What may have induced these believing men to flee to these mountains? Nobody knows for sure, but it must have been a pretty terrible thing, a major threat that left no other option but to escape up into the clouds. Was it robbers? Were they enemies? Or was the crazy plan to settle at the top of the steep cliffs east of the Pindus Mountains near the city of Kalambaka in the Greek city of Thessaly just the desire to be closer to God? Follow me to Greece, to the Meteora monasteries deep in the mountains.
For visitors who arrive today at the bottom of the plain at the foot of the towering cliffs and look up, it is inconceivable that the first hermitages here in Meteora were supposed to have been built as early as the 11th century. Back when there were no cranes, no concrete and only hand-turned sides, monks set about building a monastery on top of the rocks. They weren't even the first - according to tradition, someone has settled before the 10th century. The Theopetra Cave, one of many holes in the rock, is even thousands of years older: this cave is home to the oldest man-made structure in the world - a stone wall that closes two thirds of the entrance to the cave. It was built 23,000 years ago.
But only with the arrival of the monk Athanasios, who fled from Athos in 1334, the real expansion of the monastery community began. Steps were made, rope ladders hung up, caves were driven into the rocks and a monastery community was formed, which spread out over several hermitages on several peaks. Athanasios is said to have founded the first real monastery in 1344 together with his spiritual foster father Gregorios and 14 other monks, to which he named Metamórphosis, now also known as Megálo Metéoro.
Tourists who want to see what is left after 700 years of the strictly managed holy community, which still lives according to the rules established by Athanasios today, no longer have to climb rope ladders or struggle up narrow bridges. Over the centuries, the widely scattered facilities were expanded more and more, roads and paths emerged, supported by pious regional rulers such as King Symeon, who hoped that financial help for the holy men in black robes would benefit them for their own salvation.
In the past, all of this was only accessible via rope ladders and pulling baskets, but since 1923 real rock stairs lead up to the most important monasteries. Thousands of thousands every year used them!
The best way for visitors to hike from the village of Kastraki through the impressive rocky landscape is to see the Metamorphosis Monastery on the Platis Lithos (Broad Rock) from afar It was given the nickname "Meteoron" (the hovering) because it sometimes seems to swim or fly in fog, like the insane illustrations that artist Roger Dean created for the record covers of the band Yes, which later inspired the director James Cameron to make his film "Avatar - Departure to Pandora "- but the original can be found here in the middle of Greece.
The cold wind blows 613 meters above sea level through the rocky landscape, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One sees few monks, although the monastery buildings of Metamórphosis, Varlaám, Rousánou, Agía Triáda, Agios Stéfanos and Agios Nikólaos Anapavsás are still inhabited today. But there are even more tourists, so that the wise men of God have come up with a clever solution to satisfy the curiosity of strangers, but still have their peace: Each of the monasteries has a day of rest on a different day, so that they are never closed at the same time .
As strict as the rules for the monks are also for visitors. Men are not allowed to wear shorts, and mini-skirts and off-the-shoulder tops are taboo for women. You should also do without trousers, but rather wear a dress or a skirt, if you do not stick to them, in some of the monasteries you have to wear an apron that can be borrowed at the entrance. God wants it that way, they say.
The mummery is worth it, however, because in the old buildings there are testimonies from all epochs of the settlement. Wooden floors that must be centuries old, trodden by millions of steps. Icons from old times, gloomy prayer chamber and wooden winches, which used to be used to pull supplies up using muscle power. there is even a small cable car that people could use to go up the mountain, at that time still hanging on hemp ropes. Today there is a motor-driven modern winch next to it.
A few more pictures for you: