Along the north-western rim of the Plain of Thessaly in Greece lies the Meteora, six monasteries apparently precariously balanced on natural sandstone rock pillars that jut dramatically out of the ground. These monasteries date back to the 12th century, when hermit monks built them this way to keep unwanted visitors at bay. For a long time, the only access was via ladders which could be drawn up to protect the monks from threats. In the 20th century, access was improved by carving steps into the sandstone pillars and building a bridge to connect the rocks to a nearby plateau. Six monasteries remain today: the Great Meteoran; and the Holy Monasteries of Varlaam, Rousanou, St. Nicolas Anapausas, St. Stephen and the Holy Trinity.
The sandstone rocks rise to an average height of 313 m (1,026.9 ft) above the plains. They were formed 60 million years ago when a sandstone plateau was pushed out of the sea by earth movements. The pinnacles seen today were formed out of this plateau by weathering and earthquakes.
Extremely hot in summer and very cold in winter, the higher altitudes especially can experience heavy rainfall all year round. Summer tends to have the driest months.
The stunning scenery is as much of a draw to tourists as the monasteries themselves. Tourists can visit the plains and take tours of all six monasteries. Although the monasteries are now open to the public, they are still home to a few monks with each one having no more than 10 inhabitants.
Meteora is Greek for “middle of the sky”, referring to the way the monasteries appear to hang suspended in the air.