Whether people travel to sacred destinations to be closer to the supernatural or are interested only in the cultural or historical aspects of the religious complexes, holy places are the most visited destinations on the globe, attracting millions of tourists every year. Today, religious travel is one of the biggest forms of tourism in the world. For some it generates billions of dollars, for others it brings mystical experience and spiritual rebirth.
Have a look at ten most spiritual and important religious destinations in the world:
1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem, Israel.
[caption align="alignnone" width="616"]Church of the Holy Sepulchre. By Randall NilesThe holiest site for the Christian world is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the walled Old City of Jerusalem in Israel. Although it is not absolutely certain, the church is believed to be built on the site of Golgotha and a sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and buried. Since at least the 4th century, the complex has been an important pilgrimage site, attracting hundreds of thousands of believers each year. Generally, Jerusalem is the most visited sacred city in Israel, a country that receives around 3 million tourists a year.
2. Chapel of St Michael d’Aiguilhe. Le Puy, France.
The absolutely unique location of the Chapel of St Michael d’Aiguilhe atop a volcanic rock, adds a mystic atmosphere to this place. The little pilgrimage chapel was built in 962 and then enlarged in the 12th century. However, long before that the place was considered a sacred destination by the Romans who dedicated the rock to Mercury and built a dolmen at the top of it. When Christianity settled in France, the chapel became a popular pilgrimage spot, especially because Le Puy was one of the starting points of the route to Santiago de Compostela (see below) in Spain.
3. Al-Masjid al-Haram. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Al-Masjid al-Haram, also known as the Holy Mosque or the Sacred Mosque, is the holiest place for Islam believers. The huge complex located in the historical town of Mecca in Saudi Arabia takes up around 4,000,000 m² and can accommodate around 4 million worshippers during the Hajj period.
According to the Islamic tradition, the Mosque was first built by angels and then rebuilt by Abraham. It surrounds the Kaaba, the ancient sacred stone building towards which Muslims pray every day. The first major extension of the Mosque took place in the 7th century when a small open area with the Kaaba was replaced with marble columns. Since then the complex has been modified and expanded on a regular basis.
4. Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan.
Dedicated to the deified souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Meiji Jingu, is the most visited shrine in Japan, drawing several million people during public holidays. The beautiful complex built in a traditional Japanese style in the centre of bustling Tokyo was dedicated in 1920. Today, the shrine surrounded by a lush park serves as an oasis of calmness in the vibrant city and one of the most important spiritual places in Japan. Besides its importance as a place of prayer for many citizens and visitors to Tokyo, the shrine also holds many festivals, events and ceremonies, including weddings.
5. Tai Shan. Shandong, China
Among the most important destinations for pilgrimage in China is the Tai Shan or Mount Tai, one of the “Five Sacred Mountains” in Taoism. The place is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, attracting around 6 million visitors annually. The striking complex comprises 22 temples, over 800 stone tablets and around 1,000 stone inscriptions. The Tai Shan is also considered one of the birthplaces of the Chinese civilization, where both the Dawenkou and Longshan cultures were born. The Mount has been a religious worship destination for at least 3,000 years.
6. Ajanta Caves. Maharashtra, India
The ancient site of the Ajanta Caves dates back to the 2nd century BC. The rock-cut cave complex in India containing sculptures and paintings is both a masterpiece of the Buddhist art and one of the most popular religious destinations for Buddha’s followers. For several centuries the caves were used by monks as prayer halls and monasteries. In the 5th century the holy place was abandoned for about 1300 years. In 1819, the hidden, forgotten and undisturbed complex was rediscovered by a British officer, John Smith, and soon became renowned for their exotic jungle setting and outstanding architecture as well as their spiritual aspect.
7. Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Spain.
The Santiago de Compostela Church is a final station of the Way of St James, the 1000-year old pilgrimage route, travelled by over 100,000 pilgrims each year from various places from all over Europe and the globe. Santiago Cathedral is home to relics of St James, one of the apostles of Jesus, whose cult was transformed into an international cult drawing believers from the most distant parts of the world. It is hard to believe that the jaw-dropping cathedral of Santiago was firstly built as a small church on a site of St James tomb in the 9th century. T
he shrine was destroyed by the Moorish army in the 10th century, to be later rebuilt in 1211 and transformed in a Baroque style between 16th and 18th centuries.
8. Golden Temple of Amritsar, Amritsar. India
The Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple is the holiest shrine for Sikhs in India. It is also the world’s major pilgrimage destination in Sikhism, though its construction was intended as a place of worship for people from all religions and cults. The building of this amazing complex began in the 16th century and was rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries when gold and decorative marble were added. The most sacred part of the shrine is Hari Mandir, a temple at the centre of a body of water, which is called Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar).
9. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. France.
It all began in 1858 with a girl that had several visions of the Virgin Mary who told a young woman to drink water from a grotto where “the Virgin” appeared, build a chapel there and have people come in procession to that place. Few years later a church was built on the site, attracting pilgrims from all over Europe. Despite the fact that many people question the water’s latent power to cure and some call the place the “Disneyland of the Catholic Church”, millions of pilgrims keep coming to Lourdes every year. Today, the town of 15,000 residents, with 270 hotels within its limits, has the second biggest number of hotels per km², right after Paris.
10. Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya. India.
The Bodhi Tree or Bo is undoubtedly the holiest tree on the globe. It is a very large and very old Sacred Fig tree in the Indian state of Bihar, under which Siddhartha Gautama, later Buddha, achieved enlightenment, to become the founder of Buddhism. After 250 years after the enlightenment, Asoka, the Buddhist Emperor, founded the Mahabodhi Temple, which emerged next to the sacred plant. The present temple was constructed in the 6th century and it is one of the oldest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick that survived in India until today. In turn, the present Holy Tree is believed to be a direct descendent of the ancient Bo.