Out of the countless cities across the globe, none are regarded with more sanctity than these five.

Praying Tibetan nuns / Photo sirensongs

With an estimated 4,200 different faiths being practiced in the world today, it is no secret the rewards gained from developing the spiritual self.

Our souls strive to be at peace, in love, and with joy, as we simultaneously endeavor to create comfortable material lives for ourselves and our loved ones.

Many times, the faithful will journey to legendary holy lands in efforts to revitalize, reaffirm, and renew their faith. These pilgrimages are such defining experiences that they nourish the human spirit for years after.

Out of the countless cities formed across the globe, none are regarded with more sanctity than the five listed below.

Bonded to history, legend, and faith, these sites attract believers who are willing to travel incredible distances to set foot on these holy lands.

1. Jerusalem

“At the Wailing Wall, the most religious site [in Judaism],
you’re imparted with a very strong sense of hope and
belief. To leave prayers in the cracks of the Wall feels
surreal.” – David Shevitz / Photo Rob Sheridan

One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem holds incredible spiritual significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

It is the site of the Wailing Wall, the Last Supper, and Muhammad’s ascension to heaven. It is home to over a thousand synagogues, a hundred churches, and seventy mosques.

Upon entering, travelers are immediately awed by the city’s rich culture and history. Much of its original architecture remains intact and, depending on which part you visit, the spirituality that pulses through the city’s veins is almost palpable.

For a place to be so deeply embedded into the human faith and the point of convergence for three of the world’s most popular religions warrants true amazement. While Jerusalem may have a troubled past, its current identity as a city of religious coexistence is undeniable.

2. Mecca

Circumambulation around the Kaaba is only the first of many
detailed rituals of Hajj. / Photo forureyezonly

Islam’s holiest city is home to the largest mosque in the world, al-Masjid al-Haram mosque, and the Kaaba shrine. It is also the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and each year, millions of Muslims arrive here to complete the Hajj.

The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and must be achieved at least once in every Muslim’s lifetime. With the convenience of jet travel, more and more Muslims are entering Mecca to serve their faith and unite in their beliefs.

Believed to be founded by Abraham and his son Ishmael in 570, Mecca is now a fascinating blend between modernity and antiquity.

Rapid expansion has allowed for the appearance of beautiful architectural dichotomies such as the Abraj Al Bait Towers that stand across the street from the al-Masjid al-Haram mosque. Scheduled to complete in 2009, the Towers will be the tallest structure in Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunate for travelers who are not Muslims or Islamic converts, Saudi law still prohibits Non-Muslim entry into Mecca.

3. Vatican City

One traveler described Saint Peter’s as so exquisite “[it]
made time stop.” / Photo vgm8383

Ruled by the Pope, Vatican City is the spiritual center for the Catholic faith and is devoted to piety.

Everywhere, religious symbols and illustrations welcome travelers.

The Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s iconic, painted scene of God giving life to Adam on the ceiling, is a popular destination among visitors. The unparalleled beauty of Saint Peter’s Basilica impresses upon people an immense sense of awe and appreciation.

In Saint Peter’s Basilica, travelers may attend mass and receive Communion. Afterward, the Pope gives a message of peace and blesses the crowd outside in St. Peter’s Square.

Under the Pope’s direction, Vatican City and the Catholic Church carry out their religious mission all over the globe. With one sixth of the world’s population following the Catholic Church, it is apparent that the Pope and Vatican City are significant sources of inspiration for the human spirit.

4. Varanasi

Religious ceremonies are held nightly along the banks
of the Ganges. / Photo orangetuesday

An ancient city along the banks of
the Ganges River, Varanasi is considered by many Hindus to be the center of the Hindu universe. Hindu legend tells of the deity Shiva founding Varanasi and taking up residence there once upon a time.

Perhaps the most important feature of Varanasi is its prime location next to the Ganges River, a river so inextricable from Hindu faith that, in one year, over a million believers will enter the sacred city to bathe in or drink its hallowed waters.

Travelers who have witnessed Hindu families bring the bodies of their deceased loved ones to receive the spiritual benefits of the Ganges’s water and then cremate the bodies describe the sight as truly stunning. For hours, the fires of cremation burn with incredible intensity. Afterward, the ashes are scattered across the holy river.

5. Bodhgaya

Monks say a prayer underneath the Bodhi tree.
/ Photo Matthew Winterburn

After 49 days of meditation sitting underneath the Bodhi tree in this sacred city, Siddhartha Guatama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.

Buddhist legend says the Bodhi tree only grows when there is a Buddha present in our midst. For Siddhartha, the Bodhi tree sprang up from the ground the day he was born, heralding his entrance into the physical world.

Situated in front of the Bodhi tree, the Mahabodhi Temple is the holiest of Buddhist temples. Every year, pilgrims as well as monks and nuns travel to Bodhgaya to meditate under the same tree as the Buddha.

In the communal, tranquil silence, they listen for inner peace.

In December and January, the Dalai Lama stays in Bodhgaya, giving Dharma talks to the public. It is during these months that travelers have a good chance of hearing the Dalai Lama speak and even meeting him.

Pray. Sing. Meditate. Devote. Confess. Share your thoughts in the comments!

View 13 comments