Written by actonsteve on 01 Jan, 2007
The ancient Greeks called Delphi "the navel of the world"...High in the mountains of central Greece, forty miles from Athens, lies the ruins of one of the most mysterious places in the ancient world.Delphi was where you communicated with a 'divine presence'. The presence showed…Read More
The ancient Greeks called Delphi "the navel of the world"...High in the mountains of central Greece, forty miles from Athens, lies the ruins of one of the most mysterious places in the ancient world.Delphi was where you communicated with a 'divine presence'. The presence showed itself through the presence of a rock chasm where strange vapours rose. And anyone who inhaled them entered a trance and muttered strange prophecies for those who chose to hear them. A priestess used to sit in a seat above the chasm known as "the pythoness". She was consulted by king and emperor alike, wars were declared and kingdoms sacked on the advice of the oracle of Delphi.Kings and Emperors may have got to see her but I only got to see the ruins from the outside and was unable to venture in and explore. A shame because I would have loved to have seen one of the most famous sites in Greece. If you do get the chance then go! Delphi is a nice little town high up in the mountains with amazing views of valleys and plains rolling down to the Gulf of Corinth. And it is an interesting place, thick pine woods cover the mountains looking as if they hide creatures from Greek mythology. And try and take a tour - what can seem a piece of rubble or crumbling wall can be brought to life by a talented tour guide.I got to Delphi town as part of my CHAT tour. For about £100 I got an overnight trip up to the Meteora and part of the journey up there was a stop at Delphi. Unfortunately it didn't work out like that. As anyone who has been on a tour knows often the tour company connects you with several of their other tours. We were to connect with a tour up from the Peloponnese. So while most of the bus were on day trips from Athens could begin their tour of Delphi - we had to wait at a hotel for our connecting bus up to Kalambaka. We had precisely one hour in Delphi, and we realised it was half an hour walk from our rondezvous point to the site gates. That would leave us with precisely five minutes to see the site..We decided to give it a go!The village of Delphi is beautifully situated. It's on a ledge high up in the mountains overlooking a valley tens of miles long. A balaustrade and walkway gave good views of the pine covered slopes opposite and it was a good place to pose against a vertiginous backdrop. The town survives on tourists and has enough hotels, cats, tavernas and souvenir shops to keep them happy. There are buses direct to Athens but from what I hear they get very packed - a journey standing up is not uncommon. Livadhia is not far away and that has a train station. So perhaps get off there and do the rest of the journey by train. For Delphi is worth a look, it can be done as a day trip but you get to see the town when the tourists have gone if you stay overnight.Unfortunately the nearest I got to the sacred precinct was the entrance where I could see a number of scrubby ruins hidden by pines up a slope before I had to head back to meet the bus. A real shame, because like all great ruins the story behind Delphi is mesmerising. There has been a temple on this site since pagan times. The earth goddess, Gaia, resided here. Her son, "the python" was ensconced in an adjoining cave. But everyone from the Myceneans onwards knew of the oracle of Delphi - the Dorians, Persians and Egyptians. The "pythoness" had a reputation for being truthful. Pilgrims from all over the ancient world would make the dangerous mountain trek up to Mt Parnassus. On arrival they would sacrifice a sheep or goat and submit their questions on a clay tablet. Her replies would then be interpreted by priests and scribbled down in hexameter verse. The answers were notoriously unambiguous.I wish I had questioned the oracle before taking the tour. Still, its a good reason to come back to Greece. Next time I'll consult a entrails of a goat. That always does the trick... Close
Viewing the monasteries can be terrifying...At one point I was perched on a rounded rock overlooking the massive valley of the Meteora. The surface was smooth and shiny and the footing was precarious. Genuinely worrying was the other twenty people on this rock all trying…Read More
Viewing the monasteries can be terrifying...At one point I was perched on a rounded rock overlooking the massive valley of the Meteora. The surface was smooth and shiny and the footing was precarious. Genuinely worrying was the other twenty people on this rock all trying to negotiate the tiny space and line up their cameras. Not a place for non-grip footwear. One slip and it was a quick drop into infinity.But the view was one of the best I have ever seen. In front of us was a plinth of grey rock standing 2,000 ft high. A sense of scale was achieved with the Roussanou monastery at its base perched on its own rock. The medieval roofs of the monastery didn't even reach a fortieth of the size of the rock. The whole vista was breathtaking. It is easy to see why the monks who built these monasteries felt aweinspired by what they saw as Gods works around them.This viewpoint was in the central part of the Pindos mountains. Not far from Aghia Triada and on the way to the Convent of Ayiou Stefanou. This