il duomo, firenze

10 Amazing Churches I Visited

In terms of travelling, churches are not only places of worship for Christians, but also popular tourist attractions and landmarks, representing history and cultural richness of the city. Since beauty is eventually in the eye of the beholder, I think the “most beautiful” churches don’t really exist. But definitely, there are many beautiful churches spreading in many cities in this planet earth.

Here is my list of 10 amazing churches I managed to capture for the last 12 years of my travels. Anyways, the numbers on the list is nothing more than just numbers and define neither best nor the most beautiful.

1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or so called Il Duomo is a Gothic church constructed in 1296 based on the designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and completed with the dome in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi. The pink and green polychrome marble on the façade, lavish details of the statues never fail to mesmerize me. Nonetheless, on the contrary, Il Duomo’s interior seems simple and feel empty compared to the exterior. So it would be enough to enjoy the church merely from the outside.

il duomo, firenze

2. Valencia Cathedral, Valencia, Spain

Valencia Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church built in the 13th century on the site of a Roman temple, that was once a mosque before it was changed into a church. Due to its development and changes through the centuries until the 18th century, it shows a combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical style in its architecture. The cathedral is located in the heart of the city at Plaza de la Virgen and no one could and should miss the most iconic and beautiful site in Valencia.

Further post about my visit in Valencia can be found here.

3. Rock Church / Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki, Finland

Rock Church was created by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen opened in 1969. Unlike any other churches, the unconventional Lutheran Church was built inside a massive block of natural granite that makes it have an incredible acoustics quality and a popular place for music concerts. I truly enjoyed a beautiful piece of classical music played by a Japanese pianist on that day. The silence and serenity atmosphere could be maintained pretty well inside, despite the fast traffic of crowds visiting the church, showing their respect in the house of God.
rock church helsinki

4. Cave Churches in Göreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia, Turkey

Listed on UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Göreme Open Air Museum is situated in Nevşehir Province in Cappadocia. It attracts millions of visitors worldwide, thanks to the churches built by the Christians inside the carved rocks as shelters from the Arab troops when they pressurized Byzantine borders.

Over the centuries, the act of worshiping statues and drawings of religious characters provoked a reaction. In 726 AD, Iconoclastic period began under the law promulgated by Leon III to forbid religious drawings, closed churches, monasteries and destroyed numerous icons until Empress Theodora ended the period in 843 AD. The churches in Göreme were created from 10th until 13th century. The frescoes inside were from post-iconoclastic period with typical Byzantine style.

The remaining churches people can see are St. Basil Church, Apple Church, St. Barbara Chapel, Snake Church, Dark Church, St. Catherine Chapel, Sandal Church, and Buckle Church, that never fail to mesmerize me until now.

Further post about my visit in Cappadocia and how I got cheated by the local tour package is here.

cappadocia
St. Barbara Chapel
cappadocia
Apple Church
Façade of a rock church
Façade of a rock church

5. Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood or Church on Spilled Blood was built in 1883 by Alexander III as a memorial of his father, Alexander II. Its location is right on the site where Alexander II was assassinated by a group of revolutionaries. A stonework canopy inside the church symbolizes the holiness of the memorial, as pictured on the second image on the right side.

Unlike other churches with full of sculptures, Church on Spilled Blood is famous for  thousands of pieces of extremely detailed mosaic depicting biblical stories covering the entire part of the wall. I was way too stunned to witness its magnificent beauty that I couldn’t decide the best angles and spots to capture with my camera. They all are just incredible!

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

6. The Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter and Paul Cathedral is the oldest and the first landmark in St. Petersburg built inside the Peter and Paul Fortress during the reign of Peter the Great. The Russian Orthodox church situated along the Neva River was designed between 1712 and 1733 by Domenico Trezzini.

Apart from holding religious services, Peter and Paul Cathedral has become the final resting place of nearly all members of Russian royal families, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas II and his family members who were brutally assassinated during the Bolshevik revolution. Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II who was often rumored that she escaped the massacre, was buried here as well after her remaining body was found in 2007.

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

7. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

Built between 1818 and 1858, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Russia designed by a French-born architect August Montferrand, dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great. The church is very lavish with red granite façade and gold-plated statues and engravings, amazing details of mosaic paintings and icons, as well as pillars made of malachite.

I completely lost my words to describe this wonderful masterpiece right before my eyes when I visited the site.

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

8. Aarhus Cathedral, Aarhus, Denmark

Aarhus Cathedral was built after year 1190 and finished in 1350, dedicated to St. Clements, the patron saint of sailors. It is one of the few preserved Romanesque churches in history and the longest church in Denmark with 93 meters length. The frescoes, created between 1470 and 1520, once covered most parts of the wall. Nonetheless, they are only a few remains nowadays. I can imagine how beautiful the interior supposed to be, and it still is despite the fading colours of the frescoes. I guess the sculptures are just complementary of the design, otherwise it looks too chaotic.

Besides, it also stores a model war ship, hanged on the ceiling and failed to ship to Peter the Great in Russia because of the shipwreck in Skagen. Local fishermen bought the model and donated to the church. Don’t forget to listen the beautiful sound of religious music from the largest organ pipe in the country inside the cathedral!

Further post about my visit in Aarhus can be found here.

9. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Vatican

St. Peter’s Basilica is the biggest Roman Catholic church in the world built in 1506 and finished in 1626 to replace the old one dated from the 4th century AD. Being famous as a place for Catholic pilgrimage, it is a burial site of St. Peter, the first Pope and one of Jesus’ apostles, now located at the Grottos along with kings, queens and other popes including Pope John Paul II. It is also the place where the pope leads liturgies in front of 15,000 to 80,000 audiences.

My first visit to the basilica is when I was only 7 years old. I couldn’t remember much of the details, indeed, until I returned to the same place in 2006 (time flies, huh?). I was glad that I did because apart from adoring the Renaissance style architecture and interior, I could also appreciate more Michaelagelo’s  Pietá inside the basilica and his famous fresco ceiling at the Sistine Chapel when I grow up. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t own a good quality camera back then, except borrowing one from a friend.

10. Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada

Church of the Redeemer is not as lavish and grand as other churches I previously mentioned, but I noticed a particular thing about the photographed I captured while looking at it in my laptop the year after. When it’s seen as a whole, there’s an impression of “old and new” here. Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican Church founded in 1871, has a modern office building background that looks like a mountain. Seems like a man-made version of natural landscape.

P1120855 copy

In case I don’t include some other beautiful churches in this post, there possible reasons behind it: either I failed to capture them, I lost the file, I haven’t had a passion in photography back then or I just haven’t got a chance to visit them.

Of course, I still have a pile of bucket lists and hopefully I’ll be able to fulfill all of them in the future.

Merry (belated) Christmas for those who celebrate it and have a great new year!

 

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town hall tallinn old town

Interesting Fact about Christmas Tree Display in Tallinn Old Town Square

First of all, Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it!

Seeing and speaking about beautifully decorated Christmas trees in shopping malls, main squares and the rest of public places, it reminds me of a visit to Tallinn in 2012. During the trip, my family and I took a day tour highlighting one of the most preserved medieval old town in Europe, the Old Town of Tallinn, which is listed in UNESCO Heritage Site.

Starting from Toompea Loss, we walked down the cobblestone street through Pikk Jalg Street, literally meaning “long boot”, to the lower side of the old town until we arrived at the main Town Hall Square, or Raekoja Plats.

tallinn town hall estonia
DKLo disguises as a Christmas tree, standing on the exact spot of a Christmas tree display in Tallinn main square

What brought me attention the most then (and now) about the town hall is not really about the iconic Tallinn Town Hall nor the restaurants and cafes nearby (although I admit that the meat pastry at the underground cafe in front of the square was super lovely).

