Wednesday, Jun. 09, 2010

Meteora Monasteries, Greece

Perched atop towering rock pillars, a cluster of medieval monasteries called Meteora crown Greece's Pindus Mountains. Meteora means "suspended in air," and it was an apt description for centuries. Until less than a hundred years ago, one could only scale the sheer cliffs in a hanging basket or by climbing flimsy rope ladders. According to legend, one monastery founder could only reach the mountain peaks on the back of an eagle. As early as the 11th century, the region's caves sheltered hermitic monks, but by the 14th century the orthodox monks were constructing elaborate stone and terracotta buildings, safe from marauding raiders below. Even in the 18th and 19th century, the monasteries remained secure hideouts, housing not just persecuted monks but also guerrilla fighters called klephts who fought for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Today, of the 24 original monasteries, only six are active, but the remaining monks still have the same heavenly views. Plus, these days they can eschew the basket or the eagle and just take the stairs.