Visit Ancient Shrines
Some of the world’s best and earliest architecture, sculpture and artworks can be found in the ancient shrines and temples of the world. For as long as men have roamed the earth they have sought to praise and appease their deities, and to honour their dead, and in so doing have raised lavish buildings in their honour. In parts of the world, a number of religions have coexisted for centuries and there are beautiful examples of Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist shrines and temples to be found in some of the loveliest destinations on earth.
Visit Ancient Shrines
Kyoto – Japan
Japan has hundreds of Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples dotted all over the country, including in every major centre. Amongst this abundance of beautiful and tranquil shrines, Kyoto stands out, as it is home to more than four hundred magnificent shrines and temples. Kyoto was built in 794 AD modelled after the capital of China, and was the cultural centre of Japan until the twentieth century. It boasts examples of stunning, wooden Japanese architecture and famed Japanese gardens.
Take a bus or a train to one of the oldest Shinto shrines on the bank of the Kamo River. Kamigamo, founded in 678, is one of seventeen World Heritage sites in Kyoto. It is, along with the Shimogamo, just fifteen minutes away, one of the two oldest and most important shrines in Kyoto. Surrounded by forests containing trees that are more than six hundred years old, these shrines are host to several festivals throughout the year, so make sure that you plan a trip to coincide with one of these colourful ancient festivals.
Learn Zen meditation, experience Japanese tea or learn calligraphy at the Zen Buddhist temple of Taizo-in. It is more than six hundred years old, and has some of the most breathtaking gardens around. It is also home to the Japan’s oldest surviving oil painting. End your visit with a meal at the Michelin starred Zen Buddhist restaurant.
The ancient temples of Bali are distinctive in that they incorporate Polynesian shamanistic architecture. There are a number of ancient and interesting sites to visit on this beautiful island. You can hire a car and driver. They are very reasonably priced. Visitors are expected to dress conservatively and you may be asked to hire a sarong before entering a shrine.
A visit to the Uluwatu Temple, which predates the eleventh century, is a must. It stands precariously upon a steep cliff, seventy metres above sea level. This sea temple is renowned for its magnificent views. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the sunset views are not to be missed. Make sure you time your trip to coincide with the daily Kacek fire dance performances.
Make your way to Gunung Kawi; dating back to the eleventh century, it comprises a temple and a series of ten shrines cut into the rock face. Like a scene from the Jungle Book, vines and greenery surround this ancient funerary complex. Climbing three hundred steps to reach the top is a pleasure, because the rice paddies and jungle make a spectacular backdrop.
Only discovered in 1923, Goa Gajah meaning “elephant cave” is well worth a visit. Believed to date back to the eleventh century and named after the Hindu god Ganesha, the entrance to the meditation chamber is beautifully carved. The pool excavated in 1954 contains five statues of Hindu angels with vases that spout water. Some of the Buddhist relics at this shrine date back to the eighth century.
Chiang Mai – Thailand
Chiang Mai is home to more than three hundred temples. This ancient city is surrounded by moat and walls, which were built in 1296. There are many ancient shrines close to town so you can walk or cycle.
Close to the city centre, Wat Phra Singh was built in 1345 to house the ashes of the king’s father. It has wing shaped roofs that soar into the sky. The three buildings that comprise it are surrounded by serene gardens, but it is the inside of the temple, which will take your breath away, as it is opulently decorated with gold leaf. The gold and copper image of Buddha at the centre of the temple was cast in 1477.
Find Wat Chedi Luang right in the centre of town, built in the fourteenth century it is eighty-two metres high and is the biggest building of the Lanna Kingdom. Draped in colourful prayer flags with golden columns and statues it is spectacular to view.
Climb the 306 steps up to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the most visited and sacred shrine in the area. Built in 1383 to house a relic of the Buddha, it offers panoramic views of the Chiang Mai, as it is 1073 metres above the city.
TIP: Read about 5 reasons why I love Chiang Mai. Temples are just one thing to love about the city 🙂
Seoul – South Korea
Seoul, one of the most modern cities in Asia, has managed to preserve the beauty of its ancient past. Amid the modern architecture stand royal palaces, shrines and Buddhist temples. Even the ancient city walls are still there and a hike along the walls is one of the best ways to experience the city.
Pay a visit to the Bongeunsa Temple; built in 794, it is home to 3479 Buddhist scriptures. Book a two-day stay over and you can experience of monastic living, or just enjoy a tea ceremony or Zen meditation.
The oldest and best preserved shrine in Asia, Jongmyo Shrine was originally built in 1392, but had to be rebuilt in the sixteenth century after it was burnt down by Japanese invaders. It was built to honour the dead kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Enjoy the austere architecture and serene surroundings.
Bhubaneswar – India
Whilst most of India’s population is Hindu and the shrines and temples reflect that. India is home to Sikh to Buddhist temples as well as Cathedrals and Mosques, reflecting the long history and diverse religions prevalent in this part of the world. Bhubaneswar is known as the “City of Temples” and it is home to five hundred shrines.
Easy to get to as it is very central, Lingaraja Temple, built in the eleventh century, is the oldest and largest Hindu shrine in the city. The steeple is 55m and it towers over the city. It houses fifty smaller shrines, which are surrounded by huge sculpted walls. The carvings of the deities on the walls are without comparison, and the temple itself is a fine example of eleventh century architecture.
Visit the 11th Century Rajarani Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, it boasts magnificent sculptures and is a fine example of early Indian architecture. It is very close to the lovely Parashurameshvara Temple, which was built in around 650 and is considered one of the best-preserved Hindu temples in the province. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it nonetheless includes sculptures of Shakta Deities.
Reflections of the people
Shrines and temples reflect the art, the culture and the religious beliefs of the people who built them. For this reason the shrines in every country reflect a different level of beauty and serenity. In crowded Japan the gardens are breathtaking and shrines are serene. In India the sculpted walls reflect unsurpassed detail and in Thailand the gold leaf and large open and tranquil temple halls are unforgettable. The melding of nature with ancient architecture in Bali and the ancient and modern architecture in South Korea make this a unique experience.