Amazing Places

Meteora Is Home to Clifftop Monasteries Once Too Treacherous to Visit

Come for the human creations, stay for the geologic formations. The sandstone pillars of Meteora are rich with some of the most captivating stories from both ancient people and the planet itself. Its peaks? Host to monasteries as high as 1,200 feet (400 meters) up that were once even more harrowing to visit. Its bases? Home to caves housing evidence of human life dating back 50,000 years. No wonder it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Meteora area is on UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988.

You Could Visit, If God Intended

Fearing persecution for their beliefs, hermit monks built secluded monasteries in Meteora between the 1300s and the 1500s. The only way to access them was by climbing a precarious rope ladder or by sitting in a net and being pulled up by a rope—and if they didn't want you getting in, the monks could just pull the ropes to the top of the cliff. This helped keep the monks safe to practice their beliefs in peace while the Ottoman Empire controlled northern Greece and then Turkish raiders battled for control over Thessaly.

But the ladder and net were also used to test the faith of any visitor, as the monks would not replace the ropes of either means of conveyance until the ropes broke of their own accord. That's right: the Lord would decide whether you made it to the top or not. Sounds terrifying—but then again, if your faith was strong, maybe not.

Meteora Monasteries, Greece

The Monasteries Today

Thankfully for those not pious enough for the rope test, in the 1920s, steps were finally carved into the stone. That still makes visiting the six remaining monasteries that are open to tourists mildly difficult, but more than doable. You have to schedule a visit, and you have to follow their rules as well: you need to be modestly covered by shawls and long pants or skirts, but either will be provided if you don't rock those garments regularly. If you're in the region, you should also definitely check out the Theopetra cave, which has both the oldest known manmade structure as well as the oldest human footprints.

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Written by Mike Epifani May 22, 2017

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