Sites as case studies


   Sacred natural sites for The Delos Initiative


SNS Name   PA Name IUCN Cat. Faith Country Responsible


Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area - Yolngu Spirituality Australia B. Verschuuren
Monastery of Rila Natural Park of Rila II Christian Orthodox Bulgaria J.M. Mallarach S.Catanoiu

Äjjis / Ukonsaari Lake Inari - Natura 2000 site V Sámi Finland

Y. Norokörpi

M. Määtä

R. Väisänen


Kolovesi Kolovesi National Park II Sámi Finland M. Määta

Athos Holy Mountain Athos Peninsula WHS III Christian Orthodox Greece Th. Papayannis

Meteora Meteora WHS III Christian Orthodox Greece I. Lyratzaki

Monastery of Chrysopigi Chania WHS - Christian Orthodox Greece Mother Superior Theoxeni imx@otenet>gr
Croagh Patrick Croagh Patrick Natural Heritage Area IV Roman Catholic Ireland Pilar Martin Bayo
Ein Gedi Oasis En Gedi Nature Reserve and En Gedi Antiquities National Park Ia Judaism and Christianity Israel Linda Olsvig-Whittaker
Casentine Forests National Park of the Casentine Forests II Christian Catholic Italy G. Pungetti

Eremi di Roccasecca

Area Wilderness Eremo dello Spirito Santo




Vita de Waal

Majella National Park National Park della Majella II Christian, Italic Pre-Christian, Neolithic Earth Goddess cult Italy Vita de Waal
Via Lauretana Several National Parks - Christian Catholic Italy Ch. Serenelli
Kii Mountain Range Several National Parks II,V Shinto, Buddhism, Shugento Japan M. Motonaka

Mount Nantai Nikko National Park WHS and Ramsar sites II Shinto Japan M. Oyadomari
Maulây Abd al-Salâm ibh Mashish Jbel Bouhachen Site of Biological and Ecological Site. Intercontinental RoB of the Mediterranean Andalusia, Spain-Morocco. V Sunni Islam Morocco Z. Zouanat  
Buila Vinturarita Buila Vinturarita National Park II Christian Orthodox Romania S. Catanoius
Vanatori Neamt Natural Park Vanatori Neamt Natural Park V Christian Orthodox Romania S. Catanoius
Solovetsky Islands Solovetsky Archipelago WHS V Christian Orthodox Russian Federation A.N. Davydov

Mani-san Mountain Mani-san Mountain National Tourist Area V Folk religion S. Korea K.K. Han
Mileseva Monastery Uvac-Milesevka Special Nature Reserve IV Christian Orthodox Serbia Nadezda Pesic
Montsant Serra del Montsant Natural Park V Christian Catholic Spain J.M. Mallarach

Muntanya de Montserrat
Natural Park
III Christian Catholic Spain J.M. Mallarach

Poblet Monastery Cultural World Heritage Site and Poblet Natural Area of National Significance IV Christian Catholic Spain J.M. Mallarach

Tashi Ling Monastery Park of Garraf V Tibetan Buddhist Spain Jordi Gómez Isabel Soria Garcia 

Santuario del Rocío

Doñana National Park and Doñana Natural Park


Christian Catholic


J.M. Mallarach

The Holy Island of Arran Arran Island Marine Reserve - Celtic -  Buddhism U.K. I. Soria Garcia 

Holy Island Lindisfarne Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve IV Christianity Interdenominational U.K. Robert Wild
Oconaluftee River Great Smoky Mountains National Park II Native American (Cherokee) U.S.A. Edwin Bernbaum
San Francisco Peaks Coconino National Forest VI Native American (Navajo) U.S.A. L. Hamilton

SNS Name   PA Name IUCN Cat. Faith Country Contact


Mumbulla Mountain Biamanga National Park II Aboriginal (Yuin) Australia Ph. Boot


Tekke of Blagaj
Cultural landscape V Islam (Sufism) Bosnia i Herzegovina Josep-Maria Mallarach
Delphi Parnassos National Park II Ancient Hellenic religion of the Dodecatheon Greece Th. Papayannis


National Marine Park of

North Dodecanese

II Christian Orthodox Greece Th. Papayannis

Circeo National Park Circeo National Park V Christian Catholic Italy G. Pungetti

Monti Sibilini National Park Monti National Park II Christian Catholic Italy G. Pungetti

Several Murabitum
Al Hoceima National Park V Islam Morocco Josep-Maria Mallarach
Holy Circle of Karamats-Cape Town Table Mountain National Park and other PAs, including CCA II-IV Sunni Islam S. Africa T. Johardien
Avebury North Wessex Downs AONB V Megalithic U.K. R. Clarke


SNS Name   PA Name IUCN Cat. Faith Country Contact


Uluru and Kata Tjuta Ultra Kata Tjuta National Park WHS II Aboriginal (Anangu) Australia G. Calma

Petkeljärvi National Park, Patvinsuo National Park, Koivusuo Strict Nature Reserve and Kesonsuo Nature Reserve Northern Karelian Biosphere Reserve II-V Christian Orthodox Finland S. Mansourian

Kalevala Park Kalevala Parks - Christian Orthodox + ancient Karelian tradition Finland and Russian Federation R. Väisänen

Mount Fuji Fuji - Hakone - Izu V Shintoism Japan M. Ohsawa

Tongariro National Park Tongariro National Park WHS II Indigenous (Maori) New Zealand T. Te Heuheu

Mountain Belukha

Ukok Plateau

Golden Mountains of Altai



Indigenous, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic

Russian Federation

E. Khamaganova

Hawaii National Park Hawaii National Park II Native American U.S.A. E. Bernbaum








Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area - Australia


The Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is fount in northeast Arnehemland Australia. Located on Aboriginal land. Dhimurru IPA surrounds the Northern Territories' fourth largest city, Nhulunbuy, named after the sacred hill Nhulun at the base of which the mining town is built.  To explain in greater detail Dhimurru’s experience with managing sacred sites, the three examples of Nhulun, Yalanbara and Muruwirri wiil be used. Nhulun is a good example of fostering cross-cultural learning and signifies the importance of sacred sites to the land rights movement. Yalanbara in turn shows the importance of cultural transmission and details on how dreamtime stories result into specific management concerns. Muruwirri concludes with highlighting lessons learned from sacred art and scientific mapping exercises of sea country (the coastal and marine environment).  more


Responsible: Bas Verschuuren






Rila Monastery Natural Park - Bulgaria


The Rila monastery was founded by Saint Ivan Rilsky, a hermit, at the beginning of the 10th century. In 1983, UNESCO inscribed Rila Monastery in the list of World Heritage Sites. For the Bulgarian people, Rila is the holiest place, snuggled in the bossom of the most majestic mountain of the country. Several “sacred places” are located around the Monastery: such as holy springs, holy cave of the founder, five hermitages.


The Natural Park has healthy ecosystems and spectacular mountain landscapes, including lakes, native tree species, endemic plants and mixed forests. Fauna diversity is also high, including as a top of the trophic pyramid good populations of wolf and brown bear.The main goals of the management plan, prepared in 2003, include: conservation of religious and cultural heritage, conservation of natural components, management of natural resources and tourism, interpretation and education.


Responsible: Josep-Maria Mallarach and Sebastian Catanoiu






Äjjis / Ukonsaari Island - Finland


The Inari Hiking Area is situated in the municipality of Inari, Northern Lapland. The Hiking Area covers 1,215 km2. It is being planned as a national hiking area, protected on the basis of the Recreational Act (not on the basis of the Nature Conservation Act as national parks and strict nature reserves are). However, the whole area belongs to the European NATURA 2000 Network. The area is managed by the Natural Heritage Services of Metsähallitus.

In the middle of Ukonselkä open water area on Lake Inarijärvi, about 11 km east of the village of Inari, there is a strange-looking rocky island, the tall and hunchbacked island called Ukonsaari, Ukonkivi or Ukko (Äjjis in Inarisámi language).  The island is 50 metres wide, 100 metres long and 30 metres high. It is a famous natural sight and it was a very important, well-known worshipping site of the indigenous Sámi people, as well as the most examined sacred place. more


  Responsible: Y. Norokorpi






Kolovesi National Park - Finland


Kolovesi National Park lies in the Province of Eastern Finland, South Savo Region, and it includes areas inthe municipalities of Enonkoski, Heinävesi and Savonranta. Its total area is 23 It is managed by the Natural Heritage Services of Metsähallitus.

Kolovesi is a part of the greater Lake Saimaa complex, which forms the largest lake in Finland. Kolovesi National Park was established in 1990 to protect the natural features of the Lake Saimaa archipelago in their natural state, the habitat of the endemic Saimaa Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida saimensis), and the forest ecosystems characteristic of Southern Finland. The wilderness-like national park offers an attractive setting for canoeing or row boating in the midst of the peaceful landscape. Motor boats are not allowed. more


Responsible: M. Määta










Mt. Athos -  Greece


The "Holy Mountain" is a peninsula of rich history, with a continuous living tradition of more than a millennium, with rich biodiversity and a unique landscape beauty. Although its access is limited (women are not allowed) the flow of visitors has become a menace and has necessitated the setting of quotas. Modern living requirements[1] (especially transportation by automobiles) have resulted in the construction of a dense network of roads, with negative impacts on the landscapes. Environmental problems, especially waste disposal, remain unsolved.


In January 2006, a mission was organised to Mt. Athos and the questionnaire was tested by Thymio Papayannis, who visited the site as a member of the UNESCO mission, representing IUCN - The World Conservation Union. Mt. Athos will be one of the case studies that will be presented in the working meeting in the Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia, Spain, in November 2006.


see report to WHC, April 2008

Responsible: Thymio Papayannis





Meteora - Greece


These enormous natural megaliths in the West of the Thessaly plain first attracted hermits, and the monasteries were built precariously on their summits. Tourism pressure has removed from the area its spiritual character and the monks have abandoned it. Urbanisation is spreading from the local town of Kalambaka and is choking the bases of the megaliths, degrading a very unique landscape.


In November 2005, a mission was organised to Meteora and the questionnaire was tested by Irini Lyratzaki (social anthropologist) and Theotokis Theodoulou (archaeologist). Meteora will be one of the case studies that will be presented in the working meeting in the Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia, Spain, in November 2006.


Responsible: Irini Lyratzaki








Monastery of Chrysopigi - Greece


The Monastery of Chrysopigi is situated in Chania, Crete. It is dedicated to the Mother of God, the Life-Giving Spring. It was founded in the16th century and for four centuries it has been a source of spiritual strength and social support in the historical life of the island.


The land around the Monastery has been designated as a protected zone that includes a variety of plants and trees, a number of caves which have been inhabited by hermits for many centuries and a significant biodiversity. One of the main activities of Chrysopigi Monastery is the cultivation of its land with organic farming methods.


Apart from its environmental value, this biotope also has an archaeological and historical value. The conservation of the area is not only a subject of survival, but a spiritual issue and many efforts are made to ensure its protection.  


Responsible: Mother Superior Theoxeni

E- mail:


Croagh Patrick - Ireland

Croagh Patrick, known popularly as 'the Reek' is a pyramid-shaped, freestanding mountain located in the West of Ireland. It is a proposed Natural Heritage Area of national importance as well as a place of deep spiritual importance for Irish Roman Catholics, honouring Ireland’s national saint since the 5th c.

It is where the oldest pilgrimage in Ireland takes place, with increasing numbers of pilgrims after a revival that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. As many as forty thousand pilgrims climb this mountain every “Reek Sunday” at the end of July, performing a series of ancient stations in which certain archaeological sites are involved. Many of the pilgrims climb barefooted or even on their knees, as an act of penance.

All archaeological evidence indicates that Croagh Patrick has been part of a huge ritual landscape for long before that, according the tradition, St Patrick fasted there for forty days and nights, as well as banished all the snakes and the pre-Christian gods out of Ireland. Archaeological remains since Neolithic times including astronomical alignments, as well as churches and abbeys all show a continued religious activity that changed religion but not sacredness. Rich folklore and myths inhabit this living sacred landscape that illustrates the phenomenon of substitution of indigenous polytheist beliefs by the Christian religion. more

Responsible: Pilar Martín Bayo




Ein Gedi Oasis -  Israel

Ein Gedi Oasis is located next to the Dead Sea, in the extreme desert of the Syrian-African Rift.  Because it is watered by four main springs it feeds two perennial canyon streams, with spectacular waterfalls.

The oasis supports many Sudanian tropical floral species, which are Miocene and Pleistocene relicts at their northern limit in this oasis. The Ein Gedi Oasis ecosystem is a unique refuge for tropical-savannah plants at a distance of thousands kilometers from their main range and at the northern marginal of their distribution in the world. In ancient times, Ein Gedi was known for its cultivation of balsam incense trees for temple use and international medicinal trade.


Ein Gedi is rich in religious and cultural history. The Biblical references to Ein Gedi make it important for both Judaism and Christianity. In both, it represents tropical lushness in a harsh land, and also a place of refuge.  more


Responsible: Dr. Linda Olsvig-Whittaker






Casentine Forests - Italy 


The National Park of Casentine Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna covers a territory of around 36.000 hectares in the Tosco-Emiliano Apennine between Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, till reaching the Arno wellsprings. The park is one of the most valuable European forests not only for nature conservation, but also for cultural heritage, including history, art and tradition. Over 5.000 hectares of the Casentine Forests is secular, especially that one surrounding the Sanctuary of La Verna are very aged. Here natural and human characters of the place have supported the spread of wildlife, both vertebrates and invertebrates. The North Apennine wolf is the most significant predator of the area where also wild boar, deer, roe deer and fallow deer can be found. The Park counts two main spiritual sites: La Verna Sanctuary, hermitage of Saint Francis since 1213 with firs and beech trees behind, and the Hermit of Camaldoli, founded in 1012 by Saint Romualdo, surrounded by white firs. Monastic and lay forest management has retained for a millennium an incredible bond between the work of nature and the work of man. Hence the link between Nature and Spirituality is here not only “secular” and old, but also “sacred” and current.



