Religious art

The Cathedral of Santa Maria, or the the Cathedral of Cagliari, has an incredibly ornate interior with geometric marble inlay creating mesmerising patterns.

Heading underground to the crypt you come to the Martyrs’ Sanctuary, so called because there are around 179 niches containing the relics of the martyrs of Cagliari.

Heading back into the city we find yet more ornate old churches whose weathered exteriors are of gently fading pastel colours.

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Inside even the most mundane looking buildings you can find a wealth of awe inspiring details and soaring flights of decorative fancy.

As an added bonus we are treated to some exquisite old balconies complete with old shutters and verdant window boxes.

And some cute little doors and rosy walls, all beckoning you inside for a peek.

And as always around every corner is yet another church looming large over the city.

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The city swings wildly from refined old elegance to cartoon street art and weathered poster collections.

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As we have a time to kill we also visit Cagliari botanical gardens, but as it is October there is not much in flower.

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However you can find a variety of impressive trees and cacti that still intrigue with their sculpture shapes and textures.

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Mountain villages

Hiring a car we’re off to explore the mountainous interior of Kos for a few days now.

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First on our trip is a visit to the Monastery of Agios Ioannis. This stunning little building is a revelation at the end of a non-descript road.

This tiny gem is covered from floor to ceiling with colourful frescos and detailed icons.

Built on a hill above Kefalos, this monastery is surrounded by lush greenery and offers amazing view to the sea.

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There’s seating under the shade of a huge old plane tree, just right for a coffee or ice cream break!

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Luckily there’s also a quaint little cafe that’s furnished in traditional Greek style.

 The whole place is a veritable suntrap with traditional blindingly white walls and bright blue detail.

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There are also some former monestary cells that are currently being refurbished.

The flooring of the terrace is decorated in the traditional black and white pebbled pattern that is common in Greece.

Then it’s off to our next destination, the small hill top village of Asfendiou.

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Above is Asomatos church in Asfendiou village, it has a commanding presence in the tiny hamlet.

The village only has around 100 inhabitants and close by are the remains of many ruined buildings that are slowly being bought back to life with outside investment.

After poking around several of the intriguing ruined homes we’re heading off to our next stop, the enchanting mountain top village of Zia.

Seville Cathedral

Seville cathedral, AKA, Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the largest cathedral in the world.

This is because the world’s two largest churches, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and St. Peter’s Basilica, are not the seats of bishops.

In 1401, city leaders decided to build a new cathedral to replace the grand mosque that had served as the cathedral until that point. It took until 1506 to complete.

According to local legend, the members of the cathedral chapter said: “Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad”

Sadly, just a few years after completion, in 1511, the crossing lantern, or cimborrio, collapsed and work on the cathedral had to start again.

It collapsed again in 1888 and work on the dome continued until at least 1903.

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The builders kept some elements from the original ancient mosque that stood on the site.

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The mosque’s sahn, that is, the courtyard where the faithful would conduct ritual cleansing before entering the prayer hall. Today it is known as the Patio de los Naranjos.

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However, the most well known is its minaret, which was converted into a bell tower known as La Giralda, and is now the city’s most well-known symbol.

So that’s our incredibly fast whizz around the cathedral. It’s a beautiful building that warrants a longer tour than we gave it, but as mentioned before, you have to get up very early to miss the immense queues or wait until nearly closing for a fast visit.

Stunning Seville

Next on our Spainish tour is the beautiful cathedral city of Seville – capital of Andalusia.

First tourist snap of the day is the intriguing Torre del Oro or Tower of Gold. It is one of two anchor points for a large chain that would have been able to block the river and was used as a defence for the city to stop large ships floating up.

*Wikipedia alert* Constructed in the 13th century, the tower served as a prison during the Middle Ages. Its name comes from the golden shine it projected on the river, due to its building materials mortar, lime and pressed hay.

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Then we get the first glimpse of the lovely Cathedral, framed by palms and purple jacaranda trees.

Its official title is Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See and was completed in the 16th century.

*More Wikipedia* It’s the third-largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church.

