Mountains give an exhilarating feeling of being near the heavens. Climbing a mountain often in isolation implies a deep desire to connect with the spiritual and seemingly unreachable. The peace and tranquility that a high place provides is sought after by many who wish to meditate, pray and reflect. The desire for this inner peace moved the ancient people across all cultures and regions to build grand structures called monasteries. These towering places of worship seem to embrace their very locations and have practically become part of the geography of the country they are ground. The beauty and opulence of these breathtaking architectures are in solemnity and harmony with its milieu, that no longer can they be viewed apart from the nature that enshrines them. Without a shadow of a doubt, a visit to these ten monasteries can and will alter perspective and life, as we know it.
The Panagia is a building complex which creeps mysteriously on the cliffs of Amorgos, Greece. It is a gigantic structure seen only from the seaside. 300 meters above sea level, it was named after a place in the Holy Land. Like a misplaced primitive castle, the Panagia is in stark color contrast to the surrounding rocks. It has, however, become an inseparable part of the cliffs and a constant and marvelous sight by the ocean.
It is said to have housed the legendary icon of Panagia in the 9th Century A.D. It was then renovated by the Byzantine empire led by Komninos. Thousands of tourists visit the Panagia every year. It is home to classic antique items used in the Greek Orthodox traditions.
Not really hanging from a cliff but being part of the cliff itself, the path towards Petra in Jordan leaves us amazed and gasping for breath. This is because the way towards Petra in Jordan is a running site that would force any marathoner to look anywhere but on the racetrack. Even more so if he is not a serious racer, and just came to the site to marvel at the location of the movie "Indiana Jones." A challenging cleft is the only way towards the monastery. Called the siq, it leads to the famous treasury which used to be a shrine for the Holy Grail that symbolized the favor of God. The path though, is a merciless mix of rocks, sand and dry riverbeds that would leave one grateful for the occasional asphalt roads that punctuate its length.
Hailed as one of the seven wonders of the world in 2007, it was subdued by the Romans during the time of the Nabatean Dynasty. This ancient capital city is also recognized by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage list.
A building complex sheltered among rocks and crevices, St. George's monastery is a sight to behold. It sits distinctly among huge walls of stone, and to its far left is flowing water from a spring. Anyone passing by will certainly take a second look and then gaze at its captivating gray stone barricades capped by a few sky-blue domes.
In the Bible, an interesting story ensues from this very place. According to a book in the Bible, Elijah "went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morningFara and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook." Established by a small group of monks, this monastery was built as a marker for the cave wherein it is believed that the prophet Elijah had been fed by ravens. It is located on the path to Jericho, a few kilometers from Jerusalem.
A Buddhist temple built on land may look a little too commonplace in China. But when these beams and grand rooftops are seen perched above stone cliffs and among magnificent crevices, a new image of beauty emerges. One of these works of art and spirituality is the hanging monastery at Datong, Mt. Henshan, China. Built in the 5th century, it was established and maintained by the Ming Dynasty. A view of the Datong hanging temples from the bottom of the mountain is a favorite among photographers and enthusiasts who go there to take a look at this very significant structure in Oriental history.
This structure, though very delicate in design and meticulous in its architecture, was built to last thousands of years. In fact, pillars of the construction industry like the Germans and Italians come to see how this temple was so tenaciously made. The distinct technology used to make it withstand the natural elements is quite simple: its beams were firmly grounded into the rocks. These crucial foundations, in combination with the natural barrier from rain and wind provided by the mountain itself, were key to the Datong Monastery "hanging in there" for thousands of years.
An imposing barricade of massive towers lurks among an emerald ravine. It seems as if the rocks grew a branch and the Simonopetras Monastery sprung forth on its side. In spite of its manmade intricacy, the cliffs uphold it like it were its own. Adding to its marvelous presence, a choir's singular voice is heard reverberating in the halls of this ancient structure. They sing recent Byzantine chants, providing the monastery a diverse mixture of ancient architectural art and modern musical renditions. Indeed, the Simonopetras Choir has been known as the musical element within these buildings' walls.
