Since the early days of mankind, we have always striven to understand our place in this world and reach the divine. Since these early days, the world has seen many saints and prophets who have touched the subtle dimension of universal being and tried to express their experience to other people, who didn't have an access to this dimension. The followers of these noble people organized religions trying to spread the message of the saints further.
Unfortunately, people started to get lost in the messages of the saints and their followers formed sects arguing that certain aspects of the teaching are more important than the other. This is how religious diversity has started to express itself on Earth.
The process of mankind's spiritual development was accompanied by building temples, monasteries, churches and all kinds of spiritual institutions all around the world. These places served as an indispensable tool to nurture and protect the faith and teach new disciples and future gurus. Many of these places, especially those where the aspiration to reach something beyond our minds and bodies were strong and sincere, have absorbed the spiritual energy of practitioners who prayed and meditated there. And even today you can feel this energy residing in different temples and monasteries around the world.
Our hunger for the divine is universal, and our temples reflect our craving for union with something transcending and liberating that lies beyond the limitations of our bodies and minds. Let's take a virtual tour to see the most impressive manifestations of mankind's quest for the divine.
25 Nanshan Temple, Sanya, China
Nanshan Temple is the largest Buddhist preaching site established after the foundation of the People's Republic of China. The temple occupies the area of 66 acres and it was completed in 1998 to celebrate the 2,000 years since Buddhism came to China.
The bronze statue of Guan Yin that you see in the picture is 108 meters tall. If you have nothing to compare it to, I will just say that it's larger than the liberty statue in New York. Guan Yin is considered to be the personification of the kindness of compassion, whose noble goal is to liberate all sentient beings. A noble mission to live by, indeed.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in China: Temple of Heaven, South Putuo Temple, Shaolin Temple, Confucian Temple.
24 Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora, Greece
Mystical, spiritual, serene - these are the words that come to mind when you look at the Monastery of Holy Trinity in Meteora, Greece. In fact, Meteora is a home not just for one breathtaking monastery on the rock. It hosts one of the largest complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Centuries ago there were around 24 monasteries in this area, but only six of them made it to our times.
Among the six monasteries, The Holy Trinity Monastery is the most difficult to reach, but the divine vibe and panoramic view that you get there are priceless.
Other monasteries to visit in Meteora, Greece: Monastery of Varlaam, Monastery of Saint Nicholas, Monastery of Rousanou, Great Meteoron Monastery (see also Dionysiou Monastery at Mount Athos).
23 Taktsang Palphug Monastery, Paro, Bhutan
Also known as Tiger's Nest, Taktsang Palphug Monastery is an impressive Himalayan Buddhist sacred site located about 900 meters above the Paro Valley in Bhutan.
This spectacular temple complex was built in 1692, near the cave where Guru Padmasambhava was meditating in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is an important deity in the country and he is best known for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan.
Although the monastery looks formidable, you can reach it from several directions. On the days when Tiger's Nest is shrouded with clouds, you can deeply sense the feeling of serenity and remoteness.
Other notable monasteries to visit in Bhutan: Rinpung Dzong, Tango Monastery, Kurjey Lhakhang Monastery, Punakha Dzong Monastery, Lhuentse Dzong Monastery, Dochula Pass, Tashichho Dzong.
22 Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India
India's spiritual heritage is one of the most impressive in the world and for this reason, we will take a closer look at 5 temples from this country. The first one would be the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India. This impressive lotus-like building is a Bahá'í religion House of Worship. Bahá'í is a rather young religion established in 1863. It teaches the equality and unity of all people and the essential worth of all religions.
You're not allowed to speak in Lotus Temple. The only time when you can hear the voice of the person in Lotus Temple is during the prayer time three times a day. Being there, I can say that this is the most beautiful prayer I've ever heard.
In 2001 it took the Guinness World Record for the most visited religious building in the world. Although if you come here on a weekday in the morning you won't see that many people.
Other notable temples to visit in India: Akshardham, Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, Meenakshi Amman Temple, Iskcon Temple, Virupaksha Temple.
21 The Church of the Transfiguration, Kizhi, Russia
Many tourists know about St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, but only the chosen few have heard about The Church of Transfiguration on Kizhi Island in Russia. Without a doubt, it's the most breathtaking wooden church in Russia and probably one of the most outstanding wooden churches in the world. According to the legend, this church was built without nails and with one ax by a carpenter named Nestor.
Whether it is true or not, judging from its look, we can assume that it was built with some help of divine forces.
Other notable churches to visit in Russia: Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, The Church on Spilt Blood, The Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God, St. Kazan Cathedral. Basil’s Cathedral.
20 Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Tokyo, Japan
The name of the temple is literally translated as "Pure Water Temple". It derives its name from the Otowa Waterfall near which it was founded in 780. The temple is best known for its wooden stage which allows visitors to have an outstanding view on maple and cherry trees, depending on the season. Just like The Church of the Transfiguration in Russia, Kiyomizudera's main hall was built without the use of nails.
The temple is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994.
