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'The Meteora Monasteries Greece'

Article Length: 475 words Photographer: Paul Williams Author: Paul Williams  
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Meteora Monasteries | Magazine Article Content Syndication - Images by Paul Williams
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FEATURE SERIES: Quintessential Europe "The Meteora Monasteries Greece"

At the northwest edge of the fertile Plain of Thessaly in central Greece, spectacular rounded sandstone pillars of the Pindos Mountains rise over 1000 feet out of the plain. On closer inspection small buildings can be seen high above isolated on the top of some of the rocky pillars. These are the Meteora Greek Orthodox Monasteries of the Pindos Mountains.Their name comes from the Greek Μετέωρα, meaning suspended in the air, and they are the most important Greek Orthodox monasteries after those on Mount Athos.

In the sixteenth century there were 24 monasteries but today only 6 remain. Each monastery has a winch house with a rope net that is lowered to haul up provisions. Originally pilgrims had to climb up precarious rope ladders to make their devotions in the monastery churches. Today a visit is less hazardous as steps have been cut into the cliffs that snake up to the monasteries.

In 420 Simeon, a Syrian Christian Monk, decided to escape the world and become a Hermit. He built a 15.2m (50ft) high pillar and somehow lived on the top, exposed to the elements, until his death. This inspired Christians for centuries like the hermits that originally inhabited the caves in the lower pillars of the Pindos Mountains from the 10 century.

In the fourteenth century monastery building started in earnest when a monk from Mount Athos, Athanasios Koinovitis, climbed a pinnacle known as the Plathy Lithos because of its wide plateau on top. Here, with a group of followers, he built the first buildings of the Metéoron monastery. In 1388 Thessaly was ruled by a Serbian King and his son, Loasaf, became a pupil of Athanasios at the Metéoron. The King extended the monastery which became an important center of learning with many fine illuminated codecs and important Byzantine frescos in its church.

23 more monasteries were built over the next 2 centuries and precious relics and icons found safety in the impregnable monasteries such as the finger of St John and the shoulder blade of St Andrew in the monastery of Varlaám. It is a marvel that 600 years ago men could build such wonderful buildings at the top of high isolated rock pillars without cranes or mechanical aides.

Since the building of a paved road into the mountains in the 1960s, tourists have been able to visit the Meteora Monasteries and marvel at beauty and serenity of the captivating Byzantine buildings set against the dramatic backdrop of the Pindos Mountains. UNESCO added the Meteora to its world heritage list and from 1972 the 6 remaining monasteries have been under renovation repairing damage from neglect and earthquakes. The Meteora Monasteries are one of the most extraordinary sights in the world and are a reminder of how religious devotion can drive men to great feats of architecture and art in search of salvation.

 

© Paul Williams 2011. All Rights reserved. Unauthorised copying prohibited. Please contact us for usage license.

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