religion Tag

Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi, Novi Pazar, Serbia, stari ras
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The oldest church in Serbia

Stari Ras and Sopocani, Serbia When I arrive at the Church of St Peter, just outside the Serbian city of Novi Pazar, it’s all locked up. An old man sitting on a stool under a tree smiles, pulls himself up and wanders towards me. He’s got the keys to the church in his hand and for one euro will open it up for me.I happily oblige and he takes his time with the large keys and the rusting lock. There’s no hurry, though. This is the oldest church in Serbia and has been around for more than 1200 years. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.The Church of St Peter is one of the buildings in this part of the country that made up the old Serbian Capital of Ras, which has now been designated as a World Heritage Site. It was the most important city in this small part of the...

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22 August
ostrog monastery, montenegro, orthodox cliff church
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A monastery cut into a cliff

Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro Without giving it too much thought, I join the queue at the top of the monastery. Perhaps it's my partial British heritage that subconsciously prevents me from questioning what the line is for - I just feel compelled to stand behind someone and wait, slowly shuffling ahead with the others.My mind wanders slightly and I look out over the view. At the top of a mountain in central Montenegro, with an expansive valley stretching out below me, it's a good location to enjoy the scenery. I don't really mentally process that everyone in the queue is a local, all the women have their heads covered with scarves, and many are holding bags full of food or clothes. It's only when I'm almost at the end of the queue that I notice the bags are being put into wooden baskets like offerings - but then it's too late. I'm...

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05 August
studenica monastery, serbia, unesco world heritage site
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The long road to the monastery

Studenica Monastery, Serbia I have a blister on my foot. On my outer left heel to be exact. It's the colour of a plum and nearly the same size.How did I get this blister, you ask? Oh, what, you didn't ask? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.You see, I've been walking all day. Not necessarily by choice either.I had decided to visit the Studenica Monastery, one of Serbia's few World Heritage Sites and an impressive religious compound from the 12th century. Like most monasteries in this region, it had been built in the mountains far away from any main cities or towns.That doesn't mean it has to be hard to get to - but this country doesn't make it easy to get to some of its most important sites. With a car - sure, you'd be fine. But not so much for an independent traveller relying on public transport.I catch...

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25 July
kyoto temples, shrines, world heritage sites, japan
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One day in Kyoto is never enough

World Heritage in Kyoto, Japan In some ways, Kyoto is the cultural archives of Japan. The city, about an hour from Osaka, was central to Japanese history for well over a thousand years and the marks of that millennium are in every little corner you could possibly explore.If you come to Japan looking for temples and shrines, you’ll hit a divine motherload in Kyoto. There are more than 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. It doesn’t matter how lost you get, you will also find a red tori gate or a smiling Buddha not far away. The religious and historical are inescapable.Kyoto first became the capital of Japan in 794AD and, despite a few periods when the power base was moved, remained the centre of politics until 1868. The imperial family over those centuries constructed much of what you can see today. It has only 1 per cent of the...

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24 May
Khao Luang Cave, Phetchaburi, Thailand, caves in Thailand
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Beam me up, Buddha

Khao Luang Cave, Phetchaburi, Thailand There’s a sudden commotion in the cave. A monkey has snuck in and is scurrying across the rock floor to the corner where the large Buddha sits. The monkey makes a grab at a bit of food that’s been left on the altar as an offering. Before it can make off with the loot, a woman nearby spots the furry thief and throws a water bottle at it. “Ai ai ai ai,” accompanies the lob as the woman screams. The monkey drops the food and races from the cave toward the light coming down the staircase.The monkeys are one of the hazards of visiting the Khao Luang Cave in the Thai city of Phetchaburi. As you approach the entrance – up a hill, across a carpark, along a path, and down some stairs – hundreds of monkeys watch you expectantly. Visitors are one of the best...

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22 May
koyasan, japan, kii mountains, world heritage, pilgrimage routes, kansai
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The pilgrims’ pain

Koyasan, Japan To appreciate the beauty, you must endure the hardships of the journey. That seems to have been the ethos of the ancient Japanese who built the shrines and temples in the south of the Kansai region. These old strongholds of religion were the destinations for pilgrims of the time but there was much for them to learn about themselves on the paths to get there.The pilgrimage routes which linked the temple sites in the forests to the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara were not easy paths to follow. They were scenic, sure… but they were intentionally difficult. The makers of these small roads through the Kii Mountains deliberately took them up steep inclines and through rugged bushland. In only a few places were steps or footpaths built. Suffering the arduous trip brought the pilgrims closer to divinity.These people, sore and fatigued, must have been amazed when they finally...

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24 April
nikko, japan, world heritage temples, shrines, visiting nikko, culture
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See no evil – just the beauty of Nikko

The three wise monkeys The three wise monkeys look a little worse for wear. I would have thought that being shielded from evil would have had some kind of rejuvenating effect. But apparently not. Still, for more than three hundred years these apes have been seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil. Not doing anything for that long gets tiring.This rather unassuming wood carving at a temple in the Japanese town of Nikko has a lot to answer for. It wasn’t meant to be anything special – it’s one of eight carvings that are meant to represent the cycle of man – but this is the image which has spawned all the others you’ve ever seen.Although the philosophy behind the monkeys had existed vaguely in Buddhist teachings well before this carving, it had never been visualised with monkeys before. Somehow this carving caught the imagination of the people...

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19 April