Into the enchanting realm of unique temples and churches, join us on this journey to discover the architectural marvels and cultural treasures that define the spiritual landscapes of nations around the world.
Across the globe, unique temples and churches stand as timeless symbols of faith and belief. From carved cliff sides to underground tunnels, from colourful murals to vibrant frescoes, and from gold outlays to intricate carvings, these places of worship are extraordinary expressions of human devotion and artistic ingenuity.
Each structure tells a story – a narrative spanning centuries of history, culture, and mythology. These religious spots not only serve as places of worship but also as focal points for historical and cultural resonance.
Sacred wonders: Tour the world’s most unique temples
Angkor Wat, Cam
Located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a temple complex spread over 402 acres. Originally conceived as a Hindu-Buddhist religious structure, it was commissioned by Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century with an initial dedication to Lord Vishnu. However, towards the end of the century, the temple complex transformed into a Buddhist Temple. Despite this shift, people continue to offer incense and fruits to the Hindu deities. Recognised by the Guinness World Records as the largest religious structure in the world, the construction of Angkor Wat spanned 28 years. The temple complex comprises a 5-km-long moat, intricately carved walls, and numerous towers and galleries.
Golden Temple, India
The Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib, stands as one of the most unique temples in the world, revered as one of the holiest sites in Sikhism. Originally constructed between 1581 to 1589, the temple endured destruction by invading forces and underwent multiple reconstructions by reigning kings. In 1809, Maharaja Ranjit Singh finally rebuilt it using copper and marble, crowning the sanctum’s top with 24-karat gold leaf. Today, the temple is gilded with more than 750 kgs of gold. Remarkably, the main temple is surrounded by the sacred Amrit Sarovar pond. Devotees cleanse themselves by washing their hands and feet here before entering the temple, seeking spiritual purification.
Pura Tanah Lot, Indonesia
Pura Tanah Lot in Bali, Indonesia, is famed for its unique temple design. Perched on a massive rock just off the seashore, the temple’s roots can be traced back to the 16th century, when Dang Hyang Nirartha, a Hindu traveller and Shaivite religious figure, visited the site. Originally dedicated to Balinese sea gods, including Bhatara Segara, it later became a shrine to its creator. One of the most unique features is that this temple is accessible only during low tide; the pathway to the mainland is submerged during high tide, earning it the moniker ‘the temple floating over the sea’.
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
Known as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand, offers stunning vistas. The outer facade, entirely white, is adorned with small fragments of mirrors that create a stunning sight when illuminated by sunlight. Completed in 1997, the temple complex features a short symbolic bridge representing the abandonment of greed, desire, and temptation. Hundreds of disembodied hands seem to reach out towards the bridge, symbolising the pull of devotees. Other notable structures include the ‘Gate of Heaven’, the golden building, and murals depicting Western idols such as Superman, Michael Jackson, and Harry Potter. Unique, indeed!
Karni Mata Mandir, India
One of the most unique temples in the world, the Karni Mata Mandir in Bikaner, Rajasthan, is also known as Madh Deshnoke. This temple stands out for considering rats as holy, earning it the nickname ‘Temple of Rats’. Devoted to Karni or Charanai Mata, the temple is home to mice known as kābā, believed never to leave the temple walls. Devotees and priests make offerings of huge vats of milk and gigantic ‘ladoos’ to the rats to please the goddess. The temple was constructed around 1530 CE as a small structure, which has undergone additions over the years.
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Ecclesiastical marvels: The world’s most unique churches
Sagrada Familia, Spain
One of the most unique churches in the world, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, is probably best known for being unfinished. Despite construction beginning in 1882, it remains the largest unfinished catholic church in the world. The project faced several hiccups, such as the Spanish Civil War, funding issues, challenges with the city council, additions to the original design, and COVID-19. Initially designed by Antoni Gaudi, who is buried in the church, other architects later took over. There is still no completion date, but that hasn’t slowed the steady flow of tourists to Barcelona.
Metropolitan Cathedral, Brazil
The Metropolitan Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil, is an uber-modern building with 16 concrete columns forming a hyperboloid structure, each weighing close to a whopping 90 tonnes. Designed by Oscar Neimeyer and completed in 1970, architect Joaquim Cardozo is also famed for engineering other structural marvels of Brazil. A unique feature of the church is a deep reflecting pool on the cathedral roof, aiding natural cooling. Visitors have to pass under the pool to reach the main cathedral.
Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral, Colombia
Built in the tunnels of a salt mine, the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral in Bogota, Colombia, is a functioning Roman Catholic church that attracts thousands of visitors. While not officially recognised as a cathedral in Catholicism due to the absence of a bishop, this underground church is built 600 feet underground in a halite or rock salt mountain. Originating around 1954, the church was constructed in a space previously carved out by miners for their daily prayers. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, the patron saint of miners, the church has undergone renovations and now rests within a bigger complex, Salt Park.
Temppeliaukio Church, Finland
Located in Helsinki, Finland, the Temppeliaukio Church is a Lutheran architectural marvel entirely carved out of solid rock. After winning an architectural competition in 1962, brothers Tuomo and Timo Suomalainen started construction in 1968, overcoming various architectural and economic challenges. Notably, the interior was excavated from granite, a pretty tough natural stone.
St. Basil’s Cathedral, Russia
Also known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, St. Basil’s Cathedral is an orthodox church located in Moscow. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1555, it was completed in 1561 to monumentalise the sieges of Astrakhan and Kazan. What makes it unique are the nine domes shaped to resemble rising flames, gaily coloured in bright shades. Each dome initially represented a different chapel. In 1929, the church was secularised and became part of the State Historical Division of the Russian Federation.
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Shutterstock)
Related: Get Lost In The Architectural Beauty of These Temples In East India
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
-What architectural styles are represented in unique temples and churches?
The architectural styles of unique temples and churches are diverse, influenced by Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque for churches. In India, temples adhere to Dravidian in the south and Nagara architectural styles in the north.
-Do unique temples and churches have specific religious or cultural significance?
Most unique temples and churches across the world are dedicated to a particular religion or deity. However, secular places like the Lotus Temple in India or the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia welcome people of any religion.
-Are there any unique temples or churches that are known for their natural settings?
Some temples and churches, like underground salt mine churches and granite-carved churches, are created within natural settings, showcasing nature’s wonders.
-Can I take photographs inside these unique places of worship?
Most places allow photography, with some charging a fee. However, exceptions like Somnath Temple and Vashist Cave may restrict photography for security or other reasons.
-Are there any dress codes or etiquette requirements when visiting these unique places of worship?
Follow the general rules of religious spaces when visiting these unique places of worship. For instance, at Buddhist and Hindu temples, covering your shoulders and knees before entering is a good idea.
-Are there specific times of the year or day when these unique temples and churches are particularly worth visiting?
Some of these unique churches and temples in the world hold special celebrations during different parts of the year. This is when it is best to visit them. For instance, the Karni Mata Temple holds the bi-annual Karni Mata Fafromring March to April and September to October.