Whether you are someone who is religious or not, faith is something that people have had since the beginning of time. For some, religion is a major factor that dictates how they live. For others, it isn’t as serious. Below, we are going to show you where religious people spend their time as we talk about the top 10 most religious places on Earth.
1. KARNAK TEMPLE
After a century of foreign occupation, the New Kingdom (1550-1150 BC) of Egypt emerged, with its capital at Thebes. The captial city was embellished with grandiose temples worthy of the majesty of the pharaohs, the greatest being Karnak.
The temple complex of Karnak, dedicated to the Pharoah Amun , was the center of his worship and of his wife Mut and their son Khons. Each of them had a “precinct” (area) in the temple complex, the greatest and largest belonging to Amun. There was also a precinct for Montu, the falcon-headed local god.
Construction on the Karnak temple complex began in the 16th century BC and continued into the Greco-Roman period – a period of up to 1300 years of construction. Around 30 successive pharoahs added their own touches to the complex: a new temple, shrine, or pylon and carved detailed hieroglyphic inscriptions.
When the pharoah Akhenaton abandoned the traditional worship of Amun and took up the worship of Aten, the sun god, he built a temple to Aten at Karnak. But after his death, the Theban priests destroyed all signs of sun worship at Karnak and elsewhere.
The Karnak temple complex is huge, covering a site almost a mile by two miles in area. There are over 25 temples and chapels in the complex, including separate shrines for the three boats that took the statues of the gods on their annual trip on the flooding Nile. Sanctuaries, obelisks, and groups of columns all feature accounts of the heroic deeds of the sponsoring pharoah.
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Approximately 30 pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity and diversity not seen elsewhere. Few of the individual features of Karnak are unique, but the sheer size and number of features makes it one of the most impressive temple complexes in Egypt.
The Karnak complex includes several of the finest examples of ancient Egyptian design and architecture. Among them are the Hypostyle Hall , considered one of the world’s great architectural achievements. It is filled with 134 enormous pillars, the highest 70 feet tall, and each about 45 feet around. The hall covers an area of 64,586 sq ft.
The most spectacular of the temples at Karnak is the Temple of Amun (Amun’s Precinct), the only section open to the public. This is entered via the Avenue of the Sphinxes , or Sacred Way, that once stretched the two miles from Karnak to Luxor Temple.
The Obelisk of Thutmose I , a 22m (71ft) monument, is the only one of four original obelisks that is still standing.
2. THE CALLANISH STONES
The Calanais Standing Stones are an extraordinary cross-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years.
We don’t know why the standing stones at Calanais were erected, but our best guess is that it was a kind of astronomical observatory.
Patrick Ashmore, who excavated at Calanais in the early 1980s writes: ‘The most attractive explanation… is that every 18.6 years, the moon skims especially low over the southern hills. It seems to dance along them, like a great god visiting the earth. Knowledge and prediction of this heavenly event gave earthly authority to those who watched the skies.’
The Callanish Stones consist of a stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith near the middle. Five rows of standing stones connect to this circle. Two long rows of stones running almost parallel to each other from the stone circle to the north-northeast form a kind of avenue . In addition, there are shorter rows of stones to the west-southwest, south and east-northeast. The stones are all of the same rock type, namely the local Lewisian gneiss . Within the stone circle is a chambered tomb to the east of the central stone.
The atmospheric setting and pale silvery stones of Callanish have made the site an icon of ancient Scotland, inspiring generations of artists, poets and photographers – as well as the average visitor – with its ethereal beauty. (Note that they appear on most of the book covers shown at left.)
Situated on a natural ridge that has a north-south orientation, the Callanish monument consists of a central circle of 13 stones from which four alignments extend to form a general cross shape. The northern alignment is longer than the rest and a double rows, forming an avenue .
Although the alignments are constructed roughly in the cardinal directions, this may only be an accident of the north-south ridge on which the monument is built. However, the Callanish stones may have been used to observe the movements of the moon. Every 18.6 years, the moon seems to skim along the hills to the south.
Within the central circle is a burial chamber, which excavations have shown were added a few generations after the stones. Its entrance passage is oriented east and marked by an exceptionally tall stone of 4.75m high within the circle.
There are several smaller monuments near Callanish as well, including Cnoc Ceann a’Gharraidh , a circle of eight stones (three of them fallen), and Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag , a double circle with eight stones in the outer ring and four in the middle.
