The Hermits of Meteora

The holy Meteora, one of the most admirable and awe inspiring sceneries in the world, with their gigantic rocks reaching heights of more than 600 meters, so many centuries ago it was formed here one of the most important monastic communities of Greece.

On top of these exposed to weather elements peaks of Meteora and in the numerous caves around them, at a time when Christianity was still at its infancy, the first hermits and anchorites climbed up there, armed with indomitable will and deep faith, to become the very first to lay the foundations upon which the monastic community of Meteora centuries later was formed.

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The earliest traces of such hermits arriving in the area are long lost in time, concealed by a thick mist of local myths, legends and traditions. Great ascetic figures dwelled the perilous rocks, seeking desperately to evade the temptations of the weak flesh and of a world that was morally declining rapidly, at least in their eyes. Motivated and moved by an irresistible desire of their souls to reconnect with their Creator nothing else mattered to them.

Those hermits, with their continual prayers, their unimaginable spiritual strain and sweat, they were reaching great spiritual heights in their attempt to successfully unify with the essence of God and His divine powers. The small and insignificant, the finite and the confined in matter men who became hermits are trying up on the rocks and in the caves around to establish a personal relationship, to meet and to come face to face with the unimaginable infinite the Creator Himself. A monumental endeavor for any soul to undertake that cannot be easily explained to anyone who haven’t heard or felt such a deep call, originating straight from the soul’s direct knowledge of God.

Our souls upon the moment of their creation they are facing directly the grace and power of God, our Creator. And in that very instance of their creation the soul forever falls in an everlasting love with God, and so powerful is that desire to reconnect with the Divine it became the most fundamental and dominant unconscious driving force behind man’s deeper motivations to establish a religion and worship God and to try to recreate his long lost inner paradise with culture and civilization. That was some of the inner motives of the first hermits who dwell the rocks of Meteora and of those who later followed them.

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Some indicative dates as to when exactly the hermits first arrive into the area are either the 9th or the 10th century. At the end of the 11th century and early 12th, a small ascetic community was already established around Meteora. During that period the hermits of Meteora saw the need to gather around a place of their own in order to attend on the Sunday’s liturgy. So they decided to erect a small church dedicated to Theotokos that quickly became the center of their worship. This church is also referred to it as the “Kyriako” translated into Sunday’s, or “Protato” meaning the first.

In this church of Theotokos (Virgin Mary), known also among the locals as the chapel of Doupiani, it still preserves significant frescos from the 13th century. The significance of this church and the hermitage scete of Doupiani in general is that as it gathered around it the hermits of Meteora for the Sunday’s worship it facilitated the establishment of the very first organized monastic community.

So, during that 12th century we observe a gradual transition to the second phase of a now more organized monastic community from the original state in which the hermits remained at most unorganized and isolated to each other. This important transition it truly paved the way for the third and final phase of the Meteora’s monastic community development that came almost 2 centuries later with the establishment of the first monasteries in the mid 14th century.

Don’t forget to visit our Meteora website for more information about the Hermits of Meteora!

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Pelasgia, Aeolia, Thessaly, different names same place in prehistory and history

Peneus River running on the outskirts of Kalampaka town, has been throughout the centuries the main basis and a driving force behind our history, civilization, economy and the development of our way of life in general. This is the reason why the earliest remains of human presence here have been discovered near the banks of this river. Peneus river god was the child of Oceanus and Tethys. In the Greek mythology the plain of Thessaly became known as one of the main battle grounds in the war between the Gods and the Titans.

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Thessalian plain and Penios river as seen from St. Stephen monastery in Meteora

Away from myths and according to the latest archeological findings man’s presence in the region is very old starting at the Mid-Paleolithic era, about 130.000 years ago and continued continued uninterrupted till our present day. In recent years important artifacts as well as human’s remains have been uncovered at Theopetra cavern near Meteora, where very significant excavations are being held continuously over the last 25 years. The last glacial period of the Paleolithic era started to retreat and the region’s climate slowly began to warm about 16000 years ago. This climate change lasted for another 8000 years and by the end of this period the early waves of agricultural revolution had already reached and swept the plain of Thessaly, while the domestication of animals was achieved some 2.000 years later! It’s really fascinating to know that very few places on Earth outside Mesopotamia can yield with such consistency the successive evolutionary stages of man’s agricultural revolution. And Thessaly plain is noted as one of those rare places!

