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20 Must-See Cathedrals for Architecture Buffs

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Just as the splendor of the natural world is often overlooked, so too is the beauty and magnificence of our manmade world neglected. Everyday we pass through our lives without ever really noticing or taking in the beauty of the world around us: with eight-hour work weeks and ever growing schedules, there is always something to distract us from the beautiful intricacies of the expansive cityscapes we call home. The creativity and inspiration that goes into some of the most beautiful buildings in the world is, to say the least, astounding. Architects spend years planning and designing the impressive buildings that make up our immediate world. Whether you are a seasoned architect drafting and blueprinting your own building designs or an aspiring architect just entering design school, anyone can appreciate the outstanding and awe-inspiring architecture of the following 10 cathedrals found throughout the world.

  1. St. Basil’s Cathedral: Myth has it that Ivan the Terrible had the architect blinded after the construction of the Cathedral, so that he could create no building more beautiful. Located on the edge of the Red Square in Moscow, St. Basil’s Cathedral (pictured above) is one of the most beautiful and well known buildings in all of Russia. Built in 1560, Ivan the Terrible ordered its construction to commemorate the military victory in the Mongolian ruled city of Kazan. The cathedral consists of eight small chapels surrounding a ninth larger chapel, each symbolizing an important day of fighting in Kazan. What makes St. Basil’s Cathedral perhaps most interesting is that its architecture and design are unlike any other from that period in Russia. With intricate brickwork (a new material at the time) and elaborate coloring (added many years later), St. Basil’s is a sight to see.
  2. Notre Dame Cathedral: Immortalized in Victor Hugo’s famous novel, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is perhaps one of the most well known sacred destinations in history. Construction of Notre Dame Cathedral began in 1163 and was not finished until 1250. Notre Dame is a pinnacle example of French Gothic architecture, sculpture, and stained glass. Adorned with intricate gargoyles on the outside of the structure, Notre Dame Cathedral has the amazing ability to transport any onlooker to another time and place.
  3. St. Vitus Cathedral: With soaring spires visible from all over Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and important cathedrals in the Czech Republic and all of Europe. Founded in the 10th century, but not completed until the 20th century, St. Vitus Cathedral has a very long history. Of particular interest, above the south entrance to the cathedral is the Last Judgment mosaic. This mosaic is remarkable in its own right, designed from over one million pieces of glass and stone, but is also a rare art form to find in northern Europe.
  4. Strasbourg Cathedral: Standing 142 meters (that’s 472 feet), the Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest cathedral in the world for over four centuries. Built in the 13th century in France, Strasbourg Cathedral has an interesting blend of Roman and Gothic architecture. The astronomical clock located in the cathedral’s south transept, was able to mathematically calculate the date of Easter in the Christian calendar before computers ever existed. A trip up the three hundred steps of the cathedral platform provides an undeniably stunning view of all of Strasbourg.
  5. Seville Cathedral: Built in 1402 in Spain, Seville Cathedral has several historic claims to fame. The cathedral was built to represent the city’s power and wealth after the reconquest, houses the tomb of legendary Christopher Columbus, and boasts several impressive architectural feats. Covering over 11,500 square meters, Seville Cathedral is the third largest church in Europe and has the largest altarpiece in the world. Designed in a Gothic style, Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic building in all of Europe.
  6. Roskilde Cathedral: One of the must-see destinations in Denmark, Roskilde Cathedral serves as a mausoleum to the Dutch Royal family. The cathedral incorporates a variety of architectural styles, but is predominantly Gothic. While Roskilde is the oldest Gothic building in Denmark, it also contains earlier Romanesque influences throughout the inside of the structure.
  7. Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore: Situated in Florence, the construction of this cathedral took over 150 years to complete. Because its construction took so long, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore (also known simply as Duomo) has adopted an array of architectural styles, making it one of the most unique cathedrals on this list. The octagonal dome is the cathedral’s most notable feature and is the first dome of this shape to be built without a wooden supporting frame. The dome is crowned with a unique lantern, an architectural design technique that was highly questioned at the time.
  8. Chartres Cathedral: Built in the 12th century and located in the medieval French town of Chartres, this cathedral is world renowned for its architectural magnificence. Chartres Cathedral is almost perfectly preserved in its original design and detail. With all original stained glass windows and completely intact sculptures, Chartres Cathedral is a truly awe-inspiring sight and a wonderful example of 12th century Gothic architecture.
  9. Evora Cathedral: Considered a masterpiece of Portuguese architectural and artistic design, the Evora Cathedral originated in 1186 with a Romanesque style and was restored centuries later in a Gothic style. The porch and central window (dating back to the Gothic period) are two of the most renowned and beautiful features in the Cathedral. The main portal displays the 12 apostles, looking similar to the designs at the infamous Notre Dame Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral.