3. THE GREAT ZIGGURAT OF UR
The Great Ziggurat, which is today located in the Dhi Qar Province, in the south of Iraq, is a massive step pyramid measuring 64 m in length, 46 m in width, and 30 m in height. This height, however, is just speculation, as only the foundations of this ancient monument survive today. The Great Ziggurat of Ur consisted of successively smaller platforms that had a solid core of mud-brick which was covered by burnt brick. This outer layer protected the core from the elements. The construction of the Great Ziggurat of Ur began under King Ur-Nammu of the Third Dynasty of Ur (about the 21 st century B.C.), and was completed by his son, King Shulgi. The Great Ziggurat of Ur was located in the temple complex of the city state, which was the administrative heart of Ur.
The Great Ziggurat of Ur was dedicated to the moon god Nanna, who was the patron deity of the city. As the Mesopotamian gods were commonly linked to the eastern mountains, the ziggurat may have functioned as a representation of their homes. Thus, the people of Ur believed that their ziggurat was the place on earth where Nanna chose to dwell. Therefore, a single small shrine was placed on the summit of the ziggurat for the god. The people of ancient Mesopotamia believed that their gods had needs just like their mortal subjects. Hence, a bedchamber was provided for Nanna in the shrine on top of his ziggurat. This chamber was occupied by a maiden chosen to be the god’s companion. On the side stairway of the ziggurat’s north western part is a kitchen, which was likely used to prepare food for this god. The god’s mortal servants had to be provided for as well, and the outer enclosure of the ziggurat contained a temple storehouse, the houses of the priests and a royal ceremony.
During the 48 year reign of King Shulgi, the city state of Ur flourished like never before. The city of Ur became the capital of an empire that controlled a large part of Mesopotamia. In order to gain the allegiance of his newly conquered city states, King Shulgi needed something to unify these different entities. Thus, he decided to introduce a new god that everyone could worship, namely himself. In addition to his self-deification, King Shulgi became a patron of the arts. This was a strategic move, as poets and scribes were commissioned to write about the king’s prowess in various aspects, including hunting, warfare, music.
After the death of King Shulgi, however, Ur began to decline. As his sons were incapable of holding the empire together, it soon fell apart, and the city of Ur itself was sacked by the Elamites. After this, a succession of foreign kings ruled the once mighty city of Ur. Ur’s fate changed once more during the 4 th century B.C. This time it was the work of nature rather than man that caused it. When the Euphrates River changed its course, the city was abandoned, as it lacked irrigation. As a result, Ur was erased from human memory.
In the 19 th century, however, European exploration in the Mesopotamian region brought Ur and other ancient city states back to the knowledge of mankind. Excavations were carried out, and the remains of the Great Ziggurat of Ur were rediscovered. Since then, extensive restoration work has been carried out to bring back the magnificence of this ancient structure. As of today, the site is still closed to the public, though it is hoped that it will be reopened someday. Perhaps one piece of good news is the fact that Ur is located on the edge of the Tallil Airbase, one of the largest military bases in the Middle East. In other words, the site has been spared from looting, and hopefully we will be able to learn more about the ancient site when it is safe again to excavate in the region
4. THE TEOTIHUACAN
Teotihuacan, located in the Basin of Central Mexico, was the largest, most influential, and certainly most revered city in the history of the New World, and it flourished in Mesoamerica’s Golden Age, the Classic Period of the first millennium CE. Dominated by two gigantic pyramids and a huge sacred avenue, the city, its architecture, art, and religion would influence all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures, and it remains today the most visited ancient site in Mexico.
In relation to other Mesoamerican cultures Teotihuacan was contemporary with the early Classic Maya (250 – 900 CE) but earlier than the Toltec civilization (900-1150 CE). Located in the valley of the same name, the city first formed between 150 BCE and 200 CE and benefitted from a plentiful supply of spring water which was channelled through irrigation. The largest structures at the site were completed before the 3rd century CE, and the city reached its peak in the 4th century CE with a population as high as 200,000. Teotihuacan is actually the Aztec name for the city, meaning “Place of the Gods”; unfortunately, the original name is yet to be deciphered from surviving name glyphs at the site.
