Photo credit: By Dawid Zawila at Unsplash
Is there a reason to build monasteries on cliffs and mountain tops? Have you ever wondered that when visiting or looking at photographs of monasteries perched on cliffsides?
It doesn’t matter, whether they are based on Christian, Buddhist or Hindu faiths, one can find monasteries and places of worship inside caves, near rivers, lakes or by the ocean, or carved out on cliffs and hidden deep in the mountains. These are mostly places of solitude and great beauty.
Could it be that the only way for the busy human mind to indulge in the things of God can only happen at wind-battered cliffs or at places that are immensely beautiful and “dangerous”? Or to protect the monasteries from brigands and bandits or attacks from rivals, as described by Peter Harrison, author of Fortress Monasteries of the Himalayas: Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal, and Bhutan. He wrote:
The earliest monastery that has a fortified appearance is at Samye, not far from Lhasa. Dating from the 7th century AD… Many, however, relocated – moving into the remotest of places, often on the tops of mountains where access was difficult.
The answers to this “mystery” may be found when you visit one of these dangerously perched cliff-side monasteries around the world:
1. Paro Taktsang or “Tiger’s Nest” – Bhutan
This video by Yelha Bhutan Tours, a tour operator in Thimphu, Bhutan captured the sights and sounds of Paro Taktsang or “Tiger’s Nest” – a sacred Buddhist site and temple complex built on a cliff-side overlooking rice fields and lush greeneries:
Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery (built in 1692) is the most photographed tourist attraction and the most sacred site in Bhutan. Visitors need to trek for around 90 minutes to get to the nearly 3,000 feet high Paro Taktsang. The hike includes slippery terrains, over 700 steps and slopes winding through Buddhist shrines, prayer flags and pine forests.
2.The Meteora Monasteries, Greece
Back in the 14th to the 16th centuries, there were 24 monasteries perched on the rocks of Meteora. Today this UNESCO World Heritage Site has only six monasteries. They are:
- The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron – the biggest of the Meteorite monasteries and built in the middle of the 14th century.
- The Holy Monastery of Varlaam – second largest and constructed in 1541/1542.
- The Holy Monastery of Rousanou – dedicated to “The Transfiguration” and honoring St. Barbara. Established in the middle of the 16th century.
- The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas – the first one you’ll see on your way to the Meteora from Kastraki. Built at the beginning of the 16th century.
- The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen – the easiest to reach. Erected in the middle of the 16th century.
- The Monastery of Holy Trinity – the most difficult to reach. Built in 1475-76
3. Taung Kalat or Mount Popa Monastery, Burma
It takes great effort to get to Taung Kalat Monastery at the top of Mount Popa. There are over 700 steep steps and hundreds of monkeys along the way. Mount Popa is about an hour’s drive from Bagan. Half day and full day tours are available from Bagan.
Personally, I would not visit Taung Kalat after seeing video footage compiled by travelers showing the monkeys at the stairs leading to the temple. I’d rather enjoy the view from a distance, like from Mount Popa Resort. Look at this Instagram photo by cities155:
#MyanmarOfinstagram #Myanmar #Burma #MountPopa #Bagan #MountPopaResort Relaxing in this nice infinity pool with the amazing view of Mount Popa which is a volcano in Bagan Burma/Myanmar. As it’s been inactive for long time, a temple was built on its top… #HistoricVolcanoSeria #MountPopaSeria #MountPopaResortSeria #BaganSeria #MyanmarSeria #BurmaSeria #MyanmarMountainsSeria #AsiaMountainsSeria #MountainsOfinstagram #Mountains #MountainSeria #July29Temmuz2016 #Temmuz29seria #Temmuz2016seria #CumaTemmuzSeria #Cuma2016seria #CumaSeria
4. Sümela Monastery- Trabzon, Turkey
Sumela Monastery sits on a cliff on Mela Mountain, about 28 miles south of Trabzon. Built in the 4th century, it is a Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary and one of the oldest in the world.
Going up to the monastery requires a walk on steep trails and a footbridge, but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful lookout points, waterfalls, and alpine meadows. Day tours are available from Trabzon to Sumela Monastery.
— Home Of Trabzon (@HOMEOFTRABZON) June 21, 2017
5. Dhankar Gompa – Spiti, India
You can drive up to Dhankar Gompa, a 1200-year-old Buddhist monastery. Located in the Spiti Valley at 12,774 feet above sea level (3,894 meters) in the Himachal Pradesh state (Himalayas), Dhankar Gompa commands views of Dhankar Village, Spiti, and Pin Rivers.
— Nature , Travelling (@letstravellworl) January 11, 2017
6. St. George Monastery, Israel
In the early Middle Ages, hermits lived in the Judean Desert, located between Jerusalem and Jericho. The old monastery constructed in the fourth century was destroyed by the Persians in 614 and in the late 19th century, St. George Monastery was rebuilt on the same site.
To get there, visitors can take a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem to the entrance and walk about 15 minutes to the top. Take a look at the photo tweeted by TeppoFelin:
— Teppo Felin (@teppofelin) May 23, 2016
7. Xuan Kong Si or “The Hanging Temple” – Datong, China
The Hanging Temple of Hengshan, Suspension Temple or Xuan Kong Si is a 1500-year-old temple suspended 246 feet above ground on Hengshan (Mt. Heng). The temple complex has 40 rooms connected by bridges, walkways, and corridors. It represents a combination of three Chinese religions – Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The Hanging Temple is a marvelous architecture hanged on the cliff of Mt. Hengshan in China’s Shanxi Province. pic.twitter.com/NufHVxxV0x
— ChinaTours.com (@ChinaToursCom) September 24, 2015
8. Blue Domed Church – Santorini, Greece
The Blue Domed Church of Santorini needs no introduction. Did you know there are 16,000 churches in Santorini, and most are painted in white and have blue domes? If you’ve watched or read Greece travel stories, you’ve probably seen white buildings with blue domes.
The one to visit is the Holy Church in Oia dedicated to the Virgin Mary, originally built as a castle in Oia village.
9. The Monastery of Sant Miquel del Fai, Spain
Situated 31 miles (50 km) from Barcelona, the gravity-defying Monastery of Sant Miquel del Fai sits on a cliff providing views of the valley below. Attractions in the abbey include the only Romanesque chapel inside a grotto in Catalonia, waterfall, a cave, the square and an exhibition gallery.
— Guía Repsol (@GuiaRepsol) April 4, 2017
Read more Barcelona Tourism
10. Sigiriya or “Lion’s Rock” – Colombo, Sri Lanka
Standing at 590 feet (180 m), the Lion’s Rock is visible from all corners of the jungle. It was built in the fifth century by King Kassapa but converted into a Buddhist monastery after his death until the 14th century. The Citadel still has some remnants of the palace ruins, fountains, alleys, frescoes and ancient inscriptions.
The Lion’s Rock is UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the most visited historical sites in Sri Lanka.
— Trip196 (@Trip_196) June 6, 2017
11. The Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso, Switzerland
The Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso is a spiritual, art and history center in Orselina, above Locarno in the Canton of Ticino, the Mediterranean heart of Switzerland. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared before Brother Bartholomeo da Ivrea from the San Francesco monastery in Locarno. Seven years later, in 1487, the Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso was built on the rock overlooking Locarno, the lake, and the surrounding mountains.
A funicular is available every half hour to the top of the sacred mountain, or you can take a half hour hike from Piazza Grande to the chapels.
Article by Claudia Looi