Other notable temples to visit in Japan: Kinkakuji Temple, Senso-ji Temple, Sanjusangendo Temple, Ginkaku-ji, Daigo-ji, Horyu-ji
19 Pantheon, Rome, Italy
The Pantheon is a church in Rome, which was an ancient Roman temple in the past. Pantheon was first built as a temple to all gods and saints before Christ's era and its the best preserved Ancient Roman monument. Actually, it's a mystery how it was preserved so well, considering the number of wars we had during the past 2000 years.
Another remarkable thing about this building is a hole in the dome, through which either the bright ray of light is shining, or the raindrops fall, depending on the weather.
The reason why I have included it in the list is that this place is so magnetic that you can literally feel the spiritual energy that was soaked up by its walls throughout millenniums.
Other notable churches and monasteries to visit in Italy: San Colombano Monastery, The Duomo of Milan, St. Mark’s Basilica, Orvieto Cathedral, The Duomo of Siena, The Duomo of Florence, St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Andrew’s Cathedral
18 White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand
The thai name for this temple is Wat Rong Khun, but more people know it as just a white temple. It's a unique and one of the most popular temples in Thailand for a reason and not just one. It stands out through:
- the use of white color which represents the purity of Buddha
- the use of pieces of plaster and glass which represents the depth of Dhamma (Buddha's teaching) and the wisdom of Buddha
- its deep symbolism
One thing about symbolism. The bridge crossing a lake with hundreds of reaching hands bears a lot. The whole area with hands symbolizes the human plight. Reaching hands represent ceaseless desire and the bridge signifies the crossing from samsara (cycle of death and rebirth) to nirvana. You can read more about the deep symbolism of the temple here.
The temple is still not finished. It is planned to erect nine buildings on its territory.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in Thailand: Sanctuary of Truth, Wat Chai Wattanaram, Wat Arun, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, Wat Phu Khao Thong, Temple Naga, Wat Mahathat, Wat Sri Suphan
17 Borobudur, Java, Indonesia
Built by hand in the 9th century, this is the world's largest Buddhist temple. If you look at the picture above, you will see how majestic and big it is and you might also notice that's its reminiscent of the mandala. It has survived an earthquake in 2006 and volcanic eruptions.
The central dome is crowned by 72 Buddha statues and you will also encounter dozens of statues as you ascend to the top.
Judging from its history Borobudur has all chances to last forever.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in Indonesia: Pura Besakih, Prambanan, Sewu Temple, Goa Gajah, Pura Besakih, Candi Plaosan, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan.
16 Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine
It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a historic Orthodox Christian monastery. It was founded in 1051 and since that time it has become Eastern Europe's a dominant center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. At the beginning of the 20th century, my great-grandfather walked more than 700 kilometers by feet to get there and pray and he was not the only one to make such pilgrimages.
Although it's a cultural attraction, the monastery is active and it was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine.
There are caves with relics of saints in Kiev Pechersk Lavra. If you pay a visit to these caves I advise you to find the little room, where Anthony, the founder of Kiev Pechersk Lavra prayed in the early 11th century. You can feel that his spirit is still present there, willing to help those in need.
Other notable churches and monasteries to visit in Ukraine: Saint Sophia Cathedral, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Annunciation Cathedral, Saint Andrew’s Church, Pyrogoscha Church.
15 Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
Sri Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple is the holiest place for the followers of Sikh religion. Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs, used to meditate in the area where the temple was erected. The first temple was built on that place only by the fifth Sikh Guru - Arjana.
The temple was built around a man-made pool in the 16th century, but with the passage of time it was destroyed or damaged several times. It became "golden" only in 1830 when Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt it and overlaid the sanctum with gold foil.
Without a doubt, it's one of the most important symbols of Indian architectural genius.
Other notable temples monasteries to visit in India: Dilwara Temples, Badami Cave Temples, Hoysaleswara Temple, Temples of Hampi, Sun Temple, Dwarkadhish Temple.
14 Las Lajas Sanctuary, Nariño, Colombia
Picturesque Las Lajas Sanctuary was built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River between 1916 and 1949 in Gothic Revival Style. It is 100 meters high and is connected to the other side of the ravine by a 50-meter long bridge. It's considered the most impressive church in Colombia, not only because of its beauty but also because it's literally hanging over the abyss.
This fairy-tale Cathedral standing in the midst of pristine natural beauty has all the chances to take you to another world.
Other notable churches to visit in Southern America: Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, Colombia’s Salt Cathedral, Maringa Cathedral, Basilica of the National Vow, The Green Church.
13 Hanging Monastery, Datong, China
If you look at the hanging temple it may seem that this building is defying gravity and just hangs in the air. Being built into a 75-meter high cliff more than 1,500 years ago this temple is famous not only because of its location but also for combining the three traditional religions of China: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
This architectural wonder was able to withstand storms and winds for 15 centuries because its basic structure is inserted in the rock, which became its main support.
No wonder that construction experts from all around the world come to see this monastery which mixes spiritual wisdom with unique aesthetics and smart mechanics and engineering solutions.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in China: White Horse Temple, Famen Temple, Lingyin Temple, Guandi Temple.
12 Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico
The first thing that comes to mind when most people think about the ancient Mayan temples is Chichen Itza. However, there are numerous other temples that are worth checking out and which still channel the spirit of the ancient civilization.
