10 Old Structures That Are Really Difficult to Reach

The world is filled with ancient buildings, from temples perched on cliff faces to churches perched upon pillars made of rock, even in the most difficult of places. These buildings often house places of worship and the difficulty in getting to them is indicative of their spiritual significance. Here are ten of the best examples of old buildings that you’ll have to work really hard to reach.

10 Montfort Castle, Israel

Perched upon a steep, narrow cliff within Israel’s Nahal Kziv nature reserve, Montfort Castle is a ruined Crusader fortress built on land purchased by the Teutonic Order of Knights in 1220. Its name derives from the French words “mont,” meaning mountain, and “fort,” meaning strong.

Montfort was the Teutonic Order’s principal castle in the Holy Land, but it wasn’t originally built for military purposes. In fact, it was constructed with the objective to move some of the Order’s archives and treasury from its founding city of Acre to a more isolated location. This was a strategic move by the Teutonic Order. They were under significant pressure from the Knights Templar, other military monastic orders in Acre at that time, who planned to take it over. With a name literally meaning “strong mountain,” they probably would have had a hard time doing so at Montfort Castle.[1]

9 Chapel of Saint-Michel d’AiguilheFrance,?

Reached by climbing 268 rock-carved steps, the Chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (St. Michael of the Needle) was built in 969 on a volcanic plug 85 meters (279 feet) high. The towering volcanic core can be found in the middle Le Puy-en-Velay village, which itself is surrounded by remnants of old volcanoes. The village was a sacred place for centuries, and the local bishop felt the need to build the chapel as a way to commemorate his return from a pilgrimage in Spain to the shrine of St. James. It has been the starting point for the Via Podiensis pilgrimage route since then.

The chapel is dedicated, as many sacred Christian spaces, to the archangel Michael. This is likely due his ability to appear on high places and mountain tops. Given the magnificent views from the chapel, it’s little wonder that even an archangel would be able to appreciate the location.[2]

8 Gaztelugatxeko DonieneSpain

Dating from the 10th century, this hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist stands atop an islet on the coast of Biscay in Spain’s Basque Country. The Basque coast is notoriously turbulent in this area, where numerous tunnels, arches, and caves are created by the sea’s relentless erosion. The name “Gaztelugatxeko” comes from a combination of Basque words meaning “rock castle.”

The hermitage is connected by a stone bridge to the mainland. Access can be made via a narrow path with 241 steps. Legend has it that anyone who makes it to the hermitage after a strenuous climb should ring the bell three times and wish. It is unknown if anyone has ever wished for fewer steps.[3]

7 Sumela MonasteryTurkey

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery teeters at a height of 1200 meters (3,937 feet) on an enormous cliff face on Melá Mountain in Turkey. It is one the oldest monasteries of the Christian world. It was founded in the 4th Century by two priests. Its current form was created during the 13th century and, to locals, it’s known as “Meryem Ana,” which may come from the word “Melas,” meaning black. This could refer to the Karadaglar Mountains on which it rests. Its name may also refer to the icon of Virgin Mary in black.

Despite many periods of national upheavals, the monastery remained occupied till 1923. It was finally abandoned after forced population exchanges between Turkey, Greece, and the War of National Liberation. After a devastating fire in 1930 that caused extensive destruction, most of the wooden components of this monastery were destroyed. Fortunately, after undergoing extensive renovations, it now serves as a major tourist attraction for anyone who isn’t afraid of heights.[4]

6 The Hanging TempleChina

Built over 1,500 years ago, the Hanging Temple sits on a sheer precipice of a cliff near Mount Heng in China’s Shanxi Province. Although it looks like it might fall at any time, the structure is held in place using oak crossbeams which are placed into holes carved into the cliffs. It is unique because it is the only temple that is dedicated to a combination the three traditional Chinese philosophy. It contains a majority of Buddhist deities, along with Taoism & Confucianism.

