Some of the most peaceful monasteries in the world are also some of the most difficult to reach.
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In the search for solitude, monks have founded monasteries in peaceful but remote areas around the world, which are hard to reach even with the conveyances of today. Many monasteries boast of beautiful architecture that is even more astounding when you consider the fact that the structures were constructed centuries, if not millennia, ago.
Here are five monasteries that stand out for their uniqueness:
1. Dhankar Gompa, India
Perched on a rocky summit in the vast Himalayas, Dhankar Gompa is believed to be over 1,000 years old. The monastery is surrounded by rocky peaks, and has phenomenal views of valleys, rivers and mountains.
2. Debre Damo, Ethiopia
Set in a scenic spot atop a secluded mountain, the Debre Damo monastery is only accessible by scaling a 15-metre-high cliff by pulling oneself up by a rope. The complex is home to Abuna Aregawi church, which dates back to the sixth century, and is full of riveting Aksumite architecture, ancient artifacts, and religious manuscripts.
3. Katskhi Pillar, Georgia
Like something out of a movie, the Katskhi Pillar (pictured above) rises dramatically above its surroundings. The natural limestone monolith houses the ruins of an early medieval hermitage in Georgia. At about 40 metres high, the small church and hermit cells went unvisited for a long time until the 200s, when a monk restored the property.
4. Sumela Monastery, Turkey
Nestled on a narrow ledge halfway up a steep cliff in Turkey, Sumela Monastery overlooks the picturesque Pontic Mountains of northern Anatolia. It was founded by two monks in 386AD and is home to several chapels, and a sacred spring. A rock-hewn church, enveloped in centuries-old frescoes, is the centre of attraction at the monastery. Visitors have to hike up long, winding steps to get to the national heritage site.
5. Mount Athos, Greece
In northeast Greece, Mount Athos is home to not just one, but 20 monasteries. Since the Byzantine era, monks have been living on the peninsula, which is only accessible by boat. Only men are allowed to visit its steep, forested slopes and remote monasteries. The structures always have impressive artwork and artifacts on display.