Sometimes we can all go to great lengths to get five minutes peace, but the group of orthodox monks who fled to the towering heights of Greece’s most awe-inspiring monasteries make our ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs look more than a little pathetic. So intent were these death-defying holy men to live a life of solitude, they created a retreat so improbable, it’s no wonder they believed in miracles.
Meteora is amongst the most hallowed sites in Greece, playing second fiddle only to Mount Athos way out in the east. Located near the ancient town of Kalambaka, its origins stretch back to the 9th century, when the aforementioned monks lived not in the sky, but under the earth in multiple millennia-old caves. At some point, an alfresco lifestyle was deemed preferable, and a mass ascension to the sandstone towers began.
In those early days the brave brothers found solace in fissures, some more than 500 metres in the air, but soon the foundations for more permanent places of worship began to take shape. By the 14th Century, over twenty monasteries had been built atop these skyscraping pinnacles at the very edge of the Pindus Mountains and, contrary to its reputation, the hermit community flourished, bonded together by faith (and possibly, a very real fear of falling). So keen were they to keep the outside world at bay, the only way to reach the lodgings at this time were through perseverance and some very precarious rope ladders, allowed to decay to the point when ‘the Lord let them break’.
Though only six of the raised retreats are still in existence today, a small faction of the most dedicated spiritual devotees remain. Since health and safety has also been stepped up in the form of stone steps carved into the rock face, non-believers too have come knocking on the doors on Varlaam, Rousanou and their clifftop counterparts. So, if you happen to be in the vicinity and feel like taking your adventure to the next level, let Meteora elevate your mind as well as your body.