Wat Pho is known as the ‘Temple of the reclining Buddha’ because it is indeed home to a horizontal golden Buddha that, at an enormous 151 by 49 feet (46 by 15m), threatens to burst out of its pavilion home. The sprawling site is dotted with intricately carved, colourful stupas – commemorative monuments – and pavilions, two of which are usually used for the ancient practice of Thai massage.
Seville Cathedral is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and one of the world’s biggest churches overall. While its sheer size does amplify the sense of majesty, it would still be a spectacular sight at one-tenth or even a hundredth of the size. Next to the Alcázar palace complex, it was constructed between 1434 and 1517 on the remains of what was the city’s main mosque and the original minaret forms part of the bell tower, the Giralda.
Iran’s famously beautiful mosque has a starry quality about it. That is, every inch of its surface is so detailed and dazzling it seems to pack in a sky’s worth of constellations. The early 17th-century masterpiece, built as a private place of worship for Shah Abbas I and the women of his court, apparently took around 20 years to complete. Its array of mosaics, in hues from the turquoise, navy, and purple to ochre, green, and gold, is mind-boggling, while the dome’s delicate tiles appear to change colour in different lights.
It’s hard to imagine the patience and dedication required to create a place of worship with such an extraordinary level of detail. Meenakshi Amman Temple is famous for its towers, each of which is encrusted with thousands of tiny, colourful stone statues of gods, demons, and animals. The temple was originally built by Tamil Hindus native to southeastern India, with the first known mention in the 7th century. It was destroyed by Islamic conquerors in 1310 and rebuilt 250 years later.
The 8th-century Al-Aqsa Mosque is among the holiest sites in Islam and lies within the Old City of Jerusalem. While its beauty, from its soft silver dome to the honey-hued rock walls, is undeniable, the mosque is an ongoing source of dispute between Israel and Palestine. It sits within Temple Mount (as it’s known to the Jewish population) or Noble Sanctuary (the Muslim name), one of the most contested pieces of territory.
The ‘temple on a glass cliff’, completed in 2004, perches high on a peak in northern Thailand’s Khao Kho district and is one of the country’s most striking structures. The design is unique, with porcelain-white Buddhas nestled together in decreasing sizes making up the main temple. The pagoda, shaped like a lotus flower, is set over five floors with a glass sculpture in the centre, while the site is embellished with millions of mosaic tiles and pottery shards.
The colour palette of northern Europe’s first purpose-built mosque in Woking, a little outside London, is instantly captivating. Greens from spearmint to teal and turquoise pop against the bright white. It was designed in 1889 as the centrepiece of the Oriental Institute created by Dr. Leitner, a linguist who was born to Jewish parents in Hungary and converted to Islam after working in British-ruled India. Its gleaming beauty, and especially the prevalence of the dome, heavily influenced the design of later mosques.
A beguiling combination of alabaster white walls, soft cornflower blue details, and gilded domes puts this Russian Orthodox cathedral firmly among the world’s most gorgeous. It was built in 1879 on the site of the city’s military hospital but was closed for worship in the 1930s as part of a Soviet anti-religion campaign. It reopened after the Second World War and is now the main Orthodox Church in Uzbekistan’s capital. Take a look at these photos of the world's abandoned sacred places.
The charcoal-brick façade of St Patrick’s Cathedral is striking enough but it’s the interior, with vaulted ceilings, floor mosaics, and tall stained-glass windows, that really dazzles. The Gothic-Revival cathedral, built between 1858 and 1940, is Australia’s tallest and biggest church and was designated a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1974. In the daytime, sunshine pours through the arched windows and floods the church with light, rendering it even more gorgeous.
Morocco’s largest mosque is dreamily beautiful, from its tiled courtyards and porticoes to its towering minaret, which claims to be the world’s tallest at 656 feet (200m). The exterior is embellished with green mosaics, imbuing the Moorish-style building with a delicate beauty that belies its hardiness: the mosque was built to withstand earthquakes. It sits on the edge of the Atlantic shoreline, looking like the world’s most elegant lighthouse. Now check out the world's most colourful places.
This central London landmark is an ethereal beauty inside and out and in every light. But there’s something about the way it looms into view from the Millennium Bridge that spans the River Thames that really puts its hundreds of years of history into context. The current building dates back to 1675, after the Great Fire of London razed the previous cathedral, but the location has been a place of worship for millennia. In more recent history, St Paul’s was the location of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral and Prince Charles’ wedding to Lady Diana Spencer.