BORGUND STAVECHURCH, BORGUND, NORWAY
Built around 1180, the Borgund Stavechurch is one of the best-preserved traditional wood churches in Norway. A stone foundation was added to the design to help prevent the rot that destroyed the town’s previous church, and the building is supported by 12 vertical posts, or staves. The doors and parts of the roof are intricately carved with dragons to ward off evil spirits. Recently, the church served as inspiration for architecture in the Disney filmFrozen.
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CHAPEL OF THE HOLY CROSS, SEDONA, ARIZONA
In the 1930s, after having a vision of a cross spread across the Empire State Building, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude was inspired to build a skyscraper cathedral in Europe and enlisted the help of Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. But when World War II broke out, they were forced to postpone the project. After the war she revised her idea and picked a site near her home in Sedona, Arizona. (Wright abandoned the project when Staude refused to stick to the initial design.) The Catholic church was completed in 1956, with the assistance of San Francisco architecture firm Anshen & Allen, and is distinguished by a large cross rising from the craggy red rocks and defining the silhouette of the structure.
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GOLDEN TEMPLE, AMRITSAR, INDIA
The Golden Temple—also called Sri Harmandir Sahib or Sri Darbar Sahib—is the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion. Located in northwest India, near the border of Pakistan, the marble temple was constructed in 1601 by Guru Arjan Sahib and sits within a pool traversed by a 202-foot-long marble causeway. The magnificent interiors are embellished with embossed gold surfaces and marble inlaid with semiprecious stones. The building did not receive its signature exterior gilding until 1830, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh sponsored several lavish improvements.
PHOTO: REALY EASY STAR/TULLIO VALENTE/ALAMY
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GREAT MOSQUE OF DJENNÉ, DJENNÉ, MALI
Originally built in the 13th century and reconstructed in 1907, the Great Mosque of Djenné is made of mud-and-straw bricks covered with mud plaster, and palm-wood beams. Each year during a festival known as Crepissage de la Grand Mosquée, mud masons add a new layer, using the beams that jut from the façade as scaffolding. Over time the annual application has given the UNESCO World Heritage site—and the largest surviving example of African mud architecture—its rounded edges.
PHOTO: GAVIN HELLIER/ALAM
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HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA, REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
Lending a commanding presence to the Reykjavik skyline, Hallgrímskirkja stands nearly 250 feet tall. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson’s unique design for the Lutheran church was inspired by the Icelandic basalt lava flows. Completed in 1937 and named for religious poet Hallgrímur Pétursson, the building offers excellent views of the city and also boasts an impressive 25-ton, 5,275-pipe organ.
PHOTO: DREW BUCKLEY/ALAMY
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JUBILEE SYNAGOGUE, PRAGUE
The Jubilee Synagogue, also known as the Jerusalem Synagogue after its location on the street Jeruzalémská, was built in 1906 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph’s ascension to the throne. It replaced three synagogues that were removed during the clearing of the Jewish ghetto in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Designed by Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny, the distinctive striped structure combines Moorish, Byzantine, and Art Nouveau styles and is known for its beautiful, intricately painted interiors.
PHOTO: MATTHEW HALL/ALAMY
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KIZHI POGOST, KIZHI ISLAND, RUSSIA
Set on Kizhi Island in Russia’s Lake Onega, this UNESCO World Heritage site consists of an enclosure, or pogost,containing two churches—one 17th century, the other 18th century—and an 1862 bell tower. The chapels were built entirely of wood, and one was designated for summer use and the other for winter, a common practice in Russia at the time. The heated winter structure, the Church of the Intercession, was built in 1694 of pine and aspen and is topped with nine domes. The Church of the Transfiguration—the larger pine, spruce, and aspen summer church—was completed in 1714 using an octagonal framework and is topped with a crown of 22 domes.
PHOTO: ROBERT HARDING PICTURE LIBRARY LTD/ALAMY
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KOREAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, OAKLAND, NEW JERSEY
Arcari + Iovino Architects were recently asked not only to design a new church for an Oakland, New Jersey, congregation, but also to create a campus for the parish on the 24-acre site. The 2011 structure includes a chapel and a bi-level, glass-roofed multipurpose space with a basketball court and mezzanine gallery that displays art by members. Within the sanctuary a row of finlike walls diffuse light and heighten the acoustics.
PHOTO: GEORGE PEIRCE
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NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT, RONCHAMP, FRANCE
One of Le Corbusier’s finest works, Notre-Dame du Haut was inspired by its hilltop location, overlooking the village of Ronchamp, and natural forms (the roof was modeled after a crab shell). The site-specific 1954 Catholic church was a major departure from the architect’s previous work. The whitewashed exterior, poetic in its simplicity, is randomly punctuated with windows, the curved roof shades the outdoor altar and pulpit, and extra light enters the sanctuary from a from a row of narrow clerestory windows.
PHOTO: PAUL RAFTERY
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PURA TAMAN AYUN, BALI, INDONESIA
Built in 1634, Pura Taman Ayun was formerly the royal temple of the Mengwi Kingdom of Bali. The Hindu complex, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes inner and outer moats protecting the courtyards. Among the notable structures on the grounds are the kori agung or gateway, leading to the innermost courtyard, and two-dozen meru or pagoda-like towers, made to symbolize the surrounding mountains. The tallest, an 11-tiered meru, references Gunung Batukau, the second-tallest mountain in Bali.