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Neolithic settlement of Dimini

This “boom” of Thessaly’s Neolithic economy was mainly marked by the mass population movements, as well as from the creation of the first permanent settlements like Sesklo and Dimini mainly on the Eastern part of Thessaly closer to the Aegean Sea. That last wasn’t without a good reason because the Aegean sea along with it’s many islands it must have served at the time as a line of communication with Minor Asia and the Messopotamia. Sesklo enjoyed its heyday around 5500 BC. The community covered an area of more than 13 hectares and its population could not have been more than a few hundred inhabitants. The buildings at Sesklo had stone foundations and a “superstructure of pisé”, crowned by a gable of hip roof made of a thick layer of clay on a timber frame.” Most of them where one-roomed measuring between10 to 50 square meters.

Dimini covers on the other hand an area of 0.8 hectares, with the astonishing fact about this site being the six concentric circular enclosures. Initially it was thought that represented defensive walls but more recent reexamination points to better organization of the land. Dimini was established sometime after 5000 BC and its buildings are within the concentric circles mentioned above. On that same period Thessaly was known by the name of Pelasgia and its Neolithic inhabitants as Pelasgians.

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Neolithic pottery from Dimini

During the early 20th century, archaeological excavations conducted by the Italian Archaeological School and by the American Classical School on the Athenian Acropolis and on other sites within Attica revealed Neolithic dwellings, tools, pottery and skeletons from domesticated animals (i.e., sheep, fish). All of these discoveries showed significant resemblances to the Neolithic discoveries made on the Thessalian acropolises of Sesklo and Dimini. These discoveries help provide physical confirmation of the literary tradition that describes the Athenians as the descendants of the Pelasgians, who appear to descend continuously from the Neolithic inhabitants in Thessaly.

At about 1200 BC during the Mycenaean period in Thessaly region, became known at that time by the name of Aeolia, a considerable number of bigger in size settlements were developed that became strong enough to allow their participation on the Greek expeditionary force to conquer Troy. Those cities were Trikki (present today Trikala) Oechaliae and Ithomi along with Aeginion (present day Kalampaka) and formed under the name of Estiaeotis one of the four administrative regions of the ancient Thessalian confederation. The Thessalian confederation it lasted until 353 BC when in the aftermath of the Macedonian victory in battle of Crocus Field of King Phillip II against the Phocians, that the Thessalians appointed King Philip “Archon” of Thessaly. This was an appointment for life, and gave Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, control over all the revenues of the Thessalian Confederation, and furthermore made Philip leader of the united Thessalian army!  From that point on Thessaly became one of the closest allies of Macedonians and they remained so until the arrival of Romans in the 2nd century BC and the battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. Few years later Thessaly was annexed by the Roman Empire like the rest of Greece and along with Macedonia they became a Roman province.

Meteora and its people

Since the early beginning of the touristic development of Meteora, most of its visitors who come here to admire the famous monasteries and the impressive rock landscape, one thing tend to ignore the most and that is its local people. It is people who largely influence the surroundings and people at the end of the day are the ones who write the history of each place they reside.

Going far back into time when history itself becomes legend and legends into myths, Homer tells us the story of our people in the Iliad. Our ancestors were present onboard the 30 ships of the Machaon and Podalirius who took part on the war of Troy. And alongside the 2 sons of the “father of medicine” Asclepius our people fought on the walls of Troy! Our people from Meteora, who latter witnessed the golden age of classical Greece and formed their own city state under the name of Eginion, made their own coins and built a temple dedicated to Apollo on the present day church of Virgin Mary in Kalampaka. It was the same people of Meteora who contributed many of their horses to form the fierce Thessalian cavalry, the finest cavalry of Greece riding next to Alexander the Great.

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Alexander the Great crossing the Granicus river

And under the commandment of Alexander they fought and died on the numerous battlegrounds, fighting to subdue the great Persian Empire. Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela. These proud Thessalians stood alongside their great King all the way to the high mountains of Hindu-Kush, witnessing the edges of the then known world and reaching the doorsteps of Himalaya. Many years later, the people of Meteora saw the countless roman legions marching with their generals and passing through Pindos Mountains narrow passes on their way to either Italy or to the east.

And then a new religion came and the gods of the old all but changed; but in reality the change was not that deep. In most instances only the names of the shrines and the names of the old rituals and of the paganistic festivities changed. But even then, what was considered at the time to be a new building or a new construction, most of them were all based upon the same old recycled marbles and stones they took from the now laid ruined temples of the old gods like our Virgin Mary church. The same people who built the magnificent ancient temples of Greece they were now building Christian churches and monasteries to worship the One true God.

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The inside of the church of Virgin Mary in kalampaka

And the name of our town was also changed from its ancient Eginion to its middle ages name, the name of Staggi. The humble people of Meteora helped the first monks to build their monastic communities high up on the rocks. They provide shelter to many Byzantine Emperors and the princes who all came here to pay their respects to the monasteries and the many hermits who used to dwell among the caves of the area.

