Towering over the Thessalian Plain in Central Greece, is a majestic rock formation, called Meteora, meaning ‘elevated’ or ‘hanging from heaven’, where Eastern Orthodox monasteries literally cling to the cliff tops, suspended between heaven and earth. Petrified diatoms, comprising several genera of microalgae found in oceans and rivers, hint that millions of years ago, this region was once the estuary of a river. Debris from northern Central Europe washed down the river and as the water of the estuary slowly drained, millions of years of corrosion shaped the conglomerate and sandstone into the outstanding pillars.
Mythological and Political Landscape of Meteora
Today the Pineios River, flowing from the Pindos Mountain, snakes through the valley. The river is named after the Thessalian god Peneus, a Potamoi, who according to mythology, was the father of Daphne. Apollo, afflicted by an arrow of Eros, fell in love with Daphne, and her father Peneus turned her into a laurel tree to protect her. Although legend tells that the rock pillars on the ancient riverbed were ‘dropped from heaven’, the apt naming of ‘Meteora’ can be ascribed to the 14th-century monk Athanasios Koinovitis. He was an educated monk who travelled from Constantinople and Crete to the monastic settlement at Mount Athos, from where he eventually fled to Meteora. In 1344 he founded the first monastic community at Meteora, with his spiritual mentor Gregorios and 14 other monks, to build the Grand Meteoro monastery.
But Meteora had been inhabited before Athanasios arrived. Already in the ninth century ascetic hermit monks inhabited the fissures in the cliffs. By the 11th century many monks lived in caves and in the 12th century, Orthodox monks fleeing persecution of the Turkish and Frankish marauders found solace and sanctuary by establishing rudimentary sketes – communal living comprising of a number of small cells that act as the living quarters with a centralized church or chapel, in this case the Church of Theotokos (Mother of God), below the Agios Nicholas Monastery.
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Dr Micki Pistorius has an Honours Degree in Biblical Archaeology
By: Micki Pistorius