The most amazing temples in the world
Over the course of history, humanity has done great things in the name of religion. Some of those accomplishments include creating places of worship where divinities from every different belief system can be worshipped. Asia is hands-down the continent with the most majestic sacred temples, but as you peruse this list of 30 incredible temples to visit, you’ll see that there are breathtaking holy monuments in every corner of the world.
Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand
Located within the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew is home to the country’s most holy statue, the Emerald Buddha. Despite the name, the statue was sculpted in jade around the 15th century and measures just 66 cm (26 in.) high. At the entrance to the chapel of the Emerald Buddha, you can see six pairs of imposing demon guardians, who make sure that no evil spirits enter the temple.
The gem of Nara, Japan, Tōdai-ji Temple is the largest wood construction in the world, a feat that earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Impressive architecture aside, the temple also houses an immense bronze Buddha statue that’s worth the trip.
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Built by Ramses II, the two Abu Simbel temples are as famous as their rescue by means of an international appeal from UNESCO in the 1960s. Built into the side of a mountain overhanging the Nile, they were almost submerged during construction of the Aswan High Dam. Luckily, the operation went off without a hitch and visitors can still admire these two temples. The larger of the two has a façade measuring 32 metres (105 feet) high and a gallery stretching 63 metres (207 feet) deep.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
An iconic monument of Cambodia and one of the principle archeological sites in South-East Asia, Angkor Wat is one of the architectural vestiges of the Khmer Empire. Occupying nearly 2 km2 (0.77 mi2), it’s also one of the best-preserved buildings on the entire Angkor site. The temple’s impressive structure and unrivalled visual harmony have led many to proclaim it the eighth wonder of the world. Unsurprisingly, Angkor Wat has earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Bagan temples, Myanmar
The Bagan plains are home to not one but thousands of temples scattered majestically across the city of Bagan, Myanmar. As one of Asia’s richest archeological sites, the temples of Bagan lend themselves to several days of exploration: In fact, your admission ticket is valid for three days. You can visit the Bagan archeological area on foot, bike, horse, or even hot air balloon, if you’re looking for a truly unique experience.
Located on the island of Java, Indonesia, Borobudur temple is a testament to the amazing artistic and architectural knowledge of the Indonesian people. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the temple has a pyramid base and was built in several tiers, with a magnificent bell-shaped stupa at the top. It’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world, with walls and balustrades comprising 2,672 bas-reliefs of various moments in the Buddha’s life, as well as 504 statues of the holy figure.
Harmandir Sahib, India
Better known as the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India, is the holiest site in the Sikh religion. The monument sits in the middle of a holy pool, and the upper parts of the monument are overlaid with gold foil. You can enter the temple by crossing a long marble bridge. The building was constructed at a lower level to indicate that all disciples and visitors are welcome, no matter their social status or beliefs. The same goes for the holy pool, which can be entered from four places.
The Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, Tibet
The most important sacred site in Tibet, the Potala Palace served as the Dalai Lama’s residence until 1959. This impressive building has 1,000 rooms, including the White Palace, the Red Palace, and the ancillary buildings. The White Palace houses the seat of the Dalai Lama, which was used for administrative affairs, while the Red Palace had a religious purpose. Jokhang Temple Monastery, an exceptional Buddhist religious complex, is located nearby.
Temple of Heaven, China
The Temple of Heaven is renowned as one of the largest Taoist temple complexes. Located in Beijing, the park covers 270 hectares (1.04 square miles) and includes various well-known buildings, including the Circular Mound Altar, the Echo Wall, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Surrounded by a rectangular low wall and sitting on top of a semi-circle, the temple complex is a perfectly representation of the Chinese belief that the sky is round and the earth is square.
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
Wat Rong Khun, located near Chiang Rai City in Thailand, is different from other religious sites in the country. It was completely restored by a talented Thai artist to honour King Rama IX. The artist chose the colour white to represent the purity of Buddhism. To visit the temple, travellers have to cross a bridge that spans over hundreds of hands, which symbolize sinners who were unable to resist temptation.
You’ll have to climb no less than 777 steps to visit Taungkalat temple in Myanmar. The temple is perched on the summit of Mount Popa, an ancient extinct volcano. Before starting your ascent, you can see statues representing the 37 nats, or spirits worshipped by the Burmese for centuries. Once you reach the top, you’ll have a breathtaking 360-degree view.
Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan
Perched at over 3,000 metres (9,842 feet) above sea level, the Buddhist monastery Taktsang overhangs the village of Paro, Bhutan. In addition to its impressive geographic location, this place of worship is notable for the difficulty of access. The monastery can only be reached on foot. You’ll have to put in a bit of effort to get there, but the amazing panoramas surrounding the monastery are worth it.
If you’re looking for an amazing view, take a tour of the Seiganto-ji Buddhist temple in Japan. Nestled in the heart of a lush forest, this temple is notable for its striking red colour and the magnificent waterfall right behind it. The Nachi Falls are 133 metres (436 feet) high and offer a refreshing view of the surrounding area.
Wat Huai Pla Kung, Thailand
As you approach Wat Huai Pla Kung temple in Thailand, the first thing you’ll notice is the immense statue that tourists have mistakenly nicknamed the Big Buddha of Chiang Rai. The statue actually represents the Chinese goddess of mercy, because the temple is a primarily Chinese place of worship. You can take an elevator up to the statue’s forehead and enjoy the scenery from the hidden openings in the eyes. You’ll also be charmed by the nine-storey pagoda located below.
Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, Saudi Arabia
Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, also known as the Great Mosque of Mecca, is the largest and most sacred religious site in Islam and can hold up to a million pilgrims at a time. The Kaaba is a small, black and gold building located at the centre of the mosque that houses the Black Stone, a sacred relic for Muslims. When Muslims make tawaf, they circle the building seven times to try and touch or kiss the stone as part of their pilgrimage.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Indisputably the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda towers over visitors at a height of nearly 110 metres (361 feet). The main stupa is covered in hundreds of gold plates, and the top is encrusted with thousands of diamonds, the largest of which tops 70 carats. This 2,500-year-old religious site is just as impressive lit up at night. Since it’s perched at the top of a hill, you can admire it from anywhere in the city.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex, India
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, has a special significance for Buddhists, because it marks the spot where Buddha attained enlightenment over 2,000 years ago. You can still find a bodhi tree on the site, a descendant of the tree under which Buddha reached enlightenment.
The Peace Pagoda, Sri Lanka
The Peace Pagoda dazzles visitors with its white exterior surrounded by gold statues and its idyllic surroundings. Located on the edge of a cliff in Sri Lanka, this Buddhist place of worship offers an uninterrupted view of the Indian Ocean, especially at sundown. The Peace Pagoda was built by Japanese monks in 2005 in an attempt to establish peace in conflict zones (Sri Lanka was at war during the time).
Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Thailand
This immense Buddhist temple, located north of Bangkok in Thailand, stands out because of its remarkable size. The entire Wat Phra Dhammakaya complex covers 320 hectares (1.2 square miles), and the stupa at the centre of the grounds is covered with approximately 3,000 Buddha statues, each of which is about the size of a human monk.
Kek Lok Si, Malaysia
Kek Lok Si Temple, also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, is located on the island of Penang in Malaysia. The best time to visit is during Chinese New Year celebrations when the temple is decorated with thousands of bright, colourful hanging lanterns. During the rest of the year, this Buddhist temple offers magnificent bell towers, a seven-storey pagoda, and even a tortoise pool.
Byodo-In Temple, United States
Although you wouldn’t know from its Japanese-style architecture, Byodo-In Temple is located in Hawaii. But that’s the point, because the temple was designed to be a smaller-scale replica of the 950-year-old Byodo-in temple in Japan. The Hawaiian version’s lush greenery has been used as a set for filming various TV series.
Wat Arun, Thailand
If you’re looking for a spectacular view of Bangkok, Wat Arun temple is just the thing. Its central prang (spire) is about 80 metres (260 feet) high and is surrounded by two galleries. Before you can enjoy the panoramic view, however, you’ll have to climb a steep, narrow staircase, so be careful if you get vertigo. Even if you prefer to stay on solid ground, the temple is worth a visit just to appreciate its prestige: it’s pictured on some Thai coins.
Amon Temple, Egypt
With its extremely well-preserved structures, the remains of Amon Temple are one of the most remarkable destinations in Egypt. Located in Luxor on the banks of the Nile, the temple was built to welcome the cult of the god Amun-Ra. A visit to the ruins is a trip to the heart of Egypt’s rich history, honoured through the site’s many statues, columns, and relief works that are still intact.
Prambanan Temple, Indonesia
A must-see site on the island of Java, Indonesia, Prambanan Temple is actually a complex made up of 240 temples dedicated to Shiva, one of the main deities of Hinduism. The architecture is gracious, complex, and excellently preserved. You can admire some of the stones used to build the temples in the 800s. This temple, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, pays tribute to the Hindu god Shiva, known as “The Destroyer.”
Lotus Temple, India
The Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India, is an architectural tour de force. The temple was designed by a young Iranian architect who shaped the white marble exterior to resemble flower petals. As a result, the structure looks like a giant blooming lotus flower, a symbol common to several of India’s major religions. Followers of all religions are welcome to visit the temple to pray or meditate.
Gawdawpalin Temple, Myanmar
Stretching 55 metres (180 feet) into the sky, the Buddhist temple Gawdawpalin is the second-highest temple in the city of Bagan, Myanmar. The main shrine is on the second floor, a first in Bagan architecture. Unfortunately, most of the temple was destroyed during an earthquake in 1975 and had to be massively restored.
This temple is the highest monument in the Bagan temple region in Myanmar, towering at 61 metres (201 feet). The cube-style architecture was quite avant garde in 1,100 when the temple was built and served as a model for many other Buddhist buildings, including Gawdawpalin Temple (see previous slide).
The Blue Mosque, Turkey
Located in Istanbul, Turkey, this mosque gets its name from the blue tiles that adorn its interior. On the lower levels, over 20,000 ceramic tiles with more than 50 different tulip patterns decorate the walls and ceiling. On the upper floors, the colour blue reigns. At sunset, tourists and locals alike come together in the park behind the mosque to admire the colourful reflections at twilight.
Temple of Confucius, China
The Temple of Confucius is the second largest site dedicated to this great sage of Chinese antiquity. Construction on this sacred building began in 1302, and additions were built years later. Inside, visitors can admire the 198 stone tablets that bear the names of 51,624 Jinshi (advanced scholars) from the Ming, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. During these three dynasties, worshippers of Confucius came to pay homage at the temple.
Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, India
Inaugurated in 2005, this New Delhi temple uses multimedia shows to teach people about Hinduism. Visitors can learn more about Hinduism by watching a film or a multimedia water show, or by taking a boat ride that re-enacts the major events of ancient India. Constructed without ferrous metal, the main temple (mandir) is also not to be missed.
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