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February 13, 2018

Queen Marie of Romania, the First Woman to Enter the Great Meteoron at Meteora

Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) was "one of the world’s most celebrated royals” and ”the Princess Di of her day”, as People magazine called her in 1985.

Among her achievements, one can count being the very first royal woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine (the cover of 4th of August, 1924), the first woman to be appointed corresponding member of the French Academy of Beaux Arts, and the first woman to ever reach the Great Meteoron Monastery.

In 1921, Queen Marie of Romania visited Meteora, becoming the first woman ever allowed to enter the Great Meteoron Monastery. Eight days after the wedding of Prince Carol of Romania with Princess Elena of Greece, Queen Marie heard that among the curiosities of Greece were the fantastic monasteries of Meteora. Arriving in Kalambaka with her children Mignon and Nicholas, she traveled to the Great Meteoron Monastery by donkey.

Queen Marie described Meteora as follows: "By a whim of nature, these extraordinary rocks rise out of the plain like petrified giants (...), these immense out of the ordinary things have at their peaks man-made buildings, which makes the whole thing absolutely fantastic." The excitement of the inhabitants upon seeing her was great, applauding and cheering her entrance. Then she realized there was no other means of getting there than being pulled up with a rope by monks.

She then describes her ascent as follows:

"Up, up, so high you could hardly see it, the old monastery was bent. An incredible ladder was caught by the rock, a terrible thing that stumbled and led to a cave in which it eventually disappeared; a rope hangs on its edge, and a huge hook hangs from this rope. It descended down the cliff, and on the rock below was a huge mesh with beds in it. Of course, it seems like a crazy way to get up, but I did not hesitate to try to get to the monastery that was the oldest and most interesting (...). I sat turkish-style in the middle of the net, which was closed over my head with a monstrous hook that tightened the strings of the braid (...), and then I was raised from the ground by the old monks who turned the wheel on which the rope was wrapped or unfolded. (...). Well, I was up and I was in the company of some old, morose monks."

"For 800 years, no stranger came here," said the monk who descended at great intervals to supply the brethren. "Woman did not mention the monastery. It's just an old saying that when one tries to get up to it, the rope will break." Queen Marie did not want to hear it. When she arrived at the top, they made the sign of the cross, both the monks from above, and the people below.