Meteora is visually iconic. You see it and instantly recognise it, rarely by name or location but as “Oh! Yeh! That place. Didn’t they do a James Bond there once”. It is like nowhere else. Other countries have the odd monastery or castle on a rocky outcrop but as far as I know nowhere is there such a concentration of monasteries on the top of pinnacles of rock, precipitous and inaccessible on all sides. Note that: on all sides.
When they were built, mostly around the 16th Century, the only way in to them was either to climb the vertical rock or by means of pulleys, ropes and rope baskets. Apparently ropes were only changed when they snapped (no concept of routine or preventative maintenance in those days): pity the poor soul in the basket at the time. Only in the 1930’s were steps cut to give access when the local bishop became concerned for the safety, and maybe the dignity, of his religious personage. Now there are car parks with trinket stalls and vast numbers of people flock every day by the coach load from Athens, Thessaloniki and islands within striking distance of the mainland.
The Rough Guide says get there early to avoid the crowds. Must be joking!!! The hotel I’m in is on the route to the monasteries, breakfast is served from 08.00 and when I sat down at 08.05 on Saturday morning coaches were already lumbering past on the uphill grind.
Saturday started grey and cool so I dressed and packed my rucksack accordingly. Within half an hour the sky had cleared, the sun come out. Back to the Greek weather I’m familiar with. There is a very good book, “The Footpaths of Meteora” available locally and I had planned a route from it to just a few of the monasteries.
I didn’t intend to visit the inside of any of the monasteries over the weekend when they will probably be even more crowded than usual but just to walk to a few of them and take photos of their dramatic settings. So I did. Twice. It was clear that the best photos of a couple of them would be early evening when the sun had moved round further west. Between the two visits there was another big thunderstorm but this time I managed to stay dry thanks to the massive branches of an ancient plane tree under which I sheltered for 40 minutes while it rumbled in the huge crags overhead. One lightening strike was in the crags just behind me.
Enough of words. From what I have seen so far Meteora is full of wonders. Here are a few images attempting to do justice to this dramatic location.