The texture of the rocks are not quite uniform as it appears from far, instead it looks like a mixture of sand, cement and rocks almost like what we see in a house getting constructed. His argument was that perhaps aliens wanted to build something there and got in the raw materials only to change their mind later!! Well, I can’t dispute that, for I can’t myself come up with any logical explanation to this miraculous sight.
Meteora is just not famous for its spectacular view but also the 6 monasteries remaining from the original 20 odd ones built around the 11th century. It is said that the hermit monks used to stay in the caves around Meteora and as the Turkish invasion began they climbed higher up on the rocks to remain inaccessible. Materials and people where transported up with ropes and basket, traces of which can still be found in the monasteries. Today these monasteries are an important tourist destination and can be reached through various stairs and pathways from the main roads. It is said that these monasteries helped keep alive the Greek Orthodox religious traditions and the Hellinic culture, else the modern Greece would have been a reflection of Ottoman Turk culture without having an unique history and culture of its own.
I visited two of the monasteries – The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron (the largest of them all) and The Monastery of Holy Trinity. I was told that the Monastery of the Holy Trinity was a filming location in the 1981 James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” where Roger Moore and the bad guys had climbed the high rocks. The other 4 monasteries are The Holy Monastery of Varlaam (the second largest), The Holy Monastery of Rousanou, The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas and the Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the WWII who believed that it was harboring insurgents. The abandoned monastery was later taken over by nuns and reconstructed.
I didn’t find any monk during my visit. The monasteries comprises of private rooms and chapel with beautiful frescos. The entry to the monastery cost 2 Euros per person and there is a strict dress code for any individual visiting. The Great Meteoron also preserves the skulls of its main monks in one of its rooms, which is open for public view. Very eerie if you ask me!
The air up there on the high rocks is fresh and environment calm. Good enough to wake up the sleeping philosopher in you!
Do include it in your itinerary when you visit Greece. There are buses running to Kalambaka from Ioannina, Trikala, Thessaloniki and Athens. You also can take a train form Thessaloniki or Athens with a switch at Larissa. The journey from Athens by train includes stunning scenery as you pass through the mountains between Livadia and Larnia.
And if you are one of the adventurous rock climbers, then do not forget to carry your kits, for you are on your way to a climber’s paradise!!