Featured UNESCO World Heritage Site of July: Meteora, Greece
Much to the delight of travelers, Greece is filled with many exceptional historic sites, including the famous sites of the Acropolis, Olympia, the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, and the Meteora Monasteries, some of the most stunning architectural achievements of the Middle Ages.
Meteora is located in central Greece, nearest to the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki where many visitors spend the night. The region has a history of cave inhabitance, with man-made structures found through the surrounding mountainsides and archaeological evidence dating back 50,000 years. Here you will find unique geological sandstone formations, which have been shaped by earthquakes and erosion.
During the 11th century, the region became home to hermit Orthodox monks, who committed themselves to frugal lives without worldly pleasures. After 400 years, the monasteries were finally built atop tall stone pillars as a safe haven from Turkish invaders. These iconic places of worship are filled with historic treasures, awe-insirpiring frescoes and offer amazing views of the surrounding landscape.
At the time of founding, the monks built 24 monasteries, but today only six remain. Originally, it was very difficult to access the sites, which were reached only by long ladders or a netted pulley system. However, modern visitors now have the luxury of footsteps leading to each building, which make the historic sites more accessible than ever.
TRAVEL TIP: Conservative dress code is required within the monasteries. Women are prohibited from wearing sleeveless clothing, shorts or trousers, while men are expected to wear long pants. Skirts and shawls (wear over clothing) will be available at the entrances of the monasteries for those who are unprepared.
The largest of the Monasteries is the Great Meteoron, which serves as the main museum for visitors. The second largest is the Holy Monastery of Varlaam, which houses a key collection of artifacts, along with iconographic frescos from the 16th century.
By the way, what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This group has a UNESCO World Heritage Committee which is tasked with maintaining a list of destinations and places that are culturally or physically significant. The organization also keeps a list of at-risk sites which are sites whose conditions are starting to threaten the basis of why the site was included on the list in the first place. The purpose is to keep the local community informed so that they can take preventative action. The mission of UNESCO as a whole is to assist in ending world poverty, create peace, and use science, culture, information, and communication to establish an intercultural dialogue.
Due to the precarious location of these historic monasteries, UNESCO hopes visitors will appreciate the cultural heritage sites and help protect their future existence.