Those hermits lived here in a complete isolation, constantly praying day and night, maintaining an almost absolute disregard for their biological needs, either for cold, hunger, or disease. Their only purpose in life was to connect with the Divine powers and attain enlightenment. Nothing else mattered for them. We can only imagine what kind of spiritual giants and Saints must have walked among the people of Meteora during that times! Many of the hermitages are still visible even today inside the caves.

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The caves where the hermits used to live in Meteora

And in years when crops were not that good and monks of the monasteries high up on the rocks suffered, it was the local people who provided them with what they needed to sustain themselves.

And then the Ottoman Turks came and the name of our town was changed yet again to Kalambaka! “Kale-bak” in Turkish it means strong fortified position. That’s how they named our town and we gave them a good reason to do so. Within the dreadful Ottoman rule, thousands upon thousands of our people perished on the numerous revolts and the local uprisings. Like the one in 1808, when Efthimios Vlahavas who was born in a village just few km away from Meteora, gave a hopeless battle for freedom against the Ottoman Turks next to the monastery of Ypapanti. Today’s visitors can still see his statue standing beside the monastery of Ypapanti to commemorate his sacrifice for freedom.

And it was this urge for freedom so cherished by our people, that when again upon the calling of faith to rise up one more time to defend our freedom and democracy during the 2nd World War, our people answered the call. Without allies we stood all alone and fought the invading forces of Axis for 6 whole months. And it was the ordinary people from Kalampaka, Trikala, and Kastraki who like the Spartans in Thermopylae before them, they manage to stop an entire Italian offensive on the early spring of 1941 on the Albanian front.

Our people fought nonstop for 17 consecutive days in the battle for the anonymous hill 731. Less than 700 men of the II/5 Thessalian battalion stood up against the assault of an entire Italian Corps of more than 100.000 soldiers. And from those 700 less than half survived the offensive. And yet despite the overwhelming odds, despite our people being vastly outnumbered and outgunned, somehow almost miraculously they manage to hold the line till the end and rise from this hell victorious. Even though the price they had to pay was very heavy.

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The anonymous hill 731 after the battle

Men who survived upon their return told stories that when they were fighting up there on the anonymous hill 731 on the spring of 1941, they all had this gut feeling that along their side were fighting all the great heroes of our past. Achilles, Odysseus, Themistocles, Leonidas, they were all there with them up on that hill. Even today some of them they still swear of seeing apparitions and hearing the battle cries of ancient hoplite warriors encouraging them over the trenches not to lose courage and to keep fighting. And they gave fascists a hell of a fight to remember. Those are some of the real stories behind the monuments, the real history of my people.

Eons have passed, like waves of time constantly breaking upon the thick rocks of Meteora and all that remains are those rich memories of people’s myths, legends and the stories told from mouth to mouth to each generation that comes; ensuring that way the continuity and the feel of unity among our people, the people of Meteora.

The return of the Neophrons

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Most of the locals remember the times when large birds of prey flew graciously among the high tops of the rocks here in Meteora. Eagles, vultures, hawks and other majestic birds of prey dwelled in large numbers the steep slopes and the high rocks of Meteora. People of some age even today they tell stories of giant vultures strong enough to lift a small sized sheep or goat. And then, like anywhere else on this planet progress and the hand of man came together and changed everything in their path.

The once small agricultural settlements of Kalampaka and Kastraki grew up remarkably fast; the small primitive farms and livestock diminished, roads were built, cars, houses, tourists, electricity and light pollution came and forever changed the landscape, totally transforming birds habitat. Nature’s balance was lost and with it we‘ve almost lost from sight the magnificent birds of prey of Meteora.

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One of the many vulture species that used to live here in considerable numbers was the Egyptian vulture, scientifically known as “Neophron percnopterus”, which is the smallest of the four species of European vultures. Only a handful of pairs still remain in the general area of Meteora and the Antichasia mountains. It’s small size with a wingspan of 180 cm (5.9 ft.) and body length of 60 cm (2.2 ft.) have led to its other Bulgarian name: ‘lesser vulture’.

The adults have white plumage with black flight feathers and featherless yellow-orange face. The crest of white, pointed feathers gives the bird its typical appearance. The tail is white and wedge-shaped.The bird reaches adult plumage in its fifth or sixth year.

The Egyptian vulture is a globally endangered species, included in the Red List as “Endangered”. Its global population estimated between 30.000 to 60.000 individuals with a steady negative tendency. It is strictly protected by the Bern and Bon International Conventions, as well as by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the past, the Egyptian vulture was wide-spread throughout Bulgaria and Greece with high population numbers. Today the Balkan Peninsula is home to less than 90 pairs. This endangered bird species are included in the Bulgarian Red List and protected under the Biodiversity Act.

