Top Ten Tuesday – Places of Worship Around the World I Visited

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from That Artsy Reader Girl is a Non-book Freebie! My list was inspired by the recent classical concert at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and is dedicated to the memorable cathedrals, churches, temples and mosques I visited on my travels. I decided to limit to one place per country, otherwise nearly half of my list would just be Italy.

Though I’m not a believer myself, I’ve always enjoyed religious buildings, for their historical and artistic value as well as their atmosphere of peace and reaching out to something greater beyond. I have fond memories of my grandmother taking me to a Russian Orthodox church when I was little, where I listened to the choir and looked at the beautiful frescoes of angels and saints.

1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore a.k.a. Duomo – Florence, Italy
I remember gasping out loud when the narrow streets of Florence gave way to this towering, elaborate marble wonder. The views of the city from the bell tower are also stunning and well worth the 463 step climb.

2. Hagia Sophia – Istanbul, Turkey
The Blue Mosque is arguably the more famous landmark of Istanbul, but I just really love Hagia Sophia’s unique and striking blend of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture. Also, every time I visited, there was a street cat casually lounging somewhere in a corner.

3. Borgund Stave Church – Borgund, Norway
Built around the year 1200, this medieval wooden church was one of the unexpected highlights of my Norway trip. There’s something very raw and primeval about it.

4. Kinkaku-ji Temple – Kyoto, Japan
I saw many amazing shrines and temples in Japan, however the Golden Pavilion, as it’s also known, was by far the prettiest.

5. Church of St Joan of Arc – Rouen, France
This modern minimalist church stands in the market square where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, so it’s quite a haunting spot. I believe that its sweeping, curving lines were meant to evoke the flames.

6. Melk Abbey – Melk, Austria
I visited this magnificent Benedictine abbey overlooking Danube on a river cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg. The grand baroque exterior is spectacular, but the biggest surprise for me was the modern museum displaying religious and historical artifacts.

7. Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia
There’s a very good reason why many visitors to Cambodia go there just to see this massive temple complex. It absolutely lives up to the hype, and sunrise at Angkor Wat was my personal highlight of the Cambodia trip.

8. Mezquita – Cordoba, Spain
The former Great Mosque is an incredible example of Islamic architecture. The only downside is that you end up resenting the Catholic cathedral grafted onto the mosque, which looks jarring and gaudy next to the elegant simplicity of the arches.

9. Ranakpur Jain Temple – Ranakpur, India
I’ve never heard of this temple before my Rajasthan trip, and was blown away by its white marble beauty and intricate carvings.

10. San Juan Chamula Church – San Juan Chamula, Mexico
This church deserves mention as by far the strangest church I’ve ever been to, beating the macabre Bone Church in Czech Republic to that honour. It may not look like anything out of ordinary on the outside, but step inside and be met by a bizarre blend of Catholicism and local indigenous traditions: floors covered in pine needles, thousands of candles everywhere, and live chicken sacrifices.

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