Meteora is one of the world’s most unique and exciting destinations. Yes, 007 did hang from a cliff here in a scene in “For Your Eyes Only.” But its thrilling history goes back much further. It’s both a geological wonder, and a UNESCO World Heritage center, because of the many glorious Byzantine Monasteries topping these giant columns of stone. The word meteora means “suspended” – between heaven and earth. And it truly is. From the 14th through the 16th centuries, monasteries were constructed on the tops of these great sandstone pillars, reaching hundreds of meters into the sky. The tops of these straight-sided formations are nearly inaccessible. The constructions are miraculous and inspiring. Here is what you can experience on a day trip from Thessaloniki to Meteora.
From Thessaloniki to Meteora – A Day Trip: The Geology of Meteora
In western Thessaly, not far from the Pindus mountains, there is a plain. Suddenly and abruptly, great narrow columns of sandstone rise toweringly high – hundreds of meters into the sky. It’s an amazing sight.This dramatic geological phenomenon started 60 million years ago, when this was a seabed. Movements in the earth pushed it upward to form a great plateau. This was filled with fault lines – now vertical. Over millennia, wind and rains sculpted these mighty columns. It is unusual that such a phenomenon would be so isolated. That makes the pillars of meteora all the more magical.
The History of Meteora
Interestingly, there is no mention of this geological miracle in ancient texts. Who knows – perhaps the Gods would have preferred it to Mt. Olympus?
Meteora was inhabited in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. There is evidence of these early civilizations in the caves of Meteora. This includes an ancient construction – a wall 23,000 years old that closes two-thirds of the entrance to the Theopetra cave.
Somehow, humanity forgot this heavenly location for thousands of years. Hermits discovered it again, in the 9th century. They lived in the natural caves and crevices in the mighty towers. By the 11th century, monks were living in the caves. Then, in the 14th century, they began to build monasteries.
Thessaloniki to Meteora – a Day Trip: The Monasteries of Meteora
Grand Meteora was the first of the monasteries. It’s still functioning and is the largest monastery in Meteora. Grand Meteora was founded by a monk from Mt. Athos – the monastic state in Halkidiki – in 1356. Other monasteries followed. This was a time that brought political turmoil and invasions from the Ottoman Empire. Access to the monasteries was difficult – deliberately so. The monasteries had ladders and ropes to access them. They could pull these up, and be perfectly safe from invaders.
The Monasteries of Meteora Today
There were once over 20 monasteries active at the top of these stone pillars. There remain six today – four are monasteries, and two are convents. Visiting them allows you a privileged experience of a serene and timeless way of life.
Of course, there is one improvement – both goods and people were once hoisted up in nets. Travelling hundreds of meters upward, suspended by a rope, must have required tremendous faith.
The largest and oldest of the monasteries of Meteora – this is one you will surely visit on a day trip from Thessaloniki to Meteora. Although this is the least contemplative of the monasteries – so many visitors – there is the most to see. Grand Meteora has many artifacts of the daily life of the monastery in past centuries, such as vessels for making wine and yogurt, tools for baking bread. There is also a museum, which includes information about the life of Meteora during te second world war. As elsewhere in Greece, the monastic communities have always been active supporters and participants in all national struggles.
Grand Meteora is both the oldest and the highest of the monasteries. It has an elevation of 630 meters, and the rock itself is some 400 meters high.
The second largest of the monasteries, Varlaam was built in the 16th century (1541). It has the largest community of monks today, although they are very few in number.
Rousanou/Agia Varvara (St. Barbara)
Apparently, women take better to the monastic life of Meteora than men. Rousanou has the largest community of Meteora, with 15 nuns as of 2015. This mid 16th-century monastery is easy to reach by stairs, but they lead to a dizzyingly high, thrilling bridge. The nuns are beekeepers, and make an excellent chestnut honey you can buy as a sweet souvenir.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity
This is the most dramatica of the monasteries. You reach it by stairs etched in the face of the cliff. The views are thrilling along the way. It was from here that Roger Moore as 007 hung from the edge of the cliff.
The monastery was built in 1475.
The Monastery of Agios Stefanos (St. Steven)
This monastery of was shelled heavily by the Nazis in WWII, who thought rebels were hiding within.The monastery was then abandoned after the war. In 1961 it was made into a convent. It is now flourishing and has an active community of nuns – 28 as of 2015.
The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas
Built in 1527, the monastery is known for its frescoes in the church. These are the work of the Cretan icon painter Theophaniz Strelitzas. He was the leading iconographer and fresco painter of the first half of the 16th century.
From Thessaloniki to Meteora – A Day Trip: How to get to Meteora from Thessaloniki
The drive to Kalambaka – the town at the base of Meteora – is about two and a half hours from Thessaloniki. There are also buses and trains that conveniently connect Thessaloniki with Kalambaka. If you have a car, you may enjoy the flexibility of getting there on your own. You’ll also then have the car to reach the monasteries themselves.
From Thessaoiniki to Meteora by Bus – A Day Trip by Bus (KTEL)
The public bus company – KTEL – has daily routes connecting Thessaloniki with Kalambaka. The buses leave from the KTEL Makedonia bus station in Thessaloniki (see how to get to the KTEL station here). The trip takes about three and a half hours, including time to transfer buses in Trikala. The transfer time is just 15 minutes so you won’t waste time, and the connecting bus waits for the incoming bus. A bus leaves at 8:30 am, getting you to Kalambaka at noon. To return, there is a bus at 7:00 pm (19:00), again with an easy transfer in Trikala. This gives you seven hours in Kalambaka, which is plenty of time to visit two or three of the monasteries. To make the most efficient use of your day, you may want to have local guides and transfer services. We had a great experience with Meteora Thrones tours.
From Thessaoiniki to Meteora by Bus – A Day Trip by Train
From Thessaoiniki to Meteora by Bus – A Organized Day Trip with Transportation and Professional Guides
Coming with an organized tour and an experienced guide is the most convenient and efficient way to experience it. There are many tours available, both small group tours and private tours only for your traveling party.
Meteora is one of these many ideal day trips from Thessaloniki.