Meteora is the most beautiful place in all of Greece, and one of the most beautiful places in the world. This unique valley was formed about 60 million years ago with the weathering away of the rocks to form columns and spires of rock. And at this site, religious men have built monasteries on the tops of the fingers of rock.
If you have had the opportunity to visit Meteora, you know just how remarkable and beautiful the valley is. However, if you have not had the chance, this list of 20 facts will give you some insight into what a visit to the site would be like.
From sunrise to sunset, the valley at Meteora shifts and changes. The history of the site is explored in words and images that will help you understand the importance of the area to the monks that live here. But the site is not just for staring at beauty, there are other activities to participate in, which are discussed.
Can you appreciate the sheer beauty that Meteora has to offer? Do you want to learn more about this site before planning a trip? Regardless of your reason, looking at these photos will give you a better appreciation for Meteora, the most unique place in the world.
20 Be amazed by the Sunrise at Meteora
How would you like to experience a beautiful sunrise at Meteora? The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, having attained that status in 1988. But what exactly is it like to see the sun rising over the site?
Imagine waking up early in the morning and leaving your Greek hotel room. You are tired, and it is still very dark and cold. But the anticipation of where you are going, and what you will see when you get there is what drives you to keep moving forward and to the site at Meteora.
You know that what you are about to experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The conditions are perfect, which is not uncommon at this particular place in the world. This is it - the sky begins to lighten in the east, going from stark black dotted by stars to a slight glow.
You sit, cup of coffee in hand, on a rock outcropping just observing. This is your opportunity to become one with your surroundings, and that is exactly what you do. The sky continues to lighten, and then, as if on the score of a great symphony, the sun bursts over the horizon, greeting the world, you, and Meteora.
19 Appreciate the history at the World War II Bombing Site
Would you believe it if you were told that Meteora was the site of multiple bombing runs during World War II? During the war, the monasteries at Meteora were frequently targeted by bombers, for no good reason other than their historical significance. And, when the bombs were not being dropped, the monasteries were being raided for priceless works of art, which were stolen - never to be seen again.
Imagine you are a monk, seated in prayer, deeply contemplating the world outside the monastary. It is a world in turmoil. For the second time in less than 50 years, that world is at war. Suddenly, without warning, the bombs begin to fall. There is no need for a raid siren, because this is a religious community. Yet, the bombs are falling all around your little piece of paradise - destroying the peacefulness and tranquility that seems to be a given at a religious location such as Meteora.
Throughout World War II, the peaceful life at Meteora was shattered repeatedly when the war was brought directly to the doorstep of the monks who sought to make Meteora a haven of peace and contemplation in a world otherwise gone mad. The effects of war as extensive as World War II knew no boundaries, as is evident by the bombing and looting of the monasteries at Meteora.
18 Pinch yourself at the sight of the "James Bond" Movie Set
Have you ever seen the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only? If you have, you may remember the grand and picturesque scenery at Meteora. This unique location played a key role in the movie's plot. This is the climax of the film, the high point for 007 as he seeks to resolve everything. And it all takes place at Meteora and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
There are a lot of places featured in James Bond movies, and other movies, as well. Meteora is one such place. The unique setting that is Meteora provides the perfect location for James Bond to climb up a sheer rock face to retrieve the ATAC decoder. The background and scenery is what makes the Meteora location so ideal for this particular movie cameo.
Could you play like Bond and succeed in your mission to stop the evil that fills the world? You may think you have what it takes, but it will mean a visit to Meteora to see for sure. Although, it is not recommended that you take on climbing the way James Bond does, or seek to save the world. Instead, just enjoy the scenery at Meteora, knowing that you are standing at a site that was partially made famous by one of Hollywood's greatest heroes.
17 Feel like you've found your Peaceful Haven
Many people spend the majority of their lives looking for a haven away from the rest of the world. Well, maybe they are not looking to escape from the entire world, but they do want to just escape from the problems of the world for a moment or two. What better place to accomplish such a thing than Meteora.
