Thursday, 15 January 2015

Meteora - Monasteries in the Mountains

Our last port of call in Greece was Meteora, an area in the north, well known for its unusual honey-comb rocks and rocky pillars, and the complex of Greek Orthodox monasteries that sit perched atop them.

We'd stayed the night just out of the town Kalambaka that sits at the foot of these boulders and so were able to be overwhelmed by their size and strangeness as we slowly wound our way up towards the monasteries.
As it was the middle of winter we'd been prepared for rain and dreaded fog, things that are renown for plaguing this area, however we were blessed to wake to sunshine and blue skies.

Of the 22 monasteries that once existed, only six now remain operational, of which we planned to visit two. Although some are lived in by monks and others nuns, they all carry the name Monastery, derived from the Greek monasterios meaning to live alone, something that until recently, was very easy for these small communities. This was because they not only earned their own keep and so had little need to interact with society, but because access to their monasteries was via spindly wooden ladders, tied one to the other and a rope and pulley system.

Now, these monasteries still earn their own keep, but do so through opening their doors to tourists, resulting in far better means of accessing their hideaways.
Having stopped by the roadside for a photo opportunity we continued on to the first one: The Holy Monastery of Rousanou/St Barbara.

Having trooped up the stairs to the lookout points where more photos were taken, the women stepped to one side in order to don the specially provided polyester skirts that were a requirement for our sex. It seems women are not allowed to reveal the shapes of their body from the waist to the knee. While we all complied it was slightly funny as being the middle of winter we were all wrapped in downy or cumbersome overcoats (with cameras underneath or in bulging pockets, and anyone would have needed a decent imagination to make out our shapely bottoms let alone get distracted by them. Still...

The purpose of our visit to this particular one (besides the fact that it was opened on this day) was that it's little chapel housed some of the oldest Greek Orthodox frescos in existence. Every space on the walls and ceilings were covered with representations of Jesus, Mary and perhaps more gruesomely the martyrdoms of many of the saints. What was amazing was just how much of the frescoes remain and how vivid the colours still are.  

Our second stop was past the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (a setting in the James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only') (see pictures below) and on to the Monastery of St Stephen.
Though I have no pictures of this one, it was significantly larger, possessing a large church that was still in the process of being painted. Again the paintings were in the Greek Orthodox style and depicted the full host of religious figures.
What was interesting to note was the similarities between the paintings in the two churches, as though the modern day painter was in some instances simply replicating what already existed. If this was the case, there may have been an ulterior motive, recording the appearance of the original one in case something should ever happen to it and it is lost to history.

Having finished our tour of the area, we drove back across the wide open plain of Thessaly and headed back to Athens where our tour would end the following morning and many of us would part ways and return home. 

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