Aug 10

THE SURREAL SCENERY OF METEORA AND THE MONASTERIES AMONG THE CLOUDS IN (ΜΕΤΈΩΡΑ)

The monasteries of Meteora are positioned on the lordly peaks of sandstone pillars formed millions of years ago in the region of Thessaly. Most monasteries were built in the Middle Ages. The Greek word “Meteora”, which means “suspended in the air,” perfectly describes these remarkable buildings of the Greek Orthodox beief. The monasteries of Meteora are some of the most spectacular sights of Greece. And not just because they offers incredible views of the surroundings, but it also illustrates the unique perspective through a medieval monastic life.

Six of the original complexes are still inhabited by clerics who greet visitors from all over the world. The picturesque town of Kalabaka, located at the foot of cliffs, serves as a camp for those who want to soar to the top.

1 The Great Meteoron Monastery

The largest and oldest monastery of Meteora, the Great Meteoron Monastery is also the highest, located at more than 615 meters up. Founded by St. Athanasius, whose followers were exiled royal figures, Meteoron has always been considered the most prestigious. The huge complex includes a nuns’ monastery, dating from the XIV century, a small museum, a wine cellar and a shaded courtyard. For many visitors, a memorable image is that of the sacristy, where the skulls of those who lived in the monastery are being kept.

2 Holy Trinity Monastery

Serving as a place of filming for the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”, the 1981 Holy Trinity Monastery is probably the most recognizable of all the monasteries at Meteora. Situated on top of a lonely height, it is a real challenge for visitors. From the parking lot, they descend 140 steps to a ravine and then climbed another 140 steps to reach the monastery. Many believe that this route is worth the effort. Because of its vaulted rooms, completely restored eighteenth century frescoes and wonderful views, the Holy Trinity Monastery rewards visitors through an experience that can not be forgotten soon.

3 Varlaam Monastery

The second largest monastery in Meteora, Varlaam, gives an overview of the difficulty the monks have encountered when they built these sanctuaries on the rocks. It took 22 years to bring all necessary materials to the place where construction would begin. The tower that used a rope basket supply is present today in the museum. Until the twentieth century, the only way that visitors could reach the monastery was by being picked up with the same means of climbing. Today, 195 steps carved into the rock lead to the peak. Inside, you will admire the main chapel frescoes covering the walls, including drawings with apocalyptic themes.

4 Monastery of St. Stephen

The only visible monastery in Kalambaka, St. Stephen, was a place of pilgrimage since the XIV century, when Byzantine Emperor Andronicus Palaeologus visited and financed the original church. Built in 1500, the church houses in prezet the skull of Saint Charalambos, which is believed to have healing powers. The monastery suffered serious damage in the twentieth century: it was bombed during the Second World War by the Germans while several frescoes were damaged by the communists during the Greek Civil War. The monastery was practically abandoned until 1961 when it became a place for nuns. Dining room dating from the fifteenth century was converted into a museum, which showcases finely embroidered robes and tapestries. The road to the monastery is considerably eased by a bridge that connects it to the main road. The nuns welcome visitors and sometimes offer them embroidery manufactured with their hands.

5 Rousanou Monastery

Located relatively lower than its “cousin” from Meteora, Rousanou Monastery is easily accessible and a restored crossing  bridge over the stone walls will make the pass more exciting. Founded in the sixteenth century, the monastery was converted in 1988 into a place for nuns. The hospitable nuns welcome the visitors from the doorway create a stark contrast with the macabre scenes captured in the frescoes in the main chapel. The elated yards and gardens outside the monastery are a real bless during the hot Greek summer days and serve as perfect backdrops for those who want to take pictures.

6 Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas

Being relatively small, the monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas is often overlooked during visits, although the complex is easily accessible and is definitely worth a visit. Monastery built in the fourteenth century holds some of the most beautiful frescoes of Meteora. The famous Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas adorned the main chapel with illustrations of biblical scenes representing lively images of monastic life in the XVI century. The road to Kastraki will lead the visitors to the base of the peak, where 150 steps are enough to reach the monastery.

