Ten Greatest Old Temples in the World
You’ve gotta see these special places!
Many people are fans of all things old, particularly buildings, bridges, statues, monuments and temples. That’s why museums are so popular, of course. As for temples, they tend to show a cultural and religious expression that people find fascinating and educational. As defined by Webster’s II New College Dictionary, a temple signifies the presence or the worship of the divine, or at least comprises a special place for some people.
Please read on about these wondrous temples.
1. Wat Pho Temple of the Golden Reclining Buddha
The Wat Pho Temple is located in Bangkok, Thailand, and is part of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The most spectacular attraction of this temple complex is the Golden Reclining Buddha, a statue 46 meters long, 15 meters high and covered in gold leaf. The bottom of the statue’s feet – each three meters long - are covered with 108 mother-of-pearl illustrations of the characteristics of the historical Buddha or Supreme Buddha, who was born around 500 B.C.E. (Historical accounts differ regarding the exact date of the Buddha’s birth.)
Work began on the Wat PhoTemple in 1788. It was restored during the reign of King Rama I (1824-51) and most recently in 1982. The Golden Reclining Buddha is designed to show the Buddha’s passage to the state of being known as nirvana, an end of reincarnation and human suffering, also called the end of the world.
2. Megalithic Temples of Malta
The temples of the Maltese islands comprise the world’s oldest free-standing structures – at least a thousand years older than the famous Pyramids of Egypt. Constructed as early as about 4,100 B.C.E., these megalithic buildings show the cultural evolution of Neolithic people in this Mediterranean area. The use of the trilithon, so evident in places such as Stonehenge, is prominent in these temples.
The Tarxien phase of building marks the apex of cultural development for these ancient temples. A rich variety of pottery, some of which polished, decorative techniques including the use of volutes, as well as the inclusion of D-shaped areas or apses in the temple complexes, identifies this glorious period. This culture of megalithic builders survived until about 2,500 B.C.E., when the culture disappeared.
3. Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
Built around 1,500 B.C.E., the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is part of a complex of temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile River, a placed called Deir el-Bahri, just across the river from the city of Luxor in Egypt. Hatshepsut was one of only a handful of female pharaohs, and considered to be one of the most successful, male or female, as well as the longest ruling (21 years) of any indigenous female pharaoh.
Hatshepsut’s temple is considered the closest the Egyptians came to building what is known as Classical Architecture. The temple appears ancient yet has a modern linearity, making it easily accessible to crowds of people. Hatshepsut was also considered one of the greatest builders of ancient Egypt, as the grandeur of her temple certainly shows.
4. Khajuraho Group of Temples
The Khajuraho group of monuments and temples is perhaps the most eye-catching of any on this list. Located near the town of Khajuraho in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, these temples, built of mortarless sandstone, comprise images from the architectural and artistic splendor of the Hindu and Jain religions. Built over a period of 200 years, the temples were constructed from about 950 to 1150 C.E.
The various statues on display in these temples are decidedly sensual in nature and often sexually explicit. The men are frequently shown in a state of sexual arousal and the women, called celestial maidens or apsaras, are voluptuous and seemingly willing to please. Various states of sexual intercourse are shown as well, so these temples are not for the prudish or easily offended. Interestingly, only the exterior of the temples present what have been called the apogee of erotic art; apparently the interiors were considered too sacred to display such imagery.
5. Temple of the Niches
The Temple of the Niches is perhaps the greatest building, temple or huaca (Spanish for special place or thing) at the archaeological site of El Tajín, located near the city of Veracruz in Mexico. Since nobody knows for certain who built El Tajín, experts think it was constructed by the Totonacs, Xapaneca or Zapotecs. The city was completed around 600 C.E. and flourished until about 1200.
The architecture of the temple is unique; it has seven stories with niches in each story, a total of 365 niches, one for each day of the year. Some experts think these deep niches imitate caves, often considered doorways to the underworld by the various civilizations throughout Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya. Originally the temple was covered in stucco and painted a bright red. Such an awesome sight it must have been!