is where the roads get very twisty, almost every part is a switchback road. And it is also very hard to reach if you have not got your own transport or are not part of a tour. There is a way to hike across country from Varlaam monastery to Roussanou but Ayiou Stefanou is another half hour from there.But Ayiou Stefanou is worth a visit. It's a royal convent and one of the most beautiful in the Meteora. It was on a ledge rather then a plug or pinnacle and overlooked the plain of Thessaly with Kalambaka far down below. It's one of the oldest founded in 1200 AD. The Byzantine Emporer Andronikos lived devoutly in the monastery during the 14th century and gave it the royal warrant. As a result it was one of the richest monasteries in the Meteora. Most of it's treasures are priceless and not found anywhere else in the world.Of course, it differs from the other male dominated monasteries in being a convent. Nuns were there, wearing black headscarves, ready to collect your 2 euro entrance. The monasteries/convents of the Meteora are no longer self sufficient. They are kept alive by the Greek government and in return they must let in tourists for a few euros - including women. But Greece has more than one collection of monasteries, the "monks republic" at Mt Athos in Macedonia still hasn't cracked and allowed women even as visitors. Even the farm animals are male.The convent did feel more feminised then Varlaam with a rose garden in the crevasse under the bridge and a topiary garden at the rear. The set of buildings was made out yellow stone and terracotta and the courtyard garden housed a set of cloisters. The chapel is small and covered in colourful fading frescoes. It is a small dark place with a wooden ceiling and dark marble narthex. Bright paintings of kings, shepherds, saints and the Virgin Mary cover every inch. And this being a convent there was a long line of female saints.The treasures were impressive. They included Gold embossed iconoclasts of Christ on the Cross dating from the 16th century, hand drawn manuscript Codexs', Icons of the 'Virgin in Lamentation', the abbots gold encrusted mitres and the heads of St Athanasios. Interesting though this is, it can get very cramped in the treasury especially with the myriad of nationalities viewing for a glimpse of the treasures. The garden at the rear had a magnificent terrace and balustrade with views across the plain of Thessaly. Kalambaka was spread out in the distance and you can make out roads and buildings.From here you get a sense of the Meteora being an otherworldly place. There is no sound up here but the wind and the burble of other tourists. What must life have been like in Kalambaka down the ages? Imagine the start of a day in the middle ages. The first morning light illuminates the folds and crevices of the mountains. The sound of matins echoes down from the monasteries and the peasants in the village get ready for a new day.There is something timeless about the Meteora. It's a gorgeous place. Close
In medieval times there was only one way of reaching Varlaam monastery - winch and net.A visitor could be hauled up in a rope net - half an hour of giddy twirling with the only sound being the rope slipping through the capstan. What thoughts…Read More
In medieval times there was only one way of reaching Varlaam monastery - winch and net.A visitor could be hauled up in a rope net - half an hour of giddy twirling with the only sound being the rope slipping through the capstan. What thoughts accompanied these early visitors as they ascended? How strong is the rope? What if it broke? The terrified visitor must have been sweating profusely; imagining the drop hundreds of feet to the rocks below.Nowadays there is a rope footbridge from a cleft sticking out of the Pindos mountains. Most of the monasteries have precarious and genuinely dangerous ways of access. Varlaam was first settled by hermits in 1350 and they were shown the way to the summit by local mountaineering guides. Later the sheer rocks were scaled with scaffolding which was a set of timbers wedged into crevices. Later they used colossal ladders to ascend to the top.Every visitor can't help but put themselves in ancient shoes and imagining themselves being winched up by creaking rope. But nowadays Varlaam is one of the easiest monasteries to visit as it and "Great Meteora" are connected to Kalambaka by bus in the summer and there is a simple rope bridge and stone steps connecting it with the outside world. Varlaam is one of the most beautiful of the monasteries. It started as a hermetic retreat for the monk Varlaam and consisted of a chapel and a few small cells. During Renaissance times patrons from the nearby cities of Ioannina and Trikala supported the church. Varlaam was rich and its fame and prominence meant it garnered many religious treasures.A ten minute drive up from Kastraki brings you to the carpark outside Varlaam. Get there as early as possible as in summer it gets very crowded although the tour parties seemed to have worked out a ruse of getting there when it opens at 9am. But as you get close the whole thing looks like a Gothic fairytale. With its red sloping roofs, small church domes and streaked rock it did look like something out of a fantasy genre. The rope bridge over the 500ft chasm is easily traversed then it is up a set of stone stairs that wind around the rock. The views from here are unbelievable. We were on one of the furthest titanic rocks and had a whole