Responsible: Gloria Pungetti





Eremi di Roccasecca - Italy

Equally distanced from Rome and Naples and situated between two extremely well-known Benedictine Monasteries: the Abbey of Monte Casssino and the Monasteries in Subiaco, Roccasecca is famous for being Tommaso d'Aquino's birthplace.

Situated on the slopes above the Melfa river, the hermitage Eremo dello Spirito Santo, also called the Eremo della Santissima Trinità, dates back to about the 8-9th century and has been in use till the 1950's. Located in an area that was already inhabited in prehistoric times, with Neolithic burial sites, some roman temples and Bronze Age utensils found in nearby grottos, this cenobite hermitage comprises a number of hermit cells, a very sophisticated and organised water system with cistern, an oven and a garden where a derelict tree still manages to grow pears of a very rare and ancient species. The sanctuary church has been renovated and once a year people from many regions come here on pilgrimage as well as it being used regularly by the local community. 

Not yet under local protection, there is a further hermitage that can be traced back to the arrival in 580 of the Longobards in Aquino and Montecassino and their cult of Saint Michael. It was subsequently transformed into a rupestrian church and houses some beautiful affrescos, amongst them an 11th century Cristo Pantocrator rock affresco by the Byzantine-Benedictine school.  An older 9th century affresco has been transferred in order to protect it from the ravages of exposure to the open air and the humidity of the rocks. It represents a particularly rare Crucifixion scene as the Christ is dressed in a Longobardian tunic and the soldier Longino who pierced the side of Christ, but later converted to Christianity, is here seen with a rope instead of a lance and wears a pair of “cioce”, the typical footwear of the inhabitants of Ciociaria.

Responsible: Vita de Waal



Via Lauretana - Italy

Via Lauretana is the ancient Christian pilgrimage route connecting the two ‘holy cities’ of western Christian faith, Rome and Loreto (Ancona). During the 16th-17th centuries Via Lauretana was most renowned since all travellers in Italy had to pay at least a visit to Loreto. Today, this ancient route is seen as a key link of Italy’s cultural and natural landscapes and spiritual values. On Loreto hill, in the city of Loreto, the Holy House Sanctuary dedicated to the ‘black Virgin’ Mary, was built during the 15th and 16th centuries, on the ruins of the home where Mary and her family from Nazareth lived, when they arrived at Loreto in 1294.

The hill of Loreto rises at about 130m above the alluvial plain of Potenza and Musone Rivers. Nowadays, although heavily urbanised, it is considered an important area in terms of landscape protection due to its natural, historical and cultural assets, such as the 'Santa Casa' olive grove, the historical agricultural landscape at the south hill-side, the hill of Montorso, a protected marine area where the locals use to host religious events and festivities. more

Responsible: Chiara Serenelli    




 The Sacred Sites at the Parco Nazionale della Majella - Italy

The special characteristic of the (PAN Parks) Parco Nazionale della Majella  in central Italy  is that 55% of its territory is situated above 2000 m (6562 ft). The area has been peopled since Paleolithic times, and this has allowed for an amazing variety of different peoples and cultures to leave their traces. Over 1000 tholoi are testimony of extensive transhumant activity that has taken place since the Copper ages. 

The Majella has been considered a sacred mountain and  the deep forested gorges with an abundance of caves, water and springs have made this an ideal location for hermits. St Francis of Assisi came here to visit Pietro da Morrone who was later to become Pope Celestine V.  With no less than 40 hermitages, monasteries, abbeys and churches, as well as pagan temples dating back 6500 years this park has a amazingly rich and varied history related to spiritual values. 


Responsible: Vita de Waal




Kii Mountain Range - Japan

The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range is a group of sacred sites and pilgrimage ways connecting them, which are distributed in Mie, Nara, and Wakayama Prefectures, Japan.

Since ancient times, the Kii Mountain Range has nurtured the spirit of nature worship, in which mountains, rocks, forests, rivers, and waterfalls are deified and revered as object of worship. Located to the south of Nara Basin, site of one of Japan’s ancient capitals, this region came to be revered by people in the Nara and Kyoto capitals as well, recognized as a sacred place where gods descend and reside.

When Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century, the Kii Mountain Range became the central place for Buddhist ascetic practices. The Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism, which was introduced in the 9th century, also established itself choosing this area as a place for their ascetic practices. more

Responsible:Makoto Motonaka







Mount Nantai, Nikko National Park - Japan


Nikko National Park, situated in the northern part of Kanto region, Japan, is about two hours by train from Tokyo, and attracts more than 20 million visitors per year for its outstanding natural beauty and traditional temples and shrines as well as the gorgeous mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns. It is also listed as one of the World Heritage Sites. 