PHOTO: UGO CEI/ALAMY
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SAKIRIN MOSQUE, ISTANBUL
Built by a Turkish family as a tribute to their parents, the Sakirin Mosque was inaugurated in 2009 and is thought to be the first mosque in Turkey to be designed by a woman, Zeynep Fadillioglu. A well-known hospitality designer, Fadillioglu envisioned the interiors and made architectural modifications to the building after architect Hüsrev Tayla left the project before its completion. Her design, which includes a large chandelier resembling falling rain, a bright turquoise mihrab, and windows covered in intricate metalwork, reinterprets traditional Islamic design through a contemporary lens.
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SANCAKLAR MOSQUE, ISTANBUL
Emre Arolat Architects eschews the traditional intricate ornamentation of many mosques to focus on creating a simple yet impactful space for prayer. The Sancaklar Mosque is set in a sloping field on the outskirts of Istanbul and was built into the landscape using concrete and natural stone. Daylight streams in from a narrow skylight between the vortexlike ceiling and the qiblah wall to illuminate the cavernous space, which was completed earlier this year. The peaceful complex also includes courtyards, water terraces that cascade down the hillside, and reflecting pools.
PHOTO: THOMAS MAYER AND COURTESY OF EAA-EMRE AROLAT ARCHITECTS
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TEMPLE OF HEAVEN, BEIJING
Also known as Tiantan Park, the Temple of Heaven is located south of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The original altar of this UNESCO World Heritage site was completed in 1420 during the Ming dynasty and was the site of sacrifices to promote a successful harvest. Today the property, now a park, contains several architectural highlights, including the Imperial Vault of Heaven, Circular Mound Altar, and the Hall of Prayers for Abundant Harvests. The latter, shown here, is a richly colored circular building made entirely of wood without the use of nails.
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WAT RONG KHUN, CHIANG RAI, THAILAND
Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat began building the eccentric Wat Rong Khun, or White Temple, in his native Chiang Rai in 1997. The pure-white exterior is accented with mirrored tiles and depicts elephants, serpents, and dragons amid flames. Interior murals feature Western figures (Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix and Michael Jackson, to name two) alongside machine guns, fiery skulls, and terrorist attacks, while the bridge to the entrance crosses a pit of plaster hands reaching up from “hell.” Construction on the Buddhist temple has continued along with repairs to the existing structure following an earthquake in the region earlier this year.
PHOTO: STUART BLACK/ROBERT HARDING WORLD IMAGERY/CORBIS
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SRI RANGANATHASWAMY TEMPLE, TAMIL NADU, INDIA
The largest temple complex in India, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of the Hindu deity Vishnu. While the origin date of the temple is unknown, archaeological inscriptions date from the 10th century. The 156-acre complex consists of seven enclosures containing 21 ornate gopurams, or Dravidian-style towers.
PHOTO: WILMAR PHOTOGRAPHY/ALAMY
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SOFIA SYNAGOGUE, SOFIA, BULGARIA
Austro-Hungarian architect Friedrich Grunanger combined Moorish, Vienna Secessionist, and Venetian elements in the design of the Sofia Synagogue, the largest Sephardic synagogue in the Balkans. Built in 1909, the domed building is bordered by eight towers, and its splendid interiors include Venetian mosaics and marble columns. The building was badly damaged during bombings in 1944 and its renowned Judaica library was destroyed. The synagogue was restored in honor of its 100th anniversary with funding from the World Monuments Fund.
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SZEGED SYNAGOGUE, SZEGED, HUNGARY
Perhaps Hungarian architect Lipót Baumhorn’s finest work, the Szeged Synagogue successfully merges Art Nouveau with Gothic, Moorish, Byzantine, Roman, and Baroque motifs. The 1907 building features a breathtaking interior dome created by artist Miksa Róth, who also contributed stained-glass windows depicting the Jewish feasts. The sanctuary’s seating faces a Torah ark made with wood from the banks of the Nile River. Rabbi Immanuel Lőw collaborated with the architect to add symbolic writing and images to the design, and, as he is also a botanist, he also planned the surrounding gardens.
PHOTO: PAUL WILLIAMS/ALAMY
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LAS LAJAS SANCTUARY, IPIALES, COLOMBIA
Set in a canyon in the mountains of southern Colombia, the Las Lajas Sanctuary was completed in 1949 on the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary and has become a destination for pilgrims. Part of architects Lucindo Espinosa and J. Gualberto Pérez’s Gothic Revival marvel is set into a mountainside, while the other is atop a bridge that spans the gorge below.
PHOTO: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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TEMPPELIAUKIO CHURCH, HELSINKI
Helsinki’s Temppeliaukio Church—also known as the Rock Church—was envisioned by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and completed in 1969. The chapel is quarried out of natural rock—a slab dating from the Ice Age serves as an altarpiece—and the dramatic interiors combine modern aesthetics and organic materials.The copper-lined dome, framed by 180 narrow windows, adds to the warmth of the oval sanctuary, which boasts outstanding acoustics. While the design was once controversial, the Lutheran church has become one of the city’s top tourist destinations.