9 Gorgeous Orthodox Monasteries You Need to See to Believe

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Traveling to Orthodox Monasteries … My New Obsession

I had no idea when I picked Cyrpus as my first place to travel after quitting my job that it would be the beginnings of an obsession. After seeing the gorgeous Painted Churches in the Troodos in Cyprus, then seeing Meteora in Greece and Rila in Bulgaria, I was hooked. Dozens of Orthodox monasteries later (many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites), I’m always looking for beautiful places to head next. Here nine travel bloggers share their favorite Orthodox monasteries, ranging from Ethiopia to Russia to Greece. Have you been to all nine?

 

 

Meteora in Greece

 

Meteora translates to “Middle of the sky” and it is easy to see why this name was chosen. Located in central Greece, Meteora contains six orthodox monasteries perched on top of giant rock pillars rising up from the valley below. Built between the 14th and 16th centuries by monks residing in nearby caves, it must have been a monumental feat of engineering and persistence to erect these holy buildings 1,200 feet above the valley floor. And even after their completion, supplies such as water and food had to be hoisted up daily by the monks.
Touring the monasteries is a must-do both for their history and for the beautiful views of the valley below. There is a hiking trail up from the town of Kalabaca or you can travel between the 6 monasteries by car or motorbike. Make sure you stick around for sunset and you’ll be treated to one of the most amazing views in all of Greece as the sun dips behind the towering stone monoliths of Meteora. Meteora is one of our favorite archaeological wonders of Greece.
Contributed by Nick & Val from Wandering Wheatleys

 

Greece - Meteora - Varlaam Monastery
Varlaam Monastery in Meteora in Greece 

Bodbe Monastery in Georgia

One of the first nations to adopt Christianity as its state religion, Republic of Georgia is home to a plethora of Orthodox pilgrimage sites. The Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe, or Bodbe Monastery for short, is one of the most venerated. Its history is closely intertwined with that of St. Nino, the 4th-century evangelist who was responsible for Georgia’s Christianisation.

 

Bodbe is located in the country’s eastern Kakheti region, within walking distance of the pretty walled city of Sighnaghi. The original monastery complex was constructed in the 9th century to house St. Nino’s relics. In the 1920s, Bodbe was decommissioned and used as a hospital by the Soviets. Its basilica and bell tower were later restored, and it eventually reopened as a nunnery in the early 2000s.

 

Bodbe is set on a steep hill overlooking the gorgeous Alazani Valley. Below the basilica, via a long flight of stone steps, is St. Nino’s Spring—a divine water source that according to legend, sprung from Kakheti’s semi-desert at the behest of St. Nino herself. The real joy of Bodbe is the monastery’s gardens, kept flawless by the nuns who live there. Nested between towering Cyprus trees, the manicured lawns and spring blossoms are said to be unmatched anywhere else in Georgia.

 

Contributed by Emily of Wander-Lush

 

Georgia - Kehkti - Bodbe Monastery
Bodbe Monastery in Georgia

Agios Neophytos Monastery in Cyprus

This is a beautiful monastery in Cyprus located around 9 km from Paphos in the southern part of Cyprus. The Monastery dates back to 1159 when it was founded by Saint Neophytos. The Monastery sits on the edge of the forest at the edge of Tala village.

 

Saint Neophytos lived here until the age of 85, and 200 years following his death they added a church dedicated to Saint Mary. The frescoes in the church were painted by famous Cypriot Theodoros Apsevdis.  The monastery also has a museum with exhibits of icons, pottery and more dating back to Roman and  Byzantine periods.

 

Opposite the monastery, is a cave with the cell of Saint Neophytos, also known as Enkleistra. It is an enclosure carved out of the mountain with some of the finest Byzantine frescos in the world. It is said that the Saint carved the cave out of the rock with his bare hands. The monastery is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited and is a great place to stop when visiting Paphos. Just outside the monastery walls is a lovely shaded little cafe where you can sit in absolute peace and quiet and enjoy the forest and the birds singing.

 

On the drive up to the Monastery, you will see a Cat Sanctuary, run by a group of volunteers (many of them British), that looks after hundreds of feral cats, most of whom have been strays or abandoned. The Monastery Cat Park receives no funding and relies 100% on support and donations from the public.