Designated on December the 4th, 1934 as one of the oldest national parks in Japan,    Nikko national park has been well-known for its integrated beauty of old shrines and temples in harmony with its diversified natural landscapes such as holy mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, marshlands and spas. In particular, Mount Nantai, 2,484-meter-high, is one of Japan’s holiest mountains since at least the 4th century AD.  In the year 767, the Buddhist monk Shodo climbed the top of the principal peak and consecrated the mountain.  Since then, many hermits and monks climbed the mountain as Shugendo for enlightenment.  Nowadays, it is one of the most important events for about ten thousand pilgrims to climb up to the top of the mountain during the first week of August when the shrine on the top is supposed to be full of spiritual power.       


The current problem of this holy mountain is visitors’ manners and insufficient park facilities. Furthermore, the main path to the top of the mountain is not well-maintained. The Park Service is reluctant to get involved with its maintenance, since most area of the mountain is owned and managed by the Shrine. Mutual understanding and cooperation between the Shrine and the Park Service is necessary to improve the management of holy mountains in Nikko National Park.


Responsible: M. Oyadomari






Jabal La’lâm Riff – Morocco



The site of Moulây ‘Abd al-Salâm ibn Mashîsh is named after a Moroccan Sufi Saint who lived during the 12/13th centuries, and who was a descendant of Moulây Idrîs, the founder of the Moroccan State in the 8th century. The site is located at the summit of Jabal La‘lâm (literally the mountain of the flag, banner or signal), a sacred mountain located in the Rif Mountains, in the north of Morocco. It is a place famous for an ancient cult of nature: caverns, graves, water sources, rocks, trees, all these natural elements have been incorporated through centuries in the holy man’s story.

The site in located within the Jbel Bouhachem, Site of Biological and Ecological Interest, part of the national system of protected areas and one of the core areas of the Intercontinental Reserve of Biosphere of the Mediterranean Andalusia, Spain-Morocco. more

Responsible: Zakia Zouanat





Buila Vinturarita National Park - Romania

Placed in the Romanian Carpathians, Buila Vinturarita is the smallest national park in the country, just 4186 ha. It is like a compact, mountainous island less than 14 km long and 4 km wide. The average altitude is about 1200 m, while the highest peaks are over 1800 m high. The region contains large deposits of limestone, with spectacular exokarst shapes such as peaks, gorges, steep slopes, detritus valleys, and endokarst features such as over one hundred caves.


Due to its isolated nature, traditions, beliefs and handicrafts are very well preserved. The climate has sub-Mediterranean influences, so both alpine and Mediterranean fauna and flora species can be encountered. 


The entire area of the park has been proposed as a Natura 2000 site because of its rich biodiversity: all Carpathian big predators (brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild cat) and herbivore (chamois, red deer, roe deer) are present, there are 17 important forest and meadows habitats and a large variety of glacial relict, endemic, rare and threatened flora species. more


Responsible: Sebastian Catanoiu    








Vanatori Neamt Nature Park - Romania



Situated in the North-Eastern side of Romania, in a mountain and hilly region, Vanatori Neamt Nature Park covers 30,818 ha, from which over 26,000 ha are forests of coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests. Since 1475, the area was well known as a hunting reserve (vanatori means hunters). The Nature Park was establish in 1999 and since then it is managed by the National Forest Administration. The Park was designated as a Nature Park due to the sustainable management of its forests, the conservation of the landscape and local traditions, the reintroduction of European Bison in its natural habitat and the encouragement of tourism activities based on these values ( IUCN Vth category). Flora and fauna (including bear, wolf, lynx etc and of course, European Bison) are well represented, so all the Park area has been proposed as Natura 2000 site (SCI and SPA).


In the XIIIth century the Neamt fortress was built and since then many monasteries and churches were constructed in the area. Because invasions (Turks, Tartars) and riots were frequent, some of the monasteries were strongly fortified. Nowadays, 16 monasteries and many small hermitages are scattered in an area that represents less than half of the Park area. more


Responsible: Sebastian Catanoius







The Holy Circle of Karamats -  Cape Town, South Africa



The Holy Circle consists of 23 karamats, or tombs of Sufi Muslim Shaykhs, which surround the city of Cape Town.  The geographic location of the karamats forms a sacred belt around the city.  According to local tradition, the ‘Holy Circle’ brings blessings and protects the city of Cape Town against natural disasters.


The tombs are considered places of baraka or blessings and are visited regularly by the Muslim community for prayer and remembrance.  A beautiful tradition in Cape Town is the ‘greeting’ of the tombs before the departure of the pilgrims for hajj, the prescribed pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrims visit the karamats and ask for blessing for their journey, while at the same time they thank the forefathers who brought Islam to the Cape for their sacrifices and legacy.


