THE " ROCKY FOREST " OF GREECE
64 gigantic rocks rise perpendicularly from the ground on the western edge of the plain of Thessaly in the heart of northern Greece.
These ancient pinnacles etched by wind and rain echoed the chants of the ascetic community of Meteora, home of monks who live in monasteries and chapels perched precariously upon the rocks.
Meteora stands on the plain of Thessaly beside the village of Kastraki around 26 km (16 m) north of Trikala and 375 km (234 m) northwest of Athens. The grey monolithic rocks stand in front of the Pindos Mountains. The impressive rocks are composed of a mixture of sandstone and hard gravel called conglomerate. Formed 60 million years ago as the bed of sea, which we now know, as the plain of Thessaly.
Seismic movements thrust the sea bed upwards to create a high plateau and split the thick layer of sandstone into innumerable faults. Wind, water and extreme temperatures wore away the fractured sandstone creating the pillars, which are now known as “the rocky forest of Greece”. Hermits and religious ascetics first inhabited the rocky pinnacles, which reach 550 m (1.800 ft) tall, during the 9th century.
Of the 24 monasteries that grew up between the 13th and 16th centuries only six are still inhabited: The Great Meteoron, Agia Triada, Agios Nikolaos and Varlaam by monks: Agios Stephanos and Roussanou by nuns.
Meteor-this city of Monastic Life of Rocks- stands as the most important and the largest centre of Orthodox Monasticism in Greece, after Mt. Athos. This stone forest of rocks constitutes one of the most wonderful and impressive geological phenomena on our planet. The most common theory holds the view, that the formation of the rocks was due to the prior existence of a delta shaped cone comprising of river stones and mud, which poured into the ancient Thessaly basin. After the geological separation of the masses of Olympus as well as Ossa, the waters of the basin found an outlet into the Aegean through the Tempi area. Then the delta shaped mass (by the effect of earthquakes, wind and rain for millions of years) broke-up into stones and huge solid rocks up to 400 meters high.
Meteora has been recognized as a protected Monument for Humanity by UNESCO and other international Organizations and that it must be maintained as such for bearing witness to Christian, historical, architectural, agiographic ( and generally artistic) and geological evidence. The area of Meteora, since October 1995 by civil law( 2531/11.10.95) and in following relative decision by the Synod of the Church of Greece in 1990- was declared: holy ground, unchangeable and an violated, a fact, which secures its Orthodox authenticity and effective protection.
MONASTERY OF GRAND METEORON: On the highest and largest in area rock of Meteora stands the monastery for men of Grand Meteoron which was built around 1340 by St. Athanasios of Meteora - a great personality in monastic life, who organized the first coenobium at Meteora. The visitor to the monastery can enjoy: The Tower (1520), which has the dominating feature of the balcony with the net, the Cellar (today a folk museum showing old tools and implements), the dinning room(1557, today a museum of relics of the Monastery), the Kitchen (1557, today a museum exhibiting old copper, earthen and wooden utensils).
There still exist, through not shown to the Public, the Hospital with care for the aged ( 1572, today under reconstruction and refitting) and the chapels of Theometoros (Our Lady of Meteoritissas Petras, 14th century), John the Baptist( early 17th century), Sts Constantine and Helena (1789) and St. Nektarios. The Monastery is the guardian of manuscript codes of great artistic value such as gold-seals, patriarchal vestments and other manuscripts, valuable historic documents, rare old scripts (14th and 15th cent.), old hand made artistry such as wood carvings, gold-embroidery, silver etc.
The majestic Catholicon of the monastery is of the type as found on Mt Athos and is dedicated to all Saints, built in 1542. The main Church was painted in 1548 by the Theban painter Frangos Catelanos and it has all the characteristics attributed to his work descriptive detail and analysis of historic events with vivid realism.
The Narthex was painted in 1566 by the look-alike brothers and Theban painters George and Frankos Contares. The chapel of the thtree Hierarchs, a tiny Church, was built in 1627 and was painted in1637 with general characters painted in post- Byzantine agiography . Other buildings are the Dining room (today a museum) and the Hospital. At the end of 16 century, the most well organized bibliographical workshop was functioning, best amongst all others at Meteora, plus a workshop foe gold embroidery.
The main Church was built around 1476 and is a two-pillar crossed temple roofed by a central dome. The present wall paintings of the church (1741) is the work of the brothers and painters abbe Anthony and Nicolaos which although more modern it continues successfully the tradition of good post- Byzantine school of art. Inside the church is featured Christ Pantokrator and in the spherical triangles the four Evangelists. the old wood carved templum renowned for its old and art's-sake icons was stolen in 1979. The large dome covered inner narthex was constructed in 1689 and was painted in 1692. The chapel of St. John the Baptist- a small circular temple with dome is carved into the rock- presents many worthwhile icons and was fashioned into the rock in 1862 and painted at the same time. The remainder of the buildings comprise the Dinning-room, the cells, reception rooms, water cisterns and other useful areas.
MONASTERY OF SAINT STEPHEN: With a panoramic view across the vast plain of Thessaly and above Kalambaka balances harmoniously the easiest to to get to meteoric Nunnery of St. Stephen's. The small chapel of St. Stephen was built in 1350, in 1545 it was extended and its wall painting were partly renovated by abbe and painter Nicolaos.
The present Church of St, Charalambos (1798) is one of the mt. Athos type and decorated with majestic wood carvings. In 1943 the Church was bombed and recently renovated and its still being painting by the well known hagiographer Mr. Vlasis Tsotsones. The holy Scull of St. Charalambos is kept at the Monastery. The sizeable Dining room has been converted into a modern Museum. The Monastery has distinguished itself for considerable help toward the National struggles (it has been the Headquarters of the Command during the Macedonian campaign) through education and culture.
The Church of Transfiguration of the Lord was built in 1530 and is of the mt. Athos type. Its agiography (1560) is one of the most important and brilliant of the post-Byzantine period.
MONASTERY OF SAINT NICHOLAS ANAPAFSAS: Near the village of Kastraki and amongst the ruins of the monasteries of St John the Baptist, Christ Pantokrator- stands the multi storey Monastery of St. Anapafsas, elegant yet on rather restrictive rock, impressive nonetheless Organized monastic life on the monastery started on 14th century.
At the start of 16th cent. the Monastery was renovated extensively and the Church of St. Nicolaos was built. On the second storey stands the Catholicon of the monastery ( a tiny singular Church, almost a square, with a small dome in the centre of the roof) which was painted in 1527 by the famous painter Theophanes Strelitza, otherwise known as Bathas and founder of The Cretan School in Byzantine agiography.
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On the first storey there is the crypt and chapel of St. Anthony, on the walls of which there still remain remnants of old (14 cent) wall paintings. At the top storey one can see the old Dining room (with wall paintings), which is used today as a reception hall, the Ossuary and the chapel of John the Baptist.Meteora private tour