Culture Travel 14 Sacred Mountain Peaks By Catie Leary Catie Leary Writer and Photographer Georgia State University Catie Leary writes and curates visual stories about science, animals, the arts, travel, and the natural world. Learn about our editorial process Updated October 10, 2021 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan and a source of pride for many residents. Clive Rose / Getty Images Culture History Travel Sustainable Fashion Art & Media Holidays Community Religions around the world have long attributed divine qualities to the mountains that tower over their civilizations. This can be because these looming peaks are thought to be close to the heavens or because of a mountain's connection with a significant event. For example, Mount Ararat is said to be the mountain upon which Noah's ark came to rest. Regardless of whether or not you are religious or spiritual, it's hard to deny the sublime power that mountains represent. There's even an official United Nations holiday, International Mountain Day, celebrated each year on December 11 to recognize the importance of mountain conservation. From Mount Everest to Mauna Kea, continue below for a look at 14 of the Earth's most revered and holy mountains. 1 of 14 Mount Everest Papa Lima Whiskey 2 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 Mount Everest in Tibet and Nepal is not only home to the Earth's highest altitude—its peak is estimated to be 29,029 feet from sea level—but also a place of great spiritual significance. At the base of Everest lies the famous Rongbuk Monastery, an important pilgrimage site for the Sherpa people, who believe the mountain is teeming with spiritual energy. You can see the peak from a helicopter during an air tour or, if you're highly experienced, make the dangerous months-long climb yourself. 2 of 14 Mauna Kea Vadim Kurland / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0 All five volcanoes found on Hawaii's Big Island are regarded by native Hawaiians or the Kanaka Maoli as sacred, but due to its height of 13,796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is perhaps the most highly revered of the bunch. Referred to as Maunakea by the people of Hawaii, this mountain was the first landform born of the Earth and Sky in the traditional story of Hawaii's origins. This makes it the piko or core of life there, and it is an important spiritual symbol for the Kanaka Maoli. 3 of 14 Machu Picchu Rodrigo.Argenton / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 These famous ruins of Peru might have been built for 15th-century Incan emperor Pachacuti as a place to rest and worship. Many believe the location was chosen for spiritual reasons, given its proximity to the Urubamba River, considered sacred by the ancient Incas for the fertility it brought and its cosmic properties. Every year, Macchu Picchu receives about 1.5 million visitors, some of whom take the opportunity to meditate and others who simply snap pictures of the 200 awe-inspiring structures that make up this World Heritage site. 4 of 14 Uluru David Nicolson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0 Found smack dab in the middle of Australia, this massive sandstone rock formation is one of the country's most famous landmarks and an incredibly significant spiritual site. The Aboriginal Peoples native to this land, the Anangu, are considered Uluru's true owners today. Anangu ancient spirits rest here, and this is the location of many rituals and ceremonies. Travel to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to see this spectacle. Visit with a local Anangu guide and follow their guidance for viewing the formation and interacting with the land respectfully. Do not go into restricted areas and do not take photographs unless you have permission. 5 of 14 Mount Shasta Buyenlarge / Getty Images As believed by the Winnemem Wintu people native to north-central California, this 14,180-foot volcano holds the spring from which all life was created, now the headwaters of the Upper Sacramento River. For this reason, this mountain is sacred to the Winnemem Wintu, who consider themselves to be caretakers of the land. Members of the tribe urge visitors to come in small groups and stay off the grass and ask that tourists not leave items behind. 6 of 14 Mount Kailash tcp / Getty Images Situated within the Transhimalaya range in Tibet, this 21,778-foot tall mountain is held sacred in Buddhism, Bon, Hinduism, and Jainism. Kailash's summit is where the Hindu god Shiva is believed to sit in a state of eternal meditation. Many followers of Buddhism believe that the deity Demchok lives here. Pilgrims of these different religions make the over 32-mile journey around the base of Mount Kailash every year. You, too, can trek the mountain's circumference or stay put and meditate. 