All the karamats are located in beautiful natural sanctuaries, from the foothills of Table Mountain to Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. more


Responsible: T. Johardien






Solovetsky Islands: a Holy Land and Fortress of Spirit in the Arctic Ocean - Russian Federation

Solovetsky Islands are located in the middle of the White Sea, 165 km south to the Polar Circle Ocean, the country of Polar Lights, long dark winters and white nights during the summer period.  They include more than one hundred islands with 300 km2 total area. Different landscapes are concentrated on rather small territory: taiga forests where spruce and pine dominate, forest tundra, tundra, and mires –including aapa-type mires– and circa 500 lakes.

The climate is unique,  allowing flora and fauna species not characteristic to this altitude. Flora of the archipelago is rather rich, with 378 native spices, including 11 rare orchids. A number of rare bird species is also present. Solovetsky Archipelago was a sacred place for many earlier cultures. The Archipelago contains about 1,000 sacred stones (dolmens, menhirs, seids, stone-works) dating from the  Neolithic- Early Metal Age and until the Middle Ages. Solovetsky islands are the easternmost site of the stone labyrinths (more than 30 labyrinths) in the Northern Europe. more

Responsible: Alexander N. Davydov








Mani-san Mountain - South Korea



Mt. Mani-san, in the island of Ganghwa-do, is located only 496 m high above sea level, but it is considered one of the most sacred mountains in Korea.  It owes its significance not only to its beautiful scenery and its terrific views over the sea, but also because Dangun, the founder of the Korean nation, allegedly constructed on its peak the stone altar of Changseongdan and performed the first celestial offering, more than 4000 years ago. It is said that the literal meaning of Mari-san, the old name for Mani-san, is the 'head' (of all the mountains).  The climax communities of Pinus densiflora, Carpinus coreana, Carpinus laxiflora, together with deciduous broadleaved big trunk trees covering the slopes of the mountain are of significant value.


A sacred torch has been lit on the peak of Mani-san for the National Athletic Games since 1953, and a special ritual is performed on October 3rd to commemorate the National Foundation. Since the designation of the site as the National Tourist Area in 1977, the local governments of the City of Incheon and the Gangwhagun County have tried to develop the area to attract more tourists. more


Responsible: Kyung-Koo Han




Mileseva Monastery - Serbia


Located at the heart of Raska, considered a holy region since the beginning of the 12th century, when the first Serbian state was established by the holy Nemanjic dynasty, the Mileseva Monastery became the most sacred place of the Serbian Orthodox Church, especially when the relics of Saint Sava were transferred there from Trnovo (Bulgaria) in 1236. From that time on, it became a place of pilgrimage for the Serbians and other Orthodox nations from the Balkans, which continue until this day. The immediate surroundings of the Monastery are dominated by the impressive canyon of the river Milesevka, with mediaeval fortifications on the rocky top, St. Sava’s cave and its holy spring, as well as a plethora of monastic hermitages. In 1979, the Monastery was declared Cultural Property of Exceptional National Significance, and in 1990, Protected Area of Natural and Cultural Importance. Although the Monastery was torn down many times in its history, like other Serbian holy places, its spiritual radiance has been preserved.

 Perhaps due to this origin the “holy unity” between Nature and the Monastery has always been preserved. The gorge of the Milesevka River, where the Monastery is situated, was designated Regional Nature Park in 1976. more

Responsible: Nadezda Pesic









Doñana National and Natural Parks - Spain 


The Doñana Protected Areas include the most important wetland of Spain, located at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, at the Atlantic coast, in southwestern Andalusia. They encompass a National Park, a Natural Park, a Ramsar Site and a Wetland of International Importance, creating the largest system of high level protected areas of Spain. The number of different habitants and species ensures that the main environmental value of the area is its biodiversity. Just at the border of the National Park there is the shrine of La Virgen del Rocío (The Virgin of the Dew), the Queen of the Marshes, where some of the most important pilgrimages of Spain take place. Over one million pilgrims participate each year, either by foot or by horse, in different moments of the year, walking through the dunes and marshlands, praying, chanting, and celebrating for several days.


