“I’ve been here before”, I kept thinking as we explored Meteora, a wonderful mountain area in Northern Greece. I remember this place. Tall sandstone pillars, sheer cliffs topped by monasteries built defying gravity. It was a clear day, but it was easy enough to imagine the valley filled with clouds, making the monasteries look as if they were ‘suspended in the sky’ – the meaning of the Greek word meteora.
Suspended in the sky – Greek meaning of Meteora
I’ve seen this place before. This looks familiar. And then, it hit me. Meteora was the real life inspiration for the Game of Thrones Eyrie. The unforgettable aerial kingdom from the hit HBO TV series we’ve all grown to love.
Meteora, the Real Game of Thrones Eyrie
Bona-fide Game of Thrones fans will surely remember that the Eyrie is the ancestral seat of House Arryn, Lords of the Vale and Wardens of the East.
The Eyrie was first shown in season 1; when Catelyn Tully abducts Tyrion and takes him to the Eyrie’s sky cells, built on the castle side with one open side and a sloping floor. Real Game of Thrones aficionados will remember Tyrion surveying the lofty landscape of floating rock pillars in the cloud-covered valley; the the sandstone pillars of Meteora.
The Vale of Arryn and the Eyrie returned to Game of Thrones in season 4, when Petyr Baelish throws Lysa Arryn from the Moon Door, a hatch built into the floor of the main chamber which open to the valley below.
Where is Eyrie in Westeros
The Eyrie is located in the Vale of Arryn, in the eastern part of Westeros, high up on a slender mountain. It can only be reached through a narrow path and causeway lined by battlements and guarded by archers. This makes the Eyrie impregnable to any kind of attack not involving dragons, reason why the Eyrie was never taken in over a thousand years, despite being the smallest castle in the whole of Westeros.
Some History on Meteora
In 1344, a monk called Athanasios set off to Meteora with a group of followers, wanting to build their very own Eyrie. The area had been inhabited by hermits for at least for hundred years, who sought shelter in the numerous hollows and caves high up on the rock pillars.
In that period, the supremacy of the Byzantine Empire was weakening and monasteries were frequently raided by Turkish invaders. Athanasios found the impregnable sandstone pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge for him and his followers, and began construction of the Great Meteoron Monastery, which has been continuously inhabited to this day. Following Athanasios’s example, more monks flocked to the area. More than 20 monasteries were built, of which six are still active today.
Nowadays, Meteora is one of Greece’s prettiest and most underrated tourist attractions. It’s a paradise for hikers, with several walking trails joining the monasteries and offering stunning views over the valley and the rock pillars.
It’s incredible to imagine that monks in the 14th century built the monasteries only with the aid of rudimentary rock-climbing equipment. The staircases and paths that we see today were only added in the 1920’s, to allow access to tourists and pilgrims. Until then, access to the monasteries required climbing over the rocks with the aid of ropes or ladders tied together. In some monasteries, elderly monks who were unable to climb could reach the top thanks to a winch with a hessian sack tied to it.
Inside, the monasteries are havens of peace and tranquility. At Roussanou Monastery, after visiting the church covered in 16th century wall paintings, I sat for a while looking at the sunset over the valley, listening to a nun sing Greek Orthodox hymns.
Meteora for Future Game of Thrones Filming
Yet, despite being stunningly beautiful, Meteora is far from becoming another Dubrovnik. The truth is, Game of Thrones Eryie wasn’t actually filmed here. It was chosen as a possible location for the Eyrie scenes in season 1. However, the notoriously slow Greek bureaucracy, alongside the additional series of paperwork required from UNESCO, made it impossible for HBO to secure the necessary permits. For this reason, the landscape used as a backdrop for Tyrion’s sky cell had to be digitally altered, adding some additional stone pillars.
Only very few die-hard Game of Thrones make the pilgrimage to Meteora, joining Christian devotees and lovers of hiking and the outdoors. Somewhat, though, this makes Meteora even more special.