10Best: Impossible Monasteries . . .How did they BUILD that?!

  • Monastery of Meteora

    Meteora Monastery, Greece

    In Greek, Meteora means "suspended in the air," and the name is appropriate for the series of monasteries perched atop the sandstone pillars in Central Greece. Monks have enjoyed the serenity of these isolated buildings since the 11th century. The monasteries were designed to be difficult to access, but today the approach is a little less frightening thanks to a series of steps carved into the rocks.

    Photo courtesy of Neil and Kathy Carey

  • Rock Fortress of Sigiriya

    Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

    Sigiriya, or Lion Mountain, juts out of the jungles of northern Sri Lanka. Atop the towering rock formation sit the ruins of what was once a sheltered Buddhist monastery from the 5th century through the 14th century. Visitors pass between two giant lion paws carved from the stone before making the steep climb up the rock face to the top.

    Photo courtesy of Joanne Goldby

  • Sant Miquel del Fai near Barcelona

    Sant Miquel del Fai, Spain

    The Benedictine monastery perched on the cliffs in the Catalan region of Spain was established by the 10th century, but the precariously placed Priory House wasn't completed until the 15th century. The original Church of San Miguel, carved directly into the rocky cliff, remains open to visitors.

    Photo courtesy of Elmoianes

  • Tiger's Nest

    Tiger's Nest Monastery, Bhutan

    The builders of Paro Taktsang, also called Tiger's Nest, supposedly received celestial assistance when they constructed the monastery nearly 3,000 feet above the valley floor. The complex was built in 1692 and became a prominent Tibetan Buddhist meditation site.

    Photo courtesy of Wonderlane

  • Phuktal Gompa

    Phuktal Gompa, India

    Located in Northern India, Phuktal Gompa was built directly into the side of a cliff with a honeycomb-like pattern to its structures. About 70 monks still reside within the Buddhist monastery, originally established in the early 12th century.

    Photo courtesy of Yodod

  • China's Hanging Monastery

    Hanging Monastery, China

    On the side of a cliff some 240 feet above the ground, you'll see the incredible Hanging Monastery of Datong – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed in 491, the temple complex has survived for centuries in the most unlikely of locations. When viewed from below, it appears to be suspended in the air.

    Photo courtesy of BRUNNER Emmanuel

  • Mount Popa

    Mount Popa, Myanmar

    Located in Central Myanmar, Mount Popa can be seen from miles away on a clear day, and atop a nearby extinct volcano plus sits the Popa Taungkalat monastery, one of the most important religious sites in the country. A total of 777 steps lead to the top of the outcrop where it is believed 37 Nats, demi-god spirit, reside.

    Photo courtesy of Scott Edmunds

  • Yumbulagang Monastery

    Yumbulagang Monastery, Tibet

    According to local legend, Yumbulagang was the first building in Tibet and the home of the first Tibetan king during the 2nd century BC. It eventually became a Yellow Hat Buddhist monastery under the fifth Dalai Lama.

    Photo courtesy of Preston Rhea

  • Spituk Monastery

    Spituk Monastery, India

    The Spituk Monastery in Northern India has served as a place of worship for both Red and Yellow Hat Buddhists since its construction during the late 14th century. The complex's many mudbrick structures appear to be cascading down the side of the steep, rocky hill.

    Photo courtesy of Koshy Koshy

  • Sumela Monastery

    Sumela Monastery, Turkey

    The Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery clings to the steep cliffs of Altındere National Park in Turkey. According to legend, two priests decided to build the monastery in 386 AD after finding an icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave in the side of the cliff. Only certain areas remain open to tourists, but it's well worth a visit for the views alone.

    Photo courtesy of reibai