 

This particular vulture prefers open hills and low mountain ranges. Its main nesting sites are cliffs and rocky slopes, often close to human settlements. The nest locates in niches, ledges and crevices in the cliff face. One nest is usually occupied for several years.The species is monogamous; in Ancient Egypt it was revered as a symbol of parental care.

Neophron vulture is a migrant. In September, both young and adults fly south to spend the winter months in Africa. In the spring, they fly over thousands of kilometers back to their nesting territories. As soon as the pairs arrive in March-April both birds start improving the nest. First they build or strengthen the base by entwining twigs and branches; then they meticulously cover the interior with wool and rags. In the end, the nest is decorated with bones, tortoise shells and other leftovers from their diet. In April-May, the female lays 1-3 eggs. Both parents sit on the eggs.

The Egyptian vulture, as other vultures, feeds mainly on carrion. Therefore, the vulture family is known as ‘nature’s caretakers’. The Egyptian’s diet also includes insects, larvae, frogs, lizards and tortoises which it catches them alive. It can be seen patrolling the roads in search for road kill. It also frequents local dumpsites. The bird is well-known for its intelligence – it is among the few bird species in the world to use tools. In Africa, the vulture can often be seen breaking abandoned ostrich eggs using a stone.

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In September, both young and adult birds leave the nesting territories of the species and start a long journey towards their wintering places in Africa. They migrate in small groups, mainly over land, avoiding long distances over the open sea, although some individuals from the southwestern Balkan population regularly cross the Mediterranean Sea. They fly over Turkey and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean to rich African land. Along the migration routes, they gather in large numbers at places with an abundance of food such as dumpsites and feeding stations.

In order to help this endangered bird species an international collaborated project initiated between the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), the World Wildlife Fund-Greece (WWF), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The project’s main scope is the identification of all confirmed threats Egyptian vultures are facing and contribute to the long-term decline of these endangered species, as well as the appropriate actions need to be taken in order to reverse this ominous trend and thus ensure their long term survival.

We can only hope for the complete success of this project and with everyones help and active involvement to save these endangered birds from total extinction. For the coming generations to be able also to admire these giants of the air as they fly between the high rocks and the high mountain tops.

For more detail information on the matter you may visit:  http://lifeneophron.eu/

The Great Meteoron monastery

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The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, photo by N.Ziogas

Definitely the bigger and one of the most impressive monasteries in Meteora is the Holy Monastery of Transfiguration of Jesus, best known as Great Meteoron. The monastery was constructed on top of the biggest rock named accordingly “Platis lithos” or “Wide Rock”, having a total area of more than 50 acres and height reaching more than 613m above sea level.

The first to climb “Platis Lithos” was the monk Athanasios, a prominent ascetic figure of the Meteora’s early hermitic community who later became a Saint of the Greek Orthodox church. He was to be followed by other 14 monks and in 1340 AD they manage to built Theomitoros (God’s Mother) church, thus organized into the very first systematic monastic community in Meteora. Later on founder St Athanasios constructed a second church dedicated to Transfiguration of Jesus Christ and this church became the Catholicon of the monastery from which the monastery took its name.

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St Athanasios of Meteora (1302-1380) and Osios Ioasaph of Meteora (1349/50-1422/23)

St Athanassios successor and the second proprietor of the Great Meteoron monastery was the monk Ioasaf (Ioannis Uros), the son of the Serbian-Greek king Symeon Uros Paleologos who supported the monastery financially.

In those early times access to the monastery was achieved only through wooden ladders, ropes and nets. That was the case up until very recently and only in 1923 did they build the 146 stairs one has to climb to reach the monastery.

The cofounder monk Ioasaf completed and frescoed the Catholicon of the monastery in the year 1484 AD. Stories and spoken tradition in the area narrate the huge difficulties those early monks faced in building the monasteries and the need of a 25 to 30 years period to assemble all the necessary materials on top of these huge rocks and another 20 to 25 years of very hard labor in almost isolation to complete the monastery.  A great leap of faith was needed by anyone in order to undertake such a monumental task and with such sparse resources to utilize for the construction, while on the same time most of the 14 monks who initially followed Athanasios they never lived long enough to see the monastery being completed!

The inside of the monastery

The inside of the Great Meteoron monastery

The nave of the Catholicon is bright and filled with frescoes. The iconostasis is beautiful and elegantly carven and glided constructed in 1617 AD and includes images taken from the flora and the animal kingdom.  Another great sample of elegant wood carving can be seen on the Episcopal throne which was constructedthe same year as the iconostasis.