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Oct 04

The Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery (Manastirea Pskovo-Pechersky)

The Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery is the Russian Orthodox monastery which also goes by the name of the Holy Dormition Monastery. The Holy Dormition Monastery is situated in the western part of Pskov, a city located in close proximity of the Estonian border.

It is definitely not on your route, if you are on your way to visiting Moscow and Sankt Petersburg, but if you find yourself in this region, you should make some time to visit this beautiful monastery.

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The edifice is considered to have been founded in the second half of the 15th century, in 1473, when St. Jonah had sanctified the monastery of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God. But historically, the life of the monastery began several years in advance as a number of hermits who wanted to isolate themselves from the material word and all its temptations and who wanted to seek spiritual rebirth, had decided to live in the caves found in this place. In fact, the vestiges of some of the hermits are still located inside the caves and many decide to take this road in order to pay their respect and express their adoration to the holy remains of the saint.

The monastery had seen both times of happiness and sorrow, but after centuries had gone by and after the experiences it underwent, it is still standing and believers still give voice to their prayers in this place.

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As time went by, the size, as well as the status of the monastery has increased. It was in the 16th century that the Monastery of the Holy Dormition had expanded extensively, becoming a monastic ensemble. Two churches and a bell tower were constructed and the entire complex was fortified by means of a stone wall which comprised several strongholds within its design. It was around this time that the friary increased in size, numbering as much as 200 members.

The importance of the monastery intensified and due to the flourishing period it traversed, the abbot in charge of the complex decided to begin recording all the events which were even remotely connected to the specific construction, but more importantly those of religious significance. The monastery also comprised a workshop designated to teaching the craft of icon-painting.

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After this glorious period, came a troublesome period in which the edifice was heavily damaged due to the constant attacks directed at it. These came from different sides (Poland and Lithuania), but the attack with the most devastating effects was carried out in 1581 by Stephan Batory, the Polish King of that time.

At present the monastic complex comprises 10 churches, but the number of brothers that are part of the friary has greatly diminished in comparison to the large community (200) that existed in the 16th century.

The friary goes on with its day undisturbed, the monks working in the field in order to sustain themselves. The workshop which was established such a long time ago is still functional and besides engaging themselves in icon-painting, the participants are also thought how to carefully tend to a damaged icon in order to restore its original appearance.

539 years have gone by since the monastery was erected. The world has changed extensively during this time, edifices have been constructed or have been transformed into ruins, but the monastery has preserved its position and now stands proudly as the stronghold of Russian Orthodoxy.

Sep 07

St. Sava’s Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Sava)

When taking into consideration the idea of visiting Serbia, the first thing that springs to mind is going to Belgrade. As this is the capital city of the country, tourists are more inclined to choose this as their first stop. Probably because they have this idea ingrained that Belgrade is the most important city located in Serbia and, as a consequence, they are bound to find several touristic attractions worth seeing.

St. Sava’s Cathedral is one such points of interest located in Belgrade. The Orthodox church is the largest house of worship of this kind located in the Balkan region and it is among the 10 biggest churches in the entire world. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Sava, thus the name of the edifice is explained. The location of the construction site, on the Vračar plateau was not randomly chosen. It is generally believed that in that exact place where the cathedral now stands erect the relics of the saint were burnt by the Ottomans.

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The grandiose edifice dominates the skyline of the city and it is undoubtedly the most imposing building of the city. Even though this specific religious house is referred to as being a cathedral, the term is not accurately used from a clerical perspective as it is not the seat of a bishop. But it should be mentioned that in Serbian, the name bore is that of temple; the English translation is in a sense altered as a means of emphasizing the impressive size of the construction as well as the importance it carries in Serbia.

In terms of structure, we are talking about a Greek cross-like form. The cathedral consists of a main dome which is sustained by means of 4 spherical triangles (pendentives) which were used as transition elements between the circular dome and the rectangular base.