The world’s two largest churches – the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and St. Peter’s Basilica – are not the seats of bishops so Seville Cathedral is still the largest cathedral in the world.

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Aint she a beauty! Lots more to come from this lovely city soon.

Quarr Abbey

We’re visiting an unexpected architectural gem on the Isle of Wight now – Quarr Abbey.

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It’s proper title – Abbey of Our Lady of Quarr – is a monastery that is home to a small group of Benedictine monks.

Construction on the abbey started in 1911 and it was consecrated on October 12, 1912.

The abbey itself is a gorgeous chunk of red brick that feels more at home in mainland Europe which makes sense as the original monks were exiles from France.

I love the way that the brick glows under the early sunshine and contrasts with the spiky palms that add a more Mediterranean feel to the scene.

There’s a wonderful walled garden that provides fresh fruit and veg for the tearooms and farm shop as well as the ruins of a far older abbey as well.

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Definitely worth a potter around for an hour or so. You can learn lots more about the abbey here.

 

 

Last shrine scenes

Here’s some final pictures from the Daishoi-In Shrine on Miyajima island. This quirky little temple is chock a block with interesting sights.

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These little Buddhas demonstrate the concept of getting through life by ignoring everything!

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Within the shrine is a beautiful cave full of hundreds of lanterns. Henjokutsu Cave holds 88 principal Buddhist icons which are related to a pilgrimage route of visiting 88 temples in Shikoku.

Followers believe that they can be given the blessings in this cave instead of visiting all the temples of pilgrimage route.

In esoteric Buddhism, Dainichi Nyorai, or Cosmic Buddha, is believed to embody Buddhist philosophy, and other various Buddhist deities are incarnated in figures of Dainichi Nyorai.

There are four groups of Buddhist deities: Nyorai, Bosatsu, Myo-o, and Ten. You can find out more about them here.

Plus there’s my own personal favourites – Daruma. This is a traditional Japanese wishing doll or charmingly referred to as a “goal doll” that keeps us focused on achieving our goals!

These pop up on the wooden ema wish boards everywhere. I even took one home with me.

If you get the chance do visit Daishoi-In Shrine. It’s not as well known as other shrines on the island but well worth exploring.

Daisho-in Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine might be the most well known but it is not the only shrine on Miyajima Island. We’re off to explore one of the lesser known (but to my mind even better) shrines.

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Daisho-in is the main temple of the Shingon Buddhist school of Omuro and it’s a treat!

It is located at the foot of the thickly forested Misen. Until the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period, the head priest of Itsukushima Shrine engaged in politics here.

Above the man stands in front of the Niomon Gate. This serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate.

Nio kings are believed to ward off evil and preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

 

There are 500 Rakan Statues lining alternative steps to the temple. These are the statues of five hundred of Shaka Nyorai’s disciples and they all have unique facial expressions.

Each one of these tiny little fellas currently sports a jaunty little knitted hat.


Below are a variety of the sights to be seen including the multitude of Mani (prayer) Wheels.

Spinning the wheels is believed to invite blessings equivalent to reading one volume of the Hannya-shinkyon or Heart Sutra.

The shrine is full of different statues, some almost cartoonish.

Below are an eclectic collection including an Anpanman Statue. He’s a famous Japanese animation character and particularly popular among children.

Daisho-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temple in the western part of Japan.

The Shingon sect is known as esoteric Buddhism in Japan. The sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines.

 

The shrine is a boisterous, riotous bounty of religion, colour and cartoonish delight.

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Lot’s more of this fun shrine to come!

 

Miyajima Island

Next stop on our whistle stop tour is Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, a small island in Hiroshima Bay.

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We hopped on the JR ferry for the short trip across the bay to the island. You can get a ticket as part of the Japan Rail Pass so bonus for us!

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Just offshore, a giant, orange Grand Torii Gate stands and marks the entrance to the 12th century Itsukushima Shrine.

The Torii gate here is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views.

 

Sadly for us it’s a) a bit misty and b) being repaired so has rather unsightly scaffolding spoiling it a bit!

