The 24 monasteries atop the enormous rock formations in Meteora, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are known for their distinctive architecture and striking grandeur. They are located near the Pinios river and the Pindos Mountains in Thessaly.
‘Meteora’ in Greek means ‘hanging in the air’ or ‘heaven above’. Monks began to live atop these “columns of the sky” in the 11th century in an area of nearly impassable sandstone peaks. A group of monks who came to the region in the ninth century originally decided to live there to seek haven against wrongdoings and be closer to God. During the great eremitic resurgence of the 15th century, twenty-four monasteries were constructed against immense obstacles. Several were constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries to defend against Ottoman incursions. All the monasteries in Meteora were erected in treacherous terrain; some are protected by massive walls, while others rely on the cliff sides’ verticality. At some monasteries, a protective tower was used as a point of surveillance and safety. Monks utilised nets and a hook to climb up or descend because access was extremely difficult due to their conspicuous location. Rigging ladders, which could stretch up to 40 meters, was another option. The steps constructed onto the natural rock formations allow tourists to reach the monastery.
The monasteries of Meteora, Greece, are like living museums that house a variety of priceless Byzantine artefacts and icons. The frescoes from the 16th century represent a significant turning point in post-Byzantine art.
Monastic Architecture | Meteora Monastery in Greece
The mediaeval period is mainly associated with the historical architecture of the monasteries at Meteora. The monastery style of Mt. Athos in Macedonia directly influences the Meteora monasteries’ design. The monasteries are hence emblems of Balkan orthodoxy. Usually, there is only one entrance to the monastery, a gate fortified with defences.
Next, a closed, arched corridor leads to an interior courtyard. Several portions of the monastery are accessible from the courtyard separately. As the monastery’s most significant component, the Katholikon is situated in the centre of the complex. Chapels and the monks’ and the monastery leaders’ private rooms were also accessible from the courtyard.
Influences from Byzantine and Roman architecture are apparent, with the ornamentation of the external masonry. Roman arches and domes are used outside, and vaulted ceilings are used in the interior. The cathedral has greater room and light owing to the Byzantine dome’s interior being divided into segments by recessed arches above the Varlaam monastery. Pendentives support the dome. The pendentives are triangular infills that sit above and between the arches. The four sides of the central dome are surrounded by arches supporting the vaulted ceilings. There are seven monasteries: Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, Holy Monastery of Varlaam, Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas, Holy Monastery of St. Stephen and Holy Monastery of Holy Trinity.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity
It is an Eastern Orthodox monastery that may also be found in central Greece‘s Peneas Valley, northeast of Kalambaka. It is situated at the summit of a 400-meter-high, steep, rocky cliff. It is the oldest of the 24 monasteries on Meteora.
The cruciform church layout has a dome that is supported by two columns. The monastery’s main cathedral was constructed in the 15th century and frescoed in 1741 by two monks. The apse also has a window with a faux-trefoil design. There are white columns, arches, and tiles with rose colour. A tiny skeuophylakion was erected to the church in 1684.
St Stephen’s Monastery | Meteora Monastery in Greece
The early 12th century marks the beginning of St. Stephen’s history. Hosios Antonios and Hosios Philotheos, who carried out significant restorations in the 15th and 16th centuries, are two of its founders.
It is of the well-known Athonite architectural style, an inscribed-cross tetrastyle with two conches, one on each side. A spacious exonarthex with four central columns supporting its roof is also present. The great, central vault of the nave and the two lesser ones of the sanctuary are distinctive and remarkable. A porch-exonarthex with stone arches has been constructed on the church’s northern external wall.
The Rousanou monastery
It is built on a vertical axis and has the least accessible surface in Meteora. Its initial foundation was laid in 1333 AD by monks expelled from Constantinople to defend them against Turkish persecution. It was erected on top of a high rock. The monastery’s name, which translates to “of the forest” or “in the forest,” alludes to the fact that it was constructed inside a forest.
Whether viewed from above or below, the three churches that make up its architectural design form a cross. Each church is situated on two levels, one below and one above ground.
Religious Art and Monasteries | Meteora Monastery in Greece
With the prospect of invasion or conquest, many manuscripts were hidden in the monasteries, which later became a significant repository for them. Moreover, manuscripts have been scavenged from walls, beds, and roof voids. However, now they are safely kept as relics in monastic libraries. A wide range of manuscripts, dating from the 9th to 19th centuries, including works with philosophical, scientific, literary, and historical value. Naturally, the majority of texts are religious and ecclesiastical. Other documents comprise 3000 gold-embossed pages of Byzantine emperors.
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- Kyle Kroeger. Meteora Stunning Rousanou Monastery. Available at: https://viatravelers.com/meteora-monastery/. [Accessed 23 February 2023]
- The Meteora Monasteries. Available at: https://euscentia.com/meteora-monasteries-history-architecture-art/#history. [Accessed 23 February 2023]
- Timonthy. Monastery of the Holy Trinity. Available at: https://timswww.com.au/monastery-of-the-holy-trinity-meteora/. [Accessed 23 February 2023]
- Meteora Monasteries. Available at: https://www.greeka.com/thessaly/meteora/architecture/. [Accessed 23 February 2023]