Historically, cathedrals weren’t just a symbol of religious significance, but also an exhibition of architectural mastery. Most carry their share of scars from natural disasters and ransacking enemy forces. To this day, they remain popular destinations for tourists regardless of their religious affiliation. While most are worth a visit, these 5 iconic cathedrals should top your list.

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul-Washington D.C., United States

cath-1via digitaljournal
Known locally as Washington National Cathedral, it was crafted after the Gothic style of the Middle Ages. The church was originally meant to be constructed in 1792 as a national religious beacon, but those plans were postponed until 1893. The inner halls are lined with stained-glass windows depicting famous events in American history like the Lewis and Clark expedition. The exterior eaves are occupied by gargoyle sculptures and include rather droll additions like a cartoon version of one of the carvers himself and Darth Vader.

The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat-Moscow, Russia

cath-2via lifeofanarchitect.com
Ivan the Terrible, the first Tsar of all Russians, had this cathedral built in 1555 to celebrate recent takeovers of Kazan controlled cities. It was originally constructed as a series of eight churches coalescing around a ninth central church. The architecture was unlike anything that had been constructed previously. Its most original trait is its silhouette on the skyline which was meant to symbolize a fire rising skywards.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres-Chartres, France

cath-3via paradoxplace.com
Many cathedrals built in the Middle Ages have undergone immense restorations and repairs, but the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres has only required minor maintenance since its completion in 1250. Actually, the fifth church to be built on its current property, the cathedral sits above crypts and hidden chambers left over from prior constructions. Three grand displays decorate the building’s exterior, replete with hundreds of miniature sculptures. They’re positioned to symbolize various themes and allegories from theology.

Nidaros Cathedral-Trondheim ,Norway

cath-4via fjordtours.com
Olaf II ruled Norway, riding in great popularity, until his death in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. A year after his death, he has denoted the title of Norway’s patron saint, prompting the Nidaros Cathedral to be built over his burial site. Construction lasted from 1070 to 1300 whereupon it was captured and claimed by Lutherans only 200 years later in 1537. Numerous fires have marred its long history. A large-scale restoration effort began in 1869, and wasn’t finished until 2001 whereupon many of the lost structures have been faithfully replicated.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral-Galicia, Spain

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The remains of Saint James the Greater, one of Jesus’s disciples in the Bible, are said to rest beneath this cathedral. Although his body was brought to Spain in the first or second century, they were forgotten by the third and laid unfound until the eighth. Upon discovering this, King Alfonso II of Asturias ordered the construction of a cathedral upon the burial site in 829. This church was utterly decimated by Caliph forces in 997. It wasn’t until 1075 when the cathedral that stands there to this day was erected.

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