Calakmul is a Mayan site hidden in the jungles of Campeche. The pyramid which you see in the photo above is 55 meters high and it's the biggest structure at the site which is one of the largest Mayan cities ever discovered. Skipping it would be a great omission.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in Mexico: Palenque, Tulum, Lamanai, Coba, Copan, Palenque, Uxmal, Tikal, Chichen Itza.
11 Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India
The Mahabodhi Temple located in Bodhgaya, India can be called the Buddhist mecca without any exaggeration. It bears such deep meaning to adherents of Buddhism because it is where Buddha has reached the enlightenment. It is believed that Buddha has spent seven weeks at different spots of the area which later became the Mahabodhi Temple, meditating and considering his experience. By walking through the temple, you can read about these specific spots and achievements of the Buddha.
Come meditate in the shade of the Bodhi Tree's descendant where the Enlightened One has reached the final goal to feel the vibrancy of this special place.
Other notable temples to visit in India: Lingaraja Temple, Kedarnath Temple, Ranakpur, Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Vitthala Temple, Shore Temple.
10 Sumela Monastery, Trabzon, Turkey
Although Turkey is mostly associated with Hagia Sofia and awe-inspiring mosques, I want to draw your attention to Sumela Greek Orthodox Monastery located at Mela Mountain. Bearing a huge cultural significance, it is nestled at an altitude of 1,200 meters on a steep cliff, which faces the evergreen forests.
Unfortunately, due to an increase in rock falls, it was closed to the public for safety reasons in 2015, but it is expected to be reopened soon (2018 or 2019). Nevertheless, you can still get magnificent views of the monastery from the nearby locations if you have the patience to reach these distant places.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in Turkey: Keslik Monastery, Lycian Temple, Hagia Sophia.
9 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. It covers the area of more than 12 hectares and gathers more than 41,000 people during Eid prayers. It also features 24-carat gold chandeliers, world's largest knotted carpet, more than 1,000 columns, 82 domes and one of the world's largest chandeliers.
Sheikh Zayed, 14th president of the United Arab Emirates launched the project to unite the modern values of art and architecture with cultural diversity of the Islamic world. Probably he set it as his last mission, because the first ceremony in the mosque was Sheikh Zayed's funeral. He was buried in this mosque soon after it was completed.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is equally beautiful both during the day and during the night when the impressive lightning system gets activated.
Other notable mosques to visit around the world: Great Mosque of Mecca, Hassan II Mosque, Blue Mosque, Ubudiah Mosque, Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, Dome of the Rock, Zahir Mosque, Crystal Mosque.
8 Temple De La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
This basilica is one of the impressive manifestations of Antoni Gaudi's creative genius. Its construction started in 1882 and it still remains unfinished. However, it's planned to complete it by the year 2026 that marks 100 years since Gaudi's death. In 1883 and till the year of his death in 1926, Gaudi was devoted to the project and when he left this world, only a quarter of the basilica was finished.
The slow progress is connected to the difficulty of the project and to the fact that its construction relies on private donations.
Many art critics describe it as one of the most incredible churches in the history of mankind. It's difficult to disagree with it.
Other notable cathedrals and monasteries to visit in Spain: Montserrat Monastery, Royal Monastery, San Jeronimo Monastery, Seville Cathedral, Burgos Cathedral, Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
7 Key Gompa Monastery, Spiti Valley, India
Now we're traveling from sunny streets of Barcelona to mystic valleys of India where sacred knowledge has been sought for millenniums. Key Gompa is located 4,166 meters above sea level and it's the biggest religious training center for Lamas (spiritual teachers in Buddhist tradition). It generated around 300 lamas who obtained their religious education here.
The monastery is said to be found in the 11th century. During almost a thousand of years Key Gompa was damaged many times but each time it was repaired, so it still remains active.
In 2000 Key Gompa celebrated its millennium in the presence of the Dalai Lama.
Other notable Buddhist monasteries to visit in India: Dalai Lama Temple Complex (Kalachakra Temple), Thikse Monastery, Phuktal Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Namgyal Monastery, Tawang Monastery, Tabo Monastery, Mindrolling Monastery.
6 Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany
If looking at this photo of the Cologne Cathedral induces the blood-chilling effect than its architects have reached their goal. The idea behind creating such a huge cathedral is that people could feel how tiny they are in the face of God.
Since I saw it with my own eyes, I can agree that looking at these building makes you feel tiny. But it also makes you experience awe.
And if constructing Temple De La Sagrada Familia for more than 100 years seems daunting for you, just think about this: construction of Cologne Cathedral started in 1248 and ended in 1880, but after surviving extensive bombings during the Second World War and being restored afterwards, it's its still being maintained by a team of about 100 people on a daily basis.
Cathedral has the largest church facade in the world and it's also Germany's most visited landmark which attracts about 20,000 people daily.
Other notable temples and monasteries to visit in Germany: Ettal Abbey, Maulbronn Monastery Complex, Monastery of St. Mang, Maria Laach Abbey, Church of Our Blessed Lady, Berlin Cathedral, Ulm Minster.