Present or past, a country's sacred places can tell you a whole lot about its people. From churches to mosques, mountains to beaches, we take a look at some of the most beautiful sacred sites in the world and the cultures behind them.
A lost city until 1812, Petra is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The citadel, carved straight out of the rock, may have been established as early as 312 BC. As well as many statues of gods and goddesses perfectly preserved in the rock, the site's sacred nature lies in its orientation. Researchers believe that the Nabataeans were aware of the relationship between the earth and the sun, and thus orientated many of Petra's most prominent structures to the equinox and solstice.
This prehistoric megalithic monument still hasn't revealed all of its secrets. Though its scared nature is undoubted, there is fierce debate as to its exact purpose. Whilst astrologers argue that it allowed prehistoric societies to predict lunar events, others believe it to be a burial site. Even today it is considered a place of religious significance by modern Druids, who gather at the site on the winter and summer solstice and the spring and autumn equinox.
One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is shared by the three Abrahamic religions. Jews, Christians and Muslims have fought centuries of wars for control of the territory. Over its long history, it has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Its Old City is a UNESCO site and appears on the organisation's List of World Heritage in Danger.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This beautifully preserved city in the clouds is one of South America's unmissable attractions. The iconic city of the Inca civilisation is dotted with temples and ritual stones that point directly towards the sun during the winter solstice, as well as evidence of human and animal sacrifice.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
This temple is the best preserved in Angkor, one of the biggest medieval cities in the world. It has always been an important focal point for religion, especially for Hindus as it was originally dedicated to god Vishnu by the Khmer Empire. Over the course of the 12th century, it slowly transformed into a Buddhist temple and is still recognised as a place of worship today.