Monastery at Meteora perched on a rock pilllar

The Meteora Monasteries Including History, Architecture and Art

A visit to the six Meteora monasteries caters to a broad range of interests which include the monastery’s Byzantine history and culture, internal features including their architecture, museums, rich works of art and faith-related detail, and a panorama of their confronting rocky landscape.

There are many other ways to enjoy the monasteries. For example, the skill of those who built the monasteries at Meteora and how they adapted the architecture of the monasteries to the challenges of the rock pillars on which they were constructed can be appreciated. As you walk through the monasteries, consider the way of life of a monk, viewing the evidence of the simple but difficult lives of those who occupied the Meteora monasteries and their relationship to the environment and general population of the region. Ensure you enjoy the Meteora landscape in its own right as a geographic and geological spectacle, and puzzle over the origin of Meteora’s forest of isolated pillars which stand as rocky sentinels over Thessaly. And finally, spend time observing the detail of the monasteries, such as the Great Meteoron Monastery and the Varlaam Monastery.

The very improbability of the settings of the monasteries at Meteora at first sight is astonishing. But there is much more to the monasteries at Meteora than just their visual impact. A visit to these historical monasteries informs us how monks rose to the challenges of constructing and maintaining functional and beautifully decorated monasteries for the purpose of refuge in an unforgiving landscape.

The Meteora Monasteries

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A Brief History of the Monasteries at Meteora

During the medieval it was not uncommon across Europe for hermits to seek isolation in caves. The first hermits to ascend the pillars at Meteora in search of caves for cover and protection were Varnavas, circa 950 to 965 AD, and Andronikos from Crete, in 1020 AD.

Throughout history the Meteora attracted persons of the same mind and the monks from all over the Byzantine Empire converged onto the Meteoron. The number of monastic dwellings increased to 33. This community was well established by the end of the 12th Century.

The hermit monks accelerated the colonisation of the Meteora prior to the end of the Byzantine Empire in order to prepare for the threat of Ottoman invasion. The early history of the monasteries was therefore the period during which the monks constructed them for protection and refuge.

The Meteora monasteries were all built in precipitous locations and whereas some are fortified with strong walls, others rely on the verticality of the pillar cliff faces for protection. A defensive tower in some monasteries was used for observation and refuge.

Athanasios introduced the term ‘meteoron’ in 1340 AD and when he sought refuge (in what is now Meteora) from Ottoman raids on Athos in Macedonia . The ‘meteoron’ referred to a rock pillar on which Athanasios constructed the first monastery. The Great Meteoron Monastery developed from this monastery.

The term ‘meteoron’ was derived from a Greek word associated with meteors, and means ‘between earth and sky’. ‘Meteora’ is the plural form of ‘meteoron’ and was later used to identify the entire cluster of rocks upon which all the monasteries were constructed. The monasteries are therefore sometimes referred to as the Meteora Byzantine monasteries, or the Meteora Orthodox monasteries.

The elevated position of the monasteries at Meteora afford a spectacular panorama across the Thessaly Plain
The elevated position of the monasteries at Meteora

The Architecture of the Meteora Monasteries

The historical architecture of the monasteries at Meteora is generally related to the medieval. The architecture of the monasteries at Meteora is derived from the monastic architecture of Mt Athos in Macedonia. Hence, the monasteries are symbols of Balkan orthodoxy. There is a consistency of architecture and style across the monasteries because it was not uncommon throughout the Balkan Peninsula for it to be the monks who emerged and constructed the monasteries for defence and protection.

The monasteries typically have one point of entry with a fortified gate.

The Meteora Monasteries were protected at the entrance by solid doors
Solid monastery door at Meteora

An enclosed, arched passageway then leads to an internal courtyard. The courtyard provides separate access to the different areas of the monastery. The Katholikon is located at the centre of the monastery because it was the most important element within the monastery. The courtyard also led to chapels and private quarters for the monks and monastery superiors.

