The Golden Pavilion

This graceful pavilion is probably the most recognizable temple in Japan -- and no wonder. How many buildings are entirely covered in gold? Shining in the soft light, the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkakuji, as it is known in Japanese, looks like a glittering jewel box. And the beauty of the temple -- with its two upswept roofs reflected in a tranquil pond -- once brought it tragedy.

In 1950, a disturbed Buddhist temple novice burned the 14th-century pavilion to its foundations. Seduced by its beauty, and apparently unable to control his covetousness, he torched the building. Within five years, however, the Golden Pavilion rose again. On the new roof, appropriately, perches a phoenix.

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The Golden Pavilion is reflected in a tranquil pond, a planned effect, so that the reflection produces a second pavilion.
The Golden Pavilion is reflected in a
tranquil pond -- an effect planned so that
the reflection produces a second pavilion.
See more pictures of famous landmarks.

The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who, after withdrawing from public life, exercised power in the background by installing his ten-year-old son as shogun.

Interested in the artistic life, he collected Sung Chinese artwork, staged traditional Noh plays, and practiced Zen and the tea ceremony. He also played host at boating parties on the pavilion's pond. When he died, his retirement villa was converted into a temple, in accordance with his wishes.

The much-admired pavilion rises in three stories, each having a different architectural style and reflecting a different aspect of the shogun who built it. The first floor is a residential palace, complete with a covered dock for the shogun's pleasure boat; the second is a Buddhist prayer hall or samurai house; and the third is a small Zen temple with sliding doors and bell-shaped windows.

Set on pillars, the Golden Pavilion extends over the pond, a popular design of the Shinden style during the Heian period of Japanese history. A person approaching sees two pavilions, as the water reflects the image. On the exterior of the graceful building, a layer of shimmering gold leaf creates an unforgettable picture.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico

To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:


Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.