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Ever since the formation of the earliest human civilizations, worshippers have constructed awe-inspiring holy sites to pay homage to their gods. Today, there are countless temples and cathedrals all across the globe, standing as testaments to the creative abilities and religious devotion of mankind.
Of course, with such a diversity of impressive structures, it would take a book to showcase a comprehensive list of the world’s best; but we’ve nonetheless put together this modest list of 7 truly divine holy places.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The massive Khmer stone temples at Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, are without a doubt one of the most incredible architectural achievements in history.
Originally constructed to honor Hindu deities and serve as the seat of state for ancient Khmer kings, the site features vast moats, intricately carved bas reliefs, towering minarets, and enormous stone sculptures.
Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Built in 360 AD, this was the largest cathedral in the world for over a thousand years. Representing the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, it has variously served as a central hub of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Islamic community.
Famous for its expansive gilded domes, painstakingly detailed mosaics, ornate pillars, and marble walkways, it is a truly gorgeous structure of astounding beauty and architectural nuance. It also houses countless priceless religious artifacts, such as the Lustration Urns from Pergamon.
Golden Temple, India
Harmandir Sahib, meaning “The Abode of God,” is a Sikh temple, which earned its common English name due to the fact that its exterior is coated in a veneer of real gold.
Inside, it is decorated with ornate frescoes and gemstones, and it is surrounded on all sides by a large reflecting pool. The temple is active to this day, and has been a holy site of deep religious significance since its completion in 1604.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Another incredible structure coated entirely in gold, the Shwedagon Pagoda is over one hundred meters tall and nearly three thousand years old, making it the oldest pagoda in the world.
It contains relics from the past four Buddhas, including eight strands of Guatama’s hair, and its peak is decorated with more than five thousand diamonds and two thousand rubies.
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
Commonly known as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Northern Thailand is the newest temple on our list, and was only recently completed. But what it lacks in age, it makes up for in beauty and intricacy of design.
Nearly every inch of this entirely white Buddhist temple is adorned with mirror mosaics and covered in carefully wrought arabesques of elephants, dragons, and religious figurations. A truly breathtaking modern wonder.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Built in the 17th century at the height of the Late Renaissance and designed by such luminaries as Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Giocondo, St. Peter’s is one of the most impressive building projects ever undertaken in the Western world.
With its famous domes, imposing columns, vast scale, and incredible abundance of masterpiece artworks, it is unquestionably one of the most beautiful religious sites on earth.
Todai-ji Temple, Japan
This Buddhist temple is the largest wooden structure in the world, home to Japan’s largest Buddha statue––cast entirely from solid bronze––and dates back to the first century AD. It also houses a number of Japan’s national treasures, and remains one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country.
Holy places like these are truly inspiring sights to behold. They represent faith, devotion, and incredible will power. And regardless of what religious denomination they arise from, their beauty is a symbol of the human ability to create, and to thereby become part of, something bigger than ourselves.
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