Responsible: J.M. Mallarach







Montsant - Spain


Located at the south of Catalonia, the Montsant is a mountain massif which has been considered holy through the ages, as its name reveals –literally holy mountain, in Catalan. During the early Medieval ages a tradition of eremitic life developed, which has lasted to the present day. During the period of the Muslim rule (7-11th centuries) the massif was named jabal al barakah, i.e. the blessed mountain. During the 12-14th centuries Montsant become the property of the Cistercian convent of Bonrepòs. From the 15th to the beginning of the 19th century (when the Spanish government took over all the properties of the Church) the Montsant was managed by the poweful and influential Carthusian of Scala Dei, i.e Ladder to God, from which this radical monastic order spread to all the Iberian kingdoms. During the 16th to the18th centuries the Montsant became one of the main eremitic centers of the Latin Christendom, attracting people from the entire Kingdom of Aragon, which extended from the eastern Iberian Peninsula until the southern Italian Peninsula and the islands in between, such as Sicily. During the 19th century, the decline of the eremitic life allowed a revival of local popular piety in a number of these hermitages, which became –and still are– religious centres for all the villages around the Montsant, which organise there pilgrimages and celebrations. more


Responsible: J.M. Mallarach







 Mountain of Montserrat Natural Park - Spain


Since the beginning of history Montserrat (in Catalan serrated mountain), situated near Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain, has been considered a holy mountain. In 1950 it was declared Picturesque Landscape. In 1987 a Natural Park and a Nature Reserve were established. Nested in the mountain, there are a dozen of hermitages and two Catholic monasteries (Santa Maria and Sant Benet), one of which includes a sanctuary devoted to the Holy Virgin Mary, which has been a continuous pilgrimage centre since the 14th century. The Benedictine community has had, over the centuries, a significant spiritual and cultural influence. Nowadays, the Natural Park is receiving almost three million visitors per year, from which the vast majority visit the area of the monastery of Santa Maria.


The jumble of hundreds of marvellous rock pinnacles (made up of Tertiary conglomerates and sandstones) that give Montserrat its unique silhouette makes the mountain a site of outstanding geomorphological significance. more


 Responsible: J.M. Mallarach




Poblet Monastery - Spain


The royal monastery of Saint Mary of Poblet is a the largest Cistercian complex of Europe, where the kings of the Crown of Aragon (now part of Spain) are buried. This impressive monastic citadel, founded in the 12th century, was declared Cultural World Heritage Site in 1991. The Cistercian order is known for promoting advanced sustainable agricultural and farm practices in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, together with an ascetic life style. Currently a community of Cistercian monks is living in the monastery, which receives many visitors. The natural site is located in southern Catalonia, Spain, in a beautiful mountain landscape, between 200-1200 m. In 1984 a protected area of 2500 ha of size was established by Law of the Catalan Parliament to protect the landscape around the monastery, which includes different types of  Mediterranean forests with a rich fauna, and some vineyards in the lowlands. In 1988 two nature reserves, totaling some 900 ha, where added, to preserve the only forest of Quercus pyrenaica existing in Catalonia.


 Responsible: J.M. Mallarach







Sakya Tashi Ling Monastery- Spain

Sakya Tashi Ling is a vajrayana Buddhist Monastery located in the Palau Novella, a XIX century building in the middle of the Garraf Natural Park, in the Barcelona metropolitan region, within Catalonia, next to the Mediterranean Sea. Spirituality, culture, and nature blend to serve many people who are looking for natural settings in order to find themselves.

For this reason, from the moment the community set up  in the Garraf Natural Park, in 1996, the projects undertaken have had as goals to preserve the environment, to preserve the culture, and therefore to strengthen the values of the Culture of Peace.

Medinat (meditation and nature) is one of the main projects in the process of becoming a reality. It is a garden of growth through the existential relationship with nature.  It is an opportunity for youth to find inner peace, based on looking inward, in order to be able to create universal and group peace. The project aims to design a circuit with eight subject areas where educative, environmental, spiritual or personal growth can take place.

The final technical and philosophical project, presented at the II Botanical Gardens World Conference (2004), created great expectations.

Contact: Jordi Gómez and Isabel Soria Garcia

E-mail:  and 




Holy Island Arran - U.K.


Holy Island is a small island off the coast of the Scottish Island of Arran.  It was the site of the hermitage of 6th Century St. Molaise, an important figure in the Irish and Scottish Church. It also housed a 12th Century monastic community. 


For many years it was uninhabited, but has recently been bought by a Tibetan Buddhist organisation, who are in the process of establishing a retreat centre and interfaith conference facility. The Island is the home of the traditional livestock of the area, which are themselves in need of conservation, but the Island had been severely overgrazed.  Conservation efforts on the island have included restoration of indigenous woodland and the appropriate grazing of moorland habitat. A marine protected area has recently been established next to the island. 


