From the outskirts of the Amazon to the Moscow metropolis, religion and architecture have walked hand in hand for centuries, and some of Earth’s most majestic buildings were constructed as places of worship.
Here are some of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals, from the absolutely ancient to the markedly modern…
1. St. Sophia’s Cathedral – Kiev, Ukraine
A compact collage of white, green and gold that seems almost cartoon-like against the grit of urban Kiev, St Sophia’s Cathedral was Ukraine’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains its most popular attraction. Inside is almost as striking as out, and the naves, apses and cupolas are dotted with mosaics and frescoes up to a millennium old.
2. Cathedral of Brasilia – Brasilia, Brazil
Quite unlike any other place of worship – or even building full stop – this modernist masterpiece was built in the late 1950s. Part of an ambitious project constructing a new national capital from scratch, it was the brainchild of acclaimed Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer.
Critics were particularly taken with the "crown of thorns" cupola, which sends light streaming down over an otherwise subterranean congregation.
3. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence, Italy
The architectural peak of the Florentine Renaissance – artistically and literally – this cathedral’s enormous dome was the largest in the world on completion, after sitting unfinished for decades as engineers puzzled over how to make it stay up. The building still towers over the red roofs of Florence, geometric green-and-white marble shining in the Tuscan sun.
4. St. Basil’s Cathedral – Moscow, Russia
As synonymous with Moscow as the Kremlin itself, St Basil’s is instantly recognisable for its vibrant colour scheme, and undulating domes meant to mirror a bonfire rising into the sky. It was built by Russia’s first tsar, Ivan the Terrible, and one (almost certainly false) legend states that he had the architect blinded so the building’s beauty could never be replicated.
5. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption – Cordoba, Spain
Officially the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, but widely known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, this historically mixed-use place of worship serves up a unique blend of cultures, styles, and religions.
It was built by the Moors in the 8th century, and converted by Catholics following the reconquista. Visitors will see Moorish walls around a Moorish courtyard, with a large Baroque church rising from the centre like a ship upon the ocean.
6. St. Louis Cathedral – New Orleans, USA
An extremely elegant building that’s weathered bombs, hurricanes, and the Great Fire of New Orleans, St Louis Cathedral was named after a French King, and remains the oldest continuously active Catholic church in the US.
The pride of Jackson Square, the attached cemetery hosts the tomb of a voodoo priestess, several alleged hauntings, and a grave-site preemptively purchased by the actor Nicolas Cage.
7. Cologne Cathedral – Cologne, Germany
A great big beast of a building – famous for its jagged twin spires that pierce 157 metres into the heavens – this Gothic cathedral was probably the tallest building in the world on completion in the 16th century. Sombre and blackened, the cathedral is nearly as foreboding as it is impressive, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.