I am not so sure the following day’s activities were quite the best choice after an evening out at a taverna, after which I, at any rate, did not get to bed until almost 1 am. A four-hour drive to see the famous hanging monasteries of Meteora necessitated a wake-up call at 6:30 am, in order to be downstairs for breakfast when the dining-room opened at 7 am. By 8 am, we were on the bus and ready to leave.
In its heyday, there were 24 monasteries and convents on the cliff-tops and natural rock pillars of Meteora.
Today, there are only six, of which we visited one – Moni Aghiou Stefanou – the Convent of St. Stephen. Inhabited by 28 nuns, it is the most populous of the four monasteries and two convents still active in Meteora, and the most accessible. Indeed, these days, nuns outnumber monks in this monastic kingdom, and they are also more “visitor-friendly”.
We had been warned to dress “modestly” – no shorts or sleeveless tops for men or women. Nevertheless, at the entrance to the cloisters, women visitors were requested to clothe ourselves in wraparound skirts over our (long) trousers before entering.
Photography is permitted in the grounds of the convent, but not inside the church.
This is a pity as one of the great attractions of St. Stephen’s are the paintings and frescoes in its churches.
The original church was built probably at the end of the 14th century and dedicated to St. Stephen. The new katholikon was built in 1798 and dedicated to St. Charalambos (I had never heard of him before either).
The church suffered severe damage during World War 2 because the Germans believed the monastery was being used by the Greek Resistance.
It is now adorned by new icons and frescoes by the contemporary painter, Vlasios Tsotsonis and might be described as a work in progress, as we could see the painter’s paraphernalia in one part of the katholikon.
While I am not, myself, a connoisseur of iconography and ecclesiastical art, it is nevertheless pleasing to know that these ancient art forms are still alive and flourishing today. And, since I was unable, myself, to take photographs inside the church, here is a link where you can get an idea of the work now taking place.
After visiting the katholikon, we strolled in the gardens of the convent.
A viewing terrace in the gardens looks out onto a spectacular panorama, overlooking the town of Kalabaka.
After leaving the monastery, we sent the bus on ahead and walked down through shady woods, past the Roussanou Monastery now run by nuns and dedicated to St. Barbara.
On the way, we met this sweet little sleeping kitty, who reminded me of my own, beautiful furbabies and especially, Caspurr.
We did not enter the Roussanou Monastery, as it was now quite late in the afternoon and we had a long drive ahead of us, back to Thessaloniki – besides which, we hadn’t even had lunch yet. So we continued our walk beneath the welcome shade of the trees (it was an exceedingly hot day), until we reached the road where the bus was waiting for us.
Oddly enough, I remember nothing about the rest of the day, where we had our (very late) lunch, and what time we got back to the hotel. As I said, I had gone to bed late the night before and arisen betimes – as had we all – and I must have dozed on the journey back to Thessaloniki. I know I had a cup of tea and some granola biscuits in my room, because the late lunch had made me disinclined to eat supper. So it was an early night for me (and, I suspect, most of the others).
Before I go, since my photos were all taken with my feet safely on terra firma, I searched on YouTube and found you this fantastic short videoclip of Meteora, taken with a camera mounted on a drone. Enjoy!
TO BE CONTINUED…..