The Metéora ("suspended rocks", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" - etymologically similar "Meteorite") is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. The nearest town is Kalambaka. The Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Theopetra caves 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Meteora had inhabitants fifty millennia ago. The cave of Theopetra, Kalambaka, radiocarbon evidence for 50,000 years of human presence.
They were the first people to inhabit Metéora. They lived in hollows and fissures in the rock towers, some of which reach 1800 ft (550m) above the plain. This great height, combined with the sheerness of the cliff walls, kept away all but the most determined visitors. Initially the hermits led a life of solitude, meeting only on Sundays and special days to worship and pray in a chapel built at the foot of a rock known as Dhoupiani. As early as the 11th century AD hermit monks were believed to be living among the caves and cutouts in the rocks.
The exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown. By the late 11th and early 12th century, a rudimentary monastic state had formed called the Skete of Stagoi and was centered around the still-standing church of Theotokos (mother of God). By the end of the 12th century, an ascetic community had flocked to Metéora.
In 1344, Athanasios Koinovitis from Mount Athos brought a group of followers to Metéora. From 1356 to 1372, he founded the great Meteoron monastery on Broad Rock, which were 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 800-year 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. There is a common belief that St. Athanasius (founder of the first monastery) did not scale the rock, but was carried there by an eagle.
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." In the 1920s there was an improvement in the arrangements. Steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II the site was bombed and many art treasures were stolen.
Until the 17th century, the primary means of conveying goods and people from these eyries was by means of baskets and ropes.
Only six of the monasteries remain today. Of these six, five are inhabited by men, one by women. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants. The monasteries are now tourist attractions.
PERSIAN WARS BATTLE AT THERMOPYLAE - 480 B.C.
Thermopylae (lit. "hot gates") was a pass the Greeks tried to defend in battle against Persians led by Xerxes, in 480 B.C. The Persians won the Battle of Thermopylae.
The Spartans who led the defense were all killed, and they may have known in advance that they would be, but their courage provided inspiration to the Greeks, many of whom otherwise might have willingly medized* (become Persian sympathizers), or so the Spartans feared. Although the Spartans lost at Thermopylae, the following year the Greeks did win battles they fought against the Persians.