Tag Archives: Kalambaka

Meteora Vignettes

A last few items from Meteora:

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A large herd of goats crossed our path while we were on the tour.

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We were a bit late to catch the show. This poster was in one of the many closed shops in town. It was the off-season.

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Plants! On a lamppost!

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The view of the monasteries from the town.

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Does this look open to you?

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A truck.

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Another ambiguously-stray cat.

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Meteora

First, a bit more about the place. From wikipedia:

In 1344, Athanasios Koinovitis from Mount Athos brought a group of followers to Meteora. From 1356 to 1372, he founded the great Meteoron monastery on the Broad Rock, which was perfect for the monks; they were safe from political upheaval and had complete control of the entry to the monastery. The only means of reaching it was by climbing a long ladder, which was drawn up whenever the monks felt threatened.

At the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire’s reign over northern Greece was being increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders who wanted control over the fertile plain of Thessaly. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the 14th century. Six remain today.

In 1517 Theophanes built the monastery of Varlaam, which was reputed to house the finger of St John and the shoulder blade of St Andrew.

Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break”. In the words of UNESCO, “The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres (1,224 ft) cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”

Until the 17th century, the primary means of conveying goods and people from these eyries was by means of baskets and ropes.

This was our first view, getting off the train:

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Not too bad.

And this was our first meal in Kalambaka – notice the moussaka. Delicious.

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Also lamb and saganaki.

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And Greek coffee and tsipouro.

Our tour of the monasteries left the next morning, and the views were spectacular.

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Notice the mountains in the distance.

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The monks wanted solitude, and believed that high places were closer to God.

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Notice the cables.

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Not as pretty as the picture in the last post, I’ll grant you.

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Still beautiful, though. Achingly so.

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Women were required to wear skirt, which were provided when we entered. For almost the entirety of their history, the monasteries were closed to women. Two of them are now entirely run by nuns.

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We often weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but there were spectacular depictions of Christ, contemplative places of prayer, and more than a few monks. 

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It may not surprise you to learn that tourism is the major industry in Kalambaka, and that the entry fees from tourists have funded the upkeep and restoration of the monasteries.

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Obviously there were many places we were not allowed to go. The second floor, for example. But we could admire the architecture from the outside.

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One of the features I found pretty.

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Before the road and steps were built, this was the system they used to move goods and people.

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A net. I believe the system is still used for some goods.

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A long way down.

 

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We visited three monasteries in total.

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The woodwork was often quite beautiful.

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One of the rare examples of outdoor iconography.

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We saw a few hikers, and I was a bit jealous. It would have taken a lot longer, and we would have seen a lot less. But what a beautiful place in which to hike.

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Aside from the monasteries, our tour guide also pointed out several other caves in the rock face. These were once used as makeshift prisons, for monks who failed in some portion of their monkly duty.

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Taken in a photogenic location on the road between the monasteries.

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I wish I’d had more time to absorb this view.

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K and I only had to share our tour van with two other people – another advantage of going in the off-season.

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This is one of the places where you can clearly see that the stone is sedimentary.

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You can see four of the monasteries in this view.

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I took this photo because of the beauty of the rocks themselves.

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This monastery – St. Stephen – was our final destination.

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Originally built in the 16th century, St. Stephen Monastery was shelled by the Nazis.

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It’s the only monastery to which we had to really climb. And even that was made vastly easier by the stairs crafted into the rock face.

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A view through to Kalambaka below.

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Notice God filtering through the clouds.

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A picturesque view, and a long way down.

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Jesus waits at the end of the hall.

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Notice the vineyard in the foreground, planted in the terrace.

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A beautiful passageway.

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Still more terraces.

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Notice the enclosure they’ve built to protect the plants.

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A beautiful courtyard.

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Another nice view.

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The landscaping was immaculate.

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The valley below.

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A picturesque view, and a long way down.

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The quad.

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Another pretty scene.

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Self-explanatory.

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All this was rebuilt starting in 1961, when the formerly-abandoned site was given over to the nuns.

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I assume it’s even prettier in the summer.

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Each monastery we visited had free-range cats, which may or may not have been looked after by the inhabitants. They were certainly tame.

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