There are 3 chapels at Great Meteoron monastery: The chapel of John the Baptist, the chapel of St Constantine and St Helens, of which the latter was built in 1789 and it is characterized from its polygonal domed basilicas. The third chapel of the monastery is dedicated to St Athanasios.

Priceless are the treasures of books and manuscripts being preserved in the monastery’s library. Byzantine and post-Byzantine era manuscripts and documents, books concerning the function of the monastery, patristic texts, hymnographical, rare incunabula of the 15th-19th century, legal documents, as well as classical ancient texts of Homer, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Hesiod, Aristotle, and many writers and authors from  Hellenistic times. The monastic library is one of the wealthiest of its kind.

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The monks follow strict regulations and gather at the church 4 times a day, Orthodox liturgy lasts about 6 hours a day. The practice of the monastic life, which is the monks’ main concern, is in absolute agreement with the imperative morals of the Holy Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church.

There is both social activity and spiritual support of the pilgrimages, which stems from our saints’ miraculous grace.The monastery has offered a great deal to our nation, education and our culture. It constitutes a vibrant monastic community for more than six hundred and fourteen years, a bastion of true Christianity and the traditions of Hellenism.

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The amazing view from Great Meteoron monastery

Monks devoted to Christ, carrying prayers in their hearts and building materials on their backs, renovate, restore and preserve the monastery, celebrating its beauty. As a result, every year, pilgrims and tourists are getting overwhelmed by the great mission undertaken there, making Great Meteoron one of the most visited monasteries of Greece.

Discover more of Great Meteoron monastery and all the other hidden gems of the area with a hiking tour

Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas monastery

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St Nicholas of Anapafsas

The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas is the first Monastery that we encounter on our way to the Holy Meteora. The monastery is only a short walk from Kastraki village just 1km away.  For the name “Anapafsas” there are numerous interpretations two of which are the most popular.

The first one is that the name “Anapafsas” was attributed by one of the monastery’s benefactors, while the second explanation has to do with the monastery’s position being the first to be encountered on the way up to the other Meteora monasteries, and probably served to the pilgrims and other visitors as a resting place before continuing further up. Resting translates into Greek “anapafsys”. So, Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas it literally means Saint Nicholas the one who rests you.

We have to keep in mind that back then there wasn’t any hotels or rooms to let, so all travelers usually had to either camp outside or seek for shelter to places like monasteries or even on common people’s houses. That’s why for the ancient Greeks one of the biggest blasphemies of all was to deny to provide “philoxenia” for shelter to any traveler asking for it.

The monastery itself was built on an 80 meters’ high rock and is surrounded by the deserted and ruined monasteries of Saint John Prodromos, the Pantocrator and the chapel of Panagia Doupiani.

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The view from St. Nicholas monastery

The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas was founded at the end of the 14th century. The limited surface of the rock forced the building of the monastery to be built vertically on floors, one level on top of the other.

Access to all monasteries different floors is achieved through an inbuilt staircase. At the entrance of the Monastery lie the Church of St. Anthony and the crypt where codes and the monastery’s heirlooms were previously stored. On the walls, paintings of the 14th Century can be seen.

The Catholicon, where St. Nicholas is honored, is on the second floor and it is elongated and stuck on to the south side of the wall of the monastery. The dome of the church is low and has no windows.

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Good Friday’s service

On the third floor rests the Holy Table, decorated with murals. The Table, recently restored, is used as a reception area for the visitors. There is even the ossuary, the cells of the monks and the chapel of St. John Prodromos.

Since the space is restricted and there is no courtyard, the monks could only gather in the narthex, which was roomy, when there were no liturgies in the nave.

The monastery and the current Catholicon of the Monastery were renovated in the early 16th century by the Bishop of Larisa Nicholas, Saint Dionysus and the Abbot of Stagi, Monk Nickanoras. There are portraits of the founders painted in the narthex of the Monastery. The 1527 AD the hagiography of the Monastery was completed by Theophanis the Cretan, who is included in the most significant hagiographers and frescoes painter of the Mount Athos’ monasteries and Orthodoxy in general.

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St Nicholas fresco made by Theofanis the Cretan

His exquisite murals are considered to be the best in Meteora and render the monastery a true gem, abounding in vitality, plasticity, freshness and bright tones. There is also a notable overall high quality and excellence in design and color of the figures painted by Theofanis the Cretan. The rules and the aesthetic principles of the Cretan mural school have been formulated here.

The monastery has been closed and without monks since 1909. That year, N. Veis paid a visit to the monastery to record the existent manuscripts. He discovered 50 codes which were transferred to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, where they are still kept today.

