Over the course of the history of man architects and builders have produced countless structures as a testament and tribute to their God or Gods and Goddesses. These edifices are some of the grandest buildings ever erected. As one travels the globe, he or she is often amazed by their grandeur and artistic accomplishment. The following list includes my choices of the best of this religious architecture. Other posts in the series will examine other types of architecture. Each will be followed by a photo album. Because of the difficulty of narrowing this list down, the structures appear in no special order.
1. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey – First built as a christian church, then a mosque, now a museum, this incredible sight dates to the 5th century and the rule of the Roman Emperor Justinian.
2. St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City – The largest cathedral in the world boasts a dome designed by the great Michelangelo and also houses one of the artist’s greatest sculptures, the Pieta.
3. St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia – This iconic church sits at one end of Red Square in Moscow. Its colorful onion domes make it easily recognizable.
4. Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria – The beautiful abbey and its ornate chapel sit dramatically on a promontory overlooking the Danube River.
5. Westminster Abbey, London, England – As much a museum as a church, this hallowed place has been the scene of many coronations and is the final resting place of some of England’s most important political, scientific and artistic citizens.
6. Rock Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia – These underground worship sites are a tribute to man’s religious fervor and persistence.
7. Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad, India – The cave churches of Ajanta and nearby Ellora (see below) were painstakingly carved over many generations.
8. Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, India – See above
9. Meteora Monasteries, Meteora, Greece – Inaccessibly perched high on huge columns of stone, these remote sanctuaries were built to maintain the Greek Orthodox religion in spite of the Mongol invasion of the Middle Ages.
10. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany – This is one of the largest churches in the world.
11. St Francis Basilica, Assisi, Italy – Built to commemorate the life of St Francis, father of the Franciscan Order of Monks, this beautiful church depicts his life in vivid murals.
12. Great Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – The holiest of all Islamic sites, this place is a required pilgrimage destination for all Muslims during their lifetime.
13. Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain – Still unfinished, this distinctive and unusual church was begun by native son, Antonio Gaudi, and is his signature work.
14. Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand – This temple, within the grounds of the Royal Palace, is Bangkok’s holiest place.
15. Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet – This is Tibet’s holiest site and is found in the city that the world associates with the now-in-exile Dalai Lama.
16. Schwedagon Stupa, Yangon, Myanmar – This elaborate golden-spired temple is the major religious site in the mysterious nation of Myanmar (Burma).
17. St Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy – On glorious St Mark’s Square, this unusual church is done in the Byzantine style, so often associated with Venice, because of its location at the crossroads between East and West.
18. Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France – Much imitated and much revered, this is the classic Gothic church. Its location at the top of a hill makes it visible for miles.
19. Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka – Because of its possession of a relic of Buddha, this temple is place of pilgrimage for Sri Lankans and Buddhists everywhere.
20. Swayabunath Stupa, Katmandu, Nepal – This temple is one of Katmandu’s most important tourist sites.
21. Hall of the Prayer for Good Harvests, Beijing, China – This incredible wooden structure within the Temple of Heaven complex in downtown Beijing was made without a single nail and has become a symbol of China.
22. Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain – This distinctive mosque, with its candy-striped arches, actually contains an entire Catholic cathedral within its confines.
23. Ummayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria – Damascus is considered to be one of the world’s oldest cities and this is its most important religious site.
24. Pantheon, Rome, Italy – This temple to all religions is Rome’s best preserved ancient structure and is still used today for religious services.
25. Duomo, Milan, Italy – This huge and elaborate structure is the centerpiece of the city of Milan and one of Italy’s most beautiful churches.
26. Duomo, Florence, Italy – This gorgeous building is noted for its beautiful green, pink, and white marble and the famous Brunelleschi dome, at the time a radical and innovative design.
27. Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey – One of only a few mosques in the world with six minarets, its name comes from the beautiful blue tiles which cover its interior.
28. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France – This church of legend is famed for its gargoyles, its distinctive flying buttresses, and its beautiful Rose window.
29. Abbey, Mont-St-Michel, France – One of the most unusual churches in the world, the abbey was built at the top of a rocky island off the coast of Normandy.
30. Golden Temple, Amritsar, India – This elaborate and gilded complex is one of India’s holiest places.
31. Dome of the Rock/Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel – The nexus of the world’s three greatest religions, this complex defines the city of Jerusalem and makes one of the most important pilgrimage places in the world.
32. Goreme Churches, Cappadocia, Turkey – These churches, hallowed out of conical rocks are elaborately decorated. They sit in one of the most unusual landscapes on Earth.
33. Duomo, Florence, Italy – This gorgeous church with a pink, white, and green marble exterior is crowned with one of the most famous domes in the world, designed by Brunelleschi. The church Baptistry is equally striking and features Ghiberti’s beautiful golden door.
34. St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York, USA – This gothic masterpiece sits on Fifth Avenue in the center of mid-town Manhattan.
35. Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal, Quebec, Canada – The striking blue of the lighted interior lends an air of the supernatural to this lovely church.