“Central Greece 🇬🇷 ~Road Trip out of Athens to Lamia and Ioannina”

Today was a splendid day of road-tripping and enjoying the beauty of Central and Northern Greece.

We drove out of Athens yesterday, with no hotel reservations, anywhere. We rented a car in the late afternoon, and drove over 2.5 hours, straight through till dark, and ended in the town of Lamia. Finding a hotel was easy. By Lamia, we were well out of the crazy traffic of the Athens, and it would become much more rural.

This morning we got up and headed to a really great ancient Castle of Lamia, and had a look around. There is not a lot to see in Lamia, but the town itself and the surrounding mountains are amazing. We did experience some haze, today, but even with that, the surroundings were gorgeous.

Castle of Lamia

The castle of Lamia is located on the highest spot of the city on a rocky hill. From the top of the hill the castle “observes” the city and Sperchios river valley, Iti, Kallidromos, Parnassos, Gkiona mountain tops and Maliakos gulf. 
It is one of the most important monuments in the area, not only for its medieval character but also for the Archeological Museum built in its interior. According to the findings in the castle walls there is a historic continuation from the 5th century B.C. up to the Second World War. The Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, as well as Conventions center have their offices in the castle’s interior.
Old remnants
View of Lamia

After our Castle visit, we set our course for Ioannina, which is as close to the Albanian 🇦🇱 border, our rental car company could get us. This would be about four hours on the road, but with a few stops, it took longer. The scenery is breathtaking, and we are very happy with our choice to drive on our own. BTW, we arrived in Ioannina and found a also found a hotel, no problem.

Mostly today, we preferred to just drive and enjoy what we saw from the road, but every now and again, we would see something that we felt, required further investigation.

WOW! We had to go check this out!
What luck, it was unlocked!
Great views all around, from this church on the hill
Many, many tunnels to go through on this route

As is very true in Greece, getting the names of what we saw is very difficult. Most places continue to have just Greek words.

What have we here?
Church name
Also unlocked!
Sunflowers!
Coming near Meteora. which means “suspended in air!”
As we approach the town of Kalabaka, which is the nearest big town to Meteora, we could see a complex of giant sandstone rock pillars that climb up into the sky. On top of them you will spot the famous Meteora monasteries.

The drive through this area was wonderful!
About Meteora, and The Holy Meteora Monasteries, shown in the following photos

Meteora monasteries are the miracle of Greece.
Just past the village of Kalabaka, the impressive rocks of Meteora are rising from the plains of Thessaly, and is the most amazing places in Greece.
Many centuries ago, on these gigantic rocks with the breathtaking landscape reaching heights of more than 600 meters, formed one of the most important monastic communities of Greece. The Greek word Meteora means “suspended in the air” and this phrase aptly describes these remarkable Greek Orthodox monasteries.
Meteora is a great place to experience, a spectacular landscape and byzantine monasteries perched on top of steep rocks that house priceless artifacts and wall paintings. Today, only six monasteries are active with a small number of monks or nuns who reside on Meteora.


In 1988, the Meteora monasteries have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage
Site
Monastery of Great Meteoron

Meteora, Greece – a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an eroded rock which monks have built their monasteries on. Twenty-four of these almost inaccessible monasteries were built during the 15th century, despite incredible difficulties.

Here are some interesting facts on the monasteries and the area:

~During World War II the site was bombed and raided with many pieces of art stolen

~The site is featured in the James Bond movie; “For Your Eyes Only”

~Meteora is a popular rock-climbing site, with people coming from all around the world to reach the top

~Meteora became a World Heritage Site in 1988

~The rocks are composed of a mixture of sandstone and conglomerate

~All 6 of the remaining monasteries are in use; however many monks have left the site

~Meteora thrived until the 17th century, when under Turkish occupation they fell into decline

~The rock pillars were formed approximately 60 million years ago by earthquakes and weathering

~Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people

History:
The foundation of the Monastery of Great Meteoron is the starting point of the organized life at Meteora. Perched on the most imposing rock, it occupies a commanding position among the monastic complex of Meteora. It’s the largest and most formal of the extant Meteora Monasteries as its name implies.


The Great Meteoron was founded shortly before the middle of the 14th century by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite, who was also its first founder and the first to organize a systematic monastic community. Ioannis-Ioasaph was son of Greek Serbian King of Thessaly and Epirus Symeon Uressis Palaelogos whose seat was Trikala. Symeon Uresis Palaelogos, Ioannis’ father, died in around 1370 and his son succeeded him to the throne. However the young king infused with the divine love quickly rejected temporal power and the din of the world and exchanged the royal purple for a monk’s habit. He came to the Great Meteoron where he was received as a monk taking the name Ioasaph at the age of 22.

Shortly after Athanasios’ death Ioasaph assume his duties in the monastery of Great Meteoron, as successor of his spiritual father. Ioasaph, enlarged and rebuilt the original church erected by Athanasios, transforming into a magnificent edifice. Athanasios and Ioasaph the inhabitants of Great Meteoron and the builders of the Holy church are ranked among the chorus of saints and are honoured at April 20th.

The Great Meteoron through endless adventures and persecutions during the last six centuries continued uninterruptedly its monastic presence and radiance and kept an important part of its treasures and its priceless national and religious heirlooms. At the sanctum of the catholic there are important frescos of the Macedonian school and the remarkable frescos of the main church and the narthex are believed to be created by Georgie, student of Theophanous the Cretan.