Meteora is home to several monasteries, places where monks spend their days in prayer from the good of others. And they do this in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. This is a place that seems to be created for peace and tranquility - the perfect haven for those looking to escape from the world.
At Meteora, you can grab a piece of the peace and calm. You may want to just sit and look out. You may want to stand and contemplate. It makes no difference how you choose to gather in the place that is Meteora, just so that you are able to appreciate what the place has to offer. And that should be no problem, because there are few places in the world as easy to appreciate as this place.
Meteora seems to have been created for the sole purpose of bringing peace to this crazy world in which we live.
16 Watch in awe at the Meteora Sunset
Just as the sun rises on all places across the face of the Earth, it also sets. And just like all places on Earth Meteora sees a sunset each evening, bringing darkness to the valley that has such a beautiful perspective on life.
Imagine yourself here, at the end of the day. You have spent your time exploring the monasteries, speaking with other tourists, all of you taking pictures so that the memories will last longer than your own faulty brain will allow them. But in reality, you have come to this place for one thing: to see the sun set over the spires of rock.
As the afternoon draws on, the air begins to cool slightly, the rays of the sun no longer able to warm the atmosphere that surrounds you. The shadows in the valley lengthen from west to east, and the sky begins to be tinged with color. Beginning in the east and sweeping across the heavens, the colors change from blue to purple to red and orange to darkness.
Another day has ended at Meteora, and the place is at peace once more. The valley settles into a peaceful state, awaiting the return of the sun the next day.
15 You'll Be surprised how Difficult it is to Access
Have you ever sought to put something out of the reach of others? Maybe you put something on a shelf to keep it away from your kids or your dog. Perhaps you hid a gift from your spouse in a closet so they would not find it. The monks who built Meteora did the same thing, building their monasteries on the tops of massive rock spires that are nearly impossible to get to.
For the monks and those seeking access to the monasteries of Meteora, it is necessary to climb long ladders. These are not the ladders that are used to get onto a roof. Some of these ladders reach over 1,000 feet up the side of a sheer rock face to reach the monastery at the top. To get supplies, the monks rely on nets and ropes to haul things up to the top.
This is solitude defined. This is solitude perfected. The monks are where they are to seek solitude, and the accomplish it by putting their homes (the monasteries) away from the reach of the rest of the world. They are not hiding from the world, but they have made access to their lives intentionally difficult in order to lead the simple life that they so desire.
14 Over the years they have disappeared, now Only Six Monasteries Remain
There were originally 24 monasteries built over the centuries at Meteora. And now, only six remain. What happened to these structures? Did their inhabitants abandon them? In reality, nothing terrible happened except the passage of time.
The monasteries at Meteora were built starting in the 14th century to house the monks that had lived in the valley since the 11th century. For hundreds of years, monks came to this place to seek a quite place to escape from the rest of the world. They built their monasteries to have communities of like minded men to live and work with in their plan for salvation.
But, over the passage of time, the monasteries were unable to keep functioning. Some were destroyed. Some just fell into disuse as the monks moved out or passed on. Whatever the reason, only a quarter of the original monasteries still stand and function. But that fact does not detract from the importance that this place has to the religious men who live and work here.
This is their home, and will continue to be their home as they work and pray and live with one another. And although time may destroy the buildings, the monks who live here hope that their work continues to transcend time and lives on in eternity.
13 Fun Fact: All Altars in the Monasteries Face East
The monasteries at Meteora are all dedicated to different saints, but they all have one thing in common. Each monastery is designed and built so that the altar in the Church faces to the east, and the rising sun. While the sun does not necessarily play a major role in Christianity, as it does in other religions, the fact that each of the monasteries has been built in this way ties them all together.
