Throughout history, temples played a major role in religious manifestations. Currently, over a quarter of the world population shares Oriental beliefs, which include Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism. All of these pray to their deities and venerate them in temples that are as architecturally diverse as the religions that separate them. Covered in spectacular bass-reliefs and sculptures, with oddly shaped towers that could easily make one wonder how it was possible to create such architectural marvels centuries ago, plated in gold, decorated with gems and diamonds, it seems as if they are all competing with each other. However, all these eye-catching details are nothing more than a sign of appreciation for the most venerated gods in Asian religion.
The first temple known to history was King Solomon’s Temple, built around 960 BC in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. Historians estimate that it might be the most expensive temple ever built, but unfortunately, it was completely destroyed during the Babylonian invasions in 586 BC. Since then, many religious buildings have rivaled in shape and size, only to become the symbols of the religion and deity they were dedicated to. From the ancient ruins at Angkor Wat to the unusual contemporary design of Wat Rong Khun Temple, there are hundreds of fairytale-like temples in the world. However, none can match the exuberance of the 10 most expensive temples ever built.
10. Chion-in Temple, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan: $10 Million
Built in 1234 AD, Chion-in Temple is dedicated to Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, a humble monk who fasted until death on the very spot the temple was erected. Initially, the temple had 21 buildings, but earthquakes and fires almost destroyed them all. This is why the oldest building still standing today dates back from the 17th century. Visitors entering the temple must pass through the largest gate in Japan, the two stories high Sanmon gate built in 1619. The temple’s bell is another record holder, weighing 74 tons and requiring the strength of 17 monks to be ringed. Another interesting feature is uguisu-bari, the nightingale floor, whose wooden planks were specially created to crack with every footstep, thus warning monks of any intruders. The estimated construction cost for Chion-in Temple rises to approximately $10 million, but it could very well be much more, as many of the original buildings have been lost.
9. Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet: $15 Million
Perched on the very top of Mount Potalaka, Potala Palace was built in the year 637 AD by the first emperor of Tibet. Ever since the 7th century, it has been the Dalai lama’s winter palace. It consists of two main buildings, each 13-stories high: Potrang Karpo, the White Palace, and Portrang Marpo, the Red Palace. There are more than 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines, and 200,000 statues. Potala Palace was the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, until he was forced to flee to India during the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. The place is currently a state museum. The first phase of renovations at Potala Palace began in 1989, lasted five years, and cost an estimated $5 million. Potala Palace is estimated to have cost between $4 and $15 million at the time, but with a history of almost 1500 years, maintenance costs and new wings add much more.
8. Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China: $20 Million
Built in the 15th century by Emperor YongLe of the Ming Dynasty, TianTan, or the Temple of Heaven, was designed as a personal Taoist temple, where he would pray for rich crops and for the forgiveness of the sins of his people. Its architecture is quite remarkable, built on three levels of marble base. Everything that represents Heaven is circular and rises high above the ground. To the ground, the elements of the Earth are represented in rectangular shapes. In 2005, restorations cost $8 million, while it is estimated that the temple itself cost well over $20 million to build at the time.
7. Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand: $22 Million
Very different from all the other Buddhist temples around the world, Wat Rong Khun Temple boasts a highly decorated white structure, covered in mirrors that make it glow as if magical. Built in a distinctive contemporary style, the temple is the work of renowned Thai architect Chalermchai Kositpipat. Commonly known as the White Temple, it truly seems ripped off the pages of a fairytale. Construction began in 1996 and, since then, $22 million have been spent. However, Wat Rong Khun is a work in progress and its designer estimates that constructions will last for at least another 90 years, making Wat Rong Khun the Buddhist equivalent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona and one of the most expensive temples ever built.
