Temples are great places to visit for many reasons. Some love the architectural spectacle; others are history romantics; however, some of us just want to embrace the ambiance. Here are the most iconic temples in the world for those looking for some cultural enlightenment.
1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat was completed in 1150 and today is still the largest religious building in the world, with vast sandstone buildings that show a blend of Khmer and Hindu imagery. The temple supported the great Khmer Empire, whose reign spanned from the 9th until the 15th century. The mixture of Khmer and Hindu iconography reflects the region’s transition from Buddhism to Hinduism.
2. Karnak Temple, Egypt
This dazzling palace was built to honor the Egyptian gods, mainly Amun-Ra. The temple sits in Upper Egypt (ironically, this is southern Egypt) along the banks of the mighty River Nile. It took over 1,300 years to construct and is made of sandstone, limestone, and granite. The greatest thing about Luxur is losing oneself there for the day in the intricacies of its maze of hieroglyphics, statues, and chapels, trying to imagine how it looked with fresh paint and straight-edged blocks.
3. The Parthenon, Greece
When people think of Ancient Greek culture, the Parthenon comes to mind. The famous white, Pentelic marble pillars are a relic of the world’s first democracy, the temple built to honor the goddess Athena. Controversially, the British Museum hasn’t returned the Elgin Marbles, a series of Parthenon sculptures removed during Greece’s Ottoman rule.
4. Temple IV, Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal was a Mayan stronghold during the first millennium A.D. and had a population estimated between 100,000 to 200,000 people. Temple IV, one of the tallest pre-Columbian buildings in the Americas, is over 230ft tall. Unlike Mexico’s famous pyramid temples, visitors can climb its 200 steps — providing they have some stamina!
5. Borobudur, Indonesia
This temple is staggering to view from a distance. The Borobudur temple is on the Indonesian island of Java and contains over 2500 statues of Buddha, and it took five centuries to construct. The largest Buddhist temple site in the world is surprisingly welcoming — guests are invited to climb the 118 steps to its stupa-covered roof with a pre-arranged timeslot.
6. Abu Simbel, Egypt
Egypt boasts so many historical artifacts and monuments that tourists are spoilt for choice, and deciding which sites to visit can be hard. I have visited Abu Simbel and can testify it is the most impressive temple I have seen. The temple, built to honor the most bling pharaoh ever, Ramses II, is full of incredibly well-preserved chambers and crypts. What’s incredible is that those ancient engineers positioned the temple so the sun would shine directly through the roof, illuminating the artwork and hieroglyphics inside.
7. Golden Temple, India
Built over 450 years ago, the temple is where Sikhs worldwide come as pilgrims daily to witness the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book, being transported from the Akal Takht, one of the five seats of Sikh power in the land. Located in Amritsar in the Indian northwestern Indian province of Punjab, this resplendent golden monument is surrounded by a blue lake and exquisite white stucco and marble architecture.
8. Jokhang Temple, Tibet
In China’s nethermost conquered region, Tibet is the capital of Lhasa. Tibetan king Songtsem Sampo married Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty. After building Little Jokhang for his Chinese queen, the Nepalese Bhrikuti was jealous, hence the giant Jokhang Temple, built in 647. Legend has it that they used soil carried by 1,000 goats from a distant mountain to fill the lake upon which Jokhang Temple is built.
9. Temple of Heaven, China
China’s capital Beijing has some amazing cultural sites and monuments to see, including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven. This striking cylindrical structure was erected in 1420, around the same time as the Forbidden City, and reveals a China much different from today’s secular society. Chinese royals were said to have prayed at this Taoist temple for a good harvest that year.
10. Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
This magical holy site is built onto the side of a mountain above the breathtaking Paro Valley in eastern Bhutan. Bhutan is a nation that measures its GDP through civic happiness, and anyone lucky enough to make it here will feel rich. This golden-roofed white Buddhist temple is layered over several stories, and tourists must hike for two hours to experience the temple, built 300 years ago as a meditation and reflection center.
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