Sunday, 19 January 2020
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With rope, net and trust in God

In central Greece, on the edge of the Thessalonica plain, the Meteora rock pillars tower 400 m into the sky. Monasteries have been located at dizzying heights atop steep cliffs since the eleventh century.

The wondrous lift to the Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas monastery - Frater Gregory loves and uses it. (Source: Frater Gregory Edwards)

But how could the beautiful monasteries be created on the inaccessible rock pillars? Initially the monks constructed ladders made of wooden steps, which they jammed into holes in the rock face. Rope ladders were used too.

Primitive lifts were also used for the ascent and descent and to transport building material: nets were attached to ropes and hauled up with wooden pulleys. This much is historically documented. The question remains unanswered how much willpower and faith the monks had to deploy for these trips.

UNESCO natural and cultural heritage

To this day nets are used to transport goods. However, the ascent is no longer associated with thrills, since at the beginning of the twentieth century stairs and roads were built to render the monasteries accessible. As a result, tourists can reach them in safety – after all, the Meteora monasteries are UNESCO natural and cultural heritage sites.

Six of the previously 24 monasteries are still inhabited. This includes the Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas monastery. Since space on top of the rock is limited, the monastery consists of a three-storey building. The lower floors includes sleeping quarters, prayer and storage rooms while the entrance is on the top floor, accessed by a long stone stairway.

Conveyance height about 20 meters

All visitors must use these stairs. But not the monks: they have a lift. Since it was impossible to erect a lift shaft on cliff face, it was dispensed with. The lift car consists of solid steel sheet panels and is guided by rollers on four steel ropes. The doors – normal room doors – are closed by hand or remain open if you wish to enjoy the panorama.

In the middle on the left and right sides two more steel ropes are used for suspension. The lift car is raised or lowered on these ropes; an electric motor installed under the monastery roof is responsible for the movement. The ropes are coiled on a drum.

The conveyance height is about 20 m, the maximum permitted load unknown – however, the number of users is manageable, since only two monks live in the monastery. The lift makes life much simpler for them, since they have to get all goods to the third floor. The monastery lift may not be state of the art – but the monks love and use their lift all the same.

Stathi Vassiliadis

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