Don’t Look Down: A Visit to Meteora
and the St. Nicholas Monastery

St. Stephens Monastery

It’s easy to understand why 14th- and 15th-century hermits would want to spend their lives in meditation, prayer and reflection atop the towering sandstone pinnacles of Meteora (which means “suspended in air”). Less obvious is how they managed to construct 24 Greek Orthodox monasteries atop these nether-worldly peaks, some so inaccessible the monks had to be hauled up in nets.

Today, six monasteries remain.

St. Nicholas was founded either in the 11th century, if you count from the time when the first Byzantine hermit plunked himself down at the spot to pray, or in 1510, if your definition of “founding” involves, you know, actual foundations.

Hiking to it from our campground in Kastraki took about 30 minutes, an easy stroll past quaint hotels and tavernas with meat roasting on spits outside, plus a 10-minute cardio workout up the monastery stairs. When we arrived at St.Nicholas, the place was deserted, unsurprising since it’s one of the smaller monasteries and we were there in late October.

At the entrance I was given a wrap skirt to wear over my jeans. Then we were free to poke around. Open to the public are a small chapel (no photographs allowed) with some lovely Byzantine art, a few interior rooms and several terraces with glorious views of the plain of Thessaly. The place is tiny, so about 10 minutes inside was all we needed. (This included a futile attempt to converse with a peevish monk.)

Afterward the three of us headed up to the rooftop where we, like the peak’s original inhabitants, spent some quiet and reflective time. For nearly an hour, Scout wrote in her travel journal while Mark and I chatted, pondered and enjoyed the view. Smoke from controlled fires in the cotton fields below created a dull haze in the sky, but the crisp Autumn day was beautiful nonetheless.


Meteora rock formations


 The exterior elevator, still called “the Net”


In past centuries monks used to use this pulley to crank up the nets.


The cutout for the elevator (or, at one time, for the net)


The Plain of Thessaly is covered with cotton fields. When farmers burn them at the end of the season, the sky gets pretty hazy.


Mark thinking Very Deep Thoughts


Scout journaling inside the main interior room. Apparently after 45 minutes on the roof she had more to write. See those tables? They’re covered with religious icons and artifacts made by the monks and available for a donation. (We didn’t buy any at this particular monastery, though Scout lobbied for and got a miniscule bag of incense for €5, which we funded because she blindsided us and it momentarily seemed, erm, “cultural.”)


For sale.


Main stairway


Byzantine religious art made by a Cretian painter in the 16th century


People lived in these caves for 50,000 years.


One last look…


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clelie November 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Okay, off to Wikipedia for me, to find how they actually did manage to build them. How fascinating. And I, like Mark, would not have looked down. 


2 Renee November 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Ha! How’d you know it was Mark? I tried to get him to sit on a railing at the top for a photo and he freaked out at the thought. Eventually I was able to take three photos of him several feet away from the railing, and in each ones he’s all contorted and leaning in toward the center. Poor thing.


3 JennAthomeintheworld6 November 1, 2011 at 6:19 pm

WOW! Great pics Renee. We watched the Young Indiana Jones series while we were in Cappadocia, and eversince we saw the episode of young Indy visitng one of these monasteries where he gets pulled up by a rope in a wooden box elevator, I’ve wanted to go to Greece and see this for myself. So lucky!


4 Renee November 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Thanks, Jenn. They were beautiful and certainly a pleasant change from all the crumbling ruins we’ve been seeing recently. We didn’t see all six but enjoyed the ones we did see very much.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: