A visit to the Meteora in Greece: Day 1


The Meteora are six medieval monasteries situated on the humps of a peculiar mountain range in Central Greece. They are simultaneously magnificent feats of civil engineering, and an incredibly dumb expenditure of human effort. I will explain shortly.

One of the monasteries of the Meteora.  I hope this conveys the sheer cheek someone must have had to build this.

One of the monasteries of the Meteora. I hope this conveys the sheer cheek someone must have had to build this.

We took the train from Athens to Kalambaka, from which it is a short ride to the village of Kastraki, where the Meteora are situated. “Kastraki” roughly translates to “castrated people” in Russian, a fact that is irrelevant but for the zillions of giggling Russian tourists milling about.

We stayed at the Hotel Meteora, which offers a spectacular view of the monasteries. It also offers an excellent breakfast, and we ate far too much of it, so instead of hiking the to the Great Meteoron, grandest of all the monasteries at some 600 m above sea level, we opted for a taxi. I felt quite smug as we zipped past the smelly-looking hikers and their backpacks.

It is difficult to describe the Meteora even when one is looking directly at them. Imagine a low mountain range covered in fresh green grass and sweet-smelling trees and flowers. Now imagine that every five hundred metres or so, an immense pillar of reddish stone the size of the Empire State Building shoots vertically out of the earth, without warning or incline. Finally, plonk a fully operational medieval stone monastery atop each pillar and populate it with a tribe of black-robed Greek Orthodox monks. This then is the Meteora, with the important caveat that the engineering which made the unlikely construction possible took place in 1340, before cranes or electricity. Six hundred years later, the Meteora still baffle. How did medieval monks build these immense structures that seem to grow out of the stone like mushrooms? Where did they find water and food? And why in the world did they think that it would be a neat idea to live on columns of stone?

Showey’s great Greek Saga continues tomorrow…

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