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The towering rocks of the Meteora stand northeast of the town of Kalambaka in Thessaly. Although this geological phenomenon has frequently been the object of scientific study, it has not yet been fully interpreted. However, according to the German geologist A. Philippson, who visited Greece in the late 19th century, the geological formations of the Meteora were originally part of the bed of a great river that flowed through the surrounding mountains and into a lake where Kalambaka lies now. Over time, geological changes gave rise to the rocks we see today. It is worth noting that ancient writers and travellers do not refer to this unique formation at all.

In the early medieval period, anchorites made their home on the rocks, gradually leading to the creation of the later monastic community.

The modern name Meteora is not mentioned in ancient authors. It is derived from St Athanasius the Meteorite, the founder of the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (the Great Meteoron). It is thought that the first anchorites settled in the area in the 11th century. In the mid-14th century, the monk Nilus gathered the monks, who were living isolated in caves in the rocks, around the skete of Doupiani, creating the monastic community. According to historical evidence, the Meteora at its peak numbered thirty monasteries. Today, it is the largest monastic complex in Greece after Mount Athos, with six active monasteries. The remains of other monasteries and sketes are also preserved in the area.

The catholicons (monastery churches) of the six Meteora monasteries open to the public are variations on the Athonite style of architecture (two-columned or four-columned churches). The buildings and most of their wall paintings have been restored.

The monasteries in question are:

-Monastery of St Nicholas Asmenos or Anapausas Monastery

-Roussanos or Arsani Monastery

-Monastery of the Transfiguration, also known as the “Great Meteoron”

-Monastery of All Saints or Varlaam Monastery

-Monastery of the Holy Trinity

-Monastery of St Stephen

In addition to the buildings intended to serve the monks’ needs (cells, refectories, etc.), the monasteries also have exhibition rooms housing sacred relics, manuscripts, liturgical vessels and vestments, and other items.

As early as 1921, just a few years after the liberation of the area from the Ottomans, the Greek State declared the Meteora monasteries listed buildings under state protection. In 1989 they were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as mixed cultural and natural sites. More recently, the relevant Culture Ministry Services have updated the protection orders of the Meteora area, redefining the limits of the archaeological site and the protection zone where building is prohibited.

In 1995, at the request of the monastic community, the Meteora area was officially recognised by law as a Sacred Site.

Kristalo Mantzana

Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Trikala