Nuns do too.
At least in Greece they do.
If you don't believe me, the next time you visit Greece, do yourself, your eyes, and your soul a big favor and drive to the city of Kalambaka. From Athens, it's a four-hour drive on a winding road full of of sharp turns, heart-stopping cliffs, and near impossible to maneuver narrow bends. Not a drive for the faint of heart. Or the acrophobic, the climacophobic, the monophobic. Not a drive for wimps, like me.
But if you conquer your fears and trust the driver simply because, well, among other reasons, you happen to be married to him, and you make it to Kalambaka after having buried your fingernails into the driver's arm leaving tiny crescent moons on its flesh, you are in for an absolute treat. Kalambaka sits at the feet of Meteora: a mystical enclave, a geological phenomenon of nature's grandeur, and a combination of history, architecture and human innate desire to connect with the Divine.
One thousand and two hundred feet (1200 ft) above Kalambaka are the gigantic 60 million year-old sandstone rocks of Meteora, a name which in Greek means "suspended in the air." Nature's own rhythm of seismic activity created a circuit of crisscrossed fault lines and fissures which, in turn, transformed shapeless sandstone masses into pinnacles, or if you are a 14th-century monk, into the perfect place to build a monastery. Or many.
The 14th century in Greece was a fearsome time of political instability, religious persecution and social turmoil. Orthodox Christianity had amassed a significant amount of enemies and monasteries had to be built in either hidden spots or on top of inaccessible peaks, such those of Meteora. By the end of the 15th century there were 24 of them, although only six of them have made it through the centuries:
The Great Meteoron --the largest of all.
St. Nicholas Anapausas.
St. Stephen which was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
And last, but not least, the nunnery of Rousanou/St. Barbara, where we got played by an old sweet nun who graciously let us in five minutes before closing, took our Euros, asked for a donation, and five minutes later kicked us out because it was closing time. We protested to no avail. The sweet edges of her face were now replaced by a steely gaze that could pin mosquitoes to the wall or put out fires at the other side of the world. Who knew that old Orthodox Greek nuns could be this conniving?
This complex of monasteries--built by hermits and ascetics under impossible conditions, who lived in communion with the divine and the skies in precarious conditions--is without a doubt, one of the world's most powerful examples of the architectural transformation of a natural environment into a place of reclusion, meditation and prayer.