The name Meteora is derived from the Greek adjective meteoros, meaning ‘suspended in the air’ (the word ‘meteor’ comes from the same root).
Hermit monks (known as meteorites) began to make their homes in the scattered natural caverns of Meteora during the 11th century. By the 14th century, the power of the Byzantine Empire was waning, and with Turkish incursions into Greece on the rise, monks started to seek safe havens away from the bloodshed. The inaccessibility of the rocks of Meteora made them an ideal retreat.
At their peak, a total of 24 monasteries graced these remote pinnacles. As you explore the region, you’ll spot the ruins of abandoned communities in sites that now seem utterly inaccessible. Only six now remain active, inhabited by monks or nuns and visited by the faithful and curious alike.
The earliest monasteries could only be reached by climbing removable ladders. Later on, windlasses were used to haul the monks up in nets. A famous story relates that when curious visitors asked how frequently the ropes were replaced, the monks’ straight-faced reply was ‘when the Lord lets them break’. These days, access is via steps which were hewn into the rocks in the 1920s, and a convenient road passes nearby.