As well as the Torri gate, the island is also well know for its tame deer that wander the streets.

These delicate little creatures are almost totally dependant on tourists for food.

This means that they are not only fearless, but also quite persistent . .  I nearly lost our guide book to one very nibbley specimen!

Man versus spindly legged beast, it’s a tense standoff!

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A bit of general knowledge about the impressive red gate that is the symbol of the island now.

The great Torii gate is the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds.
The first Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in 1168 and was built about 200 meters offshore.

The base of the great Torii is not buried deep in the seabed, but stands by its own weight.

The sun and the moon are painted on the east and the west of the Otorii roof. Because the northeasterly direction is considered to be the demon’s gate in Feng Shui, the painted sun is said to block this demon’s gate.

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The gate is a brilliant red pigment known as vermilion and originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar.

This vermilion colour is considered to keep evil spirits away.

Next up we visit the beautiful ‘floating’ Itsukushima Shrine. Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.

Shrines and sushi

Follow us as we trot around the quaint little streets of Takayama, chock full of gorgeous old buildings and quirky sights.

Takayama gained importance as a source of high quality timber and highly skilled carpenters during the feudal ages.

Consequently the city was put under direct control of the shogun and had quite a bit of prosperity despite its remote mountain location.

Takayama’s old quarter (called “Sanmachi”) is known for the beauty of its lattice-lined buildings, along which waters flows through the canals on either side of the street.

With lots of sake breweries and souvenir stores, the area is as bustling as it is beautiful.

Next up we wander to the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine.

The origins of the shrine date to the time of the Emperor Nintoku, when he requested Prince Takefurukuma no Mikoto to destroy Sukuna – an incredible beast.

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Before undertaking his task, the warrior enshrined his father, the Emperor Ohjin, as the deity of this shrine and prayed for the success of his mission.

More than 1.5 million people visit the shrine annually but we had the place to ourselves.

Lots more to see from this beautiful little town, watch this space.

 

Into the abyss

After the wonders of Nikko we head to the impressively named Kanmangafuchi abyss.

Kanmangafuchi is also known for its row of about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased.

This particular group of Jizo statues is alternately called “Bake Jizo” (Ghost Jizo), “Narabi Jizo” (Jizo in a line) or “Hyaku Jizo” (100 Jizo).

They are amazing! Each statue is subtlety different and clad in distinctive red caps and bibs .

As well as the serene line of little dudes, we also get a great view of the river in full spate.

Recent heavy rains meant that the water rushed and boiled in a most spectacular way.

Even with all its violence and turmoil the water is still a mesmerising shade of blue.

It might have been a drizzly day but the river still has a magical, magnetic, feel to it.

We get up close to the swirling waters naturally! And get rather soaked for our troubles.

Back on the banks we take another leisurely stroll amongst the mossy statues.

In Japan, the colour red is associated closely with a few deities in Shinto and Buddhist traditions, and statues of these deities are often decked in red clothing or painted red.

These particular statues are Jizō – the guardian of travellers, the hell realm, children, and motherhood.

Everywhere in Japan, at busy crossroads, at roadsides, in graveyards, in temples, and along hiking trails, you can find statues of Jizō Bosatsu.

They are often decked out in clothing, wearing a red or white cap and bib, protected by scarfs, or piled high with stones offered by bereaved parents.

According to legend, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld for judgement.

They may be pure souls, but they have not had the chance to build up good karma, and their untimely death caused great sorrow to their parents, and so they must undergo judgement.

They are sent to Sai no Kawara – the riverbed of souls in purgatory -where they are forced to remove their clothes and to pray for salvation by building small stone towers, in the hopes of climbing out of limbo into Buddha’s paradise.

But hell demons constantly scatter their stones and beat them with iron clubs.

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However Jizō comes to the rescue, often hiding them in the sleeves of his robe. Therefore Japanese parents try to improve their child’s chance of redemption.

They do this by dressing statues in the hope that Jizō will cloth the dead child in his protection. They will also place stones on the statue in order to help their children perform their tower building penance.