Meteora is an awe-inspiring collection of monasteries built on high rock formations in Greece. Composed of sandstone and conglomerate, this series of immense stone pillars have provided protection for Greek Orthodox worshippers for centuries. The Meteora rocks and monasteries has been named as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, boasting both historic architecture and a unique cultural practice involving ropes and nets.
Hermit monks are believed to have inhabited the caves and crevices of the Meteora stones as early as the ninth century. The height and difficulty of the climb offered the monks much desired protection and privacy. They only descended the rock cliffs on Sundays and holy days, where they worshipped together at Dhoupiani, a chapel built at the base of the stones. By the late 11th century, the monks had established the Skete of Stagoi, their own monastic state. Their population increased when a large ascetic community sought refuge in Meteora in the 12th century.
In the 14th century, Turkish rule over Greece was growing stronger, and many hermit monks came to Meteora seeking refuge from the political upheaval. One of these men was Athanasios Koinovitis, who founded the first monastery on Meteora’s Broad Rock. Built high upon the stone, the monks guaranteed their peace and safety by controlling entry using ladders and ropes. Over the years, more than 20 monasteries were established on the rocks of Meteora, including Varlaam, built in 1517.
Six of Meteora’s monasteries survive today, though their focus has shifted from solemn monasticism to tourism. The largest, Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, now serves as the primary museum for visitors. The Holy Monastery of Varlaam still stands, as well, welcoming visitors to the museum in its refectory. Despite damage from World War II bombing, the Holy Monastery of St. Stephen also stands today. The other remaining monasteries are the Holy Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara, the Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. In the early 20th century, steps were carved into the rock to make accessibility easier.