The beauty of the world’s most sacred religious sites is something that even the staunchest atheist cannot fail to be impressed by. The best-known ones are visited by tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of worshippers and sightseers every year. Ranking them in terms of their overall popularity is a challenging task for this very reason, posing the question of “How should popularity in this case be defined?” On the one hand, it can be argued that number one on the list should be a site which attracts the most annual visitors. An equally valid counterargument, however, posits that the sacredness of a site to the followers of a religion should take precedence. To avoid controversy this list has been put together as an attempt to attribute each of these factors an equal rating. Read on to find out which religious site comes out on top.
1. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Mecca is without doubt the holiest site for followers of the Islamic faith. The city is believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam. Every Muslim is supposed to attempt a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. As a result, the city attracts devout Muslims all year round, but the greatest flow arrives during the Hajj when over 2-3 million pilgrims converge to demonstrate their commitment to Allah.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican
St. Peter’s Basilica is perhaps the world’s most famous Catholic shrine. Tourists and pilgrims alike pay the basilica a visit in their thousands every month. Built on the tomb of Saint Peter, the majesty of its Renaissance-style architecture has captivated visitors from all over the world for hundreds of years. If you are planning on making the trip over from the United States, be aware that the visa requirements are set to change from January of 2021 under the ETIAS visa waiver scheme (check out this ETIAS visa guide for more info on how to apply).
3. Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine
The city of Jerusalem is sacred for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Among its holiest religious sites are the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although Jerusalem takes its name from the Hebrew word meaning “city of peace”, the significance of the city for the world’s three biggest monotheistic has caused friction in recent years, with each claiming to ownership of its important sites.
4. Borobudur, Indonesia
Borobudur on the Indonesian island of Java is the site of the largest Buddhist temple in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple is built in several layers, each of which represents a different stage of the Buddhist cosmology. Built in the ninth century with a monumental 2 million massive stone blocks, Borobudur attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year.
5. Amritsar, India
The Golden Temple at Amritsar in the Indian Punjab is the most sacred site in the Sikh religion. On entering the white magnificent marble gates to the temple, visitors will find dazzling white plaza in which a fairy-tale-like golden temple sits surrounded by water in the center. The site stands for human brotherhood and equality, and delicious curry meals, as well as nightly accommodation, are available free of charge to all visitors, regardless of their religion.
6. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, India
The most sacred temple in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, Kashi Vishwanath attracts around 22 million visitors a year. The temple was constructed in 1780 in honor of Lord Shiva and sits on the banks of the immense River Ganges, which is said to confer its magical healing power on anyone who bathes in its waters. Visitors to the temple should expect to see funeral ceremonies in which the bodies of the dead are cleaned in the river before being burned in pyres on the riverbank.
7. Sensō-ji Temple, Japan
Any visit to Tokyo would not be complete without a trip to the city’s oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites, the Sensoji Temple. Featuring a five-story pagoda, Sensō-ji is the focus of the largest annual festival in Tokyo, Sanja Matsuri. An incredible 30 million people a year come to take in the tranquility of this icon of Japanese Buddhism, which was built way back in the seventh century.
The world’s religions create scenes of life and color that make incredible spectacles for those lucky enough to behold them. If you are ever in the vicinity of any of the seven religious sites featured above, paying them a visit will provide you with a unique taste of the culture and spirituality of the country in which you find yourself.