We all know that Greece is beautiful. Those whitewashed homes on the hills of Santorini overlooking crystal clear waters. In fact, various hues of blue paint have been dubbed "Santorini Blue" to evoke the brilliance and the ambiance of this most beautiful of islands.
But Greece is that and SO much more. As a crossroad of civilizations because of its strategic and often unfortunate location between Europe and Asia Minor, the country has been at war on the left, and on the right.
But one of the most important and overlooked periods of Greek history is the role Greece played during the Byzantine era. The Byzantine Empire (also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire) was the continuation of the Roman Empire from its fall in the 5th Century AD to its conquest by the Turks in 1453. Greece formed the westernmost boundary of Byzantium and of course came under the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th Century.
On my recent trip to Greece we visited the center of Byzantium in Greece - an area in Thessaly (Central Greece) called Meteora - because of the incredible rock formations (Meteora) that exist there as a result of geological changes over millions of years. The people of that place found protection from the raids of conquerors and several bold hermits and monks found shelter at these rocks, seeking mental calmness and tranquility as they sought Christian perfection. There, they established the oldest surviving monasteries in the world and practiced Greek Orthodox Christianity continuously for over 1600 years.
These extraordinary monasteries are on top of these rocks, and continue to be the perfect place to connect with Divine. Serene, spiritual, mystical and inspirational, are just some of the words that I can use to describe them. While 24 monasteries were originally built, only 5 survive today - all of them still in use.
We hiked up to the oldest of the survivors - The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteora- on a particularly cloudy day. I took lots of shots while I was hiking as the rocks seemed suspended in mid-air. And when I reached the summit and toured the monastery, I was delighted to find art restoration going on at this World Heritage Site so that these magnificent architectural wonders can remain intact for centuries to come.