6. Angkor Wat Temple Complex
The temple complex of Angkor Wat is considered the world’s largest religious building. Built in the first half of the twelfth century by Suryavarman II, the temple is supposed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devatas in Hindu mythology. It was intended to be both a temple and a capital city.
Angkor Wat is located in northwestern Cambodia and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, one of the supreme gods of Hinduism. The temple complex displays the art and architecture of the fabulous Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Southeast Asia from the ninth through the thirteenth century. In the late thirteenth century, the use of the temple complex changed from Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism, a dedication that continues to the present day. As with many ancient temples throughout the world, looters and vandals have damaged much of this glorious temple, often hacking off the heads of statues!
7. Temple of Athena Parthenos (The Parthenon)
The Parthenon is synonymous with Classical Greece culture. Constructed from about 447 to 432 B.C.E., during the so-called Golden Age of Greece, the Parthenon was built for the goddess Athena, the patron deity of Athens. It’s considered the culmination of the Doric order of Greek architecture.
Unfortunately, the Parthenon is showing its age, having been blown up in 1687 while being used as an ammunition dump by the Ottoman Turks; it’s also been picked over by souvenir hunters for centuries. Interestingly, this marvelous building contains few if any straight lines or right angles, as it was built for beauty rather than exactitude. In 1806, the British, captivating by such beauty, carted off much of the temple’s statuary, since being called the Elgin Marbles. If this “loot” is returned to Greece one day, perhaps the Parthenon will look better than it has for a very long time!
8. Temple of the Jaguar or Temple I at Tikal
The Temple of the Jaguar is one of the finest pyramids built by the Maya civilization, the classic period of which lasting from 250 to 900 C.E. One of the major structures at Tikal in northern Guatemala, this temple was named after the lintel that shows a king resting upon a jaguar throne. Incidentally, Tikal is considered one of the finest Mayan city states, rivaling such marvelous sites as Copán, Uxmal and Chichén Itzá.
Constructed about 730 C.E. and over 150 feet high, this impressive pyramid is the funerary temple for Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, who ruled Tikal from 682 to 734 C.E. The tomb was built in the ground first and then the pyramid-temple set upon it, which is a common architectural technique of the Maya civilization. Much of the site was looted in the late 1800s, but fortunately many of its artifacts have been preserved.
9. Dilwara Temples
The Dilwara Temples are located two and a half kilometers from Mount Abu in the state of Rajasthan in India. These five temples are built entirely of marble and considered the best example of Jain architecture in all of India. Some compare their excellence with that of the fabulous Taj Mahal.
Constructed between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, each of these temples were dedicated to a Jain Tirthankara, one of 24 people who have attained enlightenment and whose teachings form the canon of Jainism. These temples provide a pilgrimage site for adherents of Jainism, whose origin stems from the ninth to sixth centuries B.C.E. and seems closely aligned with the tenets of Buddhism.
10. Göbekli Tepe
A list such as list has to include the world’s oldest temple. Göbekli Tepe, located in southeastern Turkey, is perhaps 12,000 years old – that’s about 7,000 years older than Stonehenge – 1,000 years older than Jericho – older than dirt, one might say!
Built during the Mesolithic period - that is before the development of agricultural based societies - Göbekli Tepe comprises many acres of T-shaped pillars. These monoliths are decorated with carved reliefs of animals - lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, asses, snakes and other reptiles, insects, arachnids, and birds, particularly vultures and waterfowl, as well as abstract pictographs representing sacred symbols, some of which are found on Neolithic cave paintings in other places. In real life, the vultures could have represented the practice of excarnation or the sky burial, as practiced by Tibetan Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
Let’s hope all of these temples are preserved in perpetuum so humans in the future can learn much about the development of human civilization. Of course, there’s always the possibility that somebody from another world will come here and want to see them too!
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© 2011 Kelley Marks