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Magnificent works of architecture with an attention to detail that is often truly mind blowing, the world’s great churches are nowadays major tourist attractions in their own right.
Scattered around the world, there are certain churches that stand out from the rest. Here, we take a closer look at 10 of the most impressive and inspiring churches around the world:
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi really let his imagination run wild when designing this magnificent Gothic cathedral. So much so, that while work began on the cathedral in the 1880s, it is still yet to be fully completed. A vast, dark building that gives the impression of melting wax, La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is filled with gargoyles, monsters and other scary creations, along with facades depicting the life of Christ.
The cathedral is among the most famous in the world and is the most popular sight in Barcelona, attracting well over two million paying visitors each year. Admission is 12 Euros (around £10). La Sagrada Familia can be reached on foot or by Metro from most points in the city.
Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy
An impressive 135 spires and 3,400 statues can be found here, each of which has been intricately designed. The marble-built cathedral is among the largest in the world and took centuries to complete. Work began in 1336 and was not fully complete until 1965, with renovations taking place to the facade from 2003-2009. Entrance to the cathedral is free so you can visit this beautiful example of Italian architecture when you’re staying in Milan
.. The cathedral receives over a million visitors each year and is centrally located in Milan.
Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia
Close to Colombia’s border with Ecuador, this cathedral is some way off the tourist trail, but well worth making a special trip for. The fairytale-esque cathedral straddles a river gorge, with the cliff wall of the gorge making the back wall of the church. The building of the church began in 1916 and was completed in 1944, honouring a reported image of the Virgin Mary appearing above the water.
Las Lajas attracts a mix of pilgrims and backpackers and is best reached by taking a bus from Ipiales bus station, where there are connections to Bogota, Colombia’s capital and Quito, capital of Ecuador. There is no charge to enter, although donations are welcome.
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy
Located in Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest religious building in the world and attracts millions of tourists and religious worshipers every year. The church is built over the tomb of Saint Peter and its scale is enormous – it covers nearly six acres, with space inside for over 60,000 people.
Before the church as we know it was built in the mid 15th Century, a religious building already stood here, namely a church built in the year 324 by Emperor Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor.
Some 1,200 years later, the crumbling building was rebuilt, with the famous dome designed by Michelangelo. There is no charge to enter and the Basilica is in easy walking distance (or a quick bus or Metro ride) of Rome city centre.
Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France
The church’s name will be forever linked with the famous Hunchback of Notre Dame in Victor Hugo’s 1831 book, but the cathedral itself is worthy of legendary status. Work began in 1163 and was finished around 200 years later. At the time, its ornate circular stained glass windows were the largest windows in the world.
Despite being ransacked during the French Revolution, when many of the statues were beheaded and treasures from the church plundered, Notre Dame has now been restored to something like its former glory. Entrance to the church is free and it is centrally located within the city’s right and left banks.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
This magnificent Russian orthodox church on Moscow’s Red Square is a colourful construction of towers and domes that dominate the skyline. The church was built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in 1555 and legend has it that Ivan lived up to his name and blinded the church’s architect in order to ensure that he never built anything else to rival the church’s beauty.
The church was not always as vividly colourful as it is today, with the domes originally gilded in red, white and gold. The 17th Century saw a trend for brighter colours and the church acquired the many hues that it has today.
Entrance to the church is 100 rubles, (a little over £2) for adults and Saint Basil’s is unmissable on any sightseeing trip to Moscow. Moscow has two international airports and there are Metro links to Red Square and the church.
Ely Cathedral, Ely, England
This spectacular building has made many a film appearance, with its interior transformed into that of Westminster Abbey in the Oscar-winning King’s Speech, as well as appearing as itself in 1998’s Elizabeth and 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl. The cathedral is unmistakably, quintessentially English, set among fields of poppies in lush countryside surrounding Cambridge.
The foundations for the stone church were laid in the 11th Century by Benedictine monks and the church has been perfectly preserved over the centuries and is a wonderful example of Norman architecture. The cathedral can be reached by train from London (it is around an hour’s train ride north of the capital) and entrance is £6.50.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
In recent years Turkey has become a popular destination for cheap all inclusive holidays but the Hagia Sophia church highlights that there is much more to Turkey than cheap holidays.
This dramatically beautiful church is a perfect example of Byzantine architecture at its best. Originally built as a Christian church by Byzantine emperor Justinian I, in the year 537, Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest church for some 1,000 years after completion. The church was remodelled as an Eastern Orthodox Church before becoming a mosque after the city fell to Turkey in 1453. Today, the building is in fact a museum, but it is no less spectacular for that and the careful restoration of Hagia Sophia has revealed a mix of Christian mosaics and Islamic art.
Entrance is 20TL (around £8). Hagia Sophia is located in the historic centre of Istanbul with public transport links to the rest of the city.
Hallgrímur, Reykjavik, Iceland
The tallest building in Iceland’s capital and the largest church in the country, this unusual church looks like something from a fantasy novel. Seemingly jutting straight out from the ground, the church aims to mirror the rugged mountains and volcanoes of Iceland.
The church was built over 30 years until its completion in 1974. There is no entrance fee, but donations are welcome and there is a fee of the equivalent of about £3 to take the elevator up to the steeple and enjoy spectacular views. The church is centrally located in Reykavik city centre.
Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel, Aiguilhe, France
The breathtaking location of this church in the French countryside makes it well worth taking the four-and-a-half-hour train ride from Paris. The church was built in 962AD and sits atop a volcanic peak that reaches 26 feet high and there are 268 stone steps carved into the thin rocky mount to enter the church.
Those who brave the climb will be well rewarded by this Medieval building, with its interesting tiled mosaics and cave-like ambience within. Trains run from Paris to Le Puy-en-Velay, the closest major town. Admission is three Euros.