In the 1960s, the monastery was reconstructed and restored under the supervision of the 7th Inspectorate of Antiquities. There has also been maintenance of the murals, which regained their old splendor.

The monastery remains open to the public to visit any day of the week from 09:00-17:00 except Fridays.

If you wish to know more about Meteora, hotels, things to do, or the hidden gems click here 

Theopetra Cave inhabited by humans 130.000 years ago.

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The Cave of Theopetra, just 4 km away from Meteora is indeed a very unique archeological site, mainly because it has revealed many of our early history secrets, like the finding of the oldest known man-made structure on earth. This unique cave with its great location, its superb access to fresh clean water and its vantage point, it served like a magnet for those early inhabitants who could recognize from miles away such key advantages. So those early human settlers used it continuously for more than 130.000 years.

Its uniqueness from an archeological perspective is that in contains, within a single site, the records of two greatly significant cultural transitions: The replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans, and the later transition from hunter-gathering to farming after the end of the last Ice Age. The cave consists of an immense 500 square meter rectangular chamber at the foot of a limestone hill, which rises to the northeast above the village of Theopetra, with a very big entrance 17m wide by three metres high.

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It lies at the foot of the Chasia mountain range, which forms the natural boundary between Thessaly and Macedonia prefectures, while the Lithaios River, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows in front of the cave. The small Lithaios River flowing literally on the doorsteps of the cave meant that cave dwellers had always easy access to fresh, clean water without the need to cover daily long distances to find it.

Excavations, which have been systematically carried out, have unearthed light geological deposits dating to the Pleistocene and Holocene periods as well as anthropogenic deposits, indicating that the cave had been continuously inhabited during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods.

Specimens found, such as coal and human bones, prove that the cave was occupied from about 135,000 BC to 4000 BC, and that temporary use continued during the Bronze Age and historic times up to 1955. Even after that the cave was used occasionally to by shepherds to shelter their herds’ right up until the excavations began. It is the first time that cave dwelling was recorded in Thessaly during the Palaeolithic period.

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The latest cave findings published in 2012 by the lead scientist and its team responsible for the excavations, Paleoanthropologist Dr. Ekaterini (Nina) Kyparissi-Apostolika, has raised the time records of cave’s dwelling up to 135.000 BC.

Excavations brought to light three human footprints which have been dated to approximately 135,000 years ago. The find consists of four human footprints in a row, from four individuals believed to have been children aged 2 to 7. Those children must have walked on the remained ashes of a fire that later in time it became petrified and thus allowing footprints to be preserved till present day.The stratigraphic sequence of Theopetra cave extends through three cold periods: during the Middle era circa 25,000 BC, during the Upper Palaeolithic, and during the final Upper Palaeolithic period (end of the Pleistocene era).

The excavations and study of the finds at Theopetra have been conducted since 1987 by the scientific research group of the department of Paleoanthropology-Speleology, as we have already mentioned earlier under the direction of Dr. Ekaterini (Nina) Kyparissi-Apostolika. Objects discovered in the cave include stone tools of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, as well as Neolithic pottery, bone and shell objects, skeletons from 15000, 9000 and 8000 BC, and traces of plants and seeds that reveal dietary habits.

ImageBack in 2010 it was announced that according to an optical dating test known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, that performed to date a recently excavated stonewall and applied on quartz grains nested within the stones, it surprisingly revealed the oldest known man-made structure. The 23,000 year old stone wall in front of Theopetra cave probably built to protect its residents from cold winds at the height of the last ice age, is the oldest known example of a man made structure!

If visiting Meteora then Theopetra Cave is definitely a site not to be missed by anyone!

St George the Mandilas, the origins of a 300 years old Meteora tradition

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Saint George was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army. His father was the Greek Gerondios from Cappadocia Asia Minor and his mother was the Greek Polychronia from the city Lyda. Lyda was a Greek city from the times of the conquest of Alexander the Great (333 BC), now in Israel. He became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. He is venerated as a Christian martyr.

In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His memorial is celebrated on 23 April, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent military saints.

There are many different customs around Greece honoring Saint George’s memory, but only one that we know of to involve colorful headscafs, climbing and dancing on the cliffs very edge all at the same time. It takes place on an old ruined monastery dedicated to Saint that was build inside a cave some 40 meters above ground on the north side of a Meteora rock.

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There is an old story circulating from mouth to mouth mainly in Kastraki village about the origins of the custom.

In the early 17th century Meteora area like the rest of the Thessaly and most of Greece was under the Ottoman rule. A Muslim landowner and his wife were cutting down some trees next to Saint George’s hermitage. While the Muslim man was chopping down the woods he had an awful accident. The tree he was cutting down fell over him and as a consequence he was badly wounded. His wife immediately upon realizing her husband’s accident she rushed to help him, but she couldn’t do much.

