Nearer to Heaven - The Meteora Monasteries.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Hotel Arsenis

Flag of Greece  , Thessaly,
Thursday, May 19, 2011

In the last stages of sunset, we turned a corner and the magnificent shapes of the mountains ahead foretold that the clifftop monasteries we were coming to see, were going to be spectacular. 

We drove around the perimeter road of these monasteries in the fading light, awestruck and humbled. Built on impossibly high spiky peaks,what possessed the monks to attempt such difficult building projects in the 1300's? By the 16th century there were 13 monasteries in all perched on cliff tops.

We took some pictures, but the light was soon gone and we backtracked  just a little to the closest accommodation to the monasteries, a family run pension, Arsenis, set in a large olive grove. We were warmly welcomed and offered a meal cooked on an open fire, of chicken breast and the best Greek salad we have ever had. We washed the meal down with homemade red wine. We met the two other guests, (from Texas) and spent a pleasant evening discussing the monasteries and travel experiences. 

The next day we found the monasteries to be just as stunning in the early morning light and took endless photos, before visiting the largest one, Megalo Meteora.  Surprisingly, there was an exhibition in one of the rooms, of Greeks and their participation in wars. This seemed a bizarre inclusion in a monastery! (See one of the pictures depicting a Nazi being thrown off the cliffs of Meteor).

We hit the road again, after one last drive around the perimeter, and set off for Vergina.

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Tombs of Vergina, were only discovered in 1977. It was an exciting find for the archaeologists who had suspected the mound housed tombs but had not been able to find the Royal ones. To guard against tomb robbers, the Royal Tombs had been built off centre and remained undiscovered. These were the first intact Macedonian tombs found and contained amazing fresco's depicting historic scenes and magnificent royal artifacts of ivory and gold. The graves here are of King Phillip the second who was assassinated and of Prince Alexander the 4th, who was Alexander The Greats son.

Due to its recent discovery, an excellent job has been done of displaying the artifacts and the actual tombs, which are now totally housed in a museum complex. It was well worth the visit, even though we have no photos, which were not permitted inside.

Back in our car we programmed Athina to take us to the city of Thessaloniki and hit the Friday afternoon traffic snarls. We found the UNESCO listed Byzantine Church, took some photos and headed off again, out of the city for the seaside village of Ouranoupolis to find a bed for the night and to be ready for our next day's adventure to see Mount Athos.

Footnote: Meteora, Archaeological Site of Aigai (modern name Vergina), and Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki are UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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