The city’s prosperity was in part based on the control of the valuable obsidian deposits at nearby Pachuca, which were used to manufacture vast quantities of spear and dart heads and which were also a basis of trade. Other goods flowing in and out of the city would have included cotton, salt, cacao to make chocolate, exotic feathers, and shells. Irrigation and the natural attributes of local soil and climate resulted in the cultivation of crops such as corn, beans, squash, tomato, amaranth, avocado, prickly pear cactus, and chili peppers. These crops were typically cultivated via the chinampa system of raised, flooded fields which would later be used so effectively by the Aztecs. Turkey and dogs were husbanded for food, and wild game included deer, rabbits, and peccaries, whilst wild plants, insects, frogs, and fish also supplemented a diverse diet. In addition, the city displays evidence of textile manufacturing and crafts production.
The five-level Pyramid of the Sun was actually built over a much earlier sacred tunnel-cave and natural spring. The structure, constructed c. 100 CE, has six platforms and measures 215 metres along the sides and towers 60 metres high, which made it one of the biggest structures ever built in the ancient Americas. The present exterior, which would have once had a facing of smooth lime plaster, covers a slightly smaller earlier pyramid built over a massive mud-brick and rubble interior. The top once had a small temple structure, reached by a flight of stone stairs climbing the entire pyramid and which split and rejoined higher up. Inside the pyramid is a 100 metre-long tunnel which leads from beneath the outside staircase to a four-winged chamber, unfortunately, looted in antiquity but probably once a burial chamber or shrine.
The Pyramid of the Moon is very similar to, albeit slightly smaller than, it’s neighbour the Pyramid of the Sun. The present exterior covers six progressively smaller pyramids. Constructed c. 150 CE there is no inner chamber as in the Sun pyramid, but the foundations did contain many dedicatory offerings such as obsidian and greenstone felines and eagles and a single person. Offerings were also buried at each subsequent construction stage. And three males were buried just beneath the summit; the accompanying precious jade objects suggest they were important Maya nobles. There are also the remains of sacrificed animals including pumas, rattlesnakes, and birds of prey.
Delphi was inhabited since Mycenaean times (14th – 11th c. B.C.) by small settlements who were dedicated to the Mother Earth deity. The worship of Apollo as the god of light, harmony, and order was established between the 11th and 9th centuries. Slowly over the next five centuries the sanctuary grew in size and importance. During the 8th c. B.C. Delphi became internationally known for the Oracular powers of Pythia–the priestess who sat on a tripod, inhaled ethylene gasses , and muttered incomprehensible words that foretold the future.
The ancient people of the Mediterranean had such faith in Pythia’s view of the future that no major decision was made without consulting the Oracle of Delphi first. Greek and foreign dignitaries, heads of state, and common folk made the pilgrimage to the Delphi sanctuary, and paid great sums for Pythia’s oracles. Since the sanctuary only served the public a few days over nine months out of the year, great sums were paid by the more affluent ones in order to bypass the long line of pilgrims.
Plutarch served as a priest at Delphi, and in his histories he has left many details about the inner workings of the sanctuary. Pythia entered the inner chamber of the temple (“Adyton”), sat on a tripod and inhaled the light hydrocarbon gasses that escaped from a chasm on the porous earth. After falling into a trance, she muttered words incomprehensible to mere mortals. The priests of the sanctuary then interpreted her oracles in a common language and delivered them to those who had requested them. Even so, the oracles were always open to interpretation and often signified dual and opposing meanings.
“You will go you will return not in the battle you will perish” was an example of this duality of meaning. The above sentence can be interpreted two different ways depending where the comma can be placed. If a comma is placed after the word “not” the message is discouraging for him who is about to depart for war. If on the other hand the comma is placed before the word “not”, then the warrior is to return alive.
Such was the importance of the Oracle at Delphi that the ancients believed it to be the center (“Omphalos”) of the world. The oracle advised the great Persian Kings of the time, and when the Persians were poised to sack Athens, Themistokles turned the advice of the Oracle to a winning strategy that led to the Greeks’ victory in the naval battle of Salamina. The Oracle had simply advised that “wooden walls” would aid to victory, and Themistokles interpreted walls to mean the wooden ships of the Athenian fleet.
To commemorate the triumph of Apollo over Python the sanctuary organized the Pythian Games every four years which were athletic events much like the Olympics. In the 20th century Angelos Sikelianos organized a modern version of the Delphic games .