Kalabaka – Meteora

 

The town

Kalabaka, is mostly popular for Meteora, as it is built in the shadow of the imposing rock pillars, in the northwest of Trikala region. It’s population exceeds the 8,000 inhabitants and is located just 20 kilometers away from the capital town of Trikala. It is a modern town, as it was reconstructed completely after the brutal hit during the Second World War, with small picturesque squares, ornamented with fountains, dotted among the relatively contemporary buildings. Nowadays, it comprises a tourist friendly destination with plenty of amenities, such as five-star hotels and guesthouses, camping spots, convention centers, restaurants, bars, car rentals, tourist information center and tourist police department.

 

Next to Kalabaka lies Kastraki, a small picturesque village with traditional neighbourhoods and small streets surrounded by the impressive rocks. The magnificence of the rocks and the holiness of the monasteries are mixed harmonically with the ample vegetation constituting a mystic and religious atmosphere. The village is full of hotels, cozy guesthouses, camping spots and taverns, offering easy access to the monasteries and the nearby sights.

 

 

History

According to Homer and Stravon the ancient town Ithomi was located in the district of Kalabaka, while during the Hellenistic and the Roman era the place was called Aiginio. Later on, in the Byzantine period the town was called Stagoi and finally in the 15th century it was named Kalabaka, which is a Turkish word meaning “the rock with the monks’ cowls”.
In the past, the area has been conquered by the Romans, the Serves and the Turks, from whom it was liberated in 27th of August 1881. During the 2nd   World War and specifically in the 18th of October 1943 the town was burnt entirely by the German troops.

 

 

Sights

 

Meteora

Meteora, composed of a cluster of imposing conglomerate rocks scattered in the southwest edge of the vast plain of Thessaly, appearing to come out from nowhere, constitute a unique global geological phenomenon. They were formed about 25 to 30 million years ago when the plain of Thessaly was covered by sea. Huge amounts of stones and sediments were accumulated in the bottom by the ocean currents shaping large boulders. After a series of earth movements the area of Thessaly was lifted and the opening of Tempi Valley occurred through which the waters were poured into the Aegean Sea revealing the boulders. Continuous geological changes and extreme weather conditions such as, strong winds, glacier movements and high temperatures caused adjacent erosions to the boulders which after millions of years were transformed to the current rock pillars.

 

The cavities, the fissures and the peaks served as perfect shelters for the residents from various invaders and conquerors while, in the 12th century an ascetic community was flocked to the area seeking tranquility and isolation for prayer and worship as well as refuge in the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora.

 

The name Meteora, meaning “suspended rocks”, was given by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, who in 1344 climbed to a broad rock that named it Meteoron while, in 1372 he found there the first monastery, the Abbey of Great Meteoron. Gradually, a big monastic community has been developed in the area counting 24 monasteries which offered high security because of the great height and the sheerness of the cliff walls they were built on. They were accessed only by long rope-ladders, drawn up whenever the monks felt threatened and manual winches. Nowadays, only 6 of them have been saved and operate which are the following:

  • The male Abbey of Metamorphosis of Savior (or Great Meteoron, built on the biggest rock (1372) named “Broad Rock”
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-17.00, closed on Tuesdays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 9.00-16.00, closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, Tel. +302432022278)

 

  • The male Abbey dedicated to All Saints or Varlaam, the second largest abbey of Meteora (1350)
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-16.00, closed on Fridays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 9.00-15.00, closed on Thursdays & Fridays, Tel. +302432022277)

 

  • The male Abbey of Saint Nikolaos Anapafsas or Asmenos (14th century)
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-15.30, closed on Fridays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 9.00-14.00, closed on Fridays, Tel. +302432022375)

 

  • The male Abbey of Holy Trinity (1362)
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-17.00, closed on Thursdays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 10.00-16.00, closed on Wednesdays & Thursdays, Tel. +302432022220)

 

  • The feminine Abbey of Rousanou or Arsani (14th century)
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-18.00, closed on Wednesdays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 09.00-14.00, closed on Wednesdays, Tel. +302432022649)

 

  • The feminine Abbey of Saint Stefanos (15th century)
    (Visiting hours: summer period (1/4 – 31/10): 9.00-13.30 & 15.30-17.30, closed on Mondays, winter period (1/11 – 31/3): 09.30-13.00 & 15.00-17.00, closed on Mondays, Tel. +302432022279)

 

All the monasteries have well-organized museums with great exhibitions of unique Byzantine icons, religion relics, and archaeological findings as well as libraries with rare books, writings and papyri. Also, due to their strategic positions, they offer a breathtaking view to the fertile plain of Thessaly and Pindus Mountain Range.