In Christianity, the saints play an important role in helping the people on Earth. By dedicating the monasteries, and their lives, to a particular saint, the monks are tying their daily actions to their prayer through that saint. But by connecting each altar to the other altars at the site with making them face east, the monks have, over the centuries, connected Meteora not to one saint but all of the saints who are recognized in the valley.
The sun may not hold any mythical power in Christianity, as it did in ancient Greece, but it certainly allows the Christian monks at Meteora to link their lives to something more physical, and in doing so unite their prayers to each other throughout the day, which starts as the sun rises and lights each of the altars at the site.
12 Each of the monasteries are Self Sustaining
Monasteries are meant to be self sustaining, and the monasteries at Meteora are no different. Now considering that the monasteries at Meteora are a thousand feet up in the air on single columns of rock, self sufficiency is more important at this location. The monks can leave the valley, to be sure, but why leave to go to a town to buy things when you can grow everything you need right there at the site that you will be using it.
To that end, the monks have cultivated gardens for both beauty and sustenance within the monastery walls. In today's world self sufficiency is not as easy, but the monks continue to adhere to centuries of tradition and try to remain as self sustaining as they can. It is a different world that they live in, today, compared to a thousand years ago, but they do their best.
Could you live a life without constant connection to the world? These monks see people come in to visit the site every day with smart phones and digital cameras, things that were unheard of a half century ago. Surely they are tempted to hope for technology to make their lives easier. But they hold to tradition, and use only what they need and try to remain sufficient on their own.
11 Women were (Originally) Not Allowed
Women were not allowed into the monasteries at Meteora. Which makes sense, as the monks there did not want any distractions of the female kind. All of that changed in the 1920s after women helped to put out fires that threatened several of the monasteries at Meteora. Since then, women have been welcomed to tour the site.
However, as Meteora is a religious site, conservative dress is required. That goes for both men and women (and children) who want access to the monasteries for a tour. No bare shoulders, and long pants or skirts are required by the rules at the monasteries. This is because of the conservative religious nature of the monasteries. The monks are going to be conservatively dressed, and it makes sense that they would want their guests to do the same.
In the 21st century, practicability often trumps when it comes to what people wear. Meteora can get quite warm, so a lot of people may not want to wear conservative clothing that will be stifling in the summer. But, like the desire to originally keep women out, the monks have the final say in what is worn. This is their home after all, and you would not want to offend your hosts by what you are wearing.
10 The landscape is 60 Million Years Old
How old do you think the rocks at Meteora are? Would you believe that the formations at Meteora were formed some 60 million years ago? The rocks are made of sandstone and conglomerate. It takes time for rocks to be weathered away and for formations such as the columns and spires like those at Meteora to be formed.
Geology may not be the most fascinating topic in the world, but one does not need to be a student of geology to appreciate rock formations like Meteora.
It is fascinating how these rocks were formed out of one solid mass of rock. A plateau or a hill, possibly, was slowly worn down by the elements. The wind lashed away at the rocks, and the rain washed it away little by little. Slowly, over tens of thousands and millions of years, the columns and spires that make up Meteora were formed and created.
Yet, the process continues. While people have only been living at Meteora for a minuscule fraction of a time span compared to the process of the formation, there will come a time when Meteora is no more. The human inhabitants of Meteora will be long gone, but at some point the columns of rock will have weathered away to nothing, and a flat plain will lie where the columns reached for the sky.
9 They Use Rock Formations as Road Signs
There are not a lot of named roads in Meteora. There was no need for roads when the communities were first being developed in the 11th century. Foot paths sufficed for people traveling through the region and among the monasteries. But those people still needed ways to know where they were and how to get to the individual monasteries that started to be built in the 14th century.
So, the monks came up with an ingenious way to tell where they were, and how to get to another place. They named the rocks. By using the rock formations to mark out where they were in the Meteora valley, the monks and travelers simplified things to the point where they were able to know where places were in relation to other places, without the need for naming the foot paths that criss-crossed the valley.
