Wanna taste a different side of Greece? Even though Greece is well-known for its deep blue sea and long-stretched beaches, it is also a country of diverse landscapes, satisfying the taste of every traveler. In case you want to have a 'northern' experience in Greece and discover places of great historical and archaeological importance, Meteora is the place to be!
The geographic region of Thessaly hosts a site so unusual and awe-inspiring that it has always served as a place of isolation and seclusion. It is the rock formation of Meteora, a geological wonder, located at the northern part of Trikala region close to the modern city of Kalambaka. Meteora belongs to the most important monastic communities of Christianity's Greek-Orthodox dogma and was always regarded as a sacred place of worship. Follow us on a journey to this mountainous region and discover why this natural landmark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare to discover ancient monasteries and other sites of great importance, even in regard to human evolution!
Meteora, the 'elevated' rocks
Panoramic view of Meteora - credits: matzsoca/Shutterstock.com
This region of Greece is found right next to the dominant mountain range of the Pindus, which consists of the backbone of Greece's mainland. The bizarre-looking vertical rock formations of Meteora were always a place hard to approach and familiar just to locals. The fact that it is not mentioned in ancient Greek Mythology, despite our knowledge about the people that used to reside in the area, proves the inaccessibility of the location and adds to its mystic nature. Since Byzantine times, these rock formations were chosen by monks as an ascetic retreat, mainly due to their inaccessibility, suitable for their isolation from the secular world and therefore facilitating their focus on their quest for God.
Meteora is a word originating from the ancient Greek word μετέωρος (meteor, meteorite, etc. relate to that word) which means 'lofty' or 'elevated'. They are a group of imposing rocks, reaching a height of over 300 meters, with steep, vertical smooth walls. Contrary to popular belief, they do not fit the case of a volcanic plug, a result of magma cooling and hardening, but they mostly consist of sandstone and conglomerates. This type of geological profile outlines the creation of this natural landmark as a result of fluvial activity in combination with tectonic movements and environmental erosion. Geologists date the beginning of those processes 60 million years ago during the Paleogene period!
The soft texture of those rocks helped the formation of numerous caves in the area. One of these caves is called Theopetra, some 4km away from the modern city of Kalambaka, and constitutes one of the most important sites regarding human evolution. During excavations in the cave, archaeologists found evidence that shed more light on specific problematic time-periods of human evolution. Namely, they discovered evidence regarding the replacement of the Neanderthal occupation with the Homo Sapiens one, and evidence of the transitional period from hunter-gatherers to farmers after the end of the last Ice Age. The earliest findings of the cave date back some 130000 years ago!
Although it is quite bizarre why the area was omitted not only from Greek Mythology but also from ancient Greek literature, the region of Meteora (more accurately the Meteora rock formation) is not mentioned in any text available so far to researchers. The existence of the region, however, did not seem to be unknown during antiquity and especially during early-Christian and Medieval times. During 9th century (others push that date even before that) early-Christian monks chose Meteora as their place of seclusion and asceticism and Meteora quickly came to be the second most important monastic Eastern-Orthodox community after the monasteries of Mount. Athos in Halkidiki. The numerous caves and narrow fissures on the walls of those rocky towers operated as ideal monastic cells and their summits hosted more than 24 monasteries. Today, only six of them survive including one nunnery dedicated to St. Barbara.
The monasteries of Meteora consist of important examples of Byzantine architecture and bear priceless murals, icons, and artifacts covering a wide time-span of the evolution of Byzantine iconography. These monasteries were built on the top of the rocks of Meteora, following the architecture of a castle, making access to them extremely difficult. During past decades, monks and visitors had to use human-powered systems of baskets and ropes to ascend the monasteries. Later on, steps were carved onto the walls of the rock and wooden bridges were constructed. During World War II, the region of Meteora was bombarded, destroying some of the ancient monasteries and resulting in a wave of plundering of the valuable and sacred religious items of those monastic complexes.
Nowadays, Meteora belongs to the network of sites protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Each year, more and more visitors choose this destination as it is one of the most up and coming authentic travel experiences of Greece! If you want to see a unique natural landmark, experience the religiosity of the monasteries and discover ancient sites from prehistoric occupied caves to wonderful surviving Byzantine churches, then Meteora is the place for you! Plan your own trip to Meteora or check out one of our Greece tours.