Over the Mountains to Meteora
Abridged from Visits to the Monasteries in the Levant, first published in 1849
An English aristocrat and student of palaeography, between 1834 and 1837 Curzon toured Egypt, Syria and Greece, seeking to comb through the treasures of ancient manuscripts mouldering in monasteries. His first Grecian journey started from Corfu, and took him across the Pindus Mountains to the picturesque monasteries of Meteora and back. He described this part of his travels as “the most dangerous...expedition that it ever was my fortune to undertake.” There were virtually no roads. “Law and order” hardly existed, and life was cheap. However, his resilience, his status as an English “milord”, his ready ability to communicate with dangerous characters boldly and without condescension—and no doubt his personal charm—combined to afford him protection.
“On its reaching the rock on which we stood the net was spread open; my two servants sat down upon it; and the four corners being attached to the hook, a signal was made, and they began slowly ascending into the air, twisting round and round like a leg of mutton hanging to a bottle-jack. The rope was old and mended, and, the height from the ground to the door above was, we afterwards learned, 222 feet. When they reached the top I saw two stout monks reach their arms out of the door and pull in the two servants by main force, as there was no contrivance like a turning-crane for bringing them nearer to the landing-place. The whole process appeared so dangerous, that I determined to go up by climbing a series of ladders which were suspended by large wooden pegs on the face of the precipice... The lowest ladder was approached by a pathway leading to a rickety wooden platform which overhung a deep gorge. From this point the ladders hung perpendicularly upon the bare rock, and I climbed up three or four of them very soon; but coming to one, the lower end of which had swung away from the top of the one below, I had some difficulty in stretching across from the one to the other; and here unluckily I looked down, and found that I had turned a sort of angle in the precipice, and that I was not over the rocky platform where I had left the horses, but that the precipice went sheer down to so tremendous a depth, that my head turned when I surveyed the distant valley over which I was hanging in the air like a fly on a wall.”
Review: 'He ... knows how to tell a tale - and with a lot of wit.'
Jonathan Carr in Athens News