5 things to know before you visit Meteora Monasteries
The origins of the name Meteora
There are many things to know before you plan a visit to a site like Meteora! For example one of the things many people wonder about is the origins of the name Meteora. To straighten things up “Meteora” as a name didn’t originate by a fallen meteorite in the area in our distant past as many might think. “Meteora” became the name the monks gave to the giant rock pillars they saw here back in the 14th century. Athanasios, the leader of the first group of monks and the founder of Megalo Meteoron monastery, was the very first to use the term “Meteoron” to describe the surreal geological phenomenon. The word Meteoro or Meteoron (plural is Meteora) in the Greek vocabulary translates into something that stands suspended in midair or the thing that floats in mid-space. It’s a synonymous Greek word to meteors or meteorites.
Like a scene taken from Avatar film
After Athanasios and his companion monks managed to climb the pick of the largest in size cliff, they immediately felt as if they stood suspended in midair. They felt like being suspended between heaven and earth! Thus Athanasios, he had the idea to name that particular cliff “Megalo Meteoron” meaning the “huge suspended in the midair cliff”. This unique experience the monks felt, was dramatically enhanced in the winter. There would be certain days at this period when the mist and the clouds would completely engulf the site. During those deeply mystical moments, the monks of Meteora would observe the picks of the surrounding cliffs rising above the clouds. Surely, this surreal scenery of the floating cliffs around them would seem in their minds as if God was offering them a rare glimpse of heavens above!
1. There is always a staircase to heavens… with one exception
Today Meteora monasteries remain still an important monastic center of the Greek Orthodox Church. There are currently 6 active monasteries that people can visit all year round. 5 out of 6 monasteries (Great Meteoron, Varlaam, St. Nikolas, Roussanou, and Agia Triada) have staircases to climb with the only exception being the monastery of Agios Stefanos. This particular one doesn’t have any stairs. It only has a small bridge to cross making it the most accessible and the most popular one. So, for those who have mobility issues the monastery of Agios Stefanos is by far the best choice for visiting at least one monastery inside! Keep in mind though that all monasteries, don’t provide any real access or facilities for disabled people. The stairs to climb in the monasteries with staircases range between 150 to 300 steps.
“The monasteries don’t provide access or any sort of amenities for disabled people”
Another important thing to keep in mind is the lack of restrooms outside of all Meteora monasteries. You will find restrooms only inside of the monasteries and in most cases, this means that to use the restrooms you’ll be forced to climb a lot of stairs! Many visitors unaware of the difficult access, express the wish to visit all 6 monasteries under the scorching sun in the summer in just a single day! Unless you are in a perfect physical condition and well trained our advice is to avoid such unnecessary physical and mental stress. During the main season expect to find canteens with small snacks and refreshments outside of the monasteries of Great Meteoron, Varlaam, and Agios Stefanos.
2. Can I drive my car to the monasteries?
Over the past few years, the popularity of the entire site has risen almost exponentially. Meteora has become the second most visited place of mainland Greece, apart from Acropolis in Athens. We estimate that close to 2 million people now days will visit the site. The majority of the people will come during the main season between April and the end of October. And although there is an adequate road system that reaches outside of all 6 active monasteries, you may find that to drive your car up there probably wasn’t the best idea ever. There are days with traffic jams occurring outside the most popular monasteries because of the big coaches and the many cars that will arrive from nearby places to do a day trip at Meteora monasteries. During those days you won’t be able to find a parking space anywhere near the monasteries and most likely you might end up stuck in the traffic.
That’s why we highly recommend if you can avoid taking your car for the visit then, by all means, please do so! Choose either to join a local tour, take the public bus, a taxi, a wonderful bike tour or walk. If you can’t avoid taking your car during the high season, then a good idea is to try to reach the monasteries early in the morning. You should drive up there at around 08:00 pm, at least an hour earlier of the opening hours of most monasteries. It will be still quiet, and you will get to enjoy the mesmerizing morning light of Meteora away from the big crowds. Choose to visit the most popular ones first and as early as possible and try to finish your visit by noon at the latest, before the masses of tourists and the big coaches arrive on the site. The most popular among the active monasteries are the following three: Agios Stefanos, Great Meteoron and Varlaam.
3. All Meteora monasteries have a dress code
For the past many years Meteora has been a UNESCO World Heritage site and an archaeological site. It was also officially declared by the Greek state as a Holy Place. You are going to visit a religious site of great importance so; you are expected to show the appropriate respect throughout your visit. To enter all monasteries of Meteora all men are required to wear long pants, while sleeveless t-shirts or sleeveless shirts are strictly forbidden! For ladies’ long skirts needed while shoulders must be covered at all times. All Meteora monasteries at the entrances they do provide skirts and scarves for ladies to cover themselves. They don’t provide any clothing for men though. Be aware that men who show up at the entrances of monasteries with short pants or sleeveless shirts will be denied access! Kids up to 12 years old they don’t have to comply with the dress code.
4. Opening hours and entrance fees
The monasteries of Meteora remain open all year round for the visitors. They all charge a small entrance fee of 3,00 euros per person to enter. Again, kids up to 12 years old don’t have to pay any entrance fees. The entrance fee and the free pass for kids apply to all monasteries. The monasteries of Meteora have different opening hours, but all divide them into 2 main seasons: The winter period (November till the end of March) and the Summer period (April till the end of October). You might find slight variations from monastery to monastery as to the exact dates the 2 main seasons apply to each one of them. Over the past few years, there were many changes and adjustments made in the schedule of some monasteries. These changes often take place without any prior notice so, be careful to frequently check on our site the updated opening hours of all monasteries. We always try our best to keep the timetable updated in cases of any sudden changes in the opening hours of Meteora monasteries.
5. Pictures, videos and drone footage at Meteora
Meteora ranks among the top Instagrammable places around the world. The site has been frequently visited by some of the best photographers and cinematographers to capture the magic aura of Meteora! As an official holy place and an archaeological site for Greece, there are restrictions by Greek law you ought to be aware of, before making any attempt to set your tripod to shoot in this amazing landscape.
For amateur photographers, there is no restriction whatsoever for any landscape photography, as long as they don’t take pictures or videos to use them for commercial reasons. The only real restriction for visitors is inside the monasteries. The monks don’t allow anyone to photograph the interiors of the churches and especially the murals, or in any of the museums located inside the Meteora monasteries. In the code yards of monasteries or any viewpoints inside you are free to take as many pictures or videos as you wish. Do not attempt to fly a drone inside or outside a monastery. Flying drones without written permission by the authorities is strictly forbidden by law anywhere on the site. Meteora as an archeological site of Greece has a flight restriction zone of up to 4.000 ft.!
Don’t take pictures or videos of monks or nuns, unless they specify otherwise. They can be very annoyed if you attempt this because you make them feel like being a tourist attraction. Be very respectful of their way of life and the fact that you are accepted to enter their home!
Professionals on the other hand if they intend to use any material produced at Meteora for commercial reasons they will have to contact the ministry of culture of Greece in advance and fill the proper paperwork to receive official permission or denial. The Ministry of Culture of Greece and the monks reserve the right to deny you the production if they find the submitted project to be offending or incompatible in any way with the holiness of the site. This process as a whole might take more than a month to be completed and depending on the commercial usage intended, one must pay the appropriate license fee. In any other case, any material produced for commercial purposes without such a proper license by the Greek authorities might result in legal actions taken against you!
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