Religion has played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of the human race since prehistory. What man could not comprehend or explain, he worshipped. This worship took many forms, underwent many metamorphoses, and became the rather “simplistic” religions that are in vogue today. However, our ancestors worshipped quite differently, and some of the relics left over from their era illustrate the sheer artistic brilliance, technical sophistication and exemplary construction skills at a time when the human race was barely out of its evolutionary “cradle!” This list of the top 10 most ancient religious destinations in the world takes a look at some of the best known places where the faithful throng in their huge numbers to connect with the divine. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re deeply religious or a total atheist, each of these sites is a compelling example of the human endeavor to bridge the chasm between the known and the “unknown.”
Greece can be described as the cradle of modern civilization, without hesitation. And at Delphi was the pinnacle of the human mind’s sophistication. This ancient Greek city was a temple of learning and philosophy, home to great thinkers and philosophers whose opinions and arguments profoundly affects human thought to this day. Delphi was also a temple to Apollo, considered a sacred place by the rulers and denizens of the erstwhile Greek city states. Today, the ruins of this city stand in silent testimony to the greatness of the human mind that achieved philosophical pinnacles, scientific brilliance and artistic sophistication long before the advent of modern communication techniques and the ubiquitous internet!
The Borobudur Temple Compounds in the Kedu Valley in southern Central Java Island, Indonesia, is one of the world’s most important Buddhist monuments. Built by the Svailendra Dynasty between 700 and 900 CE, this vast temple complex is a representation of the Buddhist conception of universe. The intricate design of this huge compound is a fantastic example of the unique Buddhist style of temple building, and is appreciated as much for its religious significance as much for its aesthetic value
The Pantheon in Rome, Italy, is one of the world’s most famous and well preserved monuments. Built in 126 CE, it was a temple to “All Gods,” and was one of the most revered religious sites of the day. Today, it’s still revered as a religious site, although it is more popular as a tourist site, and as one of the most visible icons of the ancient world.
The Ajanta Caves
These Buddhist cave monuments, located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India, are thought to have been “created” in two different phases: the first beginning around 200 BCE, and the second phase lasting between 400 to 600 CE in India. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of around 30 caves carved out of living rock, adorned with paintings and sculptures illustrative of the finer traditions of Buddhist religious art and depictions of the Buddha’s life and scenes from the Jataka Tales.
Pyramids of Teotihuacan
The Aztecs, who became a major power several hundreds of years after the disappearance of the Teotihuacan people, called this intriguing site “The Place Where Men Become Gods.” Situated near Mexico City, Mexico, this temple-city that thrived around 2,000 years ago was a megapolis of its times, with over 125,000 residents. However, it was abandoned a few centuries later, for reasons that are still being explored. But the majestic architecture, beautiful murals, and the ingenious and intelligent design of the city, all indicate the high level of cultural and technical sophistication of the people that gave birth to it.
The Karnak Temple Complex
This magnificent, almost incredible “temple complex” in Egypt was built by Pharaoh Ramses II around 1,400 BCE. The sheer scale of grandeur and technical excellence represented in the towering columns, innumerable massive pillars are incredible, absolutely awesome and almost unbelievable! It really makes you appreciate the heights of excellence that humans could achieve, even in the days when tools were simple, technology was rudimentary, and the only limit to human achievement was the boundary of human imagination!
The Ziggurat of Ur
Built by Sumerian King Ur-Nammu, and completed by his son Shulgi around 2,000 BCE, the Great Ziggurat of Ur in Iraq was constructed partly as a shrine to the Moon God Nanna, and also as an administrative center for the city of Ur, which became the capital of the state that administered a sizable portion of Mesopotamia.
No one really knows what these were meant for, but the Callanish Stones, located near the village of the same name on the west coast of Lewis in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, have been there since about 2,900 to 2,600 BCE, around the same time as Stonehenge.
Second most ancient on this list is the Hypogeum, constructed between 3,000 and 2,500 BCE. Meaning “subterranean” in Greek, this ancient temple located in Paola, Malta, is really an underground temple comprised of natural caves connected by manmade walls and chambers. What makes this place even more intriguing are the remains of over 7,000 people found here. Although declared a World Heritage Site, entry is restricted to 60 people a day.
Last on the list and therefore, the most ancient, is this primitive “temple” located in a village situated 2,500 feet above sea level in Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Region. Believed to be a Neolithic “religious” structure built around 10,000 BCE, Gobekli Tepe – meaning Potbelly Hill in Turkish – is a primeval man-made “compound” comprising circular structures dotted around the top of the hill, with primitive cave paintings of local fauna and other subjects. It is conjectured to be an ancient communal burial site, complete with limestone “grave markers.”
Experiencing each of these top 10 most ancient religious destinations of the world at close hand gives you a humbling feeling and a deep sense of awe and amazement. A trip everyone should take at least once in their life time!