At the above Holy Monastery are the chapels of the Mother of God (Virgin Mary of the Meteorite Stone), of Holy Baptist, of Saint Equal Apostles Constantine and Helen and of Saint Nektarios (more modern). The most important buildings are the centre (kitchen), the old age home, the “trapeza”(dining hall) and others.

Probably one of the most interesting parts of the monastery is the sacristy which contain shelves of the skulls of the monks who have lived there over the years. Great Meteoron monastery serves as the main museum for visitors to Meteora.It remains a true bastion of orthodox monasticism, a real bulwark of Christianity and a holy ark of our national and religious tradition.
The Monastery Varlaam
The Monastery Varlaam owes its name to the hermit-anchorite Varlaam, who first inhabited the rock in the 14th century. The history of the monastery begins substantially from the early 16th century, when the rock settled and organized their priory the Ioannina brothers Theophanes and Nektarios Apsaras, descendants of the old continent Byzantine family.

The Apsaras in 1518 renovated fundamentally the chapel of the Three Hierarchs, which was built on the site of the original Catholic monastery that was built by Varlaam, in 1536 built the winch tower and in 1541 built the present church dedicated to All Saints. In 1627 the chapel of the Three Hierarchs rebuilt in place of the Old Catholic who had built the Apsaras and in 1637 was decorated by the artistic crew of John priest and children, who came from Kalabaka.


The primary church painting was done in three phases. In the first phase they were created, to 1548, by the famous iconographer Frangos Katelanos frescoes of the sanctuary and the nave. In the second phase, in 1566, the narthex was painted by the Thebians Kontaris George and the brother of Frangos sponsored by Antonios Apsaras, bishop of Vella of Ioannina. The last phase of the decoration (1780 and 1782) as evidenced by the inscription in the northwestern pillar, over the representation of the Virgin Mary, probably refers to a minor intervention which visible elements are indistinguishable. This last phase is part of the period during which the monastery continued to flourish, organized bibliographic laboratory and received generous donations from rulers of Wallachia.

Essential for the history of the monastery was the contribution of Brother Christopher, who during the 18th century ranked valuable archive and copied a number of historical texts. The monastery thanks to the strength of both distinguished in spiritual prosperity, and the participation in national struggles in recent years.
Incidentally, The Chapel of the Three Hierarchs, can only be visited with the permission of the monks. It is a single-aisled wooden roofed church.
~Not my photo
Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas

The beginning of the monastic life on the rock of Anapafsas is placed in the 14th century and the name of the monastery probably due to old founder. In this phase belongs the chapel of St. Anthony, the walls of which still exists the remains of frescoes. The monastery was renovated in the first decade of the 16th century.

When Larissa Metropolitan St. Dionysius the Merciful and the Exarch Stagon monk Nikanor, who are the founders of the monastery, erected the present church, which was painted by the famous Cretan painter Theophanes Strelitzas in 1527. From the first decade of the 20th century. The monastery was abandoned and began to decay. In the 1960s, he renovated and restored by the Archaeological Service.

The construction and installation of the monastery (tall rectangular building with successive levels) adapted to the capabilities of the very small area of the plateau of the rock in which it was built. Going up the first staircase that was built you see the small chapel of St. Anthony and the crypt, where previously stored codes and heirlooms. On the walls of the chapel remains frescoes of the 14th century. On the next floor is built the church of the monastery, a small single room, almost square space preceded by a large enough in relation to the church narthex (lite). Upstairs are the old bank of the monastery, which was restored and today serves as the official residence (hostel), the ossuary and the renovated, since 1971, church of St. John the Baptist.

The frescoes decorating the little church of the monastery are considered among the most important sets of post-Byzantine painting, as it is the oldest known signed work of Theophanes. In the inscription above the entrance leading from the narthex to the nave preserved the signature of the artist “hand of the monk Theophanes of Crete Strelitzas. On vertical surfaces of the stent dominate large-figured compositions. On the north wall of the narthex placed the imposing representation of the Second Coming, while the west wall illustrated the Dormition of Efraim the Syrian and rare depiction of Adam giving names to the animals. In the two other walls in the lower zone represented full-length saints and saints among whom the donors stand, Dionysius Larissa Metropolitan and Exarch Stagon Nicanor next to Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius the Meteorite.

In the upper zone depicted the Assumption of St. Nicholas and scenes from the miracles of Christ. In the main temple at the top of the dome dominates the Almighty, below illustrates the liturgy and the Prophets and the spherical triangles depicts the four Evangelists. On the walls of the nave are depicted in the lower zone full length saints, little higher saints in stitharia and in the upper zone of the Twelve scenes from the life, passions and Resurrection of Christ. Given the large number of scenes that make up the iconography of the Catholic, whose surfaces murals were limited, many of these scenes are the size of a handheld image. Theofanis manages to introduce in the decoration of the Catholic Anapafsas except iconography sophisticated technique and style that characterizes the artistic production of portable icons of the Cretan School.
~Not my photo
There are a total of six monasteries. Not pictured are:
Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen
Holy Monastery of Holy Trinity
Holy Monastery of Rousanou,
Time to stop for some fresh cherries 🍒 and apricots

Tomorrow, we return the rental car, and take a bus for one hour to the Albania border. From there, we have two more nights to wing it. We hope to rent another car, over the border, and explore south Albania. Our eventual destination by the 29th of this month, will be close to Tirana. We hope to enjoy a fun two weeks, before maybe heading on to Durres. After that, we have no idea what our travels will look like, but we will figure something out for another country visit, and continue living our dream.

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