Suspended in Air
In the impossibility of Meteora, Greece
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Sitting on a big rock rising precipitously from the ground, we watch the sky turn soft orange. We are surrounded by slender stone pinnacles, some 2,000 feet high. Monasteries crown several of these rock towers. They seem an impossibility, as if a giant was trying to carefully balance a little toy house on a slender structure. We can see one of the monasteries in the distance; massive and imposing, enveloping the entire top of the boulder it sits on - claiming it, owning it, making it less, but also more.
The formations are light gray with dark brown lines going up and down the rock, as if that same giant had drawn them from top to bottom with a thin brush. They are really fantastical formations, filled with big caverns, and deep indented cuts going from top to bottom. These cracks are covered with an impossibly green and lush forest; trees climb up the rock, occupying every single crevice.
Nature paints the deep spaces between rocks bright green; prevailing, as always. Huge rocks balance on even bigger rocks, as if on one foot, seemingly about to come tumbling down. A road zig zags through the middle of the rock valley, and birds fly above the canopy and into the rocks, disappearing into the dark fissures. A true spectacle.
Humans have lived in the area for more than 50,000 years. This impressive collection of rock columns is in the middle of a flat valley, so you can see it from far away. To get there now you drive on a straight highway for many miles, and then they are there. Intimidating and inviting, mysterious and bright. The natural caves in the rocks form the perfect shelter, so it’s not hard to imagine hunter-gatherers choosing them as refuge. All they had to do was figure out a way to get to them.
Much later, in the 11th century, a group of hermit monks moved to the ancient caverns, living in complete solitude. Rudimentary monasteries were built, but it wasn’t until the 14th century, when political upheaval ravaged through the country and religion felt threatened, that many monks fled to the area and proper monasteries were built. By the end of the 14th century twenty four monasteries stood high above the ground, sticking out like sore thumbs and stating: “Here we are, and we are here to stay”. Only six remain today. You can still see the remnants of the old monasteries - stairways carved into the rock, leading to heaven.
The monasteries were built to hide, so it’s no wonder it’s hard to reach them. Initially, the only way to get to them was with long latched-together ladders - which were removable in case of an attack - or sitting on a large net that was hoisted up, right next to a vertical rock wall, thousands of feet above the ground.
Nowadays you don’t have to be a daredevil monk to reach the still standing monasteries. You can just climb the stairs that were built much later. The big baskets still remain, as they continue to be a more effective way to carry goods from the main road, although I doubt monks sit on them to be transported, but who knows, it sounds like a fun pastime.
This mystical place is called Meteora, which comes from the Greek word “meteoro”, which means suspended in air. That is exactly how I feel sitting on this rock watching the sun set behind far away mountains, surrounded by these imposing pinnacles and their priced monasteries; as if suspended in air.