Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Meteora

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METEORA, a remarkable group of rock-built monasteries in Thessaly, in the northern side of the valley of the Peneus, not quite 20 miles north-east of Triccala, and in the immediate vicinity of the village of Kalabaka, Stagus, or Stagoi (the ancient Æginium). From the Cambunian chain two vast masses of rock are thrust southward into the plain, surmounted by a number of huge isolated columns from 85 to 300 feet high, “some like gigantic tusks, some like sugar-loaves, and some like vast stalagmites,” but all consisting of iron-grey or reddish-brown conglomerate of gneiss, mica-slate, syenite, and greenstone. On the summit of these rocky pinnacles—accessible only by aid of rope and basket let down from the top, or in some cases by a series of almost perpendicular ladders climbing the cliff to the mouth of a tunnelstand the monasteries of Meteora (τὰ Μετέωρα). At one time they were twenty-four in number; but Holland (1812) and Hughes (1814) found them reduced to ten; at Curzon's visit (1834) there were only seven; and in 1853 not more than four of these were inhabited by more than two or three monks. Meteora par excellence is the largest and perhaps the most ancient. The present building was erected, according to Leake's reading of the local inscription, in 1388 (Björnståhl, the Swedish traveller, had given 1371), and the church is one of the largest and handsomest in Greece. St Barlaam’s and St Stephen’s (the latter founded by the emperor John Cantacuzene) are next in importance. The decorations of the churches contain a large amount of material for the history of Byzantine art, not much inferior in value to the similar treasures at Athos.

Unless the identification with the Ithome of Homer be a sound one, there is no direct mention of the rocks of Meteora in ancient literature, and Professor Kriegk suggests that this may simply be due to the fact that they had not then taken on their present remarkable form. Æginium, however, is described by Livy as a strong place, and is frequently mentioned during the Roman wars; and Stagus appears from time to time in Byzantine writers.