Ten of the World's Most Religious
By: Deanna Hyland
Religion plays a large important role in the lives of many
people in the world. It can unite and bring peace and harmony to large groups,
but it can also cause anger, strife, and long-lasting, deadly wars. Throughout
history these ten cities have been significant spots for major religious
events. They continue to be pilgrimage sites for millions. If you get the
opportunity to visit any of them it’s sure to be an unbelievable experience.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Mecca is the holiest of cities in Islam. In 2008, the yearly
Hajj pilgrimage attracted two to three million people to the city. This
pilgrimage is part of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is required of any capable
Muslim at least once in their life. Saudi law forbids non-Muslims to enter Mecca.
The history of Mecca is old, old, old, with the first story coming from a
pre-Islamic legend. The tale tells of Adam and Eve being cast out of Paradise,
with Adam landing in what is now Sri Lanka and Eve landing in Arabia. They
wandered for 200 years before finally reuniting on Mt. Arafat
near Mecca. God eventually allowed Adam to build a shrine, and the
legend states that he was buried in what is now Mecca.
Perhaps a more accurate historical account begins in 2,000 BC when Abraham and
his son Ishmael built the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building in Mecca and now the most sacred of all sites in Islam. The Kaaba
is the place that all Muslims face during their prayers, no matter where they
are in the world.
The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570. In 630 he took control of the city, destroyed 360
pagan idols, declared the city a place of Muslim pilgrimage and dedicated it to
the worship of only Allah, thus forming the Islam faith.
Lhasa literally translates to “place of the gods.” The city was
the home of the Dalai Lamas, political leaders of Tibet and religious leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, from the 1600’s
until the Chinese invaded and the 14th Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959.
Today you’ll find the Tibetans a minority of the population compared to the
Lhasa has many sites that are of historical significance including Jokhang
Temple, Norbulingka and the Potala Palace, which are all UNESCO World Heritage
Sites; and Sera and Drepung Monasteries, and Zhefeng Temple.
Over one million people go to Tibet each year. You’ll often see the devout pilgrims in Lhasa kneeling or lying prone with their foreheads on the
ground. These pilgrims will be trying to gain spiritual merit by following one
of the three concentric pathways that go inside or around Johkhang
This small town of 30,000 people is located six miles
outside of Jerusalem and is thought to be the birthplace of Jesus by most
Christians. It is home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities,
even though it is primarily a Muslim city.
History abounds in this almost 2,000-year-old city. It is the birthplace of
David and the location where he was crowned king of Israel. Records show that over the centuries it has been attacked
and conquered many times by many people - the Romans, Samaritans, Muslim
armies, Crusaders, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Ottomans, and the British during WWI. Most recently it
was occupied by Israeli troops. Currently, it is controlled by the Palestinian
The city is most renowned for the biblical story surrounding Jesus. Two
different accounts in the New Testament mention Bethlehem as the place of his birth, but modern day scholars
question the accuracy of this. Regardless, Christian pilgrims flock to the city
especially at Christmas and Easter, to see the Church of the Nativity, which is
thought to mark the place of Christ’s birth, and to be one of the oldest
churches in the world.
Located in northern India, Varanasi is a holy place for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. According
to legend the city was started by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva and is the most
sacred place of all of the seven sacred cities of Hindu. But, if you look at
historical records Varanasi was probably founded about 3,000 years ago as an
industrial center for muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes and ivory.
Over one million pilgrims visit the city each year. Hindus believe that bathing
in the Ganges River forgives sin and that dying in this area ensures the
release of a person’s soul. There are about 100 ghats (a series of steps
leading down to the river) in the city. Many are privately owned and most are
used for bathing, cremation or disposal of partially burned corpses. Friends
from India report that the water is pretty dirty, so you might want
to think twice before you attempt a bathing experience.
Varanasi is also one of four important Buddhist pilgrimage sites
appointed by Guatama Buddha. He is said to have given his first sermon on the
basic principles of Buddhism here.
The main attraction in the city is the ghats, but there are also many temples
to see. Over the centuries the temples in the city have been destroyed numerous
times by invading Muslims, who then used the materials to build mosques. There
is still some racial tension in the city today.
Tucked in the center of Rome, Italy,
this small country is only 110 acres and has a population of just 900 people,
but as far as being a religious location, it is huge. It is home to the central
authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the residence of all Popes since
Once upon a time (37-41 AD), the area was the site of the Circus of Nero, and
the tall obelisk you see standing outside of St. Peter’s Basilica is a remnant
from those days. Legend has it that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was
crucified upside down. Many other Christians were also martyred here. Up until
the 4th century, when the Basilica was constructed, the area was a prominent
place for funeral monuments, mausoleums and altars of pagan gods.