valley tens of miles wide between Varlaam and the next set. The rocks across the valley were miles wide and thousands of feet high.When you climb the steps and pass through the doors you will be led into the courtyard and loggia. The courtyard has a balustrade which has magnificent views of the plain of Thessaly. Around here you will also see bearded monks as this is a working monastery. Most are very young, bearded and very polite - they must be used to dealing with hundreds of tourists. Most tourists head for the chapel and this is where the crowds build up. It's very small and dark (not more than ten foot wide) but is covered from top to bottom in peeling 14th century frescoes. The frescoes showed "the judgement of sinners" with those not making the grade being devoured by a huge fish/sea dragon. The pictures were much of a same - either the damned being consumed by hellfire or medieval patriarchs glaring back at me from the walls.This is the first time I had been in an orthodox church. Our churches are grey and stone but are spacious. The Greeks/Slavs/Russians keep theirs in semi-darkness with golden candelabras suspended from the ceiling. The treasury was next door with ceremonial robes on display, copies of the bible, and icons hundreds of years old and encrusted with precious stones. More interesting was the winch room which had a metal basket suspended above the void with metal runners allowing it to be swung into the monastery. The monks supplies are still received this way. Finally, it wasn't all doom and gloom at the monastery. Nearby was a 16th century colossal wine barrel standing 8ft high. Imagine the amount of wine that contained. I couldn't resist the joke once everyone had crowded in."Now I can see the point of being a monk..." Close
The Monasteries of the Meteora came to the worlds attention in 1981 when they were shown on the big screen in For Your Eyes Only. The ancient monasteries perched high above the Thessalian plain became the perfect Bond villain hideout. The scenery and setting were…Read More
The Monasteries of the Meteora came to the worlds attention in 1981 when they were shown on the big screen in For Your Eyes Only. The ancient monasteries perched high above the Thessalian plain became the perfect Bond villain hideout. The scenery and setting were used to good effect. Filming was only marred by Roger Moore taking lots of Valium to cope with the the precarious heights and the monks hanging out their washing to disrupt the filming. Athens had cleared the filming, but they had forgot to check with the monks first.It was this film (my favourite of the series, by the way) which drew me to the Meteora. If I was going to come to Greece, then the startling rocks overlooking Kalambaka were top of my list. Aghias Trias is the name of the monastery where they filmed it. It lies on the eastern loop of the road through the mountains, not far from the convent of Aghios Stefanos and overlooking the town of Kalambaka. I saw it on my tour and we were allowed out to take pictures of the monastery from the road/cliff edge. It does seem more isolated than most of the others. The 800 ft high volcanic plug is away from the main mountain and traversed by hundreds of stone steps. The terracotta roofs were in evidence and seemed to extend over the cliff edge. The domes of a chapel could be seen and the whole thing seemed moulded out of the volcanic plug, as if it has grown organically on its crown.But the Meteora has twenty of these monasteries. Nowhere else on earth is there such a concentration of medieval monasteries in such a spectacular setting. Wherever you are in Kalambaka your eyes will be drawn to these colossi on the edge of town. The whole set of pinnacles and rocks are the remains of river sediment that covered the plain of Thessaly 25 million years ago. They were moulded through the aeons by tectonic pressure and by the river Pindos eroding its way through. To me, along with Mykonos, they were the highlight of my trip to Greece. One of the most rewarding sights I have ever seen.Getting thereThe Meteora is over 200 miles from Athens in the province of Thessaly; smack in the middle of the country. There is a railhead with Athens and Kalambaka is the end of the line. There are two express trains from Athens' Larisa station each day. Both taking five hours with no stops. The station is in the south east of the town and easily walkable to the main street. Accommodation touts meet every bus and train but often the hotels they are offer in Kalambaka are substandard.I took a tour from Athens which is a good way to do it if you don't have your own transport. This also meant I could see aspects of mainland Greece that were not open to me on public transport and the whole journey took five hours from Delphi, seven hours from Athens. Also traversing Hellas like this explains why Greece developed the way it did - city state fighting city state - they were all cut off by mountains. You have to cross about three mountain ranges to get to the plain of Thessaly. The mountains hit the plain at Lamia you can continue onto the plain or turn right to the Aegean sea. This was also where the battle of Thermopylae happened in 480 BC. The Spartans made their final stand on the slope against the 30,000 Persian army of King Xerxes. A statue of a Greek warrior commemorates it today.Kalambaka and KastrakiTwo towns lie in the shadow of the Pindos mountains. The first Kalambaka is the largest and stands in the