Balkans Day 12: Kalambaka (part 2)
28/08/2013 21 Comments
Following our day exploring the town of Kalambaka and walking through some of the areas around the rocks we were now ready for part two of our day. Earlier we had booked a guided tour for the evening taking us round some of the best viewing areas and imparting some of the history behind the monastic settlements built atop the towering pinnacles.
This is not something we would do on a regular basis but the whole area is too large to cover on foot unless you want to take the whole day to do so. We were extremely glad we did.
The whole area of the rock formations and monasteries is known commonly as Meteora, although the town of that name is several kilometres away from Kalambaka and Kastraki. In its entirety it comprises the second most important Orthodox religious site in Greece after Mount Athos.
The area nearby has been home to human occupation for around 50,000 years, but the first people to actually inhabit the rock pillars of Meteora were a ninth century group of ascetic, hermit monks who lived in the caves and grottoes which abound here. They lived a life of seclusion protected from the outside world by the height and sheerness of the cliffs.
Rudimentary monastic communities were established in the late 11th century and in 1344 Athanasios Koinovitis brought a group of monks from Mount Athos and founded the Great Meteoron Monastery. As Turkish incursions into the area increased the monks retreated to the rock pillars for safety and more than 20 monasteries were constructed on the inaccessible peaks of which six remain active today.
Our first port of call on the tour was the Holy Monastery of Rousanou on one of the lower pinnacles below the Great Meteoron Monastery. Unfortunately photography is forbidden inside any of the monasteries which are still active places of worship but we were given a fascinating explanation of the iconography and frescoes within.
Following this we took a short drive up to Great Meteora, the largest of the remaining monasteries, perched high up on a huge rock pillar overlooking the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki and the Plain of Thessaly. Unfortunately there was no access to this monastery but we were able to get some photos of the huge structure on its peak.
After this it was back down into Kalambaka for a look at one of the old churches there which was (literally) the low-point of the tour. The church dates back to the early christian era and actually incorporates some remains of a temple dedicated to Apollo in ancient times, but to be honest it isn’t that interestilng or particularly photogenic. It was, however, a convenient stopping off point before heading out of town to get some panoramic views of the whole rock formations of Meteora.
On the way to the viewing site we had another brief stop at the tiny church of the virgin Mary for a photo op of some of the hermits’ caves which are still in use today by some committed modern-day hermits.
With this done it was back up to the hills around the peaks and out onto one of the outcrops there to get some pictures as the sun set over the amazing landscapes of Meteora.