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The main dome is elevated at 70 m, but the height of the cathedral is calculated while taking into account the gilded cross placed atop the dome, which adds another 12 m, thus piercing the sky with its 82 m in stature. Lengthwise, the church measures 91 m by 81 m. In total, the cathedral numbers 19 gilded crosses, which differ is size, placed atop its domes, and comprises 49 bells within its belfries.

In order to get an accurate idea of the colossal size of the edifice, it should be noted that St. Sava’s Cathedral can house as much as ten thousand believers, not to mention that the gallery especially arranged for the church choir contains 800 de seats.

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The cathedral’s appearance is conveyed by means of white marble and granite, whereas the interior is meant to be entirely covered with mosaics. The inner decorative design is still in the making process but the parts that are completed reveal that the final result will be stunning. The main dome is programmed to be adorned by means of a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator – a specific portrayal of Christ. Just to grasp the magnitude of this undertaking, you should know that the eyes of Christ will measure about 4 meters in width (each).

Aug 02

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Petru si Pavel)

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is located in Sankt Petersburg and it is the oldest and tallest cathedral in the city. In fact it is the second highest edifice in St. Petersburg, if you are to take into account the television tower.

But what makes the cathedral an important tourist attraction are the historical events it had been a witness to, some of which are tightly connected to the House of Romanov, the second and last dynasty to rule over Imperial Russia. Furthermore, the cathedral is the resting place of almost all the Russian rulers since Peter the Great.

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The construction work

The cathedral goes back since the period in which Sankt Petersburg was founded. Initially, the house of worship was a wooden construction, erected one month after the city was established. In 1712, the Italian-born architect Domenico Trezzi designed a plan for the cathedral in which stone was used as the primarily material. The construction work was initiated soon afterwards, but the final result was not to be seen for 20 years. The cathedral was sanctified on the 29th of June, 1733.

The architectural design definitely contrasts the traditional style used in constructing Orthodox churches as it is a reflection of the Early Baroque. The architect drew inspiration from the protestant churches located in the western part of the continent and thus came up with the quadrilateral structure, the specific shape of the belfry and the needle-like tower which seems to pierce the sky.

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Architectural design

The walls of the cathedral consist of ornamental columns, while the windows are artistically adorned with angel heads. In constructing the bell tower, the architect used the multi-layers technique and added the gilded needle atop the construction. This one-of-a-kind development, the needle, was created by Dutchman German von Bolis, who added a further detail on top: a flying angel that holds a cross in its hand. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the representation. The needle is reflexive of the transcending experience one undergoes while embracing religion. The needle pointing upward is a symbol of this uplifting experience.

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A new detail was added to the bell tower in 1720, but this had no religious meaning attached to it. The clock we can see today was purchased from Holland for the price of 45.000 rubles, which was quite a large amount of money for that particular time.

The interior of the cathedral is a true work of art. The iconostasis is really impressive, and how else could it be taking into account that more than 40 architects from Moscow used their artistic creativity to create this unique piece. The first part of the 18th century brought about further improvements. The interior walls were covered with paintings which illustrated different biblical scenes.

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But the past of the cathedral is sprinkled with tragic events. The bell-tower is considered impressive, especially due to the needle which finishes it, but because of this tall structural design, the tower was subjected to the devastating effects of bad weather conditions, more precisely, of lighting. The tower burned to the ground in 1756. But while everything else was turned to ashes, the iconostasis managed to survive the terrible fire, having been removed from the cathedral in due time. The reconstruction work was not initiated until 1766, when Catherine the Great gave order for the edifice to be recreated in the exact same manner. But it took another ten years until the finished tower was revealed to the public.

The bell tower is definitely the main attraction of the cathedral and it is no wonder since it is an architectural emblem. The tower is part of the imperial catacombs – these are located on the ground floor, and it also consists of a platform upon which visitors can ascend and admire the view. These are organized on an hourly basis, beginning at 12:00 and ending at 18:00.

