Pictures of Vikos Gorge and beautiful bridges; Meteora
Mon 11 Jul 2011 16:26
Monday 11 July 2011
39:42.5 N 21:37.5 E Meteora
Meteora means suspended in the air, a description of the incredible monasteries built on top of rock pinnacles. This bit of Greece is Thessaly, it runs from the Pindos Mountains eastwards to the Aegean. One of the earliest neolithic settlements was in Thessaly, and Jason of the Argonauts comes from here. Just to the west of Meteora is a hydroelectric dam, near the village of Mesohora on the Aheloos River. its purpose is to divert water to the east for agriculature. But the government built the dam, then did the environmental studies, so the EU has refused to fund its completion. If completed, the village of Mesohora would be inundated, and wetland sanctuaries for miles around would be destroyed. So the dam sits there, empty.
The geology here is phenomenal! The rock pinnacles rise up vertically and surreally from the ground. It was once a sea, and the sea floor got pushed up by tectonic movements, and the flanking mountains moved closer. This exerted pressure on the sedimentary deposits, which developed cracks, and when they were forced up out of the sea, weathering occurred. This left pinnacles of hard rock as the sands and shales were washed away. By the time man evolved, there were already these amazing pinnacles, caves and overhangs. By the 11th century the caves were used by hermit monks, and eventually 24 monasteries were built, of which 6 are still active and inhabited by monks or nuns. They used to climb up ropes, then some got windlasses, and the one I went to today has a lift (but visitors have to use the steps!)
So, we arrived yesterday and stepped out of the car into a furnace. We struggled up to one of the monasteries to discover that “short sleeves and women in trousers” werent allowed, so back to the car to put on suitable attire, and we laboured up the steps again, sweating buckets in our long sleeves and long skirt. At the top we discovered one young lady with a mini skirt on and boobs hanging out, but the key was SHOULDERS covered (with a tiny bit of cloth) and that seemed to satisfy their rule. The best bit of the day was coming back to the campsite for a swim.
Today I got up early and went off on my own in the relatively cool early morning. (Sand did some overdue maintenance on the truck but otherwise very little) Lazy so and so! The town of Kastraki is nice, superficially like Goreme in Cappadoccia but not so touristy. After a lot more walking, straight up, down, up, I got to another monastery, Agiou Nikolaou. It was built in the 15th century, and the chapels are covered in frescoes painted by the monk Theophanes Strelitzas. I especially liked The Naming of the Animals by Adam in Paradise, a sort of Noah’s Ark scene with pretty good depictions of a surprisingly wide variety of animals.
A party of Russians from Moscow and a (Russian Orthodox?) minister arrived as I did. They call crammed into the tiny chapel for a service. It was really hot and smelly with all those sweating bodies –about 30 women and 2 men plus the priest – but they sang and chanted beautifully. They had a lady guide with them who did a lot of chat in Russian before and after their service. I think she was talking about the frescoes, which were fabulous. We have only managed 2 of the monasteries, but I think that is a great achievement in this heat, and we spent the rest of today at the pool!