Apr 02, 2019

15 Holiest Places Around the World

When you travel around the world, apart from sampling the delicious local food or exploring some nearby natural site, you’ll undeniably come across temples, monasteries, or churches. It’s nearly impossible to fully understand a country’s culture without taking into consideration its religion and consequently, the religious sites. Some of these sites are extremely important to certain religions and attract millions of pilgrims every year. However, you don’t need to be religious to appreciate their beauty and significance.


  • Mecca is the most sacred place in the Islam religion. It’s the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and where he had the first revelation of the Quran. It’s located on the west of the Arabian Peninsula, around 70 kilometers off the coast.

    While the city has a population of around two million, during the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the population triples in size. Mecca is also home to the Kaaba, considered to be the house of God and the direction of prayer. Muslims all over the world must face the Kaaba when praying.

  • Located in Amritsar, India, the Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara — a place of assembly and prayer — of the Sikh religion. Every day, it receives over 100,000 people who come to worship around the shrine.

    Construction of the temple began in 1577 and finished in 1604, but it was destroyed several times by the Mughal Empire, until being finally completed in 1776. The Golden Temple also has a community-run kitchen that serves vegetarian meals to any visitors without discrimination.

  • Jerusalem is arguably one of the oldest cities in the world and a holy place for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism — the main Abrahamic religions. It was established as the capital of Israel by King David and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the first temple.

    The city is thought to be the place of Jesus’s crucifixion and where Muhammad ascended to heaven and spoke to God after the night journey. Notable sites include the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher, among others.

  • St. Peter’s Basilica is the holiest shrine of the Catholic religion and the largest church in the world. It was built from 1506 until 1626 and replaced the Old Basilica, which had stood in the same place from the fourth to the 16th century.

    The Basilica sits atop Saint Peter’s burial site, one of the 12 apostles and the first Bishop of Rome. Nowadays, it is a major pilgrimage site and sometimes receives over 80,000 people who come to see the Pope’s liturgies.

  • Located in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Mount Sinai is another site of utmost importance for the Abrahamic religions. It’s thought to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

    Due to its significance, pilgrims and prophets have been visiting the mountain for thousands of years and early Christian monks established a number of monasteries in the region. It has an elevation of 2,285 meters and the ascent takes about 2.5 hours.

  • Mount Kailash is located in the Transhimalaya mountain range and is a sacred place for Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon, and Jainism. It’s thought to be the home of the God Shiva, one of Hinduism’s main deities, and where he mediated with his wife Pārvatī.

    Thousands of pilgrims visit the site every year as they believe circumambulating brings good fortune; Hindus and Buddhists do it clockwise while Jains and Bönpos counterclockwise. The path is 52 kilometers long and should be completed in one day, which takes roughly 15 hours.

  • Located nearly 2,000 kilometers south of Darwin, in the so-called Australia’s Red Center, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a sacred region for the Anangu Aboriginal people and a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1987.

    It contains the famous landmarks Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (Olgas), which are rock formations believed to have been created at the beginning of time and home to ancestor spirits. It’s possible to go on walking tours around the rocks and learn about Dreamtime, the Aboriginal cultural and religious worldview.

  • Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. It sits atop the Singuttara Hill in Yangon and is thought to have been built some 2,600 years ago. It’s covered with genuine gold plates and the crown has 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies.

    The pagoda is famous for holding the relics of four previous Buddhas: Gautama, Kassapa, Kakusandha, and Koṇāgamana. Burmese pilgrims circumnavigate the stupas in a clockwise direction, donating their offerings to correct planetary post, according to Hindu astrology.

  • Built in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest places of worship and was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly 1,000 years — until Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. It’s a great example of Byzantine architecture with its domes and mosaics.

    Throughout the years the cathedral belonged to different faiths, being Byzantine Christian, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and an Ottoman Mosque. Nowadays, it’s a museum and receives around 3.3 million people every year.

  • Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and the most visited attraction in Indonesia as it receives around 2.5 million people every year — 80 percent being locals. It’s located in Central Java, around 40 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta.

    The temple of comprises of nine platforms with a central dome at the top and it’s adorned with over 500 Buddhas and nearly 2,700 relief panels. Pilgrims follow a specific route that signifies the path to enlightenment, starting at the base and going all the way to the top.

  • Located in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, Cenote Sagrado was a Mayan sacred sinkhole. It has a diameter of 60 meters and the cliffs surrounding the water table reach up to 27 meters.

    The ancient civilization worshiped Chac, the god of rain, and believed sinkholes visited by him were sacred and should be used for rituals and sacrifices. During times of drought, men, women, and children were thrown in the cenote to appease the god, but apart from bones, gold, jade, and pottery were also found at the bottom.

  • Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument, which is thought to have been built from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. It consists of a ring of stones weighing 25 tons each, with a height of four meters and a width of just over two meters.

    It’s been a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1986 and is believed to be a burial ground. However, in modern times, the place became an important place for adherents of Neopaganism, Neo-Druids in particular, who gather around the stones during the summer solstice.

  • Ethiopia’s holiest city and a center of pilgrimage, Lalibela is famous for its 11 hewn churches from the 12th century. In that period, Muslims were blocking pilgrims to visit the holy land, so King Lalibela decided to build the “New Jerusalem.”

    The churches were carved from a single piece of rock and then chiseled out, creating windows, doors, columns, and ceremonial passages. The most famous of the churches is the House of St. George due to its cross-shaped layout and state of preservation.

  • Angkor Wat is a Hindu and Buddhist temple built in the 12th century and covering an area of over 160 hectares. It was originally dedicated to the god Vishnu, but throughout the years it became a center of worship for Buddhists.

    The temple design was supposed to emulate Mount Meru, which in the Hindu mythology was the place where god lived. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction, receiving over 2.5 million visitors every year.

  • Commonly known as the Tiger’s Nest, Paro Taktsang is a Buddhist temple complex located in the Paro Valley. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava flew Tibet on the back of a tigress, hence the name of the place.

    The same Guru is credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and having meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours to prevent evil. The temple sits atop a cliff 900 meters above the valley and takes a two-hour climb to be reached.

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