A visit to the main chapel is like a tour through one of Hieronymus Bosch Renaissance painting where blood and torn flesh is the order of the day.

Next in time came the Agia Triada, or Holy Trinity monastery, built during the 15th century. It is the most photogenic of them all and even starred in the James Bond Movie, “For Your Eyes Only.” Today, Agia Triada is the poster ad for all of Meteora. Even with the modern parking lot at its base, a visitor must climb 140 steps cut into the rock wall. It sits on the steepest and most isolated of all these rock fingers.

Two monks who named it for an esthetic hermit that had originally occupied the mountaintop founded the Varlaam Monastery in 1517. It houses a valuable collection of Byzantine relics, from carved crosses and icons to intricately embroidered altar vestments. A famous muralist named Frangos Katelanos frescoed its interior.

Building upon the old site of a former church, two brothers founded the Roussanou Monastery in 1545. It is the most inaccessible, having to cross a wooden bridge between two fingers peaks to reach its draw gate, and it is known for its icon collection.

Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas was named for a patron responsible for funding its construction in the 16th century. It is the smallest of the monasteries and sits on a stub of sandstone alongside its much taller brothers, looking very much like a thumb to the finger towering over it.

The valley’s single convent, Agios Stefanos, or Saint Stephan, is fairly modern by local standards, having been built in 1798 after the original church was destroyed ? possibly by an earthquake. The occupying nuns are courteous and friendly, but no visitor gets past them with bare shoulders or knees. Novices holding piles of plain blue aprons and capes meet tourist buses at the gate. Anyone not meeting the exacting dress standards must don the local sackcloth or be turned away. Once inside, novitiates line the walkway with fingers to their lips reminding people this is a place of worship. The nunnery houses a large skull collection of former members. It is a powerful reminder of the impermanence of this life.

Inside the walls of these Byzantine fortresses life goes on as it has for more than 900 years.

Wine is still made in giant oak vats where the monks climb in with bare feet to crush the grapes. Most of the carpentry and masonry tools are handmade in the same style as their ancestors.

A monk in a leather apron works a hand pumped bellows on a furnace where terracotta bowls are fired. Bearded black robed monks wander the cobbled streets, with bowed heads buried in their vespers. If approached with a camera, they will turn away or issue a fierce look that leaves no doubt about taking their photo.

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