Great Examples of Religious Architecture Worldwide

Humanity’s fascination with the divine has many facets and throughout history has found expression in architecture. Ancient and modern sites throughout the world attest to our common need to build edifices to the great unknown and unknowable. Here are a few of the many remarkable religious architectural sites around the world. These are a small selection of the many gracing our planet, a small selection from a much greater gallery of possible choices to feature. Some are open to all, some only to adherents, but each stands evident of mankind’s obsession with the Other.

  • The Basilica i Temple Expiatore de la Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain

    The Basilica i Temple Expiatore de la Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain

    Construction on this Roman Catholic church began in 1882 and work continues to this day. An amazing mix of both Gothic and more modern styles, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926, construction has been interrupted by wars, obtrusive construction surrounding the project and even a fire in 2011. The plan outlines 18 great spires and three facades. As with many Catholic basilicas, the floor plan is that of a Latin Cross.

    See More
  • Harmandir Sahib - Amritsar, India

    Harmandir Sahib - Amritsar, India

    Sometimes referred to as the “Golden Temple” the Harmandir Sahib (the abode of God) is the site of the Sikh religion’s most holy edifice. Construction began in 1585 and completed in 1604. The four entrances symbolize the universality of all religions and open attitude of the Sikh religions to others. The cornerstone was laid at the invitation of the shrine’s founder by a Muslim Sufi. The design placed the building in the middle of a large lake fed by the Ravi River. Inside the temple is decorative marble work and arches adorned with gold overlays. Likewise, the two upper floors are covered with thin layers of gold. It houses the world’s largest soup kitchen feeding more than 100,000 each day. The Harmandir Sahib is open to all persons regardless of religion, creed or gender.

    See More
  • Golden Pavilion - Kyoto Japan

    Golden Pavilion - Kyoto Japan

    Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a three story Zen temple in Kyoto. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf, giving the site its English name. The temple is also known as Rokuon-ji or “Deer Garden Temple.” Originally a villa dating back to the 14th century, the temple was burned down in 1950 by a mentally ill monk attempting suicide and it was re-built in 1955. The building hosts relics of the Buddha and is a mix of Japanese architectural styles. A bronze phoenix ornament sits atop the structure. The landscape around the Golden Pavilion is a Japanese strolling garden and it overlooks the appropriately named Mirror Pond reflecting the building.

    See More
  • Sultan Ahmed Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

    Sultan Ahmed Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

    Better known as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616. It contains the tomb of Ahmed I and to this day functions as a place of worship and an Islamic school. The architecture consists of five large primary domes, eight smaller domes and six minarets. The design is traditional Islamic architecture in the Ottoman tradition. More than 20,000 ceramic tiles depicting tulip designs grace the interior. More than 200 stained glass windows allow light into the interior along with massive chandeliers.

    See More
  • St Peter's Basilica - Vatican City

    St Peter’s Basilica - Vatican City

    Catholic tradition holds the burial site of St. Peter, the disciple of Jesus and the first Pope is within the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Designed in part by Michelangelo, the Basilica is one of the world’s largest Christian structures and many consider it the finest example of Renaissance architecture. The current structure replaced the older St. Peter’s Basilica and construction began in 1506, completing over a century later in 1626. Interestingly, St. Peter’s is not technically a Cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. The interior is decorated in marble, gilding and sculpture. The adjoining St. Peter’s Square is where the Pope delivers many of his liturgies. The basilica itself covers more than 5.7 acres.

    See More
  • Vishwanath Temple, Khajuraho - Madhya Pradesh, India

    Vishwanath Temple, Khajuraho - Madhya Pradesh, India

    The Vishwanath Temple in Madhya Pradesh, India is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. One of Hinduism’s most holy sites, the temple dates to approximately 1000 CE. Prominent sculptures of many Hindu gods and maidens grace the wall, many featuring couples engaged in erotic acts of love. The Vishwanath Temple bears a resemblance to other central Indian architectural temple styles of the period, featuring a complex of tower shrines. The temple is sometimes called the “Golden Temple” in English due to the gold plating on its 15 meter high spire. At the base of the temple are niches with sculptures of goddesses, Shiva’s consort and Ganesh.

    See More
  • Mahabodhi Temple - Bodh Gaya, India

    Mahabodhi Temple - Bodh Gaya, India

    Mahabodhi Temple is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, India where legend holds the Buddha obtained enlightenment. The temple boasts a descendant of the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha sat. The Buddhis Emperor Asoka visited the site in approximately 250 BCE to establish a monastery. The current structure is of uncertain origin. Some portions may date from the 5th century CE while more modern, perhaps British plans may have been implemented in the reconstruction. The pyramid shaped central structure represents one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick still standing in India. In 2013, the King of Thailand donated gold to cover the top of the temple.

    See More
  • Temple of Confucius - Qufu, China

    Temple of Confucius - Qufu, China

    The Temple of Confucius in Qufu, China is one of several similar temples dedicated to the cult of Confucius across China and beyond. The oldest and largest temple is in Qufu, the home place of Confucius, established in 479 BCE only a year after the death of the sage. The temple is now a UESCO World Heritage Site. The focus in the temple is centered on the teachings of Confucius rather than on the man himself. The temple has been destroyed by fire on more than one occasion only to be rebuilt. The temple complex has a total of 460 rooms in more than 100 buildings along with 9 courtyards.

    See More
  • The Parthenon - Athens, Greece

    The Parthenon - Athens, Greece

    In our collection of religious architecture, none has suffered from the ravages of time and man as greatly as has The Parthenon. Perched atop the Acropolis, the temple dedicated to Athena began in 447 BCE and was completed in 438 BCE. The current structure is built on the site of an earlier temple. Many significant sculptures adorned the structure over the centuries, but only a very few now remain. Across time the building has been a pagan temple, a Christian church and an Islamic mosque. During a war with Turkey, the structure was greatly damaged when a mortar round ignited gunpowder stored there.

    See More
  • Temple of Kukulkan - Chichen Itza, Mexico

    Temple of Kukulkan - Chichen Itza, Mexico

    Mexico’s Temple of Kukulkan is the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, a site sacred to the Mayans. The Mayans named the temple for a serpent deity. The pyramidal structure is an ascending series of terraces, each slightly less than eight feet high. At the top a 20 foot high temple stands. Images of snakes, jaguars and mythological animals adorn the walls of the structure which is strategically aligned with the solar and celestial schema overhead.

    See More
  • The Pantheon - Rome, Italy

    The Pantheon - Rome, Italy

    Rome’s Pantheon is perhaps the quintessential example of religious architecture as the literal Latin meaning of the word “Pantheon” is “pertaining to all gods.” The current structure dates from the second century, CE, but was built on the site of at least one earlier, similar structure from a century before. A circular dome with an opening at its apex “the oculus”, the entrance has a portico supported by massive Corinthian columns. Even today, the dome is the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome. In 609 CE the Byzantine emperor Phocas donated the edifice to Pope Boniface IV who converted it to a Christian church and it remains so to the current time.

    See More