The UNESCO World Heritage Site Meteora consists of a group of monasteries built on rocky spires in northwestern Thessaly near Stagoi (modern Kalabaka). The monasteries are ‘floating in the air’, as its name means, on a series of spectacular outcrops of this region that are as much as 300 meters high. They are formed of eroded conglomerate and riddled with caves that provided shelter for the hermits who first settled there.
Meteora is now the biggest and most important group of monasteries in Greece after those in Mount Athos. While monasteries in Meteora are first attested in the early 14th century, its history can be traced back to the 11th century when monks first settled there. A number of Athonite monks moved to Meteora to escape Turkish pirate raids.
While Mount Athos was the most important religious center in the Ottoman Era, Meteora also played a role in the post-Byzantine legacy of Orthodox countries. Byzantine influence did not end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since Ottoman control came later in other places while Ottoman architecture also drew on many Byzantine elements. The place given to the Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule and the loss of Byzantine political and civil structures meant that churches and monasteries continued to function and even to flourish as the repositories of Orthodox identity. The sense of unbroken continuity with the past in Orthodox Church decoration, with its depictions of the early Church Fathers, was reinforced during the Ottoman period as local churches continued to be rebuilt and repainted as the need arose with similar iconographic schemes. Despite all the complex issues of conversion and Islamization, the Orthodox populations identification with the local church or monastery, whether in villages or in larger centers, was a crucial part of their consciousness and would continue as nation-states like Greece and Bulgaria became independent from the Ottoman Empire.
The oldest surviving church is the katholikon in the rock-cut monastery of the Hypapante, built, according to a later inscription, in 1366/7. Its well-preserved decorative program includes sainted local bishops such as Achilleios of Larissa and Oikoumenios of Trikkala.
The most important monastery at Meteora was the Great Meteoron, dedicated to the Transfiguration and founded by Athansius of Meteora in the late 14th century. Its second founder was John Uroš, son of Symeon Uroš who ruled Epirus and Thessaly. The cross-in-square church that he founded in 1388 now serves as the bema for the 16th-century katholikon. It also has an extensive library of manuscripts, some of which date to the Byzantine era.
The monasteries of St. Stephen and St. Nicholas Anapausas were also founded in the late 14th century, while the Holy Trinity was founded in 1476. The Church of St. Nicholas Anapausas, which was built in 1527, has frescoes by Theophanes of Crete. Other monasteries, including Varlaam, Rousanou, and Prodromos, were post-Byzantine foundations of the 16th century when the monasteries of Meteora were at the height of their prosperity and provided a bastion of Orthodoxy during the Ottoman Era.
In addition, the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos is located in Stagoi (modern Kalampaka), dating to the late 11th or early 12th century on the foundations of a church from the 4th-6th century.
Monastery of Great Meteoron
Monastery of St. Stephen
Monastery of Hagios Nikolaos Anapafsa
Monastery of the Holy Trinity
Monastery of Varlaam
Monastery of Roussanou
The Byzantines by Averil Cameron
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium