The monasteries of Meteora, Greece, are marvels of engineering. Perched atop sandstone cliffs, with monastic cells hidden in crevices throughout, these Greek Orthodox sanctuaries reflect the contemplative solitude sought by the monks who built them between the 14th and 17th centuries. The most intimate, Roussanou Monastery, is now home to 16 nuns and holds relics of Saint Barbara, popular in medieval times.
For centuries the only way to reach Roussanou and the other Meteora monasteries in central Greece was by climbing retractable ladders or being lifted up in a net basket. Restricted access kept the faithful in and the faithless out. Today new tunnels and steep roads and staircases open the churches to anyone willing to make a cliffside journey. Guided tours are recommended to better understand the sites’ rich histories.
Inside: Sixteenth-century Byzantine frescoes fill Roussanou’s chapel, from the walls to the domed ceiling, with illustrations of planets, peacocks, and seraphim. Ostrich eggs are displayed as symbols of kingship, resurrection, and safekeeping.