All my life I’ve wanted to visit Greece and indulge my passion for ancient history, archaeology and mythology. When my husband first broached the subject of marking our 40th anniversary (in 2013) with a vacation, it came to mind immediately. Thus, we embarked on the trip of a lifetime! Come along for the ride.
This is a continuing series. See other chapters HERE.
Part VI: Kalambaka/Meteora, Thermopylae and Return to Athens
Sept. 13, 2013
[Day Four of Four, Classical Greece Bus Tour]
Day Four Itinerary:
Overnight stay in Kalambaka (aka Kalabaka). The next morning, visit Meteora, where suspended in mid- air, stand ageless monasteries with exquisite specimens of Byzantine art. Return to Athens via Trikala, Lamia, Thermopylae (visit the monument of Leonidas). Arrive in Athens early in the evening.
Our day at Delphi had been rugged! We were happy to snooze on the bus, then relax at the hotel before embarking on this last stop of the tour. Meteora is lesser-known than the other historical sites in Greece, possibly due to its location. It was pleasant to take the tour with fewer people crowding into our camera shots.
The Metéora (Greek: Μετέωρα, pronounced [mɛˈtɛoɾɐ], literally “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” — etymologically related to meteorology) – is a formation of immense monolithic pillars and hills like huge rounded boulders which dominate the local area.
It is also associated with one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second in importance only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural conglomerate pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the 9th century AD, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles; they were the first people to inhabit Metéora since the Neolithic Era. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some as high as 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors.
At the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire’s 800-year reign over northern Greece was being increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders who wanted control over the fertile plain of Thessaly. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the 14th century. Six remain today. –READ MORE
After a good breakfast, we checked out and boarded the bus for our next adventure.
And so it began…
Monastery of St. Stephen
The St Stephen Monastery was founded around 1400 by St. Antoninus Cantacuzene. This is the most accessible monastery, where instead of steps you simply cross a small bridge to reach the entrance. As a consequence of the easier access, it was damaged and abandoned during World War II. In the Greek Civil War that followed, the monastery was further desecrated during which many of the frescos were destroyed by communist rebels.
In 1961, a number of nuns took possession of the monastery facilities and began restoring it. Among the surviving frescos is one of the Virgin in the apse of the fifteenth-century refectory. Restoration work includes painting new frescos by modern artists.
Monastery of the Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity Monastery is situated at the top of a rocky precipice over 400 metres high and is one of the oldest monasteries still existing at Meteora. James Bond fans might recognize it from the 1981 movie “For Your Eyes Only”. The main cathedral was constructed in the 15th century and decorated with frescoes in 1741.
Monasteries of Rousanou and St. Nicholas
The Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara was founded in the middle of the 16th century and decorated in 1560. Today it is a flourishing nunnery with 13 nuns in residence (as of 2015).
The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, built in the 16th century, has a small church, decorated by the noted Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas in 1527. There was one monk in residence in 2015.
Monastery of Varlaam
The Monastery of Varlaam (named after the first monk to settle there) is the second largest monastery in the Meteora complex, and in 2015 had the largest number of monks (seven). It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. The old refectory is used as a museum. This monastery is only accessible by climbing 195 steps. We took a pass but did venture up to the last one.
The Monastery of Great Meteoran
The Monastery of Great Meteoron is the largest, although in 2015 there were only 3 monks in residence. It was erected in the mid-14th century and was the subject of restoration and embellishment projects in 1483 and 1552. One building serves as the main museum for tourists. Our old, arthritic selves managed the steep climb up 146 stairs to get there. Thankfully, there was a rest stop halfway up!
After lunch in town, we headed for our final stop of the tour:
Monument of Leonidis, Thermopylae
The monument stands opposite the historical hill of Kolonos and represents Leonidas, legendary warrior king of Sparta, in full armour. It was designed by B. Phalereus, and was erected in the 1950s at the expense of Greeks living in America. The monument was built to commemorate the battle at Thermopylae, and is located at the centre of the pass where the final phase of the battle took place. A sign, under the statue reads simply: “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and take”), which the Spartans said when the Persians asked them to put down their weapons at the start of the Battle of Thermopylae. On the right and left, there are marble figures of the personified Taigetos, which is the highest mountain in the Peloponese and the personified Evrotas which is a river flowing through the whole district of Laconia.
And thus concludes the Classical Land Tour. Much more to come!
Part VII: Athens and Cape Sounion (Attica)
What’s the most incredible place you have been?
Looking forward to your comments!