Legend has it that a single monk named Liao ran started construction on the temple in 491. Its current size and appearance is 40 halls and pavilions that are built into cliffs more than 30 meters (98 feet) above the ground.[5]

5 Popa Taungkalat Temple, Myanmar

This temple is located in central Myanmar and stands on top a 225-meter (738 foot) tall volcanic plug. The rock formation was created by geological activity at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano that rises 1,518 meters (4 980 feet) above the sea level. Meaning “flower” in Sanskrit, Popa is considered the most sacred mountain in Myanmar, believed to be a source of Nat spiritual energy.

Popa Tuangkalat (“Pedestal Hill”) Temple is one of several spectacular buildings that can be explored at the top of the rock formation. To reach this scenic complex of monasteries, shrines, and stupas, you’d have to climb the 777 steps leading up to it. Make sure you’re in really good shape before you attempt to reach this one![6]

4 Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Greece

One of many monuments that offer panoramic views from the Meteora Cliffs, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity is the most difficult to reach. It is situated on a pillar-like rock and rises 300m (984 feet) above Kalabaka. However, if you’re feeling adventurous enough, you can reach it by climbing a steep trail and stairs used by the monks.

There is evidence that the monastery was established by a monk who lived on top of the cliff. Like most of the monasteries at Meteora, the Agia Triada, as it’s known in Greek, fell into decline and was eventually abandoned by the early 20th century. It suffered severe damage during the Second World War. One of its main buildings was even destroyed. However, anyone looking for a great thigh workout can still visit it today, thanks to extensive renovations that took place in the 1970s.[7]

3 Paro Taktsang, Bhutan

Also known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the Paro Taktsang is a cultural icon of Bhutan and is cloaked in legend. The sacred Vajrayana Hisilayan Buddhist structure, perched on the cliffside in the upper Paro Valley, was built around a cave that was discovered in 1692. Guru Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan. He meditated and practiced in the cave with his students.

This site is the subject of some very interesting legends. Some claim that Padmasambhava flew from India to this spot on the back of an elephant-headed tigress. The site was then consecrated to control a tiger demon. Another legend states that the ex-wife of an unknown emperor became Padmasambhava’s disciple in Tibet. She transformed into a Tiger and carried the Guru along with her to the Paro Taktsang. Padmasambhava then meditated within one of the caves. She emerged in eight incarnated form, making the site holy. Although you won’t find any flying tigers for a convenient ride up now, you’ll still recognize the sacred majesty of this monastery if you visit.[8]

2 Church of Katskhi PillarGeorgia

This church, dedicated Maximus the Confessor sits on top of a limestone monolith that locals call the Pillar of Life. Legends surround the Katskhi Pillar, a 40-meter high (131-foot tall) symbol of the True Cross. To add to the mystery, it wasn’t until 1944 that researchers were finally able to climb and survey the site for the first time and reveal some of its secrets.

The 9th or 10th centuries saw the construction of the early medieval hermitage on the monolith’s top. It’s so difficult to reach that an 18th-century Georgian scholar wrote how nobody is able to ascend the pillar, nor does anyone know how to do so. It is not surprising that no other written accounts of monastic life, or ascents, survive.[9]

1 Abuna Yemata Guh, Ethiopia

Abuna Yemata Guh, one of 35 rock-hewn churches located in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia, is at a height 2,580m (8,465ft). Only a steep, dangerous ascent is possible to the church entrance. This requires foot and hand steps. The entrance can be reached by crossing a stone bridge, which has a steep drop on either side, and then crossing a wooden footbridge. (Wasn’t that a scene in some movie?)

The church is well-known for its well preserved domes and wall paintings, which date back to the 5th Century. These paintings are based on the 12 apostles and the nine saints. They also link to the early traces of Christianity here in Ethiopia. If you’re really eager to see these beautiful images, then it’s best to push any fear of heights aside to brave the perilous ascent.[10]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.