The man lay there on the ground with his wife crying over him when people from the nearby village of Kastraki heard the hopeless screams for help of the injured man’s wife, and so they rushed there to check out what exactly has happened.

Upon seeing the seriously wounded man on the ground they immediately realized that the Muslim man had slim chances to win the day. So all they could do was to advice his wife to turn to Saint George and prey on him for help. Having nowhere else to turn, she decided to follow the advice of her Christian neighbors and so she made an offer to the Saint to spare his life.

She offered St George the only valuable she had, her colorful headscarf. And behold the miracle! After the passing of only few days the man clearly was getting better. And at the end not only did he manage to survive but as the story goes he was able to walk up straight again, becoming completely healed.

So significant was in the minds of the locals the above event and the associated miracle, that in memory of all this once every year after the church service on the name day of the Saint every 23rd of April, young boys and girls climb up with ropes to offer colorful headscarves to honor Saint George miracle.

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They are doing so believing that “Saint George the Mandilas” will help them to maintain good health throughout the year and of course to have fortunate marriages. Fact is that as far as we know and despite boys and girls climb up there every year without using any safety gear but ropes, none fatal or any other sort of serious accident ever happend during this custom celebration. All locals here in Meteora are deeply convinced that the Saint is always present protecting all the ‘Mandilarades” from getting injured.

“Mandilarades” in Greek are named all those who climb up each year to change the headscarfs, called “mandiles” in greek language.

The place where one can find the old ruined monastery of St George of Mandilas is very near to Kastraki central square and easy to reach it even from Kalmpaka, with lots of amazing hikes and trails starting from that same area. But if you wish to find all the hidden gem and learn more of the place history like the story above, then we strongly advice you to take the “Holy Spirit” Hiking Tour.

Meteora beauty: Meditating on the awe of creation and life.

15 to 16 years have passed since I asked my first questions as a kid regarding those very first hermits and monks that came here to Meteora so long ago.

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-Why did they choose this place?

-What made them to climb up there and build all these monasteries?

I still remember very vividly that those questions were answered in one of the usual hot and very dry summers of Greece. During those early years, each summer I spent as a small kid it truly felt like I had just lived a whole eternity. I don’t want to say that winter was passing faster than summer, on the contrary. All I am saying is that when we were kids, summer compared to winter felt more like our 3 months in the Garden of Eden. We had the opportunity to be outside all day, to play with friends and to explore. So brand new, so rich and joyful are almost everything around us when we are a kids. And each passing day fills you up so much with life’s excitements and its experiences it almost makes time to slow down. This is how I remember it being a kid…

As an adult, from time to time I bring back few of those memories of the “time bending” summers and the associated experiences, and cannot help myself thinking that if we were to remain kids in our hearts throughout all our adulthood lives, then by the age of 60 or 70, I am pretty sure we would all feel that we have lived not just 60 or 70 but more like 2000 years. By the time we would reach the age of 80 I can only imagine how more wise we might have looked and act. Probably wiser and fairer even compared to Tolkien’s mythical figures of the Great Elves. And then perhaps even the very notion of death would probably had to take a whole different meaning.

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But like everything else in life I was growing. And with each passing summer in the end it felt  it had lasted less than the previous one. Unsettled, rebellious and full of questions, it was right on the middle of this transitional period of mine when a traveler from the United States introduced me to a recently published and very interesting book.

The book was titled the Celestine Prophecy, a 1993 novel by James Redfield. And although my native language is Greek, I did managed to read the whole book despite it was written in English!

To give a short synopsis of the book for those who haven’t read it, the story begins with a restless, disgruntled social worker who can’t figure out what’s wrong in his life. When an old friend calls him out of the blue, she intrigues him with the story of an ancient manuscript that has been found in Peru.

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The manuscript contains all the secrets of life, but is being suppressed by the Peruvian government. The book’s main character is so swept up by the things told by his friend, that immediately he books a flight for Peru, to go in search of the document that can tell him the meaning of life.

Once in Peru, he tries to avoid the hostile and misguided Peruvian officials who want to arrest him, finding bits and pieces of the 9 insights that the manuscript reveals. As the story progresses our hero becomes wiser, learning step by step the hidden mysteries of life which all mankind is destined to ultimately grasp.

But most importantly he understands that all life’s coincidences are meant for a purpose, created by a universal energy for the unfolding of man’s spiritual evolution. The book refers to those accurately timed coincidences as “synchronicities”. Our hero learns to draw on the universal source of energy, and thus be freed from the need of dominating others to steal their energy. He glimpses his oneness with the universe, and how to increase his energy by meditating on its beauty.