 

Contributed by Faith from XYUandBeyond

 

Cyprus - Tala - Agios Neophytos Monastery
Agios Neophytos Monastery in Cyprus

Debre Maryam Monastery in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is home to the oldest Christian churches and monasteries in the world. However, from Bahir Dar, we decided to visit one of the slightly newer monasteries: the orthodox monastery of Debre Maryam located on a small green island in Lake Tana. After a boat ride of about 15-20 minutes over calm waters, we arrived at the harbor. From here, a path led us through a forest of coffee and fig trees, lined with many souvenir stalls to the round monastery of Debre Maryam (admission 100 Birr). Debre Maryam was re-built in the 19th century by the emperor Tewodros, but the original church was built in the 14th century. Inside, we walked passed the colorful Ethiopian orthodox-style murals depicting biblical stories such as judgment day. Although most of the murals are quite new, there were also still some of the older murals present. After that, we visited the dining halls of the monks and the small, but interesting museum. Returning back over the lake by boat, we were lucky enough to spot some hippoes!

 

Contributed by Manouk of Bunch of Backpackers

 

Ethiopia - Lake Tana - Debre Maryam Monastery
Debre Maryam Monastery in Ethiopia

Studenica Monastery in Serbia

Studenica Monastery is one of the most important Orthodox monasteries in Serbia. 800 years ago it was the political and religious center of Medieval Serbia. Even today, it is still the largest and the richest of all the Serbian Orthodox monasteries. It contains the remains of the first Serbian kings and has been named as a World Heritage Site because of its historical significance.

 

It’s not an easy place to get to without a car, though. The closest town is called Usce and you can get a bus there from Novi Pazar. However, there is only occasionally public transport to take you the 12 kilometers further to Studenica.

 

But, however you get there, it is worth the journey. Inside the church and the chapels are beautifully-detailed frescoes painted in the 13th and 14th centuries. The garden is well-tended and the architecture is impressive but restrained.

 

One of the benefits of being so far from a town is that the Studenica Monastery is extremely peaceful and surrounded by green countryside. The artworks on the walls may be the most significant elements here but it’s also a lovely place just to relax and explore slowly.

 

Contributed by Michael from Time Travel Turtle

 

Serbia - Studenica Monastery
Studenica Monastery in Serbia

Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Bulgaria

The Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Veliko Tarnovo lies in a peaceful neighborhood 6 kilometers north of the city. Every day from 7 am to 6 pm, people can visit the monastery and catch a glimpse of the mural paintings surrounding its walls and the large icons inside the monastery. Speaking of which, the large icons represent the image of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Christ, and the Holy Trinity. Aside from these ornaments, the Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity is also surrounded with cliffs that served as prison cells from the Medieval period. There used to be an underground chapel too but because of the strong earthquake that hit the nation in 1913, the church was severely damaged. Luckily, some of the items were restored and the church went back to its original state.

When visiting the monastery, everyone should observe proper dress code where the shoulder, elbow, and knees should not be visible. Keeping silent is also one of the ground rules.

Contributed by Eloise from Tripsionista

 

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Holy Trinity Monastery
Holy Trinity Monastery in Bulgaria

Caraiman Monastery in Romania

Caraiman Monastery is located in the scenic town of Busteni, in the Prahova Valley of Romania. It’s backdropped by the incredible Bucegi mountains, part of the Carpathians, making this place a beautiful mountain monastery to visit! It’s interesting as it’s a new monastery, founded by Father Gherontie Puiu in 1998, while he was sick in the hospital and had been given a vision of a place with a specific kind of a tree, near a stream, where a great cross was visible, on which to build a monastery. On top of the mountain in Busteni, there is a cross, the “Heroe’s Cross”, which overlooks the town and was built to commemorate the railway heroes who died in WWI.
Buildings to note on the grounds of the monastery are the first original wooden church built in the year 2000, a larger church completed in 2014, a long dormitory building, and uniquely, the original tree that Father Gherontie found on the site from his vision. It’s surrounded by a small round building filled with holy icons. There are also some shelters housing vigil lights-candles which you can light for prayers, a gift shop, and even some farm animals!
I’ve enjoyed visiting here many years, and even though it’s not old and steeped in history, it offers a beautiful tranquility with the surrounding mountains and forests around you!
Contributed by Maura from Camera and Canvas

