From well-known Greek temples such as the Parthenon to classic gothic cathedrals like the one in Chartres, France, religious architecture has played a major role in the visual culture of various societies for over a thousand years. Unfortunately,one tends to think of painting and sculpture when one thinks of “art” while architecture of all sorts seem to exist in a strange limbo. People readily view “old” buildings as visual cultural objects without making the connection between architecture and art. In honor of this under-appreciated artistic form, I have chosen some of my favorite religious buildings from around the world.
1.Fushimi Inari Shrine-Kyoto, Japan
The Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto is one of Japan’s most well-known Shinto temples. The Hata family established the shrine in 711 with Inari, the protector of grains (and by extension wine), as the shrine’s patron deity. One would notice statues of foxes throughout the shrine, because foxes were considered messengers of Inari. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is also particularly known for its pathway of red torii gates, which number in the thousands. The stark whiteness of the shrine’s facade contrasts beautiful with its bright red and green accents.
2.Meenakshi Amman Temple-Madurai, India
The Meenakshi Amman Temple is a Hindu temple complex dedicated to the goddess Parvati (Meenkashi) and her consort Shiva (Sundareshvara). The original temple structure was built in early AD, but the invading forces of Islamic ruler Malikkapur destroyed most of the complex in the early 1300s. A Hindu king named Viswanatha Nayak later began rebuilding the temple. According to legend, the Meenakshi Amman Temple was founded by Indra, who is the king of celestial deities. There are over 30,000 colorfully painted statues decorating the facade of the temple. The statues include images of deities, demons, and even animals.
3.Nasir al-Mulk Mosque-Shiraz, Iran
A lord named Mirza Hasan ‘Ali Nasir al-Mulk commissioned Muhammad Hasan-e-Memar and Muhammad Reza Kashi Paz-e-Shiraz to design the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque during the Qajar Dynasty. Construction of the mosque took place over a twelve-year period in the late 19th century with its date of completion being in 1888. The mosque is known by various names, including “the Pink Mosque,” “the Kaleidoscope Mosque,” and “the Mosque of Colors.” These nicknames all allude to the astounding combination of bright, eye-catching color and elaborate geometric patterns found in traditional Islamic art and architecture, as seen in the interior of the building: