Alongside churches and mosques, monasteries are among the most beautiful and impressive buildings in the world. Often built with enormous effort, they were extended over several centuries.
Some monasteries impress with their mighty architecture, others with their picturesque location far from any civilisation. They were and are important centres of spirituality and often house relics, works of art and documents of enormous value. For this reason, and also because of their often remarkable architecture, many monasteries around the world have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
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Mont St. Michel, France
The Mont St. Michel monastery in the north of France dominates an entire island that lies in the sea off the coast of Normandy. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of France's most important buildings from the Middle Ages. Every year, around 3.5 million visitors are impressed by the imposing walls and then stroll along the steep streets of the rocky island between restaurants, shops and museums.
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Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, Portugal
The spectacular monastery of the Order of St. Jerome in the Portuguese capital Lisbon was built for 100 years in gratitude for the safe return home of the discoverer Vasco da Gama. A magnificent garden extends around the elaborately decorated façade, symbolising Portugal's heyday in the 16th century.
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Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru
The Santa Catalina convent in the Peruvian city of Arequipa is known as the "city within the city". Sending their daughters into silent seclusion from civilisation was reserved for only the richest Spanish families in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The massive complex impresses with its sheer size, excellent condition and the many architectural details to be discovered. Even today, nuns live here in spartan surroundings with hardly any contact with the outside world.
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Melk Abbey, Austria
Melk Abbey in the Wachau is the largest baroque monastery complex in Austria. With its art-historical treasures, it is one of the most important baroque buildings in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monstrously decorated baroque church, one of the most beautiful in the country, the magnificent marble hall, the comprehensive library and the extensive monastery garden are particularly impressive.
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Moldavian Monasteries in Bukovina, Romania
The numerous Moldavian monasteries in Bukovina in northern Romania are impressive not because of their size, but because of their unique façade design. In order to bring even illiterate people closer to the Word of God, the walls of the monasteries were decorated all over with pictures of saints and colourful scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Large parts of these "picture book Bibles" have survived to this day and some of them have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Ostrog Rock Monastery, Montenegro
The Serbian Orthodox rock monastery Ostrog in Montenegro is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the entire Balkan region. The snow-white monastery was built in the middle of the mountain and offers a sensational view over the Bjelopavlićko plain from its forecourt. The centrepiece of the monastery is the tomb of the miracle-working bishop Vasilija Jovanovic, whose body still showed no trace of decomposition 7 years after his death.
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Taktshang Monastery, Bhutan
Also clinging directly to the rock is Taktshang Monastery in Bhutan, but at an absolutely dizzying height. In the much-photographed "Tiger's Nest", the second Buddha is said to have meditated for three years after landing there in a cave with his flying tigress. The three-hour walk to the top leads through an enchanting pine forest where butterflies compete with birds of paradise.
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Meteora Monasteries, Greece
The monks of the Meteora monasteries in Greece also once settled at dizzying heights and were eager to have as few visitors as possible. The bridges and ladders between the steep cliffs could all be retracted, so uninvited guests had no chance.
Today, the "floating monasteries" are among the most popular sights in Greece - and not only because of the unforgettable view!
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Melrose Abbey in Scotland, Great Britain
Scotland's Melrose Abbey may only be in ruins today, but it is still impressive to behold! Dating from the 12th century, it is one of the most important medieval monastic buildings in Britain and was once one of the richest monasteries in Scotland. It is said that the fabled heart of Robert the Bruce found its final resting place here. Look out for the famous bagpipe-playing Melrose Pig!
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Skellig Michael Monastery, Ireland
Skellig Michael Monastery is also no longer inhabited today. Nevertheless, it is one of Ireland's most famous monasteries and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The abandoned walls of the monastery are located on a storm-tossed island in the Atlantic Ocean off Ireland's southwest coast.
As inhospitable as the remains of the monastery present themselves, as arduous and spartan was the life of the monks back then. The stone dwellings, which are connected to each other by vertiginous paths on the cliffs, still bear witness to this today.
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