Ancient sacred destinations

By Sergio González | 10:15

From the very moment we went down the tree, we have been wandering around and wondering about our world. Nowadays many people take a peek at science looking in response to life’s troubles but, during most of the time, gods and goddesses had all the answers. Violent climate changes resulting in devastating droughts and floods, uncurable diseases or misbehaviour inside the community were all related to deities’ moods, likings and reactions. Such were not matters of insignificance -bare survival was at stake- and believers and scared ones equally lent their shoulders to counteract evil and please goodness.

When it came to show devotion, the aim was to be heard and seen from up high in the the sky. Almost any civilisation in the world has left along the path of history colossal yet very diverse means of letting their gods know they existed. From the huge but early Göbekli Tepe in Turkey to the delicate zen of Kinkaku-jiThe Golden Pavillion– in Kyoto, it’s been a sign of power for every blossoming religion. Today, pilgrimage is an important part of many religions -Lourdes, Jerusalem, Mecca or Amritsar move millions each year- as it has always been. What were the old spiritual destinations? Where did people of ancient religions and lost cultures use to seek relief and hope? We’ll have a look at three that are unique: the prizes are endurance, innovation and magnificence.

One shiny morning, 5000 years ago in today’s South England, dozens of  unyielding dolorite blocks were being dragged to substitute old wooden posts- Brozen Age Britts were demanding a better worship place and so Stonhenge, perfected to match sky glowing deitys, was born. It is said it used to align summer and winter solstices to help harvest planification and to predict natural disasters. Also it was supposed to have magical powers and to heal the ill. Anyway, it seems, according to archeaological data, that Stonhenge importance as a spiritual landmark started early on to remain up to our days. A worshiping and pilgrimage place at first it has influenced every culture in the British Isles -even enrichening Arthuric Legend with the idea of Merlin as the stonemason- coming to develop a whole mythology around which still attracts more than one million visitors a year.

Luxor, Temple of Hatshepsut -Deir el-Bahari. Pharaoh Hatshepsut wasn’t the first woman to rule over The Nile but the most succesful one, 1300 BC. Thanks to some early victories over pushing neighbours, the region was put to peace and stability under Egyptian control so she was able to develop trade and administration. Massive building projects would be launched and the fleet would be sent beyond known bringing farther wealth into her country and the 18th dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs.

The Temple of Hatshepsut was the perfect expression of how the queen put the new riches to work, beautifying it with far imported flora, gems and exquisitely fine statues of Osiris to guide her to the other side. Its construction was a milestone in Egyptian architecture because for the first time it encouraged worshippers to gather around and participate in the temple life. This would start a fashion for the New Kingdom future temples and flared up Hatshepsut devotion. Her commitment to art and self-grandeur was such that statuettes of her image are a common treat in many Egyptian museums and private collections all over the world. But her megalomania and great achievements also granted her enmity from next occuppiers of the throne who beheaded her statues and erased her name from her temples, devoured by time and sand advance.

Bagan, pagodes and oblivion. At dawn of first milleniun, the Burmese culture was about to bring South Asia under new management. The Pagan Empire widen -battle after battle- its domain all over the region, bringing back home wealthy tributes and new vassals to enlight the theravada buddhist capital at Burma -the king Anawratha had recently left Tantric to this more traditionalist way of Buddhism. The city became a centre of commerce, education and scholarship that flourished in science and  religious teaching -ongoing nowadays. It grew big enough to build up more than 10000 pagodes -2000 ones still up- to honor the awakened one and his wisdom, attracting theologians and pilgrims from all Asia. Less than three centuries would Bagan civilization see, doomed by harsh internal torn and -like many other states in Asia- finally fell to disgrace by Mongol conquest.

Photo Credit: woowoowoo

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