Cathedrals aren’t exactly known for being understated, but these jaw-dropping monuments reach new heights when it comes to spectacular architecture.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia started life as a cathedral, then it was turned into a mosque, and today it’s had another transformation into one of the city’s most popular museums and tourist attractions.
Evidence of the Hagia Sophia’s transition from cathedral to mosque can be seen in the installation of a mihrab (in place of the original alter) and in the gigantic disks featuring Islamic calligraphy which now hang from the cavernous ceiling.
The Hagia Sophia’s decor is a rich and atmospheric example of Turkey’s complex history, while the jaw-dropping scale of the building speaks to the ambition of the original builders. Treat yourself to a view of this architectural must-see by checking into the Boutique Saint Sophia.
Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada
Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal
The Notre-Dame Basilica in Quebec is one of those rare building that is even more impressive inside than it is from the outside. Built in the Gothic Revival style, the interior of the cathedral is elaborately decorated in azure, scarlet and purple with touches of gold and silver,. The ceilings, meanwhile, are painted a deep blue and studded with glittering metallic stars.
One of the Notre-Dame Basilica’s many unique features is its gigantic stain-glass windows which feature depictions of local history. The windows are complemented by wooden carvings and a towering 7000+ pipe organ, dating from 1891. To stay somewhere with (almost) as much history as the cathedral, check into the nearby Hotel Nelligan.
Cathedral of Brasilia in Brasília, Brazil
Cathedral of Brasilia in Brasília
Considering how steeped in tradition and history many cathedrals are, it feels almost surreal to describe the Cathedral of Brasilia as ‘futuristic’ and ‘extraterrestrial’. But despite being completed in 1970, the Cathedral Brasilia could just as easily be from 3070.
In front of the cathedral stand four gigantic bronze sculptures, representing the Bible’s Four Evangelists. 16 white concrete pillars rise up above Evangelists’ heads, branching out at the top to create a fan-like effect as visitors to the cathedral pass underneath a suspended, 12-meter wide reflecting pool.
The cathedral architect was Oscar Niemeyer, who shaped Rio de Janeiro’s architectural landscape. Niemeyer designed many of the city’s most striking buildings, including the Brasília Palace Hotel where guests can dine at Oscar Restaurant.
Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, Italy
Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily
Walking into the Cathedral of Monreale fills the casual visitor with a feeling of revenant tranquility. The outside of the building is built in the classic Norman architectural style, from grey granitecut in a clean, near Brutalist-style. Meanwhile, the inside has seemingly endless soft arches leading up to an alter that glows with religious paintings and gently flickering candles.
The design of the cathedral has been compared to the Middle-Eastern churches of Syria and Iraq, although the cathedral cloisters are considered to be a prime example of Italian craftwork. Wake up to the musical Cathedral of Monreale bells by staying nearby at the B&B Hotel Duomo Monreale.
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
The kaleidoscopic domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral are world-famous, even if the reason for their vibrant hues is less well known. In the 17th-century, Russians were experiencing a love affair with colour and as the availability of bright paint increased, the cathedral’s onion domes were decorated accordingly.
The cathedral sits at the centre of Moscow’s Red Square and was built in the 16th-century as a tribute to Ivan IV, better known international as Ivan the Terrible. Today, St. Basil’s Cathedral is a must-visit for tourists of all faiths.
If you’re hoping to stay close to the cathedral, it’s worth looking across the Moskva River for accommodation. The river’s southbank is lined with boutique hotels (such as the PEOPLE Red Square) and is only a few minutes walk from Moscow’s city centre.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá in Zipaquirá, Colombia
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá in Zipaquirá
Cathedrals are usually towering buildings stretching up to the sky, but the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá takes things in the opposite direction. Literally. This underground church is built inside the tunnel of a salt mine, 200 metres below the surface, and all of the religious icons and architectural details are carved from salt.
The Salt Cathedral is a functioning church, as well as a tourist attraction, but it doesn’t officially count as a cathedral because it does not have a bishop. Despite this technical wrinkle, the cathedral is considered to be a highpoint of Colombian architecture and locals are, justifiably, very proud of it. Travellers hoping to attend an early morning service can stay a 3-minutes walk away at the Hotel Camino de la Sal.