Besides the monasteries, there are the hermitages of Ypapantis, Saint Nikolaos Badovas and Saint Antonios Badovas which operate and are accessible to visitors. Additionally, there is the chapel of Zoodochos Pigi in Doupiani, founded by Nile, as well as the chapels of Saint Spirit and the Seneschals Michail and Gabriil.

 

Finally, next to the impressive rock of Aghio Pnevma lies the chapel of Saint George Mandilas which took its name after the Greek word “mandili” meaning handkerchief. Every spring, in its celebration day, an unusual habit takes place as people climb, using ropes, in the cave of Aghio Pnevma and hung colourful handkerchiefs, devoted to the saint while, they collect the old ones to use them as talismans. The hang handkerchiefs are visible from the main road leading to Meteora.

 

The Meteoric rocks constitute an inimitable geological phenomenon which, in combination with the sacredness of the monasteries and the hermitages and the abundance of nature, makes up an exceptional site of devoutness and spirituality. The uniqueness of Meteora has also been recognized by UNESCO, having declared it a World Heritage Monument as well as by various international organizations.

 

Old settlement of Kastraki

Kastraki is a small and scenic village, surrounded by the towering rocks of Meteora, just 1 km from Kalabaka. Its residents are mainly engaged in tourism while, a smaller portion are also involved in farming and livestock. There are hotels, guest houses, camping areas, restaurants, coffee places, stores with local products and icon painting workshops.

 

The village’s old settlement is characterized by the traditional neighborhoods with the preserved red-tile roof mansions, the narrow streets and the old churches, all lying around the main square, Mesochori (meaning the middle of the village). On the upper side of the square dominates the Meteora Geological History Museum, housed in a 460 sq. M.  neoclassical school edifice, built in 1902 with the donation of Andreas Sygros. Just opposite to the museum lies the Church of Aghios Athanasios, with hagiographies of the 18th century.

 

In this village, the magnificence of the rocks and the holiness of the monasteries are mixed harmonically with tradition and the ample vegetation constituting a spiritual atmosphere.

 

Theopetra Prehistoric Cave

Just 4 kilometers east of Kalabaka an impressive grey rock, Theopetra, dominates the middle of the lowlands, giving the impression that God himself has thrown it there as a sign of his pronounced presence in the area. However, it does not belong to the complex of Meteora, as it is a limestone, and its name means “God’s stone”. Indeed, it gives somebody the impression that God himself has thrown this particular huge rock in the middle of the fields as a sign of his strong presence in the area. In the very heart of this unknown-origin rock a hidden cave reveals the secrets of human being which had been kept in dark for approximately 130,000 years. This newly-discovered and developed site displays unique archaeological findings from the Middle Paleolithic Era (130,000 B.C.) to the end of the Neolithic (3,000 B.C.) and transfers visitor a long way back to the Prehestorical Age and the very early period of humanity. The findings of the excavation research and study of the cave are hosted at Theopetra’s Cave Documentation and Education Center located in the homonymous village.

(Hoop: 08:30-15:00, closed on Mondays)

 

Sarakina Bridge

Sarakina is a village 8 kilometers away from Kalabaka, built in the left bank of the river Pineios. Just 2 kilometers outside the village lies the famous bridge of Sarakina built next to a large rock rising above the river. It was erected around 1520 by St. Vissarionas and had six arcs. However, in 1810 a part of the bridge collapsed to be reconstructed in 1855, therefore only four of the arcs are preserved nowadays. The development of the largest arc is 19.7 meters and the height 9.7 meters, the development of second one is 16.7 meters and the height 8.5 meters while the other two arcs have a development of 8.5 and 7.5 meters and their heights are 3.5 and 3.7 meters, respectively. At the beginning of the 20th century a small tower was built on the right foot of the large arc which enclosed a meter of the river’s water level. The bridge has a length of 123 meters and a width of 5.2 meters. According to tradition, the Greek armatols had partially destroyed the bridge in order to prevent the advance of Ali Pasha of Ioannina to Thessaly while, here in the 6th of April 1878, took place the celebrated battle against the Turks.

 

Byzantine Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary

One of Greece’s most considerable, early Christian basilicas lies in the old town of Kalabaka. It was erected in the 11th century and its rhythm is basilica without dome, with two narthexes. In the interior walls there are embedded residues of ancient embossed representations and inscriptions, as well as sculptures. A unique in Greece marble pulpit rises imposingly in front of the temple’s Holy Gate while, in the frontage left part of the church a part of mosaic floor has been revealed. In the northern wall of the inner narthex there is written the “bull” of the emperor Andronikos Palaiologos C’ according to which, in 1336, the borders of the Bishopric of Stagi are determined, as well as the edict of Patriarch Antonios D’ which, in 1393, renews the privileges that had been granted to the Bishopric by previous emperors of Byzantium. Finally, a remarkable and imposing bell tower, opponent to the surrounding rock pillars, dominates the northern side of the churches perimeter.

