Constructed at dizzying heights on the sides of mountains, they ensured only the most devoted and vertigo-free followers would join them for prayer.
In Bhutan, the Taktshang Tiger's Nest monastery (above) clings to a cliff 2,300ft above the Paro Valley floor. According to legend, it takes its name from the 'second Buddha', Precious Guru Padmasambhava, who travelled to the site on a tiger. Some visitors have reportedly fallen to their death on the way up after apparently losing their footing.
This gravity-defying hanging monastery clings to the side of Mt Huashan in China and is only accessible via steep and dangerous paths.
Many were only accessible by steep and secret paths in order to provide the most seclusion as they sought uninterrupted spiritual awakening. By far the most precarious is a monastery that dangles seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics on the side of Mt Huashan in China (above).
Located around 75 miles east from Xi'an City of Shaanxi Province, Mt Huashan is known as 'The number one precipitous mountain under Heaven'. It is one of the five sacred mountains in China. It is home to several influential Taoist temples where emperors of past dynasties made pilgrimages, making Mt Huashan the holy land of Taoism.
According to legend, the Tiger's Nest takes its name from the 'second Buddha', Precious Guru Padmasambhava, who travelled to the site on a tiger.
The Holy Trinity is part of the Meteora - which translates as 'suspended in the air' - complex of monasteries in Greece, one of the largest collections of such buildings in the country.
Vertigo-inducing: The Sumela monastery in Turkey was created 386AD apparently after two priests discovered a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the mountain.
Turkey's monastery of Sumela, perched at an altitude of 3,900ft (above) was created in 386AD during the reign of Emporer Theodosius I apparently after two priests discovered a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the mountain.
Visitors survey the incredible buildings of the Sumela monastery which was built, on southern shore of the Black Sea, during the reign of Emporer Theodosius I.
The monasteries of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas (left) and Agia Roussanou (right) in Greece, which form part of the Meteora complex of precariously placed buildings.
As with most of these great buildings, they aren't the easiest to access. In Greece, the Roussanou Monastery (above) could only be reached by baskets lifted by pulleys, until roads, steps and bridges were contructed in the 1920s. It is one of six active monasteries in the Meteora complex, and one of the largest and most important developments of its kind, only behind Mount Athos. The monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pinnacles near the Pinios.
Head for heights: French mountain climber Catherine Destivelle during her ascension of the Rocher Saint Esprit, in the Meteora, with the Monastery of Roussanou located on a parallel summit (right).
The Monastery of Roussanou in what must one of the most serene places in the world.
The monastery of Roussanou at the base of a stone tower in Meteora, Greece in a picture taken in 1985.
A man is hoisted 250ft in a net, the only way to access the Monastery of St Barlaam (right), which also forms part of the Meteora complex in Greece.
The ruins of the Sigiriya, or Lion's Rock, in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, which was used as a monastery from around the 5th Century BC.
Another stunning piece of architecture, which also places a rock at the heart of its construction, is Sigiriya, or Lion's Rock, in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka. Built on a 'magma plug', the sacred city contains the ruins of the original temple, which dates back to 500AD. The legs and paws of a lion still remain either side of the entrance, but the head fell down years ago. It is one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
Visitors ascend the stairway to the ancient structure, which contains caves prepared by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha.
The legs and paws of a lion still remain either side of the entrance to the fortress, but the head fell down years ago.
The rock, pictured here at dawn, upon which the temple and monastery were built is a 'magma plug'.
A visitor navigates the stone stairs leading up to the temple and fortress of Sigiriya, but this path is by no means the most perilous compared to those approaching other monasteries.
Sigiriya is framed by symmetrical water gardens which extend to the foot of the rock. It is one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
The monastery of St Stephen, part of the Meteora complex in Greece, was built in the middle of 16th and decorated in or around 1545.
Rather than clinging to it, this temple was carved into the rock in the region of Cappadocia in Turkey.
The Holy Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas Anapausas in Meteora, Greece, which was built in the 16th Century and decorated by the Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas in 1527.