Thursday, July 28, 2011


The monasteries of Meteora in central Greece are built atop towering, sheer rocks. It's a marvel the medieval monks managed it, and it's testimony to their engineering skills. Originally 24 in number, the six monasteries that remain are well-preserved. Indeed, they are still occupied (and have surprisingly modern comforts—electricity, water, heating, and even elevators and small cable cars), though most of the week they are a tourist attraction rather than a place of contemplation. Each closes one day of the week in rotation to function as a monastery.

Busloads of tour groups would arrive and overwhelm the smaller cloisters. The larger ones absorbed them. Other tourists arrived by car, and some by public bus. Only one arrived by foot on the centuries-old stone paths winding through the forests at the foot of the towering rocks.

I visited three of the six monasteries and found exquisite frescoes in all.  St. Nikolas, the smallest and least preserved, is the most charming. The main chapel has a fresco of Judgement Day with God at the top, heaven on the left, and on the right a river of fire and souls flowing down into the mouth of the devil, an enormous fanged serpentine creature.

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