The tour guide showed us a circle spot on the cobbled surface street in the middle of the square, which is believed that it was where the first decorated Christmas tree to be erected and displayed in public, before other European countries do and perhaps the rest of the world.

It started in 1441 by the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a group of unmarried merchants, ship owners and foreigners founded in the mid 14th century. Since then, the ritual lives on after almost 600 years later. The main giant Christmas tree in Estonia’s capital is placed in the same spot every year, along with Christmas Market in the town square.

I came in July and there was no Christmas tree and Christmas Market yet. To recall myself what the circle spot stands for, my cousin DKLo posed as a Christmas tree instead.

Until now, some still argue about the truth behind the fact. Nonetheless, until it’s proven otherwise, I think we should thank the Brotherhood who initiated the brilliant idea, that has become one of the most preferred activities for both young and old generation during the festive season, no matter if the tree is displayed in public or just stays in a living room.

Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi!

town hall tallinn old town
Another view of Old Town Square. The guy on the left somehow reminds me of a Santa Claus disguises as a normal person when he escapes North Pole 🙂

Sinterklaas Got Dirty on Christmas Day

SINTERKLAAS VS SANTA CLAUS

The 25th day of December is what Christians around the world is waiting for. However, the Dutch are also looking forward to the 5th day of the month to celebrating Sinterklaasfeest or St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas (Sint Nicolaas) was originally a patron saint of children and sailors who liked placing presents secretly in one’s shoes.

Sinterklaas vs Santa Claus
pic credit: http://www.nlchamber.cz/kalendar-sinterklaas-in-brno.html, http://danspapers.com/2012/11/sag-harbor-will-host-santa-claus-today/

Although Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are old, have full white beard, wear red outfit, and deliver presents only for nice children, they still have some other characteristics not in common. Sinterklaas rides a horse named Amerigo, not a sleigh pulled by Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his pack. He has less fat on his tummy than Santa Claus, doesn’t live in North Pole, is assisted by his humble servants called Zwarte Piet (curly-haired man who’s got dark skin from chimney ashes), wears a Pope-styled red mitre and holds a golden walking stick with decorative curl shape on top.

Another important fact about Sinterklaas: he becomes the foundation of American Santa Claus character.

SINTERKLAAS IS COMING TO THE OFFICE

Basically, Sinterklaasfeest is about present giveaways for (good) children, just like Santa Claus. However, nowadays some corporations in The Netherlands regard Sinterklaas as an alternative Christmas gathering besides a Christmas dinner. Therefore, the celebration is not limited for children and no worries, no bad-behaved children or mankind are taken to Spain in Sinterklaas’ sack.

What differs Sinterklaas celebration from any regular Christmas party is the rituals related to exchanging presents that takes some efforts. Oh well, if you associate the effort with creativity, it becomes a seriously fun thing to do.

Honestly, I’m not traveling anywhere nor do anything special this Christmas, but I recall unique traditions and wonderful moments of Sinterklaas event for the first time in an office in The Netherlands back in year 2005.

1. Lottery 

First thing first, all of us had to pick a random lottery, a jar containing small pieces of paper rolled with a recipient’s name written in it, to define to whom we had to give the present.

lucky-draw
http://thesabahsociety.com/jubilee/news/lucky-draw-prizes-update/

2. Be creative with the present

Anything significant about him or her? Is she afraid of spiders? Is he a devoted yogi? The chosen present must reflect a recipient’s personality, together with a poem or surprise in Dutch and the packaging. The latter must be presented as humorous as possible in a good way. Don’t surprise an arachnophobia by putting spiders inside a gift box, that’s nasty and mean. But nothing’s too serious either, otherwise it’s not fun any longer.

The lottery said that my present would go to Herman, the big boss who is (unfortunately) discreet about his personal life. I had no idea about his favourite drinks, TV shows or else, neither did my colleagues. All I know was that he’s quarter-Indonesian (if not half) and a family man.