(Hoop: 09:00-13:00 & 15:00-20:00)

 

 

Museums 

 

Documentation and Education Center of Theopetra Cave

It is the only museum in Greece dedicated exclusively to early prehistory with findings from various prehistoric periods, excavated in the cave of Theopetra (Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic). The collection consists of ceramic utensils and small items, tools, jewels, remnants of prehistoric fruits, 130,000 years old human footprints, animal representation drawings as well as photographs from the excavation itself. Also, it includes part of the embankment stratigraphy and two burials of the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic period.

In the multi-task hall of the museum, visitors have the ability to navigating the cave virtually and experiencing the nature and character of prehistoric societies through interactive touch screens and digital applications. In addition, there is an auditorium for the presentation of educational films and the conducting of educational programs, flanked by the relevant informative and educational material, aiming at the comprehension of the ways of living of the human species in the various prehistoric periods.

(Hoop: 8.00-16.00, closed on Mondays, Tel. +302432072196)

 

Digital Projection Centre of Meteora’s History and Culture

An interesting museum with ultra-modern audiovisual facilities where visitors, through special 3D 15-minute shows, available also in English, can travel millions of years back, experiencing the unique geological phenomenon of Meteora, from its formation till today. Additionally, they can enjoy a three-dimensional tour of the historical monasteries and the surrounding area.

(Add: P. Dimitriou & N. Plastira St., Tel: +302432077997, Εmail: mouseio-meteoron@kalabaka.org) )

 

Natural History Museum of Meteora & Mushrooms Museum

Housed in an area of 1100 sq. M., the museum features two main permanent collections. The one is about animals, including approximately 350 species of high quality stuffed mammals and birds, all made by Europe’s best taxidermists. The second one is dedicated to mushrooms with an assortment of sculptures of approximately 250 species, all presented in three stages of the development of their life cycle. All the exhibits are displayed into dioramas, simulating thoroughly their natural environment.

Moreover, the museum hosts, at times, exhibitions of photography, painting and sculpture while, various events and educational activities on nature and the environment are organized. Its operation and information material is based on the scientific knowledge provided by the University of Athens, the official scientific advisor of the museum. Also, on its premises there is a café overlooking the rocks of Meteora.

(Add: 20, Pindou St., Tel. +302432024959, Email: info@meteoramuseum.gr)

 

Hellenic Culture Museum

A museum dedicated to the history of Greek education and culture, in the center of Kalabaka. There, in a space of 1000 sq. M., the private collection of Mr. Pavlos Balogiannis is housed, composed of old school books and periodicals, stationery, bags, student uniforms, old school desks and blackboards and various relative objects. Also, there are authentic book versions of the Greek Enlightenment, pieces of Aesop’s Fables in original editions from 1600 to 1850 and fairy tale books from previous decades. Also, periodic exhibitions, scientific conferences, lectures and numerous other cultural events are hosted on the site.

The mission of the museum is the preservation, study and promotion of Greek education and its values and aspires to bring visitors in contact with the Greek letters and Greek civilization, through an experiential and simple way, so that it constitutes a place of culture, learning, education and science.

(Add: Chatzipetrou & Megalou Alexandrou, Tel: +302432024959, Email: info@bookmuseum.gr)

 

Vasiliki Folklore Museum

A museum dedicated to folk tradition, portrays moments from life and activities of the village residents over the past decades. It is housed on the first floor of the Parish Center of Vassiliki, above the Mother of God chapel. Its exhibits, all offered by the village inhabitants, include traditional items and household utensils, old tools and small items, handmade local costumes and black-and-white photographs.

 

Outdoor activities

The jagged, grey-black cliffs of Meteora rising impressively up into the sky, along with the imposing Theopetra Rock are ideal for rock climbing, rappelling and paragliding. Moreover, the district is offered for hiking in the traditional pathways used by monks and nuns, for many centuries, to exchange their products and transfer supplies to monasteries, as well as, for cycling and motocross. There are offices with experienced guides, specialized in outdoor activities, operating in the area.

 

 

Local products

A great number of traditional goods have been produced for centuries in the territory of Kalabaka such as fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, spices, dry nuts, flour, diary products, sausages, tsipouro, wine, handmade pasta, honey, pastries, icons, needleworks, textiles and copper handicrafts.

 

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