What is it about building things on top of cliffs? Most of these towns have been around for centuries and assuming they didn’t have the sophisticated equipment we have today, how could they be sure the cliff wasn’t going to collapse under them? Couldn’t be. Mad. Religious maybe.
We are not talking about buildings that are somewhere near the edge of a cliff that is a few feet high, we’re talking about buildings pretty well over the edge of cliffs that are hundreds or thousands of feet high.
In most cases the reasoning was, ironically, safety from aggressors. Big cliffs are really hard to climb if there are people at the top throwing things at you.
10. Rocamadour, France
Rocamadour is a small town in south central France, just north of the wine town of Cahors. It is nestled into a gorge that drops down to the River Dordogne with various churches and religious buildings at the top of the gorge.
The World Heritage listed site has a long, rich history and stunning vistas from the various walks you can do around the gorge.
9. Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang, better known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, is one of the best known cliff top dwellings in the world. Although it’s not a town as such, we are accepting it as an occupied temple complex and sacred Buddhist site.
The Tiger’s Nest was built in 1692. It sits 900 metres (3,000 ft) above the Paro Valley in Bhutan at an altitude of over 3,000 metres (10,000 ft).
As far as spectacular cliff top buildings go, this is an incredible number 9.
8. Castellfollit de la Roca, Spain
Castellfollit de la Roca is a gorgeous little village in Catalonia, 100 kms north of Barcelona in north eastern Spain. It is set on the top of a spectacular basalt rock structure created eons ago by lava flows and shaped by the rivers Fluvia and Toronell that join here.
The old town itself dates back to the Middle Ages. It runs along the length of the basalt crag between the two rivers with the famous Sant Salvador church at the point and volcanic rock houses sitting high atop the cliff.
One of the most photographed places in Spain and a beautiful town on top of a cliff.
7. Positano, Italy
Positano is one of Italy’s most famous seaside tourist towns, its beautiful lanes and buildings tumbling down the hills of the Amalfi coast a short drive south of Naples.
Fishing has always been a big part of the culture here and in medieval times it was a busy and prosperous trading port. For the first half of the 1900’s it was a poor area but tourism picked up after John Steinbeck wrote about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953.
The cliffs here are less dramatic than other entries but the cliffs and mountains in the hinterland are substantial. A simply gorgeous town on a cliff top.
6. Manarola, Italy
The Cinque Terre is a stunning, rugged, World Heritage listed section of coastline in the north west of Italy; the Italian Riviera. Five famous villages nestle into the steep sided hills and cliffs of this coast, the oldest of which, Manarola, dates back to the early 1300’s.
Manarola has traditionally been a fishing village and the area has long had a strong connection with wine. What better background for tourism which is now an equally important industry for the Manarolaons?
The village itself is colorful and quaint, sitting atop a high headland and small boat harbour. There are plenty of walks around the town and also along the Cinque Terre. A picture perfect town on a cliff top.
5. Ronda, Spain
Ronda is a small town in the southern Spanish province of Malaga, about 75 kms north of Gibraltar. It is one of the regions main tourist towns, famous for the El Tajo gorge that takes the Guadalevin river through its center and the Puente Nuevo ’new’ bridge that spans the gorge. It is also recognized as the birthplace of bull fighting.
The town dates back to pre Roman times, passing through the hands of the Romans, Moors and Christians over the last few thousand years. Its fortified position on the El Tajo gorge made it an important strategic location so the buildings and infrastructure in the area have been maintained and added to over the years.
A beautiful, historic town with buildings on a cliff top that are a very special sight.
4. Varlaam Monastery, Greece
Meteora (“suspended in the air”) is a World Heritage Listed region of Thessaly in the middle of Greece famous for the six Monasteries that sit atop rock sandstone towers that dot the area.
The Varlaam Monastery was established in the mid 1300’s when the monk Varlaam climbed to the top of the rock and settled there, building three churches and a place to sleep. Unfortunately no one else wanted to live up on the rock with him and after Varlaam died the site went vacant.
More than 150 years later the brothers Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades reestablished the monastery, renovating and extending the buildings that Varlaam had built. It took them 22 years to hoist everything they needed for the rebuilding to the top of the rock and only 20 days to put it all together.
Today Varlaam is occupied by seven monks and is one of the most visually stunning cliff top towns, or monasteries, in the world.
3. Bonifacio, Corsica (France)
The Old Town of Bonifacio is located at the southern tip of the Mediterranean island of Corsica and was founded as a fortress by Count Bonifacio of Tuscany in 828. The town has a beautiful natural harbour lined these days with cafes and hotels, and a marina full of the latest yachts. To the seaward side of the harbour is one of the most precariously placed cliff top villages in the world.
The white-limestone cliffs angle out as they rise from the sea, accentuating the precarious position of the three and four storey buildings at the top. It remains a marvel of building ingenuity that the original inhabitants could construct such a place.
2. Al Hajjarah, Yemen
Al Hajjarah is a small cliff top village west of Manakhah, half way between the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and the Red Sea. This amazing place dates from the 12th Century and represents some of the best Yemeni architecture you will find.
The fortified houses are constructed from huge blocks of stone that were quarried nearby and placed precisely without using mortar. The village has specially made granaries for food and cisterns for water so the inhabitants could survive long sieges of their cliff top home.
Like all these amazing places, the engineering know-how and construction capabilities of the people who built Al Hajjarah is something to behold.
1. Santorini, Greece
We’re going out on a limb here and picking a dark horse for top spot. Hold on, Santorini? Okay, it’s a very easy choice for the number 1 position. Amazing and stunningly beautiful, this incredible island is the result of a gigantic volcanic eruption that created the odd rectangular lagoon and the soaring cliffs over 3,000 years ago.
The capital of Santorini is Fira, a brilliant white-washed village with royal blue church domes, splashes of red, aqua infinity edge pools and purple frangipani that runs along the top of the 1,300 foot (400 metre) cliffs on the western edge of the island.
This is possibly the most photographed place in Greece and one of the most recognized sights anywhere.
Cliff top towns don’t get much more spectacular or beautiful than Fira, Santorini.