became a sanctuary, especially after about 1300, when it provided asylum for secular as well as religious refugees under Ottoman rule. Around 1356 St. Athanassios Meteoritis founded Great Meteoron (from which the region derives its name), and about eighty years later the Serbian Orthodox prince John Uresis joined the community, endowing it with such wealth and privilege that it soon became the region’s dominant monastic house. The growth of other foundations—Varlaam, commenced in 1350 and rebuilt in 1518; Holy Trinity of around 1470; and Roussanou, established in 1288 and rebuilt sometime before 1545—led to a golden age of monastic life and produced an environment in which scholarship and Byzantine ecclesiastical art flourished. At its peak the whole community numbered thirteen coenobite monasteries and about twenty smaller foundations. The patriarch Jeremias I (ruled 1522–1545) raised several of them to the rank of imperial stavropegion.

The monks set out to create places of inaccessible isolation. In the completed buildings entry could be gained only by a series of vertical wooden ladders of dizzying length (65–130 feet, 20–40 meters), which could be drawn up at night or when intrusion was imminent, or by nets hauled up by windlasses housed in cantilevered towers. Great Meteoron, or the Monastery of the Transfiguration, largest and highest of the houses, stands on the Platylithos (Broad Rock) 1,780 feet (534 meters) above the valley. Varlaam was originally reached by using scaffolding dug into the rock, and its windlass and rope in the tower (built 1536) were used for materials and supplies until 1963. Roussanou is built on a site only just large enough for it, and its walls stand right at the edge of the precipice. Whatever the reason for such a defense against the world—whether to protect the souls and minds of the monks or the wealth of the monasteries—the construction of these buildings in the sky, some of which are large and complex, represents a formidable challenge to the resolve and skill of the builders. It has been well met.

The monasteries generally declined in the seventeenth century (although some had failed long before), and by about 1800 they were little more than a “decaying curiosity,” a unique sight for tourists. They surrendered their independence to the Bishop of Trikkala in 1899. At the beginning of the twenty-first century only five are still occupied: the monasteries of Great Meteoron, Ayia Triadha, Varlaam, and the convents of Agios Stefanos and Roussanou.

Further reading

Hellier, Chris. 1996. Monasteries of Greece. London: Tauris Parke Books.

Nicol, Donald M. 1975. Meteora: The Rock Monasteries of Thessaly. London: Variorum.

Mir space station

Mir (Russian for “peace”) was conceived in 1976 as the climax of the (then) Soviet program to achieve the long-duration presence of a man in space. Its first component was launched into orbit ten years later. The first modular station assembled in space, it is the pioneer work of extraterrestrial building; constructed in a virtually gravity-free environment, it is unique among architectural and engineering works. Earlier space stations had been integral units, completed before launching. Mir circled the earth for over fifteen years. As first proposed, it was 43 feet (13.1 meters) long and 13.6 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter; its mass was 46,200 pounds (20,900 kilograms). By 1985 the Russian Space Agency had decided that four to six additional modules, each with a mass of 46,000 pounds (20,800 kilograms), would be moored at docking ports on the station. By the time the final module was in place, the total mass was about 221,000 pounds (100,000 kilograms). Mir, humanity’s first landmark—if that is the correct word—in space, orbited the earth at an altitude of 225 miles (390 kilometers) and an inclination of 51.6 degrees.

The primary function of the station was as a location for scientific experiments, especially in the areas of astrophysics, biology, biotechnology, medicine, and space technology. At various times, Mir was “leased” as a laboratory. Cosmonauts, astronauts, and scientists of many nationalities—Russian, American, Afghan, British, Canadian, German, Japanese, and Syrian among them—conducted over 20,000 experimental programs on board. However, space-watcher David Harland observed that Mir was the first station