Founded by Simon the Athonite, this group of towers was built in honor of the nativity of Jesus. Though burnt by three incidents of fire, it was restored in the 19th century and now stands towering at the side of Mount Athos in Greece.
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A first look at the steep cliffs near the Arachthos river might fool one into thinking that it is simply a bed of rocks on the side of the road. This is how neatly the structure of the Kipina Monastery is integrated into the walls of the Atamanika mountains in Greece. The sturdy structure pry the rocks open was built in the 18th century. Evergreen mountains surrounding it can only add to the beauty of this structure built in honor of the assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Catholics believe the assumption was the time when Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul. This belief has been an inspiration to many magnificent structures in many parts of the world. The Kipina monastery is even more striking if the presence of the nearby Arachthos river is kept in mind. Passing by the Ionnania prefecture, it is a scenic introduction to what amazing cliffs lie beyond and around it.
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The Agios is a tower upon a tower. The building is a strong appendage to the natural stone structure which does not provide enough space for width expansion. Thus, the height of the Agios. There is strong evidence that it was first inhabited by hermits. Frescoes found in one of the chapels inside this monastery support the former presence of its early occupants.
Among the six remaining monasteries in the Meteora complex, the Agios holds utmost significance. It bears cultural and historical treasures: the paintings of the Cretan leader, Theophanes. The frescoes show events from the Bible like Christ's Passion, the Last Judgment, Mary praying and even Jonah and the Whale. It is believed that he made these works of art in 1527, when he used to stay as a monk in the Agios.
Atop the towering cliffs of Turkey lies a monastery so well-established in grandeur and timeless structure. One would conclude with strong resolve that this building is an unshakeable part of the Altindera cliff. The Sumela Monastery was built in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It serves as the shrine of a black statue of the iconic mother who serves as inspiration for many throughout the ages. The statue is believed to be one of the many madonna sculptures built in the tradition of Georgian art. Interestingly, it is also home to several mythical stories that have become part of the very walls of this monastery. According to one of the legends, St. Luke built the statue of Mary enshrined in the Sumela Monastery. The building then somehow managed to go to Athens, from which it traveled to its present location at Trabzon by means of winged angels.
Scientific narration however reveals several instances of restoration and renovations to this cliff structure since the 13th century. It is known today as the Meryem Ana, and is now preserved as a cultural heritage of Turkey.
A journey to Taktsang Dzong, Bhutan is a marvelous introduction to the delightful experience of reaching this mesmerizing monastery which not only has grandeur in its structure, but in its very location. As the trekker approaches it, he will pass by a monastery which is on the same level as the village. As he looks back, the Urugyan Tsemo Temple is seen perched on a plateu. And as he presses on towards the Taktsang, he is captured by the sound of a waterfall. According to one legend, the Takstang Dzong was established by Guru Rinpoche. It is said that he flew to Taktsang riding a tiger. Thus, it is named "Tiger's Lair." Another story that claims to be a reason behind this cliff's beauty is about an emperor's former wife. Her name is Yoshe Tsogyal who offered herself as a disciple of Guru Rinpoche. She then transformed into a beautiful tigress that carried the Guru from Tibet to Bhutan. The Tiger's Lair is composed of 8 shelters or caves which are believed to have been Guru Rinpoche's place of meditation. Though situated on a rocky, almost vertical cliff, it has many access points that lead to the monastery shelters.
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This monastery is perched atop a massive sandstone rock structure that seems to have been designed using huge diagonal brush strokes. The Rossanou is one of the monasteries in the complex called The Meteora.
Listed under several criteria of the UNESCO World Heritage List, The Meteora is composed of Eastern Orthodox Monasteries in Greece. The Monastery of Rossanou was established mid-16th century, in honor of Saint Barbara. It is also dedicated to the Transfiguration according to Catholic Tradition.