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There is a story concerning the edifice that might catch your attention. In 1997, when the angel atop the needle was being cleaned, the renovators encountered a message in a bottle which had been written back in 1953. The persons in charge of the renovation work from the ‘50s were apologetic for having performed a hasty and a bit of a sloppy work. The explanation is that the Soviet prime minister at that time, Nikita Khrushchev gave order for the angel to the restored quickly so that it would be ready for the city’s 250th anniversary. Allegedly, the renovators from ’97 had continued the tradition, leaving a note for the generations to come. However, the text was not made public.

May 16

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (Catedrala lui Isus Hristos Mantuitorul)

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is located in the Russian capital, Moscow, and it might just be the largest orthodox cathedral in the entire world.

This cathedral was the idea of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who upon seeing the troupes of Napoleon leaving Moscow, decided to erect a cathedral and dedicate it to Jesus Christ for having protected the Russians from their invaders. Also, the cathedral was dedicated to the Russian troupes that have sacrificed their lives for their nation.

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But even if the idea began to take form as the plan was developed and the location was selected, the cathedral did not see the light of day any time soon. The reason for this was that the successor of Tsar Alexander, his brother Nicholas, did not approve of the architectural design chosen for the edifice – which representative of the neoclassical period.

As a result, a new architect was appointed so as to draw a different plan for the cathedral. This task came to Konstantin Thon who drew his inspiration from the Hagia Sophia edifice, located in Constantinople. Even the site was changed. On the new selected location there were already  a church and a covenant, but the resolution in this case was to relocate the two edifices so as to make room for the grand cathedral.

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The year 1839 marks the moment when the construction work for the cathedral began, but only the platform was developed in the years to come. The extensive work picked up its pace in 1860. And the next 20 years after this were dedicated to decorating the cathedral.

This consisted of elaborate frescoes which were done to the interior of the edifice by some of the most renowned Russian painters of that time. The cathedral was sanctified in the same day that Tsar Alexander III was crowed ruler over all of Russia – 26th of May, 1883.

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But after the Revolution, the Soviets had developed a plan according to which the cathedral was to change dramatically, from an Orthodox house of worship to a monument dedicated to socialism which was to bear the name: the Palace of Soviets. The idea was to attach a colossal statue of Lenin on a dome of the edifice. Even if this project was never realized, the fate of the cathedral was doomed, as it was dynamited on December the 5th, 1931 leaving behind nothing more that ruins of a once glorious edifice.

But the near future did not see any prospect of rebuilding the cathedral due to a lack of funds. What was left behind in the place of the cathedral was a huge hole. There were no interventions conducted to the site until Nikita Khrushchev came to power. During his period, an immense swimming pool was constructed in place of the cathedral. But when the Soviet Union fell, there was a ray of hope that the cathedral would be rebuilt.

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The Russian Orthodox Church got permission to start the reconstruction work for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 1990. But the work did not begin until 1994 as there were insufficient funds to support this costly undertaking. The cathedral was officially completed in 2000, on the 19th of August, when it underwent its sanctifying ritual.

The new cathedral is reflexive of the former edifice, the architects doing everything in their power to create an accurate replica of the initial Cathedral of Christ the Savior. In order to do this, massive research work was done but even so, there are noticeable differences between the original construction and its present-day counterpart.

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The first distinction is that the new edifice disposes of an annex right at its base. This section is quite large as it consists of the Church of the Transfiguration, the Hall of Church Councils, Dining Halls, offices for the personnel working at the church, and so on. Another discrepancy between the past and the present edifices refers to the materials used in the construction work. The present cathedral was constructed while using the latest technological developments and materials. Just to give some examples, the façade is covered with marble from Koegla, the staircases are covered in red granite while concrete was the main material used in the construction of the walls.

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The edifice is enormous – as much as 10,000 people can fit inside the cathedral. It is no wonder that it is the largest cathedral on all of Russia. The interior decoration is breathtaking, the cathedral being adorned with elaborate frescoes which extend over the entire surface of the walls (which exceeds 22,000 m). One aspect worth mentioning is that the better part of the walls is gilded.

The cathedral is open for visitation on a daily basis in the following hourly interval: 6:30 – 22:00. There is no fee charged for entering the holy place, but there is one restriction imposed to visitors – it is not allowed to take photographs of the interior.