The internal courtyard of a Meteroa monastery with the entrance decorated with ornate masonry
The internal courtyard with intricate and decorative masonry at the entrance into the monastery

The image above shows the ornamentation of the external masonry which is characteristic of the Byzantine influence on the construction of the monasteries. Also apparent in the image is the external use of the Roman arch and dome, and internally, vaulted ceilings (image below). These features are fingerprints of both Roman architecture and Byzantine architecture, because the Byzantine style is a derivative of Roman architecture. The Byzantine dome above the Varlaam monastery has been segmented with recessed arches and this provides more space and light inside the church.

The vaulted ceiling and rounded arches inside the Varlaam monastery are very characteristic of Byzantine architecture
Vaulted ceiling and round arch inside the Varlaam monastery

The architecture of the Katholikon followed the centralised cross-in-square plan. This design was characteristic of eastern Byzantine religious architecture of the period and resulted in the churches having a cross design. The intersection of two arms of the church resulted in a square floor space in the centre. An overhead dome crowned this space. This plan allocated three separate areas inside the church – an entrance, central space for the liturgy, and the sanctuary around the altar where the monks could perform religious ceremonies. The symbolic application of the design was that the circular overhead dome represented God in the perfect heavens overseeing the imperfect earth presented as a square on the floor of the church.

The interior of a Katholikon at Meteora features a Byzantine dome with pendatives, rounded arches and vaulted ceilings
Church interior showing all the characteristics of Byzantine design

The image above shows the Byzantine style of the monastic architecture at Meteora. The dome which increases light into the church is located directly above the church’s internal, central square. Pendatives support the dome shown in the image. The pendatives appear as triangular infills that sit above and between the arches. The arches surround the central dome on four sides and provide support for the vaulted ceilings. These architectural principles were applied throughout the Balkans and can be explored in our posts about the architecture of St Luke’s Church in Kotor as well as other Serbo-Byzantine Christian churches in Kotor Old Town.

Attractive garden setting within the Varlaam monastery at Meteora
Varlaam monastery gardens

Gardens complemented each monastery and each monastery has a range of ancillary rooms including a kitchen, carpentry, viniculture, bakery, hospital and library.

Religious Art and Relics Inside the Monasteries at Meteora

The social and cultural evidence that remains within the Meteora monasteries indicates the historical monastic life and culture of the monks. The monasteries in Greece flourished until the 17th Century when they became a repository for Hellenic art and literature as Greeks sought relief from Ottoman oppression. The monasteries have since been in decline.

Religious Manuscripts

The internal faith-related and religious detail of the monasteries is of interest to many visitors. The monasteries became important repositories for manuscripts, with many of them secreted under the threat of invasion or occupation. Manuscripts have also been retrieved from roof cavities, walls, and even under mattresses. They are now in the safer hands of the supervisors of the monastic libraries.

The manuscripts are broad in scope and include documents of philosophical, scientific, literary and historical content. The core of manuscripts is, of course, primarily ecclesiastical and religious. The libraries contain parchments that date from 9th to the 19th century and a very valued relic is the parchment Codex 591 (861-62 AD) which is the oldest manuscript in Greece. It consists of 423 sheets and interpretative discourses on the Gospel of Matthew.

Other documents in the museums include about 3000 gold-embossed pages of Byzantine emperors. However, it appears that the monks did not apply themselves to copying scripture which was a historical role adopted by many monasteries prior to the advent of the printing press.

Photographs on the museum wall of the Varlaam monatery document historical culture of the monks of the monateries at Metora
Historical culture within the monasteries at Meteora revealed in photographs

Religious Art

Byzantine art is almost exclusively descriptive of Orthodox beliefs and each monastery features ornately decorated centres of worship with period religious art in the form of paintings, mosaics, frescoes and iconography. The monks used gold plate and gold tesserae in the artwork. Human figures were portrayed in the artwork in two-dimensions or in relief. This portrayal was chosen to avoid any drift towards idolatry which was considered to have occurred when the Greeks and Romans portrayed their subjects as three-dimensional, rounded figures. The museums include artefacts in the form of ecclesiastical robes, music codices and monastic histories. Look for the holy-image panel paintings which were painted on portable wooden panels.

