Religious beliefs have served to mold the world’s political and legal systems. Monuments celebrating those beliefs, built to glorify God and His creation, have provided places to meet and discuss the problems of the day, as well as to contemplate, meditate, and worship.
Rather than ranking the world’s religious landmarks, and possibly favor one religious belief over another, we’ll list those that are most significant or recognizable to the world’s nine greatest religions.
Christianity, Catholicism: The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
The Sistine Chapel is famous for the many frescoes painted throughout its interior by Renaissance masters at the direction of Pope Sixtus IV. Some years later, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the chapel’s ceiling, a process that took four years.
The Sistine Chapel is located within the Apostolic Palace, the pope’s official residence within the Holy See. In addition to being a site for religious devotion and ceremony, the Sistine Chapel is the place where the College of Cardinals gather and select a new pope, known as the papal conclave.
Christianity, Protestantism: All Saints (Castle) Church, Wittenberg, Germany
All Saints Church, or the Schlosskirche, is also referred to as the Reformation Memorial Church because it was where Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences in 1517.
This act represented the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, prompted by the Catholic church’s practice at the time of allowing wealthy congregants to purchase indulgences, that is gifts or sums of money to the church in return for a reduction of time in purgatory upon death.
Today, All Saints Church provides the final resting place for Martin Luther, houses Wittenberg's historical archives, is home to the Riemer-Museum, as well as serving as a place of worship.
Judaism: The Western Wall (also known as the Kotel), Jerusalem, Israel
The Western Wall is the world’s most sacred site for the Jewish people. It’s the westernmost support wall for the Temple Mount, and the faithful often place written prayers into its many cracks and crevices as well as verbally praying while facing the wall.
King Herod the Great commissioned the construction of the Western Wall at around 20 BC, to expand the Second Jewish Temple in the Old City of Jerusalem. Ninety years later the Romans destroyed the temple, but the Western Wall survived.
Israel cleared and created the Western Wall Plaza in 1967, and excavated around the wall, exposing two more levels.
Islam: The Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
In Islam, the faithful face Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammad, as they pray five times each day. This is also where the Kaaba, the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam, is kept.
Kaaba means cube in Arabic, and is a large cube-shaped building draped in a silk and cotton veils, built around a sacred black stone, a meteorite that Muslims believe was placed by Abraham and Ishmael in a corner of the Kaaba. In addition to directing their prayers toward the Kaaba, Muslims aspire to make an annual pilgrimage, called a hajj, once in their lives.
Pilgrims gather in the courtyard surrounding the Kaaba and walk around the structure seven times, hoping for the chance to kiss and touch the Black Stone embedded in the eastern corner of the Kaaba.
Hinduism: The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India
The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, dedicated to the preserver god Maha Vishnu, is, at 155 acres, the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world.
The temple is the center of a temple-city situated on an island surrounded by two rivers. Its grounds include 81 shrines, 21 consecrated gateways with towers, 9 sacred pools, a gilded Vimana (dome) over the sanctum sanctorum of the presiding deity, and 39 pavilions.
The temple attracts some one million visitors each year at festival time, at around December and January.
Buddhism: Borobudur, Island of Java, Indonesia
Dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, the Borobudur is the largest and most famous Buddhist temple complex in the world. It was constructed from an estimated 2 million blocks of stone over a 75-year period, but was abandoned in the 14th century with the decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java and their subsequent conversion to Islam.
It remained hidden for centuries under jungle growth and layers of volcanic ash until 1814, when native Indonesians told Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of its existence when he was the British ruler of Java.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) extensively restored the site in the early 1970s and listed it as a World Heritage Site.
Sikhism: Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Literally meaning “Temple of God,” Harmandir Sahib is most commonly referred to as simply the Golden Temple — because it is.
The temple was completed in 1589, and is situated on a small island in the center of a large, manmade pool, called the Amrita Saras (Pool of Nectar). The temple can be entered only by crossing a bridge made of marble.
The temple was damaged on June 6, 1984, when Indian troops fought their way into the complex to dislodge Sikh extremists during Operation Blue Star. It also resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 militants, soldiers, and citizens. The buildings have since been repaired.
Baha’i: Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel
The Shrine of the Báb is constructed of granite pillars, marble walls, topped with a golden dome, and is surrounded by terraced gardens sloping down Mount Carmel. It also contains the remains of Siyyid Al Muhammad, the founder of the Bábí Faith, the forerunner of Baha’i.
The shrine, constructed in 1953, is a place of pilgrimage for the world’s 5 million Baha’is as well as a tourist attraction, and the shrine's nine sides represent the world’s nine major religions.
“Baha’is believe in one God and emphasize the spiritual unity of all humankind. They see Abraham, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammad as messengers whose teachings were fulfilled by Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work,” according to the Baha’i International Community
Jainism: Palitana Temples, Gujarat, western India
As the name implies, Palitana is not a single structure but rather a cluster of temples — 863 in all — stretching more than two miles from the base to the peak of the Shatrunjaya hill, and are reached using 3,950 steps.
Shatrunjaya means a "place of victory against inner enemies."
Construction of the temples began in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. Muslim invaders destroyed some of the structures in the 14th and 15th centuries. A second phase of building began in the 16th century. On the hill’s summit is a shrine of a Muslim saint named Angar Pir, who is reported to have protected the temples during Muslim invasions.
Shinto: Fushimi Inari Shrine, southern Kyoto, Japan
Built in 711, the Fushimi Inari Shrine celebrates Inari, the kami (or deity) of business, merchants, and rice. Local businesses donated its thousands of bright crimson torii gates along a network of trails behind the shrine, and it’s those that are what the Fushimi Inari Shrine is most famous for.
The Inari is often represented by a fox cub, which serves as the Inari’s messenger and aide, and the fox is in abundant evidence in illustrations and statues within the shrine and throughout the grounds.
The shrine is located at the base of a mountain, also called Inari, which hikers and those seeking adventure frequent to explore the trails.
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