 Contact: I. Soria Garcia




Holy Island of Lindisfarne, England - UK



Holy Island is situated at the heart of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which also protects all of the adjacent inter-tidal area. Extensive dunelands, intertidal sand and mud flats, saltmarsh and ancient raised beaches support a wide variety of plant life and attract vast numbers of birds. Almost 300 bird species have been recorded on the reserve. Grey seals are frequent visitors to the rocky bays at high tide. The figure of St. Cuthbert, who lived in the island during the 7th century, has a local reputation of relationship with nature similar to St. Francis, and still has an influence in this part of the world. He was one of the earliest English Saints, and was in part responsible for promoting Celtic Christianity in England. Of the three active churches on Lindisfarne two are protestant (Anglican and Presbyterian) and one Catholic. Recently the Holy Island of Lindisfarne has become the centre for the revival of Celtic Christianity in the North of England. Following from this, the island has become a popular retreat centre. There is strong interdenominational coordination. In 1996 St. Cuthbert's Way was established. This 62 mile walking route focuses on the life of the saint, passing through Northumberland National Park before going to the island.

Contact: Robert Wild




The Oconaluftee River Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - USA


A collaboration among the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve), the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and The Mountain Institute used bilingual wayside signs in English and Cherokee to link Cherokee spiritual and cultural traditions and stories to features of the natural environment – trees, river, mountain, birds - along the Oconaluftee River Trail that runs from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the edge of the Cherokee’s ancestral lands.  more


Contact: Edwin Bernbaum









The Sacred San Francisco Peaks: Arizona, USA


Rising from the usually dry high plateau of the American Southwest, three volcanic peaks of around 3360 meters thrust skyward just north of the City of Flagstaff, Arizona, with a sharpness of outline in the clear air that gives them a supernatural appearance and enables them to be seen from great distances.  This complex, the San Francisco Peaks is sacred to most of the Native American peoples of this region, being significant to 20 tribes, and holy to 13 tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Zuni, Acoma, White Mountain Apache and Yavapai Apache.  To the Navajo the Peaks are the sacred mountain of the west, a key boundary marker and place where ceremonial and medicinal plants are collected.  Its name to them in English translation is “Shining on Top.”  To the Hopi, their “Place of Snow on the Very Top” is, for half of the year, the home of the Kachina spirits who bring gentle rains to thirsty corn plants. more


Responsible: L. Hamilton










Delphi -  Greece


Delphi, a focal place for Classical Greece, has no religious significance for contemporary Greeks. Still it remains a magnificent mountainous cultural landscape and is perceived as one of the key archaeological sites of the country, with strong heritage values. It attracts very large numbers of visitors, and tourist facilities are quite a threat. Today, the site is regarded only from the archaeological and tourism perspective, while its considerable biodiversity aspects are ignored.


Contact: Thymio Papayannis







Patmos Island - Greece


Well-known globally as St. John's island, where he wrote the Apocalypse, Patmos is crowned by a famous monastery and has been considered sacred even to our days. Thus restrictive regulations have been legislated on both building and recreation activities. Tourist pressures, however, and the spreading secular character of Modern Greece, have eroded the implementation of such regulations, with noisy bars operating close to the monastery and tourist facilities being constructed in the vicinity of particularly sacred places.


Contact: Thymio Papayannis






Covadonga National Park - Spain 

The first National Park established in Spain about one century ago, in the Cantabric Mountain Range (Asturias) around a sacred cave and spring, where it is said that the holy Virgin appeared to Pelayo, leader of the Christian resistance in the 8th century, against the Muslim rulers that took over the former decadent Visigoth kingdoms of Hispania. Devotion to the Virgin of Covadonga is alive, and significant manifestations of it take periodically place in this natural shrine in the mountains of northern Spain.


Contact: J.M. Mallarach







Lluc and Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca - Spain


LLuc is an ancient monastery in the heart of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, a beautiful area with the lowest population density of the Balearic Islands, surrounded by the highest mountains in Mallorca (up to 1445 m) and the most spectacular worked landscapes, featuring impressive limestone terrace systems. It has 65 endemic vegetal species, such as the ferreret (Alytes muletensis), a good population of black vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Elenor falcon (Falco eleonare), and 12 species of  terrestrial mammals plus 15 species of bats, and 103 nesting bird species. more


Contact: J.M. Mallarach





Avebury World Heritage Site (WHS) - United Kingdom

Though inscribed as a World Heritage Site for its Outstanding International Value as a cultural landscape, this unique and complex of prehistoric religious monuments lies within the setting of the North Wessex Downs, independently designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For more than 5,000 years these monuments have exerted a powerful visual and cultural influence on the surrounding landscape of small villages, Christian churches, large manor houses and designed parklands. Today, Avebury has become a “temple” for visitors from all over the world, many of whom regard it as a sacred place of great symbolic and spiritual significance. Pagan and neo-pagan festivals are observed on at least eight occasions during each year. They inspire the imagination and a sense of connection with our ancient ancestors. 

In September 2006 Avebury will be the focus for field visits associated to the Europarc 2006 conference



Responsible: Richard Clarke





[1]   The thriving communities of monks on Mt. Athos are now young, well-educated and coming from urban backgrounds.