Food was the only thing I could think of as a present if no great ideas running to my mind. Thus, I decided to give something physically cute and sweet taste I saw everyday in grocery stores during Christmas time, marzipan, regardless he would like it or not. Then, I created a giant De Ruyter packaging, a famous Dutch hagelslaag or chocolate sprinkle brand, to enclose the gift. Plus, to spice things up, I added marshmallows, chocolate syrup and shredded newspapers inside the giant box.

FYI, the Dutch introduced their traditional delicacies, including chocolate sprinkle, to Indonesian people during the 350-year-conquest in Indonesia. So, I believe historical connection between Dutch and Indonesian, represented with hageslaag, symbolized Herman’s origin. Sounds conceptual or simply out of a line? Whatever. Plus, to spice things up, I added marshmallows, chocolate syrup and shredded newspapers inside the gift.

make a mess and loving it!

What I did next:

  • Wrap the marzipan package with newspaper.
  • Mix marshmallows and shredded newspapers (an instant solution to save money on marshmallows) with chocolate syrup in a bowl.
  • Place the present inside a cereal box, then pour chocolate-stained marshmallows and shredded newspapers on top.
  • Close the cereal box and wrap it with a drawing paper.
  • Draw De Ruyter packaging design on the drawing paper with coloured pencil.
  • Make a poem. Gosh, I’m just not good at it! I totally forget what I wrote back then.
the famous Dutch chocolate sprinkle
http://www.littledutchgirl.com/images/3986.jpg
my drawing of De Ruyter chocolate sprikle box

3. Place one side of a boot in front of the fireplace beside the entrance door.

The day before, we left one side of our boots near the office entrance door. So Sinterklaas could put the present next morning, an alphabet chocolate bar according to the first name of the owner, in the boot.

one side of a boot will do, as you only get a bar, not two

4. D-Day

We were all more cheerful than ever despite the tight deadline. The day began with eating an alphabet chocolate from Sinterklaas and kruidnootjestiny rounded-shaped spice biscuits, from Zwarte Piet our secretary. A simple yet traditional lunch at noon, kerstol met amandespijs, sweet bread with almond paste, and Old Amsterdam’s oude kaas or old cheese, signified that the most anticipated moment was just a few hours more to come.

Et voilà! At 5 pm, Sinterklaas entered the office carrying his sack of presents. Surprisingly, without Zwarte Piet!

Thanks to my colleagues who captured these special moments, I am able to show it to you all. Check out if the presents truly represent recipients’ personality…..

A cat lover wearing Dutch klompen

An egg eater reading poetry

The other big boss is trying to give up on smoking

Now a bug hater can use scissors to slay any bugs

What’s inside the balloons? Mouse, fleas and other bug members!

Guess who was the man behind the Sinterklaas suit? Herman himself, to whom I delivered the present! I couldn’t be happier to see Dutch Santa rolled his sleeve to dig dirty marshmallows and shredded paper inside the giant De Ruyter box with bare hands to reach the present, without any help from Zwarte Piet.

Aha! Gigantic hagelslaag?

See the chocolate stain in his arm and gift?

Tah….. Dah…..fruity marzipan!

Time flew fast with lots of laughter and happiness regardless what we got from Santa. It might not be a feast with fine dining experience in a fancy restaurant, yet Sinterklaasfeest brought us together in particular way, more than just small talk to everyone in the beginning that ends up with an isolation of several people with common interest for more specific conversation while zipping a glass of wine.

It was time to unmask seniority and superiority in hierarchical environment for once and for all. On top of it, it really put us to the test how well we know our own colleagues or boss(es) in person after some time, that could sometimes be the hardest job of all. Indeed, some of us failed to do so, especially me, and realize it after the feast. Mingle more, folks, and build better human relationship out of it….

Merry Christmas, everyone! May joy and kindness be with you!