IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY:
III (Natural Monument) Natural/Cultural World Heritage Site – Natural Criterion iii/Cultural Criteria i, ii, iv, v.
2.33.12 (Balkan Highlands).
Situated in the district of Thessaly, prefecture of Trikala, province of Kalambaka, to the east of the Pindos Mountains. The monasteries lie on the south-facing slopes of the Andikhasia Mountains in the upper valley of the Pinios River, 1-2km north of Kalabaka and approximately 25kms north-north-west of Trikkala. The site lies just north of the E87 between Ioannina and Larisa. The zone described as being under protective status extends from a point some 0.5km north of the town of Kalambaka in a north-westerly direction for some 2-3km. It is 1.5km at its widest point and includes the village of Kastraki. 39°45’N, 21°37’E.
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT:
The area is protected by legislative provisions including protective status for the village of Kastraki. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.
Mean altitude is 300m, rising to a maximum of 1,000m.
The monasteries are built on rock pinnacles of deltaic origin, called ‘Meteora’, rising over 400m above the Thessalian plain. Chemical analysis and work by the German geologist Philipson, supported by the Greek geologist Papadakis, suggests that the pinnacles were created some 60 million years ago in the Tertiary period, emerging from the cone of a river and further transformed by earthquakes. The pillars are of brown sandstone.
The mountain range to the east and north of the site experiences a wide climatic variation from baking heat in summer to severe cold in winter with heavy snowfalls. Summer is the driest time, storms occurring all year round especially at higher altitudes.
The area includes forested hills and river valley with riverine forests of Platanus orientalis and species such as the endemic Centaura lactifolia (found near Koniskos village) and Centaurea kalambakensi. The nearest protected area is Trikala Aesthetic Forest(28ha), created in 1979, which has been planted with Pinus halepensis and Cupressus sempervivens. The potential vegetation cover is described as supra-mediterranean, with climax cover of Quercus spp. and Ostrya spp. and beech Fagus sylvatica forest above 700m.
Mammals include grey wolf Canis lupus (V) and otter Lutra lutra. The region was famed in the 1970s for its raptor population, with four vulture species, lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, black Aegypius monachus, Griffon Gyps fulvus and Egyptian Neophron peranopterus; four eagle species, golden Aquila chrysaetos, short-toed Circaetus gallicus, booted Hieraeetus pennatus and Bonelli’s Hieraeetus fasciatus and breeding lanner falcons Falco biarmicus. Other birds include rock and cliff haunting species, such as alpine swift Apus melba, crag martin Hirundo rupestris and red-rumped swallow Hirundo daurica. Somber tit Parus lugubris occurs in the valley. The area remains of importance for birds of prey, with breeding species of honey buzzard Pernis apivorus, black kite Milvus migrans (ten pairs), Egyptian vulture (with 50 pairs the largest population in Greece, but declining), short-toed eagle (five pairs), Levant sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes, lesser-spotted eagle Aquila pomarina (one pair), booted eagle (three to five pairs), Bonelli’s eagle (one pair) and peregrine falcon. In addition, black stork Ciconia nigra breed (two pairs) and roller Coracius garrulus (ten pairs) are found (Grimmet and Jones, 1989).
The Meteora Group of Monasteries comprises the following monasteries: Ascension of Jesus Christ; Transfiguration of the Saviour; Varlaam, Saint Nikolas Anapafsas; Roussanou; Holy Trinity; and Saint Stephan. These are built directly on the rock’s surface without foundations as such. Religious life, starting in the form of hermits dwellings, can be traced to around 1,000 AD. The first monastic community emerged in the 14th century, and was most successful during the 15th and 16th centuries. By the 17th century, the monastic population had dwindled to one-third of its original size. The site was bombed during World War II and many art treasures stolen. Details of the history of individual monasteries are available in the World Heritage nomination. The monasteries represent a unique example of monastic life since the 14th century.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION:
Within the area there is only the small village of Kastraki. Human activities include agriculture, forestry, stock raising, hunting and recreation.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES:
The site is of geological interest with reference being made to it by ancient Greek writers such as Herodotous and Strabo, as well as modern observers such as Pouqueville, Leake, Giannopoulos, Ussing and Philipson.
Monks settled in this inaccessible region of sandstone peaks from the 11th century. The 16th century frescoes found in this group of 24 monasteries, are a fundamental stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting.
Since 1972 the monasteries have been restored and conservation work is carried out annually by specialists, including archaeologists, restorers, craftsmen and labourers. A variety of methods are used in the conservation work, includingchemical analysis of colours and concrete injection. The monasteries lie in an area within which different types of building work is prohibited or limited.
The major threats to the sites are both natural and man-made. The former includes the possibility of earthquake damage; earthquakes occurring frequently but are not of a high intensity. The latter include disturbance by low-flying aircraft. The Platanus forests are being felled and the vulture species require access to safe, artificial feeding sites.
he groups of specialists dealing with the restoration and conservation of the site are public employees of the Ministry of Culture and of the Archaeological Service.