Meteora Monday 11 July 2011
Fri 22 Jul 2011 13:13
39:42.5 N 21:37.5 E
This bit of Greece is Thessaly, running from the Pindos Mts, eastwards to the Aegean. Jason of the Argonauts comes from here.Just west of Meteora is a hydroelectric dam, near the village of Mesohora. They have dammed the Aheloos River to divert water to the east for agriculture. But the government built the dam, then did the environmental studies, so the EU has refused to fund the completion of it. If it were completed, the village of Mesohora would be inundated, and wetland sanctuaries for miles around would be destroyed. So the dam sits there, empty.
Meteora was once a sea, and the sea floor was forced upwards as flanking mountains moved closer. This exerted pressure on the sedimentary deposits, which developed cracks, then weathering occurred, leaving pinnacles of hard rock and washing away the sand and shale. By the time people appeared on the scene, there were already tall pinnacles, caves and overhangs. By the 11th century, the caves were being used by hermit monks, and eventually 24 monasteries were built, of which 6 are still active.
Meteora means literally “suspended in air” and it is so called because of these monasteries perched on the high rock pinnacles. It was almost too hot to do anything at all, let alone climb up a rock pinnacle in the blazing sun. People running the campsite seemed really relaxed and happy and I am sure this is because they were busy with plenty of tourists around.
Sandy opted out of the tourist bit, the call of the swimming pool at the campsite was too great, so I went off early morning determined to do it alone. The best monastery was Agios Nikolaos (St Nicholas features heavily all over Greece!) This monastery was built in the 15th century and is covered in frescoes by the monk Theophanes Strelizas. I particularly liked his picture of the Naming of the Animals by Adam in Paradise – a sort of Noah’s Ark scene with pretty good depictions of a surprisingly wide range of animals, I couldn’t help wondering how many Theophanes had seen himself.
I met a party of Russians from Moscow, mostly ladies and just a couple of men, and they had a minister with them. They all crammed into one of the tiny chapels in the Agios Nikolaos monastery for a service. The monks used to haul eachother up in a rope net but there is now a lift; this is reserved for the monks, and the visitors have to toil up the stone steps. So this tiny chapel was really stifling and smelly with all those sweaty bodies! But this was more than compensated by the beautiful frescoes, and the beautiful singing and chanting. The dress code was interesting in these monasteries. It stated very clearly outside, no men in shorts, no short sleeves. These ladies were all very covered up in a sort of 1960’s time warp way with pretty dresses, long skirts and headscarves (hot!!), then in walked in a young girl with boobs hanging out and a mini skirt on, but her shoulders covered – this seemed to be quite okay!