  10. St. Patrick’s Cathedral: When we think of beautiful cathedrals and elaborate old-world architecture, our minds immediately travel to Europe. While Europe holds many of the most architecturally notable cathedrals (and structures) in the world, the United States also makes this list. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is one of the most amazing architectural buildings in the western hemisphere. Built of brick for stability and then covered with marble, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a neo-Gothic style cathedral, looming among modern skyscrapers. This jarring sight is at once bizarre and breathtaking.
  11. Hagia Sophia Cathedral: Officially named The Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia Cathedral is located in Istanbul, Turkey. A site of immense history, sadly nothing remains of the original building constructed in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. Throughout its history, Hagia Sophia has been a place of warship for both Christians and Muslims, allowing for an interesting contrast of religious adornments throughout the cathedral. Hagia Sophia Cathedral is the greatest example of Byzantine architecture in the world.
  12. Winchester Cathedral: As the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and one of the largest cathedrals in England, the Winchester Cathedral is a must-see sight. Winchester Cathedral is very popular among tourists for more reasons than just its beautiful and intricate architecture. Famous English writer Jane Austin’s tomb lies in the north aisle of the nave. With impressive chantry chapels, elaborately carved choir stalls, and intricately adorned ornamental screens, Winchester Cathedral offers a whimsical setting for any architecture enthusiast.
  13. Santiago de Compostela Cathedral: As the destination of the historic medieval St. James pilgrimage, Santiago Cathedral in Spain is one of the world’s most important religious sites. The cathedral’s facade forms part of a grand square, called the Plaza del Obradoiro, which is surrounded by public buildings. The Baroque facade is made of granite and is flanked by huge bell towers that are adorned with numerous statues of St. James.
  14. St. Sava Cathedral: As the largest Orthodox Church in the world that remains currently in use, St. Sava Cathedral has some unbeatable architectural valor. Work on the cathedral began in 1935, but was postponed because of World War II. The structure, incomplete until 2004, stands 82 meters tall (269 feet) and is visible from any angle throughout the city of Belgrade. With classic architectural elements, St. Sava cathedral is designed as a Greek cross and has a facade made of white marble and granite.
  15. Nidaros Cathedral: Renowned as the most beautiful cathedral in all of Scandinavia, Nidaros Cathedral has been a religious pilgrimage destination since the beginning of its construction in 1070. With a fascinating combination of medieval architectural styles, Nidaros cathedral is a design enthusiast’s dream.
  16. Berliner Dom Cathedral: While this cathedral is less raved about than many of the others on this list, Berliner Dom Cathedral is an impressive basilica that in its present day form only dates back to 1905. The structure is large and has an extraordinary dome, decorated with intricate mosaics. The Berliner Dom’s crypt is possibly the most historically significant aspect of the cathedral, housing more than eighty sarcophagi of Prussian royals.
  17. Mainz Cathedral: Located in the old town of Mainz, Mainz Cathedral (along with Worms Cathedral and Speyer Cathedral) represent the climax of Romanesque cathedral architecture in Germany. While it has come to represent Romanesque architecture, Mainz Cathedral’s current construction displays a conglomerate of architectural styles, including Baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque. Many of the supporting pillars along the aisles of the nave are decorated with carved and painted statues of French and German saints.
  18. Washington National Cathedral: Located in Washington DC, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (simply called Washington National Cathedral) is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States. Washington National Cathedral displays various Gothic architectural styles from the middle ages, but is designed mostly with an English Gothic influence. Most notable for architecture buffs is the interior of Washington National Cathedral, which is heavily decorated with sculptures, wood carvings, and mosaics.
  19. St. Andrew’s Cathedral: Located in Scotland, St. Andrew’s Cathedral was at one point considered the largest and most important church in Scotland. St. Andrew’s Cathedral now lies in ruins, overlooking the North Sea. While it is mere bones compared to what it had once been, St. Andrew’s Cathedral is a must-see stop for any individual. Incorporating both a Norman and early Gothic style, St. Andrew’s Cathedral was built over a long period of time. Because the cathedral has been reduced to its foundations, it is a prime example of the endurance of this kind of architecture.
  20. Ulm Minster Cathedral: Although many (even on this list) claim to be the largest cathedral in the world, Ulm Minster Cathedral truly stands as the tallest church in the world, looming 160 meters (528 feet) in the sky. As possibly the finest example of Gothic architecture in Germany, Ulm is a desirable sight for any individual interested in architecture. Climbing the 768 steps of the great Gothic spire tower provides a superb panoramic view or the entire city and an introduction to many stone gargoyles.

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