This unique mosque appears to have risen, in all its intricate perfection, from the Sahara Desert like a magnificent miracle. The truth is that the world’s largest mud-built structure is a complex architectural achievement that has been expanded upon, embellished, ruined, and restored since it was first erected, thought to be in the 13th century. Its minarets are topped with ostrich eggs, which symbolise fertility and purity, and the building is shot through with distinctive wooden beams that act as scaffolding during the annual Crepissage de la Grand Mosquée (‘plastering of the Great Mosque’).
The Lotus Temple is named for its design: the marble, glass, and steel structure resembles delicately unfolding petals while, from above, it looks like the prettiest bud about to burst into life. The Baháʼí faith temple was designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba and has attracted worldwide acclaim since it opened in 1986. Its nine-sided construction – with nine pools to match – reflects a Baháʼí belief that the number has mythical properties.
This Roman Catholic cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Sydney and is suitably grand, inside and out. Construction on the elegant, Gothic-Revival church, made with locally sourced sandstone, began in 1868 but took several decades to build, with the final sections completed in 1928. The inside, with tall stained-glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and a crypt with a beautiful terrazzo mosaic floor, is gorgeous too.
This stark grey temple, whose Neo-Gothic spires loom loftily above a reflecting pond, is a famous Salt Lake City landmark that’s been a familiar part of the skyline since it was dedicated in 1893. Yet few get to see the inside because only Mormons who have been recommended to the temple can enter. It dominates Temple Square, home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plus monuments, gardens, and history exhibits related to the religion.
In a city that oozes history from every building and cobblestone, St Louis Cathedral is perhaps the most iconic landmark of all. The church has been on the site overlooking Jackson Square since 1727 and was extensively rebuilt in the 1850s, making it the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in continuous operation in the US. With its gleaming white façade and perfect spires that resemble a Disney castle, it’s one of the city’s most recognisable buildings. These are more beautiful things we love about America.
If there’s a more famous ceiling in the world, we can’t think of it. The exterior of the 13th-century Sistine Chapel, part of the Pope’s official residence, isn’t much to look at. But the interior, plastered with intricately detailed frescoes including the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, is dizzyingly beautiful. The artist painstakingly depicted passages from the Old Testament between 1508 and 1512 and was commissioned to create several other frescoes in the following few decades, turning the chapel into a glorious gallery.
The most striking feature of this Catholic church is its setting: the grey stone structure spans a forested gorge 150 feet (46m) above a river. Its story is one of miracles and determination, beginning in 1754 when a mother and daughter, sheltering from a storm, saw an image of the Virgin Mary in the rocks. According to the story, the daughter was cured of her muteness and deafness. After hearing of the miracle, a blind man spent 10 years collecting funds to build a chapel in the spot – and his sight returned. Inspired by these marvels, the vertiginous chapel was finally built between 1916 and 1949.
There’s nothing ordinary about this temple just outside Datong in China’s Shanxi province. Firstly, it caters to three different religions, with Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism all practiced here and carvings and statues dedicated to each found throughout the pagoda-like structures. Oh, and it clings to the side of Hengshan mountain, hence the ‘hanging’ part of its name. It’s believed to have been built by monk Liao Ran during the late Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534) and is held in place by poles set into the cliff face.
St Basil's Cathedral is filled with chandeliers, frescoes, carvings, and priceless paintings – yet its contents is overshadowed by the crazily colourful outside. The Red Square icon, officially named the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, was built in the mid-16th century and is as bold, ornate, and appetising as a row of ice cream sundaes with sprinkles and cherries on top. It was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox Church and secularised in 1929 as part of the Soviet Union's doctrine of state atheism, though services have since been restored.
It would be tricky to pinpoint the most beautiful aspect of Abu Dhabi’s spectacular mosque, completed in 2007. It might be the piercingly tall minarets, or the 80 marble domes that form the roof. Perhaps it’s the gold-topped pillars or the sheer amount of pure white marble that makes up the modern Islamic masterpiece. It could equally be the chandeliers that shimmer in the main prayer hall, or the detailed floral designs laid into the floor. All of this together, though, places it among the most beautiful buildings in the world.
More to follow in my next Article