KALAMBAKA – The target for opening tourism in Greece is May 15, but while the preparations have already begun and the country has made great strides in recent years, there is one element still missing from the Greek tourism formula: inviting Diaspora Greeks to visit islands, towns, and villages other than their family homelands.
There is one magical spot that is world-renowned with visitors from everywhere but is still more on most Greek-Americans’ bucket lists than among their sure-to-be revered memories: the majestic rocky outcrops of Meteora – with their mystical monasteries above and the delightful town of Kalambaka below.
The day after Easter Sunday the men women and children were enjoying a double celebration – the Resurrection of Christ and the beginning of the hoped-for post-COVID social and economic renaissance. With the lifting of the main pandemic restrictions the cafes and restaurants were filled with locals – outdoors, with tables properly distanced but with masks largely missing – the citizens displaying a blend of joy and relief.
They are optimistic the tourists will come, because they always do – but they would love to welcome more from the Disapora and share with them their double treasures of nature and Orthodoxy.
Located at the edge of the lush green plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, the monasteries of Meteora – there were once 24 but now six operate – is one of the largest and most precipitously placed of Orthodox monastic complexes, second in importance in Europe only to Mount Athos.
Several of the monasteries are visible from the town, rising on a string of immense natural pillars – the Greek Grand Canyon – and surrounded by trees and cultivated fields as far as the eye can see.
In addition to the monasteries the area’s attractions include a natural history museum (meteoramuseum.gr) where visitors can learn about how God, Nature, and Man collaborated to create some of the most breathtaking and delightful places on Earth.
A TIME MACHINE TOO
At the very spot from which the Earth raises the houses of God towards the heavens above is a very special church, a Byzantine basilica dedicated to the Kimisis – Dormition – of the Theotokos. Entering through a graceful arched doorway, visitors are transported a millennium back in time, where they will get a taste of architectural forms once central to and now long gone in the Orthodox world.
Once upon a time virtually every church in the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Middle East greeted congregants with an often-majestic marble ‘ambo’ (pulpit) in the very center of the nave – which was empty of people because during services they stood to the left and right, in the aisles below and galleries above. The faithful only entered the nave to receive the Body and Blood of Christ – what must have been a moving experience, especially in places like the Aghia Sophia of Constantinople.
For a few moments, the people got a close up view of another church element that Orthodox churches rarely possess: the ciborium, a dome resting on four columns surrounding the holy altar table. When visiting Italy, where there are many ciboria, ask not why the Catholic church has them, when you return home ask why the Orthodox church let them go – they must have been beautiful sights.
At the Church of the Kimisis, visitors will see both: it is the only church in Greece with both an intact Byzantine ciborium and ambo.
When you visit, you will be greeted by Kyria Paraskevi, who helps take care of this important monument to Hellenic and Orthodox history. Be sure to ask her if she has more of the informative booklets whose 5 euro price is a nice contribution to the preservation of Hellenic and Orthodox history.