Loca Sancta stands for holy places and shrines where pilgrims find peace and quietness and extend their prayers for health, happiness and prosperity of their near-and-dears. This has been this way since ancient times on all continents. Ancient peoples worshipped their Gods and made immolations. Their open shrines have still been visited by people of all walks and styles, tourists and locals alike. Things have changed slightly through the centuries but as a whole, religious beliefs and concepts, pilgrimage and worships have remained similar to those of ancient times.
Nowadays Christian Catholics have Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vatican (or just St. Peter’s Baislica). It is the holy centre of Catholicism and Christendom as a whole. The Late Renaissance cathedral was built at the place of St Peter’s grave. The holy church was designed by four geniuses – Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. For sure, Michelangelo has the greatest contribution to the construction of the dome and, of course, the Renaissance sculpture La Pietá – the other landmark of the Basilica.
Then the Il Duomo di Milano comes. It was built in the course of only six centuries and is an exceptional architectural Gothic masterpiece in Milan. It’s extremely spacious inside and it is among the five largest cathedrals in the world. Its opulent decoration gives you the feeling of being in another world. But, there is no doubt that the most attractive and special place of Milan Cathedral is its roof. It’s not the typical roof the other cathedrals have – tiny, overcrowded and with no space to step on and indulge in the breathtaking views. Just on the opposite, the roof resembles terraces with pinnacles and spires close-up among which you enjoy the most marvelous views of the city of Milan (by the way, on clear days the mountains might be seen on the horizon).
Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (the Seville Cathedral) is the third largest cathedral in the world coming after San Pietro in Rome and il Duomo di Milano and the largest Gothic holy place in the Christian Catholic world. It is the burial site of the great discoverer – Christopher Columbus. The Girlda Tower is inseparable part of the Cathedral. The bell tower is an ex minaret with 36 ramps. Why are there ramps instead of steps? The answer is simple. When it was a minaret the muezzin wouldn’t have felt very comfortable if he had had to climb up and then go down so many steps five times a day to call believers to prayer. That’s why those ramps were invented and built. Thus he would never get tired of this physical exercise because he went up and down the ramps riding a little donkey. Nowadays the bell tower is magnificent and it resembles the famous minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.
Being in Andalucía, we cannot omit Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba (Mosque-cathedral of Córdoba). It is one of the few examples in Europe when a holy place has been bi-religious through the centuries. It started as a Christian Catholic Christian church – the San Vicente Basilica. Then the Moors invaded most of Southern Europe starting from the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and in that period of time they divided it into two halves – Muslim and Christian. In 784 Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman I bought the Christian part and thus the great Mosque of Córdoba was built on the ground of the former church. The city of Córdoba became the third largest Moorish Caliphate of that time (after Syria and Egypt) and the Mosque became the one and only competitor of Masjid al-Ḥarām (the Great Mosque of Mecca). Why? A numbre of caliphs contributed to the splendor and opulence of the site. Around 900 columns were panelled with onyx, marble, jasper and granite. As for the Moorish (horseshoe) arches, they were covered with red and white marble and mosaics. This Moorish heritage site was converted into a Christian Cathedral in the 13th century.
The “opposite” example of bi-religious holy place is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The Greek-Orthodox basilica was built under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the period 532 – 537. It served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. It was a Roman Catholic Church under the Latin Empire for a short period of time (1204 – 1261). And the holy building became an imperial mosque when Constantinople was taken by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror on May 29, 1453. The Ottomans built minarets onto the Cathedral and used it as a mosque till 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared it a museum where nowadays the two religions meet.
Opposite Hagia Sophia is the Sultan Ahmet Camii (the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) or better known as the Blue Mosque because of its blue interior. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, its architect, started it in 1609. He used more than 20 000 tiles and projected 260 colourfully painted windows so that the Mosque could shine anytime during the day. It’s the only camii in the world possessing 6 minarets and that makes it really unique.
I will end this post with one last masterpiece. But before that I will make the remark that I have given you only few instances of holy places and I will not be able to describe all of them in one post only. Even I have not managed to give you examples of holy buildings and shrines that belong to all religions…. My bad and I am sorry, guys…. So, my last stop will be in Moscow. Maybe you know that the Red Square was called Troitskaya for a short period of time. It was named after the small Saint Trinity Church (later Cahedral) that burnt down during the fire and the invasion of the Tatars in 1571. The Cathedral took the name of Saint Vasily the Blessed when he was buried there in 1553. Nowadays the Saint Basil’s Cathedral is the hallmark of Moscow and one of the most notable cathedrals in world. Actually, it consists of one main church and eight other smaller chapels that have colourful onion domes (mostly Russian architectural style) and spires.