In today's world, it may seem strange to not have named streets cutting across an area, connecting buildings and people, but in a simpler world - such as at Meteora - that kind of connection is dealt with in a different way. Why take the time to come up with road names when you can tell someone to walk to a particular rock formation and you will find yourself at your destination?
8 The Attacks from Turkey Drove the Monks Higher
The monks came to the Meteora valley in the 11th century to live in the caves. Often, monks sought out caves as a place to live a religious and pious life. However, attacks from Turkey into Greece led the monks to seek higher ground in the 14th century. That is why there are now giant monasteries built high above the ground - they would be harder to attack than the caves had been.
In the 14th century, Turkey was a Muslim country and Greece was Christian. Attacks by the Muslim Turkish armies into Christian Greece were generally aimed at acquiring land to expand the footprint of Turkey, but many times the attacks turned toward a more "religious" nature, and attacks on religious communities were not completely uncommon.
In order to seek freedom from the attacks by the Turks, the Greek Orthodox monks decided to build their communities on the tops of the pillars at Meteora. This made the communities much more difficult to access for everyone, including the invading Turks. The move kept the communities safe for hundreds of years, and they are still thriving, today.
While the attacks were not completely religiously motivated, Turks attacking Greeks did lead several religious communities to isolate themselves further to avoid destruction, and the site at Meteora was no different.
7 It's Literally The Middle of the Sky
Meteora means "Middle of the Sky," and it is a fitting name for the location. When you arrive at Meteora, you cannot help but look up. Up and up and up. You are surrounded by fingers of rock that reach into the sky. On many of the pinnacles of rock, sit buildings, which seem to be sitting among the clouds - in the middle of the sky.
There are a number of different vantage points from which you may enjoy Meteora and they all give a unique perspective on the formations and the buildings. From the valley floor, you cannot help but look up at everything that surrounds you. You feel small and insignificant, standing there with the fingers of rock drawing your eyes upward. As you climb to the top of the valley and look out over the pinnacles of the rocks, you gain a different perspective on life. Here, you are among the clouds and looking down to the valley below. It is from this vantage point that you begin to realize why the monasteries are here, in the middle of the sky.
Meteora may describe a place that is in the middle of the sky, but it is the whole place, from the valley floor up, that creates the remarkable setting.
6 It Hosts the Second Largest Monastic Community in Greece
Greece is central to Orthodox Christianity (think Greek Orthodox Church), and monastic life plays a big role in Orthodox Christianity. Meteora, with its six remaining monasteries, is actually the second largest monastic community in Greece. This means that in terms of Orthodox Christianity, and especially the Greek Orthodox Church, Meteora is a very important place.
Monasteries are small communities of (usually) men (monks) who live and work together in communal prayer. They have chosen to escape the trappings of modern life, whenever "modern" may be since monastic life dates back over a thousand years, and hope to gain salvation for themselves and their supporters through a simple life.
The monastic communities at Meteora are unique in that they are six individual communities that are all united together in multiple ways, such as being in the same location. Each monastery, and the monks that live there, are dedicated to a different cause, but all six work together for final salvation.
Monastic life is not easy, especially in the 21st century when places like Meteora are becoming more of a tourist attraction than a religious haven. But the monks in the monasteries here continue to see Meteora as their haven from that outside world.
5 Higher Up and Closer to God
During the Byzantine era in Greece, some 1,000 years ago, the monks decided that the best way to get closer to God was to seek out the solitude of a place like Meteora. It is here that they built their monasteries above the valley in order to place themselves as close to God as they could.
Monasteries were not new to the world of Christianity by the 11th century. The monks came to this region of Greece to live in the caves that dotted the cliffs. And in the 14th century, the monks wanted to be closer to God in a more physical sense. So, they built their monasteries on the spires of rock.