At the top of the dome in a previous image there is the flat, two-dimensional, conceptual portrayal of the god figure which is definitive of Byzantine art. Individual features were removed and less natural, more remote portrayals were preferred. The emphasis was on a spiritual presence and not the physical. It is therefore not uncommon to see human figures in paintings appear to be almost suspended. The pendatives under the dome are decorated with angels and archangels. There are also figures of the saints on the walls. The Virgin Mary is sometimes pictured high in one of the vaulted ceilings which are located over one of the four arms leading away from the dome.

The location of the Meteora monasteries in Greece promoted a reconciliation of Greece’s mythological past with the arrival of eastern Christianity. There is therefore much artwork in the form of images, frescoes and reliefs that portray both mythical and actual persons, indicating the absorption of myth into the religion of the monks at Meteora. A portrayal of sinners being cast into the mouths of monsters at the Second Coming may not only infer the incorporation of mythology into the doctrine of the monks, but also the influence such beliefs had on both the monks and the generally illiterate local population. The incorporation of myth into the monasteries is also exemplified by a relief in the Temple of John the Baptist that shows the goddess Venus standing before a horseman.

Society and Culture

It could be that you are more drawn to understanding the way of life of the monks and the culture that pervaded the monasteries. There are many displays and working remains within the monasteries that accurately portray how life was lived and how the monks interacted with their external environment. This is particularly displayed in our review of the Great Meteoron Monastery.

Historical images of agricultural pactices at Meteora monasteries
Monks of the Meteora monasteries participating in agricultural practices are recorded in film

The Monasteries at Meteora

The Varlaam Monastery

The Exterior of the Varlaam Monastery

The Monastery of Varlaam (founded in1542 by Hosioi Theophanes and Nectarios the Apsarades) is the second largest monastery and is located across the valley from the Great Meteoron Monastery.

As you ascend the steps to the entrance of the Varlaam monastery you will see the sandstone and conglomerate rock that is ubiquitous across the landscape of the Meteoron. This is some of the evidence that the region was either the destination of water borne sediments or was formerly submerged.

A visit to the monasteries at Meteora offers outstanding panoramas of the alluvial valley of Thessaly
Panorama from the Varlaam monastery

Take time to enjoy the views across the valley from the pagoda as well as the lovely rose garden that decorates the courtyard.

Byzantine religious artworks of the Early Modern beautifully decorate the interior of the Varlaam monastery. The monastery’s Katholikon (Catholicon) was built in 1541-42. It was decorated in 1548, including its celebrated wall-painting.

The Interior of the Varlaam Monastery

The Varlaam monastery’s refectory was converted to a museum to house religious art. The museum’s ceiling is itself worth seeing as an example of byzantine architecture.

Entry into the Varlaam Monastery by Rope Baskets and Windlass

The transportation of produce and personnel into the elevated entrances of the monasteries was always a challenge. The height of the Varlaam Monastery well illustrates the defensive design of the monasteries. They were constructed well above ground level but this meant they also required a mechanism to raise necessary loads.

This image displays the significant vertical distance that produce and materials had to be moved at the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora
The challenge of Moving Loads at the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora

The Varlaam Monastery has preserved evidence of how the monks and their goods were lowered and raised to the ground. The methods included using both flying fox and windlasses, the latter relying on a simple crank handle to wind the rope. The historical technology to transport both persons and produce is still on display within the monastery, and can be seen in the following images.

The Great Meteoron Monastery

The Great Meteoron Monastery (c14th Century), the largest and oldest of the monasteries at Meteora, is considered by some visitors to be the main monastery. The monastery rises to a height of 613 meters (2011 ft) above the Pineós river-bed. This monastery is important to the history of Greece because its occupation is considered to have marked the beginning of monasticism in the Meteora.

The steps thoughtfully hacked out of the conglomerate in 1925 have removed the need for the modern visitor to either clamber up wooden ladders let down from the top of the cliffs, or allow themselves to be hauled up in a net lowered using a windlass. In either case the visitor had to rely on the good faith and the engineering skills of the monks.