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And there it was! Upon finishing the book I had my very own version of an insight that answered many of my questions regarding the true deeper motives of those early hermits in establishing a monastic life in Meteora!

Those hermits and monks that settled in our area over millennia ago they didn’t just do it only to get isolated from the rest of the world. They were all pulled here mostly by the energy, the beauty and the awe inspiring landscape. Such unique landscapes like Meteora are like energy wells from which anyone that wishes can tap in to them and “drink” pure energy for free.

Did those monks and the hermits had any intimate knowledge of any sort of insights like those mentioned in the book? Most probably they didn’t. What I believe they had was an unconscious feeling, a deeper impulse that the beauty and the serenity of the place somehow makes it easier for them to attain the inner peace they seek in their lives.

Only by gazing and enjoying the majestic landscape of Meteora every day throughout their lives, it was an act of meditating on the awe and beauty of all creation. As if the landscape itself becomes a constant reminder for our inner selves to stay in our hearts eternal kids, full of life and excitement in every step we make, in each breath we take, whatever we gaze upon and admire.

Few tips and ideas to make a memorable visit in Meteora.

The majority of our 3 million visitors tend to organize very hasty trips to Meteora of just 1 day or even less of only few hours!

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Visiting the area and all the monasteries in only 1 day let alone in few hours is next to impossible. The monasteries are generally open to all visitors from 9 am till 1 PM and from 3 PM till 5 PM /6 PM (according to summer or winter season). Wishing to see a specific monastery on a specific day is not always feasible, as each one has its closing days through the week. All monasteries are open in the weekends.

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If you do not have a car and you cannot spend the night here, you can always choose to follow the guided half-day Meteora tour from Apr-Oct, with prices from 18 to 25 Euro per person. This guided sightseeing tour would be the perfect introduction of the Meteora area and the monasteries for first-time visitors, in an effort to make the most out of any one-day stay.

A second day to spend allows for a more relaxed pace and the opportunity to see more of the surrounding landscape, especially if exploring it on foot. There is no better way to enrich your stay than to join one of the hiking tours or simply an organized guided visit to the monasteries. And if you feel ambitious enough, why not try climbing. Those activities are now all bookable online through Visit Meteora’s website.

Enhance your stay in Kalampaka or Kastraki with a day-trip to one of Greece’s most significant ancient sites. On your third day while visiting Meteora why not making a day-trip to Delphi, the religious center of the ancient Greek world, where the famous Oracle provided prophecies to all visitors in god Apollo’s temple.

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Enrich the three-hour-drive with a further stop at Thermopylae, one of the most renowned battlefields, where the famous 300 Greek Spartans were challenged by the Persian Empire about 2500 years ago! Visit the most interesting local museum (Innovating information Historical center at Thermopylae) for a virtual demonstration of one of the most famous battles in antiquity! For adults the day-trip to Delphi costs 45 Euro and childs from 30 Euro.

If you travel from Meteora to Delphi don’t waste a whole day changing buses or trains and waiting long hours on KTEL bus stations while you can book online this day-trip from Meteora to Delphi and back!! If you want to travel to Delphi and for whatever reason don’t wish to return to Meteora you can always take this day-trip one way to Delphi for just 35 Euro!

Explore the Pindos mountains near Meteora!!! A trip to the Aspropotamos (“white river”) region should not be omitted. It is a striking location in the nearby Pindos mountains, where a variety of wild life is met and where man has left his mark in the construction of many beautiful old monasteries and medieval bridges. Express your adventurous spirit through a selection of outdoor activities, such as mountain hikinghorse-riding and rafting, and have an amazing time!

Don’t forget to pay a visit to Theopetra cave, some 5 km outside Kalampaka, and check out the oldest man-made structure in the world, or the Neolithic burials and the footprints of a seven years-old child that lived some 40.000 years ago! There is no greater feeling than travelling in the past as far as 60.000 years ago.

And for last take a daily cruise to the fabulous green island of Skiathos, one of the most popular destinations of Greece is now available from Kalampaka and Meteora. The port of the little town of Achillio where the boat awaits you is a 2-hour drive from Meteora. Once in Skiathos, tune in with the island’s life and architecture, but mostly with the infinite blue of the sea and the playing dolphins that very likely you will encounter during your cruise.

Skiathos Koukounaries

Discover the amazing, off-the-beaten track coral beaches! After a full day’s adventure and despite the sweet fatigue, you will definitely not regret this choice. This daily cruise to Skiathos from Meteora (May-Oct) costs only 50 Euro/per person including bus transfers and boat tickets, or if you wish to travel to Achillio port with your own vehicle boat tickets cost 20 Euro/per person.