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Meteora is an exquisite complex that consists of huge dark stone pillars rising outside Trikala, near the mountains of Pindos. The monasteries that sit on top of these rocks make up the second most important monastic community in Greece, after Mount Athos in Halkidiki. Out of the thirty monasteries that were founded throughout the centuries, only six of them are active today.
The history of Meteora goes many millenniums back. Theories upon the creation of this natural phenomenon are associated with the geological movements that have occurred several geological periods ago. Scientists believe that these pillars were formatted about 60 million years ago, during the Tertiary Period. That time, the area was covered by sea but a series of earth movements caused the seabed to withdraw. The mountains left were continuously hit by strong winds and waves, which, in combination with extreme weather conditions, affected their shape. This is why the pillars are composed of sandstone and conglomerate.
In the Byzantine times, monks had the inspiration to construct monasteries on top of these rocks so that they would be closer to god. The foundation of Meteora monasteries began around the 11th century. In the 12th century, the first ascetic state was officially formed and established a church to the Mother of God as their worshiping center. Activities on this church were not only related to worshiping God, but hermits used these occasions to discuss their problems and exchange ideas relating to their ascetic life there.
In the 14th century, Saint Athanasios established the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus and named this huge rock Meteoro, which means hanged from nowhere. This monastery is also known as the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron, the largest of all monasteries. For many centuries, the monks used scaffolds for climbing the rocks and getting supplies. As years passed, this method was followed by the use of nets with hooks and rope ladders. Sometimes a basket was used, which was pulled up by the monks. Wooden ladders of 40 meters long were also one of the essential tools for accessing the monasteries.
Between the 15th and 17th century, Meteora was at its prime with the arrival of many monks from other monasteries or people who wanted to lead an ascetic life in this divine environment. However, the prosperity of Meteora during that time started to fade away after the 17th century mainly due to the raids of thieves and conquerors. These caused many monasteries to be abandoned or destructed. Today, only 6 monasteries operate with a handful of monks each. The only nunnery (female monastery) is the Monastery of Agios Stefanos.