The image shows the very steep staircase leading up to the Great Meteron Monastery at Meteora
The Steps Leading to the Entrance of the Great Meteoron Monastery

The monastery offers a comprehensive insight into all aspects of monastic life and its small but adequate museum outlines its historical development, including its role during Greece’s engagements in World War 2.

Religious Art Inside the Great Meteoron Monastery

You should ensure you locate the Katholikon in the central courtyard. Its display of 16th century Byzantine frescoes is a feature of the monastery .

Monastic Society and Culture in the Great Meteoron Monastery

The monasteries at Meteora did not have any spare land within their walls to cultivate crops and herd animals. The surrounding hills of Meteora and the fertile plain of Thessaly were the sites of agriculture. Crops and animal produce would then be winched up to the monasteries where the produce would be processed. Cooking, baking, dairying, wine making and a range of activities would have been supported carpentry, leather work and a range of other trades and skills.

Culinary Culture Inside the Meteora Monasteries – the Great Meteoron Monastery

A walk through the Meteora monasteries reveals many of the facilities necessary for sustainable living, including those required for food preparation and cooking.

Viticulture Inside the Meteora Monasteries – the Great Meteoron Monastery

The monks spent some pleasurable hours both producing and sampling the fruit of the vine. The image shows a basket press inside the Great Meteoron Monastery. The press was cylindrical in shape and made from vertically aligned timber staves. The timber staves were bound by metal rings. The grapes were loaded into the basket and when pressed, their juice trickled out from between the staves into a tray. The juice was then filtered into a suitable utensil placed under the basket.

The amount of pressure exerted on the grapes was variable. Sometimes the weight of the grapes was sufficient to extract some of the juices. On other occasions, a more significant force was used to crush the grapes. A hand crank which was mounted on a shaft screw was connected to a weighty disc. On cranking, the disc was driven down onto the grapes. The image shows the use of the science quite clearly.

The wine was stored in large barrels which were also constructed from metal-bound wooden staves.

The wine was stored, served and distributed in smaller units; usually bottles encased in wicker. Wicker was used to protect the bottles from any impact that may have occurred when they were transported. Wicker also reduced the difficulty of their storage. Many of the bottles were round-bottomed and the wicker stabilised them so they could be aligned vertically adjacent to each other on a shelf, as shown in the image.

Image clearly shows the working parts of the wine press in the cellar of The Great Meteoron Monastery
The components of the wine press in the cellar of The Great Meteoron Monastery

Agriculture in the Meteora Monasteries – the Great Meteoron Monastery

The monks who resided within the monasteries at Meteora had established truly sustainable practices. The animal yolks suspended on the wall indicate their use of working animals for agriculture, probably ploughing and crop collection. The different sizes of the yolks reveal consideration for the animals because the yolks have to be fitted to the physical characteristics of each bearer. Should animals be paired to pull a load it is important that the animals are the same size.

An array of utensils was located nearby that were used to churn dairy products which would have included butter and cream.

Carpentry Workshop Inside the Meteora Monasteries – the Great Meteoron Monastery

There would have been a large dependence on skilled timber workers within the monasteries at Meteora. Some of the skill was directed towards the beautiful timber art and decoration found throughout the monasteries. But there were also practical needs, such as the production and maintenance of domestic equipment and furniture, wagons, barrels, farming utensils and winches – and so much more. A small sample of the necessary tools is displayed within the monastery. How many can you name?

The Ossuary Inside the Great Meteoron Monastery

An ossuary can be used to provide burial in locations where space is very much limited. And this was certainly the case in the Meteora.

The use of an ossuary within the monasteries of Meteora monasteries indicates that based on their beliefs the monks had deep respect for their departed. The deceased who was placed in an ossuary had first been interred for three years to isolate the skeletal remains. These remains were then cleaned and placed in the ossuary.

The images and descriptions above reinforce the conclusion that although the monks did not have and easy life, they were self-sufficient and resourceful.

Four Other Monasteries

There are four additional monasteries on the Meteoron. We have added here a brief description of each.

