Meteora consists of a group of monasteries built on rocky spires in northwestern Thessaly. The spectacular outcrops of this region on which the monasteries are “floating in the air” (as its name means), are as much as 300 meters high and were 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.
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 Athanasios of Meteora in the late 14th century. The second founder of the Meteoron was John-Ioasaph Urog, son of Symeon Urog, "emperor" of the Serbs and Greeks in Thessaly; he eventually became head or "father" of the Meteoron. The cross-in-square church that he founded in 1388 now serves as the bema for the 6th-century katholikon. The monasteries of St. Stephen and St. Nicholas Anapausas were also founded in the late 14th century, Hagia Trias in 1476; the Church of St. Nicholas Anapausas, built in 1527, has frescoes by Theophanes of Crete. Other monasteries, including Barlaam, Rousanou, and Prodromos, were post-Byzantine foundations of the 16th century when the Meteora were at the height of their prosperity and provided a bastion of Orthodoxy during the Turkish occupation of Greece.