7 of 14 Mount Vesuvius Dan Kitwood / Getty Images In ancient Greece, the town Herculaneum, located at the base of Mount Vesuvius, was thought to have been created by the divine god Heracles. The Greeks believed Heracles chose this location because Mount Vesuvius, a volcano, was sacred. Mount Vesuvius's historic eruption in 79 A.D. subjected residents of Rome, including many in Pompeii, to heat they couldn't survive and scattered ash and debris across several cities. Again in 1631, an eruption took the lives of at least 4,000 people. Despite its violent history, the area around Mount Vesuvius is now teeming with life, and this mountain was incorporated into a national park to allow native plant and animal species to flourish. 8 of 14 Áhkká Cavan Images / Getty Images Áhkká is an impressive landform in northern Sweden, the highest peak over 6,610 feet above sea level. This 13-peaked massif or group of mountains in Sweden's Stora Sjöfallet National Park is considered sacred by the Sami tribe. The name Áhkká translates to "old woman" or "goddess" in Lule Sami and the mountain is believed to represent a spiritual mother figure who provides protection. There are about 20,000 Sami people in Sweden today, and some, such as the Sirges, live in villages nearby. Many pray and worship at the mountain's base. 9 of 14 Black Hills KimonBerlin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 The name "Black Hills" comes from the Lakota Sioux name "Pahá Sápa," meaning "hills that are black." This refers to how dark these forest-covered mountains in South Dakota appear. Multiple Indigenous tribes, including the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, regard this land as sacred. The Lakota hold many celebrations, traditional dances or powwows, and worship ceremonies here. You can show respect for the sacred site when here by walking slowly through the land and speaking quietly. Depending on when you go, you may be able to watch a demonstration by a local Indigenous tribe. 10 of 14 Mount Olympus Athanasios Benisis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0 As the highest peak in Greece with an altitude of 9,573 feet, it comes as no surprise that Mount Olympus held cultural significance to ancient Greeks. According to mythology, this mountain formed after the Twelve Olympian gods defeated the Titans. Mount Olympus, located in Olympus National Park, is both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Visitors are welcome and experienced climbers may try to hike to the mountain's peak. 11 of 14 Mount Ararat linbeek / Getty Images This dormant stratovolcano in eastern Turkey has two peaks: Greater Ararat at an elevation of 16,854 feet and Lesser Ararat or Little Ararat at an elevation of 12,782 feet above sea level. In Judeo-Christian religions, the peaks are believed to be the location where Noah's ark finally landed following the great Biblical flood mentioned in the book of Genesis. Archaeologists are always discovering ancient artifacts in this area and uncovering more of the volcano's intriguing history. 12 of 14 Mount Fuji Alpsdake / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 Japan boasts multiple holy mountains, but Mount Fuji or Fujisan is one of the most well-known and iconic. The nearly 12,389-foot active stratovolcano is a stunning landmark, but it is the mountain's unique cultural significance that led to its designation as a World Heritage Site. Mount Fuji is a sacred Buddhist site where pilgrims go to worship in a remote natural landscape brimming with trees and surrounded by the Fuji Five Lakes. It is also open to hikers. Most experienced climbers can reach the mountain's peak in a day or two's time. 13 of 14 Arunachala Natalia Zakharova / Getty Images This holy hill in Tamil Nadu, India, is not as big as Mount Everest or Mount Fuji, but it remains an important holy monument in the Hindu tradition. According to legend, Arunachala formed from a column of light created by Shiva, who was trying to end an argument between Brahma and Vishnu over who was greater. At the base of the hill is the Annamalaiyar Temple, a dedicated Shiva holy site for followers of Hinduism. You can show respect when visiting by refraining from photography or touching artifacts, keeping your voice low, and following the priests' instructions. 14 of 14 Mount Teide Heritage Images / Getty Images Mount Teide, or Tiede-Pico Viejo, can be found on Tenerife Island of Spain's Canary Islands within a national park of the same name, Teide National Park. The Guanches of Tenerife believe that this active volcano contains the devil Guayota, who was trapped inside by Magec, the god of light and sun. The Guanches light bonfires every time the volcano erupts, in hopes of scaring off the evil Guayota. At more than 12,198 feet in height, Mount Teide is the third tallest volcano in the world. View Article Sources "What Is the Highest Point on Earth as Measured From Earth's Center?" National Ocean Service. U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2 Feb. 2021. "How Big Are the Hawaiian Volcanoes?" USGS. U.S. Department of the Interior. 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