Holy Trinity Monastery

The Holy Trinity monastery is shown perched on the top of a congomerate pinnacle
Distant view of the Holy Trinity Monastery at Meteora

You access the Holy Trinity Monastery (c. 1362) by a short walk to the base of the monolith and then climb about 140 steps. It is not difficult to be impressed by the thought and effort that must have been required to install the monastery so precariously on top of a vertical pillar. It is also not difficult to be impressed by the panoramic view of the Meteora landscape that waits when you ascend the steps.

Once inside you will find frescoes decorating the cathedral and a small chapel hewn out of rock where paintings are displayed. The exhibits from both areas are from the Early Modern period.

The Roussanou Monastery

The Roussanou Monastery at Meteora mounted on an isolated pillar
The Roussanou Monastery at Meteora

The Roussanou Monastery was founded during the 16th century and was possibly named the same name as the hermit who was first to inhabit the outcrop. It appears this is not unusual because in other European countries the location of a monastery is often on the site of a hermitage previously occupied by a recluse. The Roussanou Monastery is easy to access due to its lower elevation. It is noted for its fine Early Modern murals and until the end of the last century the only way to access it was by rope ladder. The Roussanou monastery now serves as a convent.

The St Nikolas Anapafsas Monastery

The isolated St Nikolas Anapafsas Monastery in the background landscape at Meteora
St Nikolas Anapafsas Monastery in the background landscape at Meteora

The Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas dates to the end of the 14th century.  It is now scarcely populated by monks.

The name of the monastery may be related to the Greek word ‘anapafsis’ which translates to ‘resting’. The Meteora landscape would have presented a challenge to visitors who wanted to make their way to the monasteries at higher elevations, particularly the Varlaam Monastery and the Great Meteoron Monastery. Consequently, The Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas may have served to replenish and nourish visitors as they made their way to the higher reaches of the Meteoron.

The structure of this monastery differs from the others in that the level surface area on top of the monolith on which it has been built is comparatively narrow. This has prevented the St Nikolas Anapafsas Monastery from sprawling laterally and so it has been constructed instead with floor spaces situated under each other and connected by an internal staircase. As is the case with all the Meteora monasteries, religious art decorates the areas reserved for worship.

St Stephen’s Monastery

St Stephen's monastery commands an outstanding panormamic view over the Thessaly Plain
St Stephen’s Monastery at Meteora

St Stephen’s Monastery is easily accessible and a small bridge will take you to its entrance. The history of St Stephen’s dates back to early 12th century. Among its founders are Hosios Antonios and Hosios Philotheos who completed important renovations in the 15th and 16th Centuries respectively.

The holy relics of St. Stephen’s Monastery are located in its main cathedral.

The Meteora Landscape

The geological term for the rock formation on which the monasteries are located is known as the ‘meteoron’. The landscape is referred to by many as ‘Meteora’. The Meteoron is derived from a Greek word meaning “suspended between sky and earth” and the sight of the monasteries perched on these unusual pillars contributes to the visual fascination of the venue. The highest of the pillars is 550m (1800 ft) with the average height being about 300m (1000 ft). The monoliths are mainly composed of sandstone and conglomerate.

Monasteries suspended as if in the sky at Meteora
The imposing monoliths of the Meteora in Greece

How did the Meteora Landscape of Rock Pillars Form?

Geological maps, the presence of rocks such as sandstone and conglomerate, and the presence of the alluvium in the Thessaly Plain all point to a sedimentary environment. One simple explanation for the stunning terrain of the Meteora could therefore be that large volumes of fluvial sediment (rivers, streams) that resulted from the erosion of northern mountains were transported to the Meteora region and consolidated over geological time into the mass of sandstone and conglomerate we now see. Rifting caused the now Thessaly Plain to sink relative to the Meteora rock formation which as a result would become far more prominent when exposed. Long term weathering could have then produced vertical fractures in the rock mass which were then shaped by erosion into the forms we see today. Alternatively, given that the Balkan Peninsula is seismically active, earth movement could have vertically fractured the rock. Additionally, sandstone can be weakened by the formation of vertical joints in the bedding which leads to the formation of blocks which fall under gravity. The composition of the escarpment and the scarring on the face of the cliffs in the image above certainly suggest this has happened.

