All that glitters is indeed gold.
Who doesn’t like shiny things? People have been swayed by glittering beads, shimmering gold, and twinkling gems throughout history, giving up land, possessions, even their freedom to take hold of a dazzling trophy. Fairy tales have been written, and legends told about mythical gold cities, kings, and legendary sights, pandering to our interest in everything glossy and polished.
When traveling the world, it’s often natural beauty that takes our breath away, but a close second is a sight that glitters golden in the sunshine and makes us gasp with admiration. More often than not, whatever glitters is not real gold, but there are some stunning sights around the globe that truly are what they seem: real gold. To discover these true gems, read on.
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WHERE: Yangon, Myanmar
This enormous stupa is not only the world’s largest pagoda, and Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist pilgrimage site, but it is also the most precious man-made structure in the world. Three hundred and sixty-seven feet high in total, this glimmering building is covered in gold, several tons of it. But, as the gold has been added over the years, no one knows exactly quite how much gold covers the underlying brick structure. Estimates range from six tons to 60 tons, and even a single ton of gold is worth around $45 million. But there is more: its crown is encrusted in thousands of diamonds, and, reportedly, a sole diamond of 72 carats, plus countless other precious gemstones. Quite literally–as it’s known–a “Jewel in the Crown.”
WHERE: Kyoto, Japan
Sitting on a lake in the Deer Park just outside Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion’s two gold-leaf-covered floors shimmer in the serene waters. Built in 1394, the pavilion was initially the retirement villa of the then shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and became a Zen temple after his death in 1408. The wooden structure has burnt down several times throughout its history but has always been perfectly restored according to the original plans. The current structure dates to 1955 and is gilded not just on the outside but also inside.
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
Imagine a figure of Buddha, five-and-a-half tons of solid gold, sitting almost 10-feet tall, somewhere around 700 to 800 years old. You can find this historic artifact in the Wat Traimit Temple, which itself is white with golden roofs, and where the Buddha statue found a home in the 1930s. While there are many golden Buddha statues, sitting up or reclining in this Buddhist region of the world, this is the only solid gold one and the largest of its kind.
WHERE: Amritsar, India
The Golden Temple in the northern city of Amritsar in India’s Punjab region is also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib and is the holiest gurdwara, place of worship, for all Sikhs. The original Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib was built as a place of worship for all religions, creeds, and casts in 1608, but destroyed several times by invaders, with the current temple having been built from sturdier marble and copper and overlaid with gold leaf. Set in a sacred pool for worshippers to bathe in, it shimmers at its best at night, with perfect reflections in the pool.
For something a little different, how about a gigantic rock sitting precariously at the edge of a cliff but still covered in real gold? The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, or Golden Rock Temple, is a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, with a small pagoda sitting on top of the large granite boulder that’s approximately 25 feet tall, with a 50-foot circumference. Not only is it covered in gold leaf that’s been pasted on by devotees, but it’s also said to be held in place by a strand of the Buddha’s hair. The golden boulder is magnificent when lit up at night, or first thing in the morning, set against the wide mountainous background of Myanmar’s Mon State region.
WHERE: Paris, France
At 351 feet tall and decorated with 28 pounds of gold leaf, the golden dome of Les Invalides is a stand-out landmark in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, between the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay. Les Invalides started life as a royal chapel commissioned in 1677 by Louis XIV, the Sun King, known for his penchant for shiny things. The tall dome was the highest building of Paris until the erection of the Eiffel Tower. During the French Revolution, Les Invalides was turned into a temple for the god Mars. Emperor Napoleon I transformed it into a place for military worship and to bury war heroes and statesmen. And in 1861, Napoleon himself was laid to rest there, right below the golden dome.
Iglesia de la Compania
WHERE: Quito, Ecuador
The Church of the Society of Jesus, known colloquially as La Compañía, looks like any ornate church: a white neo-classical cum baroque-style church, ornate with plenty of detail and pretty domes, but nothing overtly special. From the outside, that is. Step inside and the wide nave and all interior décor are golden. The ceiling, the arches, domes, walls, even the organ–all covered in gold. The few elements that did not lend themselves to being covered in gold leaf (such as the organ pipes, the floor, and the pews) are still coated in materials that shimmer golden and echo the gold theme throughout. It’s not surprising that this Jesuit church is known as the most ornate in Quito, and possibly one of the most gilded churches in the world.