At one time the church ruled a large portion of the Italian peninsula, but in
the mid-19th century the Papal States were seized by the new kingdom of Italy. A bit of unrest ensued between Italy
and the church, but finally in the 1900’s Mussolini signed a treaty between Italy
and the Holy See allowing Vatican
City to exist in the
way you see today.
There is a lot to see in Vatican
City, including St. Peter’s
Basilica, the Vatican Library, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum, which house incredible works of art by Michelangelo,
Bernini, Botticelli and Raphael.
Haifa is built on the slopes of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, about 56 miles from Tel Aviv. It’s got wonderful beaches
that tourists still seem unaware of and some important religious sites.
Religiously it’s a very diverse city and a major pilgrimage site for people of
the Bahá’í faith.
Your first question may be what is Bahá’í? It’s an independent world religion
that was founded in the mid-1800’s in Iran by Bahá’u’lláh. The followers believe Bahá’u’lláh is the
most recent prophet, following in the footsteps of Krishna,
Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus. The goal of Bahá’í is to unite all
races and people in one cause and one common faith centered on unity, love and
Bahá’í is more of a lifestyle than a religion, but when it all started in Iran the Muslim authorities were not very happy about it.
Thousands and thousands of Bahá’ís have been killed because of their beliefs
over the years. Regardless, Bahá’í continues to grow and flourish and this
non-violent group that believes in honesty, trust, truth, service to humanity,
and fellowship with all other religions has built an incredible site In Haifa.
The Bahá’í World Center and its golden-domed shrine were made a UNESCO World
Heritage Site last year.
Lake City, Utah
This city was founded in 1847 by a group of Mormon pioneers led by their prophet
Brigham Young. The group fled from the Midwest to
escape hostility against their practice of polygamy. Disputes occurred between
the Mormon settlers and the federal government over the practice, and finally
in 1890 the church released a manifesto which suggested its members obey the
law forbidding polygamy.
The city is very diverse, both religiously and culturally. It hosts portions of
the Sundance Film Festival, attracts many Broadway and off-Broadway plays, has
a large Greek Festival, holds the international Salt Lake City Marathon, has a
very diverse music scene, and has a large gay population which holds a gay
pride parade each June.
The city is the headquarters of The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the Salt Lake Temple is a main tourist attraction. This enormous six-spire
granite building sits in the heart of the city and took 40 years to build. Only
members of LDS are permitted to enter the building. You’ll also find the Family
History Library, which is the largest genealogical library in the world and
open to the public.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to
about 4000 BC. It has been the spiritual center and the holiest city for the
Jewish people since the 10th century BC. It also contains many important old
Christian sites and is the third-holiest city in Islam. Over the centuries it
has been destroyed twice, attacked 52 times and besieged 23 times. Today the
city is at the center of the conflict between Israel
Although Jerusalem is primarily known for religious reasons, it is also an
incredible cultural city. The Israel Museum, which features many ancient collections, including the
Dead Sea Scrolls, attracts about a million visitors a year. There is also the
Palestinian National Theatre, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and Yad Vashem
(a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.)
The Old City of Jerusalem became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is a
small section inside of the large modern city and holds several important
religious sites like Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and al-Aqsa
Mosque. The walls to the Old City contain 11 ancient gates, but only seven are open. Until
1887 the gates were always closed at sunset and opened again at sunrise.
This is one of the oldest cities in India. Legend associates its creation with Lord Brahma (the
Hindu god of creation.) Part of the myth says that the gods let loose a swan
with a lotus in its beak. The lotus fell to earth and the place where it landed
Pushkar is located in the center of India
near Ajmer. It is considered one of the five sacred pilgrimage sites
for Hindus. Pushkar Lake is a divine spot and pilgrims come to the lake during the
months of October and November to bath at one of the 52 ghats.
Other reasons to visit are to see the Brahma Temple, one of few existing temples dedicated to Lord Brahma, or
for the Pushkar Fair which is one of the world’s largest camel fairs and
attracts thousands of tourists.
Medina, Saudi Arabia
Medina is the city that the Prophet Muhammad fled to when he was
driven out of Mecca. It is considered the second holiest city in Islam and is
located about 120 miles from the Red Sea in a very fertile area of the Hejaz Territory. Like Mecca, only Muslims are allowed to enter Medina.
Al Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) was built on the site of Muhammad’s
home and is where he is buried. Muhammad actually helped to build the original
mosque in 622 AD. The mosque has burned down and been rebuilt twice, most
recently by King Fahd. At that time 27 moving domes were added to the roofline,
it was expanded so it could hold a larger number of people, and comforts like
air conditioning were added.
Many Muslims on the Hajj pilgrimage visit Medina before
or after visiting Mecca. Muslims believe that praying once in the Prophet’s Mosque
is the equivalent to praying 1,000 times in any other mosque.
Read more about author Deanna
Hyland and read her other BootsnAll articles.