Breathtaking Monasteries Around the World


1Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Bhutan)

Taktshang is the most famous of monasteries in Bhutan. It hangs on a cliff at 3,120 metres (10,200 feet), some 700 meters (2,300 feet) above the bottom of Paro valley. Famous visitors include Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century and Milarepa.

The name means “Tiger’s nest”, the legend being that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew there on the back of a tiger. The monastery includes seven temples which can all be visited. The monastery suffered several blazes and is a recent restoration. Climbing to the monastery is on foot or mule.

Photo: Leo Palmer

2Madonna del Sasso Monastery (Switzerland)

This beautiful pilgrimage church Madonna del Sasso with its Capuchin monastery is towering high above Locarno. The old town enjoys the most glorious of locations, on a broad sweeping curve of a bay in the lake, and also clocks up the most sunshine hours of anywhere in Switzerland.

The monastery has a spectacular view of the town beneath it was built to honour the Virgin Mary, who was said to have appeared in a vision in 1480 and was completed by 17th century. The monastery’s museum hosts a remarkable collection of sacred art. The twenty-minute walk up through the lush ravine of the Torrente Ramogno is a romance in itself.

3Yumbulagang Monastery (Tibet)

Yumbulagang , palace of mother and son in Tibetan dialect, is the first palace and one of the earliest buildings in Tibet and it has a history of more than 2,000 years. Destroyed during the Cultural Revolution it was rebuilt in the 1980s. The walls are painted with beautiful murals which tell the early history of Tibet.

It’s said that it was built for Nyatri Tsanpo, the first Tibetan King by Bon believers in the 2nd century BC. Then it became the summer palace of Songtsan Gampo and Princess Wencheng. The 5thDalai Lama changed it as the monastery of Old-Yellow Hat Sect (Kadamspa).

4Gregoriou Monastery (Greece)

The Monastery of Gregoriou was built on a beautiful location at the south-west side of Mount Athos, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The monastery was founded in the 14th century. It occupies the seventeenth rank in the hierarchical order of the twenty Athonite monasteries. It is considered to be one of the most well-organised and strict coenobitic monasteries. It is inhabited by 70 monks (1990). Its katholikon was built in 1768, in accordance to the Athonite plan. The church’s walls were decorated in 1779 by the holy monks Gabriel and Gregory from Kastoria. The Church’s narthex (vestibule) was added later. Aside from the katholikon, the monastery also features many chapels. The library is relatively poor since it was destroyed by raids and fire during the revolution of 1821. Today, it features 297 manuscripts and 4,500 printed books. The monastery also features a fragment of the True Cross and relics of saints. The monastery’s treasury is very rich in relics from various eras and also houses many chrysobulls, siggilia, etc. The bones of St Niphon, Patriarch of Constantinople, are displayed in a special crypt in the katholikon. The library is richly stocked and well-organised. It contains some 804 manuscript codices, theological, ecclesiastical or liturgical works. One manuscript is an illuminated 13th century Holy Bible.

5Metéora Monastery (Greece)

The Metéora (Greek: “suspended rocks”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”) is one of the largest and most important complex of monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Peneios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. The Metéora is home to six monasteries and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

6Gradac Monastery (Serbia)

Photo: Marko Kosovcevic
Endowment of Queen Helen (of the Anjou) wife of Serbian King Uros I. It is located 20 km north from Raska and was built in the 13th century. The church is predominantly in the style of the autochthonous Raska school, though with certain Gothic elements.

7Ngaphechaung Monastery (Burma)

Ngaphechaung Monastery is located in Inle Lake, on the way to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. This is an attractive wooden monastery built on stilts over the lake at the end of the 1850s. Aside from its collection of Buddhas the monastery may be of interest to visit because its monks have taught a few of the many cats living with them to jump through hoops. 25 minutes boat ride to visit and ancient monastery built on huge pieces of teak wood with traditional architecture and see the popular jumping cats leap through the hoops.

The monastery is also known for a collection of old Myanmar’s Buddha images from different areas that are worth seeing. Nga Phe Chaug is the biggest and oldest monastery on the Inle Lake and is worth visiting for its historical purposes and architecture as well as its cats.

8Montserrat Monastery (Spain)

The Santa María de Montserrat monastery is located in the Montserrat mountain in Catalonia. The Virgin of Montserrat famous statue is here; ñegend has it that the Benedictine monks could not move the statue to construct their monastery, choosing to instead build around it. The statue’s sanctuary is located at the rear of the chapel, where an altar of gold surrounds the icon, and is now a site of pilgrimage.