Europe’s Most Beautiful Sacred Destinations
Whether you’re a strong believer or a convinced atheist, you have to appreciate the beauty of certain holy places, and European cathedrals are definitely the most beautiful and the most renown. So here are 10 of Europe’s most impressive sacred structures.
St. Basilâ€™s Cathedral
Location: Moscow, Russia
Commissioned by Ivan the terrible to commemorate his successful military campaign against the Tartar Mongols in the city of Kazan, in 1552, St. Basilâ€™s was designed by Postnik Yakolev and built between 1555 and 1561. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible had the architect blinded after the building was finished, so he could never build anything more beautiful, but history records that he did build another cathedral in Vladimir, so the legend is most likely just that.
Built on the edge of the Red Square in Moscow, St. Basilâ€™s Cathedral is a colorful edifice made up of 9 individual chapels, each a symbol of a successful assault on Kazan and topped by an onion dome. The ninth chapel was erected in 1588 between the first eight, giving the cathedral the look of an eight-corner star when seen from above.
Moscowâ€™s most popular and probably most beautiful building was close to being a victim of the Bolshevik regime; Stalin closed down the church, melted its bells and prepared a plan for its demolition, to ease the movement of parades and vehicles through the square. Thankfully the courage of brilliant architect P. Baranovsky, who, when ordered to make preparation for the destruction, threatened to cut his own throat on the churchâ€™s steps, managed to convince Stalin to reconsider.
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Designed by now famous architect Antonio Gaudi, Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic cathedral still under construction in Barcelona. Work on the cathedral started in 1882 and Gaudi himself worked on it for 40 years, 15 of which he dedicated exclusively to it, until his death in 1926. When asked about the deadline of his project, now scheduled to 2026, Gaudi said â€œMy client is not in a hurry.â€
Sagrada Familia features 18 huge towers representing the 12 Apostles, the 4 Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, the tallest one, Jesus Christ, which, upon the cathedralâ€™s completion will have a huge cross mounted on top. The height of the church will be of 170 meters, one meter shorter than a neighboring hill, because Gaudi believed his creation shouldnâ€™t be higher than God. It will have three facades, the Nativity to the East, the Glory to the South and the Passion to the West.
You might think the building process has already taken too long but at the start of the 20th century, specialist predicted the project would be completed in several hundred years. Thanks to technological progress we might live long enough to see it completed.
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Location: Paris, France
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, especially due to the popular novel by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it is considered the finest example of French Gothic Architecture.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1163, after the Bishop Maurice de Sully considered the current cathedral unworthy of its role, and it lasted until 1345. Over this long period of time, many architects worked on the project, evidenced by the many styles used on the west front and towers.
Raided during the rioting of the Huguenots in 1548 and during the French Revolution in 1793, Notre Dame has been restored many times and a restoration program started in 1991 is still ongoing because the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures is extremely delicate.
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Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Former patriarchal basilica, a mosque and now a museum, Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest structures ever built. Created between 532 and 537 as a church on the orders of Justinian, emperor of the Byzantine Empire and home to many holy relics, Hagia Sophia was the Patriarchal church of Constantinople and the religious ground zero of the eastern Orthodox World for almost 1000 years.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the ottomans started converting this holy place into a mosque, removing the bells, altar, iconostas and relics and covering the murals with Turkish mosaics. For 500 years it was the main mosque of the Ottoman Empire and it has served as an inspiration for pretty much all the mosques built across Turkey, until 1935 when the great reformer, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decided to close the mosque and turn it into a museum.
The greatest example of Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for 1000 years, until the completion of the Cathedral of Seville.
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Location: Winchester, England
Dedicated to the Holy Trinity of Saint Paul, saint Peter and Swithun, Winchester Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in England and the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe.
Winchester Cathedral is very popular among tourists who come here to visit the place where famed English writer Jane Austin is buried. Her tomb lies in the north aisle of the nave and marker there praises her work and contribution to international literature. It has also been a film-set for 2005â€™s The Da Vinci Code.
It is one of the most impressive structures in England and of its greatest sacred places, with many Saxon kings buried here, as well as William the Conqueror and his son William II.
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Cathedral of St. Sava
Location: Belgrad, Serbia
The Cathedral of St. Sava is the largest Orthodox Church in the world, currently in use. It is a monument erected in the memory of Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in Serbian History. It is built on Vracar plateau, the place where it is believed Sinan Pasha burned the remains of Saint Sava in 1595.
Work on the cathedral began in May 1935, after many problems accepting a viable design, but due to the start of WWII and the occupation of the city by the Red Army, it was completed just 4 years ago, in 2004. The structure itself is finished but work on the interior still requires a lot of work.
Location: Cologne, Germany
An â€œexceptional work of human creative geniusâ€ as described by UNESCO, Cologne Cathedral is one of the most popular monuments in Germany. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the world and between 1880 and 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world, before the completion of the Washington Monument and later the Eiffel Tower. Its spires are only surpassed by the singular spire of Ulm Cathedral, making it the second tallest church in the world, with 157 meters in height.
Work on this impressive Gothic church began in 1248 but it took more than 600 years to complete in 1880. During WWII the cathedral took 14 hits from aerial bombers but stood tall surrounded by destroyed buildings. Many thought it was a divine miracle, but in truth, the allies wanted to keep the cathedral intact as they were using it to calculate bearings to other German targets.
Basillica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Location: Florence, Italy
Designed to be the largest cathedral in the world, Santa Maria del Fiore is today surpassed in size only by St. Peterâ€™s Cathedral in The Vatican, St. Paulâ€™s Cathedral in London and the Cathedral of Milan. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296, it started as a wish of the Florentines to have a greater holy place than the ones in Pisa and Siena and it is built upon an older church, Santa Reparata. When it was finished, it was the largest cathedral in Europe able to embrace 30,000 Christians.
The most important elements of the Basillica di Santa Maria del Fiore are its 42 meters dome and its faÃ§ade, the later considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Its walls are covered with stripes of Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red) and Lavenza marble.
Location: Seville, Spain
Formally known as Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville Cathedral is the largest Roman-Catholic cathedral in the world and also the largest Medieval Gothic religious buildings. The building process began in 1402 on the site where the Almohad Mosque once stood and it stretched into the 16th century.
The interior is just as impressive as the exterior, its main altarpiece is considered the largest in the world and the nave is the largest in all of Spain. It features many gold decorations, religious jewelry, paintings, sculptures and a Gothic retablo of 45 carved scenes from the life of Christ. This is also where you can find the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
The Seville Cathedral was built to show the world the wealth of the city, which had become a major trading center after â€œLa Reconquistaâ€ During its construction somebody is recorded to have said â€œwe shall have a church [so great and] of such a kind that those who see it built will think we were mad.”
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Location: Trondheim, Norway
Undoubtedly the most beautiful cathedral in Norway, probably in all Scandinavian Peninsula, Nidaros has been an important destination for pilgrims coming from all over Northern Europe since the building process began in 1070. It is supposedly erected over the tomb of King Olav Haraldsson, who was declared a saint 5 days after his death.
The style of the cathedral is Romanesque and Gothic but the current building was rebuilt several times, since it has had many problems, especially with fire and in 1708 it all burned down except for the stone walls. It has undergone a process of restoration that ended in 2001.