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Greece travel: Meteora Monasteries Page 4

a cutaway of varalaamAlong the path that leads to the monastery of Varlaam, there is a fine view of the adjacent rock where two painted ikons and broken sections of ladders can be seen-ladders which once led to the Ypselotera, or highest of the monasteries, actually a convent founded around 1390 and which vanished during the 17th century. It is conjectured by some that the perilousness of the ascent explains its demise.

About half an hour north of the Broad Rock is the little visited Ypapanti, which, though ruined, is worth seeing. It sits in a huge cavern and has brightly painted frescoes and a gilded ikonostasis. Nearby, and inaccessible is Aghios Dhimitrios which sits on top of a rock, destroyed in 1809 by the Turks after having served as the center for a band of local klephts (literally, 'thieves', but the word usually refers to freedom fighters of the guerilla type who, in Greece, usually hid out in mountain strongholds).

Varlaam/Barlaam (the letter 'B' in Greek pronounced like a Latin 'V'), is reached via a bridge from the road. The old windlass and rope in its tower (erected in 1536) were used in 1961-63 when the refectory was rebuilt as a museum to house treasures from the monasteries. The founders, in 1517, Nektarious and Thophanes Asparas of Ioannina, chose a site where an anchorite name Varlaam had built a church in the 14th century which was dedicated to the Three Hierarchs and restored it. Repaired and frescoed in 1627-37 as a side chapel of the Katholikon built in 1542-4, it is a good example of the late Byzantine style with a carved and gilded ikonostasis and frescoes (in the narthex; 1566) .

icon of our saviorRousanou (above) along the road's main fork, is a small monastery on a low hill, reached via bridges built in 1868, but founded before 1545 by Maximos and Ioasaph of Ioannina. It had deteriorated so much by 1614, that it was made subject to Varlaam, and in recent times has become a nuns' convent. It's church has an octagonal dome, and is a smaller version of the one at Varlaam, with frescoes from 1560, restored in the 1870s.

The monastery of Aghia Triadha (the Holy Trinity), is on an isolated pinnacle between two ravines, and entered by 130 steps which are partly inside a tunnel in the rock. A round chapel off of the passage leading into the courtyard was dedicated to St. John the Baptist in 1682. There are buildings here in half-timbered style and also a garden. The Moni Aghiou Stefanou or nunnery of St. Stefan, is the longest distance from the road of all the monasteries at Meteora, but is also the only one visible from Kalambaka. Its access is easy, via a bridge that leads from and to Kuklioli hill. This convent was founded in 1400 by Antonios Cantacuzene (probably a son of Nikeforos II of Ipiros) whose portrait in the original Katholikon was defaced during the Greek civil war. The New Katholikon, rebuilt in 1798. has as its chief relic the head of the martyr Haralambos.

The grassy meadows between the monastery rocks are an aspect of Meteora also well worth exploring, some of them reachable by secret doors that only the locals know about.

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