southern shadow, the mountains on the most eastern side of the Meteora directly overlook it. The smaller is Kastraki, a charming village to the west of the Meteora. This is a more authentically "Greek" place to stay but does not have the tourist facilities of Kalambaka. Kalambaka was burnt by the Nazis in World War II so there are not many old buildings in town (the Meteora seems a perfect place for partisans to hide out ). It does, however, stay at one storey height so as to not destroy the view of the mountains. The main street is full of hotels catering to tour groups but there are still some budget hotels if you take care to look. The main street itself is a nice place to relax after spending all day with the crowds viewing the monasteries. There are many restaurants, banks, and souvenir shops where you can buy postcards of the monasteries out of range of you and your camera.Kastraki is another option. This was a definite village and was moulded into the surrounding rocks and pine groves. It's much more traditionally Greek with people living in houses covered in vines with goats outside. Many have set themselves up as guesthouses and there was definitely a more mellow air in Kastraki with no traffic on the roads and walking trails leading up into the hills.Getting to the monasteriesOnly six monasteries are open to the public each day. And they are spread over a vertiginous area twenty miles in diameter. The road from Kastraki (in the west) to Ayia Stefanou (in the east) is 10 km. This is no straight highway - it snakes around the mountains often with thousand feet drops on one side and menaced by speeding tour buses. I did see people walk this tarmacked road and they did have more freedom then those on the tour buses but they also looked hotter and more exhausted.There are buses up to Varlaam from Kalambaka. From there you could see a few monasteries before taking hiking trails back to the town. The buses leave early about 8.20am from Kalambaka. Also, there are agencies in town who do daily tours for about 50 euros. This cuts out a lot of the hassle of getting to monasteries but does mean you have to share them with the other tour parties. Also, do not forget about the dress code. No shorts, and both sexes must cover their shoulders. Women must wear skirts and men long trousers. And finally, there is no food or drink up at the monasteries. They are still living breathing places of worship and not theme parks. Bring any drinks or food with you. And on a hot day hiking up stone steps in the Meteora - be careful not to dehydrate.Despite all these precautions and maybe because of the trouble as they are so remote the Meteora is more authentic and rewarding. When you stand on the edge of one of the monasteries and see the jumbled mountainous landscape around you then you can see the attraction of becoming a monk.Minus the itchy woollen habit of course... Close
Written by Re Carroll on 15 Sep, 2000
This Byzantine Church is the only tourist attraction actually located in Kalambaka. It doesn’t have the grandeur or wealth of the nearby Meteora monasteries but it is a very peaceful place and worth a visit. It was built in the 10th or 11th…Read More
This Byzantine Church is the only tourist attraction actually located in Kalambaka. It doesn’t have the grandeur or wealth of the nearby Meteora monasteries but it is a very peaceful place and worth a visit. It was built in the 10th or 11th century, over the ruins of an early Christian church.
Large trees and a small bench nearby provide a shady place where you can relax after the slight uphill climb through a residential area to get here. The three story tower at the front gives it some definition but it is otherwise quite plain. The church is usually locked and we were lucky that the caretaker was outside relaxing so he let us in. He took me by the hand and gave us a tour in Greek that we didn’t understand but he was a very sweet man and seemed very happy to have company. For a small fee, postcards and handwritten information on the church were available but no interior pictures were allowed.
The focal point of the church is a solid marble pulpit, the only one in Greece. It is located in the middle of the church and the stairs on either side of it lead to the top where the priest can be easily seen and heard.
The interior walls of the church are covered with paintings, some dating to the 12th century. Some of these paintings were done by Neophytos, son of Theophanis who did many of the wall paintings at the Meteora monasteries. Although a bit faded
in spots, they are still quite impressive. Behind the alter is a large crypt (not open for viewing) that was used as a refuge when the area was raided in earlier centuries by the Ottomans.
To reach the Church, head north of town and you'll see signs or you can stop and ask someone and they'll help with directions.
Written by sr92111 on 21 Feb, 2001
The following pictures are of some of the monasteries. There aren't many places inside where you can take pictures, but here are a couple of examples of the incredible artistry that has survived since the 1200's. I've also included a picture of my favorite monastery…Read More
The following pictures are of some of the monasteries. There aren't many places inside where you can take pictures, but here are a couple of examples of the incredible artistry that has survived since the 1200's. I've also included a picture of my favorite monastery and some of the views. Close