6. Srirangam Temple, Tiruchirapalli, India: $22 Million
The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is the largest still functioning Hindu temple in the world. Dedicated to Vishnu, one of the three deities in Hindu religion, the complex is gigantic, with seven concentric walls, the one at the exterior measuring six miles in length. The walls demarcate special spaces between them, each one more sacred than the other when moving toward the center. It is the tallest temple in Asia, with 21 towers, 39 pavilions, 50 shrines, and the spectacular Hall of 1,000 Pillars, Ayiram kaal mandapam. However, the Srirangam Temple seems to be hiding a treasure of its own behind its massive walls, worth at least $22 million, consisting of jewels sculptures, and other gold relics.
5. Prambanan, Java, Indonesia: $50 Million
A Hindu temple in Central Java, Prambanan was built in 850 AD. The complex includes eight main sanctuaries and 250 smaller ones around them. Walls are covered in spectacular bass-reliefs, telling the story of the reincarnation of the supreme Hindu deity Vishnu, the adventures of Hanuman the Monkey King, the Ramayana and other legends. It may not be the largest temple in Indonesia, surpassed only by Borobodur, but Prambanan can definitely make up through its beauty and grace. Considering the amount of stone that was carried to the site and the mastery of the thousands of bass-reliefs, Prambanan Temple is estimated to have cost well over $50 million to complete.
4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia: $50 Million
The largest temple and religious building in the history of mankind, and an inspiration for numerous novels and movies, Angkor Wat was built at the beginning of the 12th century in present day Cambodia. It was the first Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. Around the 14th or 15th centuries, when Buddhism spread throughout Asia, the temple was converted to the new religion. With interestingly shaped towers and fine decorations, it served as the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire. Its harmonious design rivals ancient Greek and Roman architecture. India plans to build a replica of Angkor Wat. They estimate a cost of construction of $50 million, while work on the replica will last for at least 30 years, just to give you an idea of how much it cost to build the original temple and how long it took.
3. Borobudur, Java, Indonesia: $70 Million
A gigantic structure, the Borobodur complex in the very heart of the jungles of Java is built from approximately 55,000 cubic meters of stone. There are 2,700 bass-reliefs and 504 statues of Buddha. In the 19th century, the German forces occupying Indonesia discovered this colossal building. To this day, it is not yet certain what it served for, or the reason it was abandoned centuries ago. Researchers believe that Borobudur is a huge Buddhism manual because its engravings tell the story of Buddha’s life and his teachings. Prambanan Temple’s big brother, Borobudur is estimated to have cost well over $70 million to build at the time.
2. Golden Temple, Punjab, India: $100 Million
Harmandir Sahib, literally meaning The Temple of God, is commonly known as the Golden Temple in Punjab, India. It is the most sacred temple in the Sikh religion. For the adepts of this Asian religion, the Golden Temple symbolizes infinite freedom and spiritual independence. The place the temple stands on was once covered by a lake, so peaceful that even Buddha meditated by its side. Construction began at the beginning of the 16th century, when the fifth Sikh Guru enlarged the lake and built the temple and city around it. The temple is decorated in marble sculptures, is plated in 1,753 pounds of pure 24-carat gold, and covered in gems. This means that the gold alone is worth over $30 million. If you add the construction itself, all the diamonds, gems, and sculptures, the Golden Temple in Punjab may reach an estimated value of over $100 million.
1. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma: $2.4 Billion
Legend has it that the Shwedagon Pagoda was built some 2,500 years ago, but archeologists estimate it was erected between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. The golden temple is actually plated in gold. In the 15th century, the queen of the Mon people donated her own body weight in gold to the temple. The tradition has been kept to this day, and visitors bring small golden leaves which they stick to the walls of the temple. As if this wasn’t enough, the dome is covered in over 8,000 diamonds and 2,000 rubies, all topped by a 76 karat diamond in the very peak of the dome. At the same time, the temple hosts one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhist world, eight of Buddha’s hairs. The Pagoda is covered in 60 tonnes of gold, which would be worth $2.4 billion. However, you cannot put a price tag on the relics it houses, which is why Shwedagon Pagoda is considered priceless.
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