Meteora is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second to Mount Athos. The now-existing six monasteries were 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 exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown. It is believed, in the 9th century, an ascetic group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles. They were the first people to inhabit Meteora. They lived in the hollows and fissures in the rock towers, as high as 1800 feet (550 meters) above the plains.
By the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire's reign over northern Greece was being threatened by Turkish invaders 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 and built more than 20 monasteries, out of which only six exist today; five are inhabited by men, one by women, with fewer than 10 inhabitants in each.
The six monasteries are The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron (the largest of the monasteries at Metéora), The Holy Monastery of Varlaam (the second largest), The Holy Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara, The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, and The Monastery of Holy Trinity.
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.
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