Fuelled by passion and boundless faith, it’s no surprise religious monuments constitute some of our world’s greatest architectural feats. An unthinkable amount of time and money has been invested in these buildings.
The motivation for visiting some of the world’s best-known places of pilgrimage is different for everyone. Some come seeking quiet contemplation, others are directed by devotion, and many simply want to marvel at both the historical structures and the extraordinary religious practices taking place within their walls.
Whatever your religious beliefs, it’s fair to say these man-made wonders are nothing short of divine.
Kumano Nachi Taisha, Japan
Part of a pilgrimage route in Japan’s Kii Mountain Range, this Shinto shrine sits in front of the tallest waterfall in Japan and is surrounded by ancient emerald forests. Arrive from the valley floor via a cobblestone staircase lined with Japanese cedars, camphor trees and bamboo groves. Although the grounds are free to enter, there’s an entry fee for accessing the viewpoints (300 yen/$4).
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
This sprawling complex is easily one of the world’s most impressive religious sites. It’s been used continuously since the 10th century, at first for Hindu worship and later Buddhism. Monks in fiery orange robes are regularly seen wafting through the 72 temples. Look out for more than 3000 nymphs carved into the walls, many with different features and hairstyles. A one-day pass for the Angkor Archaeological Park costs US$37 ($54) and can only be purchased from the official ticket centre, 4km from Siem Reap.
Golden Temple in Amritsar, India
A shimmering treasure plated with gold, this Sikh site of pilgrimage is also a symbol of equality; the four entrances – each from a different direction – indicate people from all creeds and casts are welcome. Devotees come to bathe in the sacred waters of a tank that surrounds the central shrine. Open 24 hours, the site is free to enter.
Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel
Important for both Jewish and Muslim faiths, the Dome of the Rock is the highlight of the Temple Mount. According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from this spot. Tourists can wander around the plaza complex and admire the gleaming beauty – although only Muslims are allowed inside.
Shaolin Temple, China
Founded in the 5th century, this Chan Buddhist temple in China’s Henan province is famous for its acrobatic monks. Along with pilgrims seeking Zen, martial arts students from across the world come here to witness impressive performances. (A show at the temple is included in the entrance fee of 100CNY/$20.) Located at the foot of Mount Songshan, the temple is also linked to many hiking paths.
Have you visited any of these sites? If not, which would you most like to visit?
– With PA
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