An alternate explanation is that the sedimentary masses may have formed under the sea after which earth movement caused the sea bed to rise and the ocean to retreat. The exposed, faulted sedimentary rocks were then subjected to weathering and ocean-associated erosion forces resulted in the imposing monoliths now present.

Both explanations are consistent with what we see. For example, the structure seen on the face of the monoliths in the images both above and below is evidence of water-borne sediment being deposited in sequences.

The sedimentary rock type on the Meteoron is revealed by the bedding planes
The bedding planes of the monoliths at Meteora are characteristic of a sedimentary landscape

The bedding planes of the monoliths at Meteora are characteristic of a sedimentary landscape. The monoliths across the Meteora bear sedimentary bedding planes of sandstone and conglomerate.

Planning a Visit the Monasteries at Meteora

When you visit the Meteora you will be glad that you did even a little bit of planning and preparation.

We recommend that you take the time to enjoy the initial visual impact because the sight of the monasteries at Meteora so audaciously mounted on rock pillars is in itself an attraction. Drive around the area at first to enjoy the panoramic overview of chasms and cliffs and to take in the big picture before deciding which monasteries to visit. Take advantage of the several elevated platforms available across the region which provide excellent views of the Meteora monasteries and their landscapes.

How to Move Between the Monasteries and is Parking Provided?

The Meteora monasteries are widely spaced across hilly terrain and so walking from one monastery to another is not really an efficient option. Younger and fitter visitors might like to consider hiring a bicycle. Should you decide on that option fill your backpack with food and drink because it would take the entire day to see all the monasteries. Many visitors, particularly those who are older, prefer to arrive in tourist coaches and let the drivers sort out the route. A very popular way to visit is to rent a car, either in Athens or in the town of Meteora.

A sealed road winds its way between the monasteries and free parking is available at each. Parking may be difficult to find in the areas close to the monasteries, particularly during busy seasons.

Parking facilities at the Roussanou Convent, St Nicholas Anapafsas and the Holy Trinity monasteries are in the form of small off-road bays designed for a limited number of cars. Many visitors park curb side further along the road. The Monastery of St Stephen provides a small parking bay but as the monastery isn’t on a through road, most visitors park curb-side while remaining attentive to the tourist coaches.

Parking at the Meteora monasteries often consists of off-road parking bays
Parking can be a premium on busy days at the Meteora monasteries

The two larger monasteries, Varlaam and the Great Meteoron, provide more generous space for parking but these areas are located in dead-ends. You shouldn’t assume you will get a space close the monastery because the tour buses also attempt to park as close to the entrances as they can. It is more than likely at busy times that you will have to park along the roadside away from the entrances but we are not talking about long walks.

What to Wear?

There is an implied dress code for visitors because the monasteries at Meteora are considered holy by adherents of the Orthodox faith.

Orthodox religion places a large emphasis on respect for God and this would particularly apply in premises deemed to be holy. It is the custom of adherents of the faith to dress in styles of clothing that do not to draw undue attention to themselves as this would distract from worship and prayer. The call to both sexes is to show respect and dress modestly and conservatively. This would include long trousers, shirt and footwear for men. Men may wear hats but these should be removed when inside the monastery. Women are best dressed in longer skirts and footwear, and may not be permitted entry if dressed in shorts, miniskirt or even long slacks. Women are encouraged to wear a head covering or a scarf but it didn’t appear necessary.

Rules of behaviour within the monasteries are simply a matter of politeness. Loud talking, calling out, and rushing within the monasteries are simply rude. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol is prohibited and careful, slow driving is requested outside the monasteries due to the presence of children and older visitors. Not all areas within the monasteries are open to the public and as photography is not permitted in some areas of the monasteries, the attendants request respect for their supervision.

How Many Stairs and Steps Are There?

The number of stairs and steps that are encountered during a visit to the Meteora rock monasteries could be an issue for some visitors. It should be recalled that the monasteries were built for defensive purposes and external access was meant to be challenging. Entry to The Great Meteoron monastery requires ascending a sizeable external staircase and over one hundred steps have to be climbed to reach the entrance of the Holy Trinity monastery. Alternatively, St Stephen’s monastery is easily accessible across a horizontal bridge. Each monastery presents its own unique expectation of stairs to climb but it did not seem to stem the enthusiasm of the many visitors of different ages and sizes who attended on the days we visited.