The Gold Drawing Room in the Winter Palace
WHERE: St. Petersburg, Russia
The magnificent Winter Palace, which served as the residence for Russian tzars between 1732 and 1917 and is now the main part of the Hermitage Museum, is splendid as palaces go, but enter the Gold Drawing room, and that splendor goes up a notch, or ten. Golden walls, golden vaulted ceiling, and heavy golden chandeliers, all accented by royal blue curtains, make this living room rather special. Maybe a little too much for daily use, but if you are a tsar or tsarina, hey, why not? The Gold Drawing Room was part of the private apartments of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II, and was the room where she entertained guests, and no doubt blinded them with its golden sheen.
Hotel Dolce by Wyndham
WHERE: Hanoi, Vietnam
Just when you thought the Gold Drawing Room was rather blingy, think again. The Hotel Dolce by Wyndham Hanoi Golden Lake is the world’s first gold-plated hotel. The exterior is covered in gold-plated tiles, the interior is golden, and rooms feature real 24-karat gold-plated bathtubs, sinks and fixtures, door handles, and yes, toilets. Their 200 square-foot infinity pool has gold-plated tiles, and gold showers by the side, and in the restaurant, you can even order a gold-leaf encrusted steak, and follow it up with a coffee served with gold-plated filters. Too much?
The Museum of Gold
WHERE: Bogotá, Colombia
With more than 55,000 pieces of gold, mostly pre-Colombian artifacts, this museum holds the world’s largest collection of gold objects. These are ancient artifacts of a pre-colonial time when Indigenous peoples hailed gold as sacred. Here you can see objects made from gold, ranging from everyday items such as plates and jewelry to objets d’art, such as fish and frogs made from solid gold, face masks, and the mind-blowingly intricate Balsa Muisca, a small gold raft, complete with figurines dressed in ceremonial garb.
WHERE: Dubai, U.A.E.
If the Museum of Gold has whetted your appetite for owning something shiny and golden, then why not head to the Gold Souq in Dubai? Famous for its competitive prices and the sheer overload of gold jewelry on display, there is nothing you can’t buy here. Window after window, shop after shop, the souq sells everything from headpieces, necklaces, belts, and absolutely anything else you can think of, all made of gold. Prices change daily and are displayed for the various karat levels, with your item being weighed to find the correct price for the day. With gold jewelry playing an important part in the region’s culture, most pieces not only have calligraphic inscriptions, mostly from the Koran, but also incorporate patterns and symbols meaningful to the culture.
The Crown Jewels
WHERE: Tower of London, England
What can only be described as the grandest jewelry box of all time, the Tower of London has been the spot where the royal family has kept their jewels for the last 600-odd years. From crowns to scepters, and other glittering pieces, the collection is not only impressive and historic, but the most fantastic fact is that all these pieces are actually still being used when the occasion calls for it. The rough estimate of the crown jewels’ worth is around £4 billion ($5.5 billion). And although the gold aspect of the jewels is what this slideshow is about, when visiting, look out for the diamond in the Sovereign’s Sceptre: it holds the world’s largest cut white diamond, weighing in at an impressive 530.2 carats!
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
WHERE: Thiruvananthapuram, India
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is the richest temple in the world. Not only is the exterior of the Hindu shrine to Maha Vishnu completely covered in gold leaf, but there are also unbelievable treasures found inside. Only one of a total of six treasure vaults has been opened to date, with a total gold treasure estimated at $1 trillion. Trillion! Legends and superstition are keeping the other vaults from being opened so far, with the treasure held in a trust. For us mere mortals, the golden exterior and interior of the temple will have to suffice for now.
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
Located right in the heart of Bangkok not too far from the Golden Buddha, the compound holding the palace and temples, which were formerly the residence of the King of Siam and were used by the royal family and government of Thailand until 1925, shimmers in a gold hue throughout. A mix of gold-leaf and golden tiles, plus real gold statues, the entire vast complex on the banks of the Chao Phraya river dates back some 2,000 years, although the Grand Palace was constructed more recently, in 1782.
WHERE: Frankfurt, Germany
Set in the heart of Germany’s banking capital, Frankfurt, you can expect there to be some wealth on the ground. The Goldkammer, translated as “gold chamber,” celebrates all things gold. It features exhibits on the origins of gold, mining, gold nuggets, all set in faux mineshafts, pyramids, and underwater seascapes. Plus there are stunning examples of what people have made from gold throughout history. This is a little museum with so much to tell and a lot of bling to see.