 

Romania - Busteni - Caraimon Monastery
Caraimon Monastery in Romania

St. George’s Monastery in Russia

The St.George’s (Yuriev) monastery in Veliky Novgorod, one hundred and ninety-five km from St. Petersburg is one of the oldest monasteries in Russia. Before Christianity became an official religion in Russia the area occupied by the monastery used to be a shrine of Perun, a main pagan god of Slavic mythology. In 988 Prince Vladimir baptized Russia and old pagan shrines were replaced with Orthodox churches and monasteries. The monastery was founded in 1030 by the Grand Prince Yaroslav Mudry (Yaroslav the Wise), Christian name George from where the monastery’s name comes. At first, the monastery and church were wooden like most of the buildings in Russia in that period, later in 1119, it was rebuilt in stone. Since then for centuries the monastery and its churches were one of the main spiritual centers of Russia.

 

After the Revolution of 1917 till the end of the 20th century, for almost 80 years,  St.George’s monastery was closed. During that period the monastery complex was used as a post office, school, museum even as a hostel for people that lost their homes after the World War II. From 1995 St.George is a monastery in function again. The monastery complex is big with several churches of different periods and styles. The place is beautiful and very peaceful at the Volkhov river 10 km outside of the town. The monastery bakery makes great bread and pastry, so you can have a quick lunch here. A visit to Veliky Novgorod can easily be included in Saint Petersburg itinerary as a day trip, it takes 3 hours to get here by train.

 

Contributed by Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads

 

Russia - St. Petersburg - St. George's Monastery
St. George’s Monastery in Russia

Dryanovo Monastery in Bulgaria

Hidden in a valley of the foothills of central Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountains lies the Dryanovo Monastery. Secluded between high cliffs, this small Bulgarian Orthodox monastery sits on the valley floor at the confluence of the Andaka and Dryanovska rivers. The monastery’s stunning scenery and surrounds, not to mention its off-the-beaten-path nature, mean that a visit to Dryanovo Monastery feels like a secret that only you’ve been let in on.

 

The monastery’s story begins back in the 12th century when it was dedicated to Archangel Michael during the Second Bulgarian Empire. Tragically, it suffered repeated fires during the Ottoman period and its esteemed library was lost as a result. Despite its hardships, the monastery has remained active to this day. It was last restored in the mid 19th century, still seen in both its traditional exterior and ornate chapel interior. Near the monastery, you’ll find several small waterfalls, as well as the cavernous Bacho Kiro Cave. For children, a small animal center with goats and ponies is sure to delight.

 

By David of Travelsewhere

 

Bulgaria - Dryanovo Monastery
Dryanovo Monastery in Bulgaria

Sumela Monastery in Turkey

Sumela Monastery is located 45 km south of Trabzon in the Altındere National Park in the Zigana Mountains (East Pontic Mountains) at an altitude of 1071 m. The name comes from Melas (black), after the Greek name of the mountain where the monastery is located. From the small town of Maçka, 30 km away from Trabzon, a sometimes quite narrow road leads through the Zigana Mountains to the monastery.

The interior and exterior walls of the rock church and the adjacent chapel are decorated with impressive frescoes. The representations on the inside of the wall to the courtyard of the rock church date back to the time of Alexios III, Byzantine Emperor from 1195 to 1203. Other frescoes date back to the early 18th century and show scenes of the Old and New Testament.

The most interesting thing about the monastery, however, is that over the centuries it has been a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims. This has left its mark, as most frescoes are scratched-out.

 

Contributed by Clemens from Travellers Archive

 

Turkey - Sulema Monastery
Sulema Monastery in Turkey

 

What are your favorite Orthodox Monasteries? Share below!

 

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9 Gorgeous Orthodox Monasteries You Need to See to Believe

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  1. ck Hamatora orthodox monestry in Lebanon

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