At the northwest edge of the Plain of Thessaly along the Pineos river valley the rock formations of Metaora majestically rise up from the ground, layers in the topography. Topping these pillars is the ultimate layer – monasteries perched on top. The first documented construction of a monastery at Metaora dates to the 14th century when monks from Mount Athos colonised the area and built the Monastery of Great Meteoron. Monks and hermits, however, had lived in the caves around the area as early as the 11th century and the church of Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) acted as a focus for a monastic community.
These pillars are formed of bands – layers – of sandstone and conglomerate rock. Because of their height and steepness of their sides, they provided places of solitude and sanctuary. Until modern times, rope ladders or baskets hauled up the vertical sides by rope, provided a way to bring in supplies and people. Below the Monastery of Varlaam perches on top one of these pillars.
The name Metaora means lofty or elevated, places suspended in the air. The word is also used metaphorically to convey the sublime or thoughts of a divine nature. At its peak in the 16th century, there were 24 monasteries located here. Today, there are six, two of which are nunneries. Below, the Monastery of St. Stephen looks out from the eastern edge to the Plain of Thessaly.
The area is noted for its sunsets. For a short time each night, those bands of rock are turned into layers of gold.
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