MAY 01, 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Monasteries in the Sky

MeteoraOne of the most unusual religious settlements in the world can be found on Greece's Thessalian plan above the Peneas valley near the town of Kalambaka. Here, from the 11th century on, monks settled in monasteries built on the tops of almost inaccessible rock pillars known as Meteora (Greek: ???????, "levitating") that rise over 400 m (1,312 ft).

These incredible rock formations are of deltaic origin. They consist of sandstone and conglomerate and were most likely formed from fluvial erosion and further transformed by earthquakes that hewed the shapeless masses into sheer rock columns. Chemical analysis of the stone indicates that the pinnacles were created 60 million years ago during the Tertiary period.

Not surprisingly, the Meteora made an ideal refuge for hermits and ascetics. Twenty-four monasteries were built under impossible conditions as well as a plethora of sketes, caves and small churches. Monks put their lives in danger by climbing on the peaks and cavities in the rock using a precarious system of wooden ladders or were hauled up to the monasteries vertically in nets.

The monasteries flourished until the 17th century when attacks by thieves, wars, and foreign intruders led to their degradation. Four of them still house religious communities today. The Meteora Monastery of the Holy Trinity was featured in 1981 James Bond (Roger Moore) movie, For Your Eyes Only.

[Source: whc.unesco.org]
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