The definition of beauty has many interpretations, but whether you’re talking about inspiring landscapes, feats of architecture, or cultural immersion, these 10 monasteries are the most beautiful ones in the world. Just try and take a bad picture—we dare you.
1. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, Spain
Santa Maria de Montserrat (Catalan: Monestir de Santa Maria de Montserrat) is an abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict located on the mountain of Montserrat in Monistrol de Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain.
It’s notable for enshrining the image of the Virgin of Montserrat. The monastery was founded in the eleventh century and then rebuilt between 19th and 20th centuries, and still functions to this day. There have always been about 80 monks in residence.
2. Meteora monasteries, Greece
The Meteora (Greek: Μετέωρα) is a rock formation in central Greece hosting one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, second in importance only to Mount Athos.
The six (of an original twenty-four) monasteries are built on large natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area. It’s located near the town of Kalambaka at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and the Pindus Mountains.
Meteora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
3. Tatev monastery, Armenia
The Tatev Monastery (Armenian: Տաթևի վանք ) is a 9th-century Armenian Apostolic monastery located on a vast basalt plateau near the Tatev village in Syunik Province, southeastern Armenia.
The monastic ensemble stands at the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River.
The monastery hosted one of the most important Armenian medieval universities in the 14th and 15th centuries, the University of Tatev, which contributed to the advancement of philosophy, science, and religion, development of miniature painting and reproduction of books. Scholars of the Tatev University contributed to the preservation of Armenian culture and creed during one of the most turbulent periods in its history.
In the past, Tatev was challenging to reach, because the winding road had to descend the steep walls of a gorge, and cross a river on the Devil’s Bridge, but now Tatev is easily accessible by the world’s longest cable car.
4. Songzanlin Monastery (Shangri-La), China
Songzanlin Monastery (Tibetan: དགའ་ལྡན་སུམ་རྩེན་གླིང་, Chinese: 松赞林寺), also known as Guihua Monastery, is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, and one of the most prominent monasteries in the Kang region. It’s located near Shangri -La County, at the foot of Foping Mountain.
The monastery is full of treasures. There are a lot of Tibetan lections, golden figures of Buddha josses, golden lamps, silver censers and so on. All of these beautiful collections are accumulated from each dynasty. They are precious productions made by people of both Han nationality and Tibet nationality.
The monastery is situated in the high altitude region over 3,300 meters above the sea level. It snows even in July and has a rainy season that runs from June through September.
On November 29 the Gedong Festival takes place here when Buddhist followers from the region come here to pray. During the Gedong Festival, mask dances take place there.
5. Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, Zvenigorod, Russia
Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery (Russian: Савино-Сторожевский монастырь), located on the left shore of the Moskva River near Zvenigorod (Moscow region), was founded by the monk Savva from the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra in 1398.
The monastery is heavily fortified with thick walls and six towers, the most notable of which is the Krasnaya Tower (Red Tower), which also serves as the eastern main entrance.
The monastery was a favourite place of prayer of many Russian Tsars. It was in particular visited by Ivan IV the Terrible, his wife Anastasia Romanovna, and their son Theodore Ivanovich.
Today the monastery has a status of a stauropegic monastery, which is second in rank to the Lavra. The monastery still functions to this day and also holds the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum.
6. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan.
Ginkaku-Ji (Japanese: 銀閣寺) is a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama).
In 1482, shogun, named Ashikaga Yoshimasa, built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modelling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains (Kitayama).
After Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the villa was converted into a Zen temple.
In addition to the temple’s imposing building, the property features wooded grounds covered with a mixture of mosses.
The Japanese garden believed to be designed by a great landscape artist Soami. The sand garden of Ginkaku-Ji became particularly famous, and the carefully formed pile of sand which is said to symbolise Mount Fuji is an essential element in the garden.
There are about 10 monks in residence.
7. Paro Taktsang, the Tigers Nest Monastery, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang (Dzongkha: སྤ་གྲོ་སྟག་ཚང་), is a prominent Buddhist sacred site and the temple complex is located on the cliffside of the Paro valley in Bhutan.
This temple complex was built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where, according to the legend, Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the eighth century.
Padmasambhava is the tutelary deity of the country and also credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen Taktsang or “tiger lair” caves in which he meditated.
The temple devoted to Padmasambhava, also known as the Temple of the Guru with Eight Names (Gu-ru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang), is an elegant structure built around the cave in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. It has become the cultural icon of Bhutan.
A popular festival “Tsechu”, in honour of Padmasambhava, is held annually in the Paro valley sometime during March and April.
8. Blagaj Tekija, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Blagaj Tekija (Bosnian:
Blagaj is a village-town in the south-eastern region of the Mostar basin, in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton.
It is one of the most significant mixed urban and rural structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it stands at the edge of Bišće plain and distinguished from other similar structures in its urban layout. Blagaj was most likely named for its mild weather patterns since
Blagaj is situated at the spring of the Buna river and a historical tekke (Dervish monastery). The Blagaj Tekija was built around 1520, in Mediterranean style with elements of Ottoman architecture and is considered a national monument.
9. El Deir, Petra, Jordan.
Ad Deir (Arabic: الدير ), also known as El Deir, is a monumental building carved out of rock in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra.
Built by the Nabataeans in the 1st century and measuring 50 metres wide by approximately 45 metres high, architecturally the Monastery is an example of the Nabatean Classical style. It’s the second most visited building in Petra after Al Khazneh.
The Monastery has appeared in several Hollywood movies, including the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
10. Khor Virap, Armenia
The Khor Virap (Armenian: Խոր Վիրապ) is an Armenian monastery situated in the Ararat plain in Armenia, near the border with Turkey, about 8 kilometres south of Artashat, Ararat Province, within the territory of ancient Artaxata. The monastery hosted a theological seminary and was a residence of Armenian Catholicos.
Khor Virap’s notability as a monastery and pilgrimage site is attributed to Gregory the Illuminator’s 13 years imprisonment here by King Tiridates III.
Saint Gregory subsequently became the king’s religious mentor, and they led the proselytising activity in the country.
In 301, Armenia became the first country in the world to be declared a Christian nation. A chapel was initially built in 642 at the site of Khor Virap by Nerses III the Builder as a mark of veneration to Saint Gregory.
Over the centuries, it was repeatedly rebuilt. In 1662, the larger chapel known as the “St. Astvatsatsin” (Holy Mother of God) was built nearby the ruins of the old chapel, the monastery, the refectory and the cells of the monks. It is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Armenia.