Once inside, the floor plans of many of the monasteries are quite level and there are only minimal requirements to ascend and descend lengthy staircases and pathways. An exception is the St Nikolas Anapafsas Monastery due to its vertical construction.

What about Food and Toilets?

You won’t be able to purchase any food on the Meteoron so take some lunch and nibbles if you plan to stay for the day. A personal supply of water is most important because it is not procurable. If not prepared, it is only a short drive down to Kalambaka to stock up or have a meal.

There are toilets at the monasteries and in some monasteries they are located just inside the door where the entrance fee is paid. You may have to ask an attendant for directions if they are unseen. It is recommended that visitors take their own supply of toilet paper or tissues.

Final Thoughts on the Meteora and Meteora Monasteries

The elevated position of the Meteora monasteries overlooks the Pineios River and the northern extremity of the Thessaly Plain, as well as the regional towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki, both of which are used by visitors to the monasteries for accommodation and meals. These towns are an approximate six-hour comfortable drive from Athens.

A day or two spent visiting the Meteora monasteries provides an opportunity to become familiar with the history of the monasteries, their construction and culture, their external and internal decoration and the landscape that surrounds them. It is time worth spending.

The area occupied by the monasteries at Meteora is composed, among other things, of sandstone and conglomerate. Conglomerate is used at the Meteora monasteries for the construction of pathways and weathered conglomerate can become quite slippery when wet.

Noone likes getting wet, so if the weather looks inclement on the day of your visit then bring protective clothing because there is little shelter apart from your vehicle and the monasteries themselves.

We wouldn’t recommend a visit to the Meteora monasteries as a day trip. The time that would be required to travel to the monasteries, enjoy a satisfying tour, and then return to Athens would be exhausting. Accommodation is plentiful in Kalambaka and its surrounds. See Airbnb or for ideas on accommodation.

Tours through the monasteries can be booked online. They are quite expensive and frankly, most tourists find that the information that is available about each monastery at the site is sufficient.

So where to now?

One alternative is to drive from Meteora to Delphi. The alternate is to continue towards Thessonaliki. If you haven’t been ‘chapeled out’ by the monasteries, then you will enjoy the 6th Century Byzantine Church of Agios Minas and the beautifully decorated Church of St Theotokos, both in the town of Velentos. Of course, there is also Mt Olympos, the vault of the twelve Greek gods, the muses and a host of walking trails.

Meteora Monasteries – Visiting Hours (Prior to Covid)

The Table below shows the Monasteries of Meteora opening times prior to the Covid pandemic. A renewed shedule for visiting the monasteries as well as a source of ideas for activities while in Meteora can be found at this useful link.

Summer (April 1st to October 31st) Schedule
Meteora Monastery Visiting Hours Variation Closed
Holy Trinity Monastery 09:00 to 17:00 n/a Thursday
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas 08:00 to 16:00 n/a Friday
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 to 17:00 Sundays: 09:30 – 17:00 Wednesday
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 to 16:00 n/a Friday
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 to 15:00 n/a Tuesday
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 9:00 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 17:30 n/a Monday
Winter (November 1st to March 31st) Schedule
Meteora Monastery Visiting Hours Variation Closed
Holy Trinity Monastery 10:00 to 16:00 n/a Thursday
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas 09:00 to 16:00 Sundays: 09:30 – 16:00 Friday
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 to 14:00 Sundays: 09:30 – 17:00 Wednesday
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 to 15:00 n/a Thursday, Friday
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 to 14:00 n/a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 9:00 to 13:30 and 15:00 to 17:00 n/a Tuesdays Wednesday, Thursday


Site Information, Great Meteoron Monastery
Ministry of Culture and Sport

Ministry of Culture and Sport

Geological Map of Greece,
Institue of Geology and Mineral Exploration
Division of General Geology and Economic Geology
Second Edition, Athens, 1983

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