Religion has played a role in human existence for hundreds of thousands of years. The religious men (and women - although they have only been allowed to Meteora since the 1920s) of the world have always sought out ways to get themselves closer to a deity. The monks of Meteora are doing the same thing by building their homes on the pinnacles of rock high above the valley floor. They may only be a fraction of the distance closer to heaven, but for them, it makes a world of difference.
4 It's Also An Unreal Rock Climbing Destination
Do you like to rock climb? How would you like to rock climb at one of the most premier places in the world? Meteora draws people from all over the world for the rock climbing.
So, if you want to rock climb at Meteora, you are going to need to get up early so that you can get an early start. Why? You are going to need everything you have to conquer the spires of Meteora. As you begin your day, you prepare for the challenge - stretching your arms and legs, hands and feet; preparing your gear (or not, if you are truly up for a challenge!); looking up and up at the column of rock you have chosen this day to be your adversary.
Rock climbing is not for everyone. It is a challenge beyond the skill of most. But for those who accept the challenge, Meteora provides a unique climbing opportunity. This is a place where dreams meet challenges, and the dreams overcome the challenges.
At the end of the day, you find yourself perched atop the spire of rock, looking out at the monasteries that surround you. You succeeded where others have failed, and your reward is the view of Meteora.
3 The Monasteries Are Built Over 1,000 Feet Up
If you look at the monasteries at Meteora, you will note that they are high above the ground. Very high. Just how high? The average height is over 1,000 feet. And when you consider that most of the rock formations in the valley are not connected to anything else, the feat of building 1,000 feet up becomes all the more remarkable.
Until the 1920s, there were no steps leading up to the monasteries at Meteora. The monks who built the buildings did so by hoisting materials up the cliffs to the tops of the rocks where they buildings were being built. Ladders got the monks to the top, and ropes and nets got the materials up to the monks for building.
Building anything is difficult. Building something 1,000 feet up on the top of a single pillar of rock is more difficult. Doing this all in the 1300s is testament to how important the task was to the religious orders who were carrying out the building of the monasteries at Meteora. Today, it is not a challenge to build a skyscraper that is over 1,000 feet tall, but 800 years ago, it was a true building challenge to create something that has survived for that period of time.
2 A Home for the Religiously Inclined
The valley at Meteora has been around in its present form for millions of years. People have been on Earth for about 100,000 years. That means that for the majority of Meteora's history, people have not even been able to see it. Yet, in the last 10,000 years, people came to Greece and a foothold of civilization was established.
But it was not until about 1,000 years ago that monks took a religious inkling to the valley, setting up permanent homes in the caves. What made them decide that this would be where they wanted to live out their days of prayer and fasting? What is it about Meteora that led these men of devout religious faith to shun the "simple life" (as simple as life got in the 11th century) for the hardships of religious life in a cave?
Can you feel the religious aspect of Meteora when you visit? For some, they can. For others, it is just a beautiful place to see and snap a few pictures. But remember, for the monks, this is their home and a key part to their belief structure. Even if you are not religious, you may feel something moving you as you gaze out at the valley and the beauty of it all.
1 Night at Meteora Is Like Nothing you've ever seen
Night falls early at Meteora. The walls of the valley cast their long shadows sooner than one would hope. But night has come to this valley at the end of each day for millions of years, just as it will continue to come for millions of nights more.
Yet, even in the darkness, Meteora has a power over those that are visiting. If you arrive at the valley with sunrise and stay all day, you will have experienced all that day has to offer, a pure beauty that changes with each passing hour. But if you stay until after the sun has completely set, you will be greeted by a new beauty.
The moon and the stars cast a glow over the valley. There are no lights here, other than those in the heavens, and you can not hope to count the number of stars your eyes can see. The glow from the sky makes shadows on the valley floor, and you can just make out the forms of the pillars of rock with the monasteries on top.
Is this what true peace is like? You could stay all night, but you know you must return to your hotel, a drive away. As you leave, you think about the beauty that the Meteoar valley has expressed from the moment the sun came up until now, as you leave in near total darkness.