Written by Bradt Travel Guides
At Bradt we love to share the talents of the fantastic photographers who supply images for our guides, events and promotional materials. To celebrate them, we’ll be inviting a different photographer to share their photos on our website and social media each month. This month’s photographer is Adam Balogh, whose photos have been published in several travel guides both in Hungary and abroad.
Adam Balogh is a painter-photographer born in Budapest who has been exhibiting his work since 2000, and has been working with us here at Bradt for the last 12 years. Adam believes his open heart and exotic travels across Central and South America, southeast Asia and the Middle East are reflected in his art. His photos capture a sense of the exotic, but also aim to demonstrate what connects us as human beings and to create an understanding between people across the globe. He keeps looking for the true faces of places, local people and their underlying sacrality.
Here is the story of Adam Balogh’s quest to experience some of the world’s holiest places, in his own words.
Hababah water cistern, Yemen
Water is of great spiritual importance to many people © Adam Balogh
Water is a precious substance that meets our physical needs while at the same time being of great spiritual importance to many people. Many believe that it connects us to the ancient powers that have existed since the beginning of creation. This photo was taken in Yemen at water cistern Hababah near Thula, where woman come to draw from the source. Sadly, however, the country is facing a severe water crisis and some estimates suggest the capital, Sanaa, could run dry in some years.
Petra’s magnificent temples and tombs are like no other religious buildings in the world © Adam Balogh
You never forget walking along the ancient curved rock walls of Petra, a spectacular Nabatean city in western Jordan. Its magnificent temples and tombs are like no other religious buildings in the world – vast façades carved entirely from the original red sandstone. Petra has been a city of great religious significance since ancient times, and is one of the most precious monuments to man’s cultural heritage. Indeed, it has a number of connections with the Old Testament; the nearby Spring of Moses is believed to be the place where Moses struck a rock with his staff to extract water.
The Wailing Wall, Israel
The Wailing Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray © Adam Balogh
I had wanted to visit Jerusalem long before I finally had the chance to; for some reason, fate had simply never led me there. I have observed countless times in my life that there is a moment for everything, and that nothing happens before you’re mature enough for it. I doubt that there is another structure in the world that is the object of desire for so many people, or that so many individuals have fought and sacrificed their lives for over the course of millennia. The Wailing Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray – the holiest site of the Jewish faith lies behind it. According to the First Book of Kings, King Solomon built the first temple to house the Ark of the Covenant.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Israel
For Adam, this church felt like the passage between two worlds © Adam Balogh
I entered Jerusalem’s Old City through Jaffa Gate. I had no more than two hours to spend there, so I thought it would be best to stick to my usual approach of getting lost, which always helps me come across many interesting things. And that’s exactly what happened. Walking along the tiny rambling streets of the bazaar lane, I suddenly realised that I had ended up in a temple. I didn’t know where I was, but it certainly felt like some sort of passage between two worlds. I was overwhelmed by a mystical sensation; I could hardly sleep that night. The next morning, I went back and spent a whole day there. It turned out to be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Jesus was crucified, and where it is believed he was buried and resurrected.
The Church of the Nativity, Palestine
The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity © Adam Balogh
As the birthplace of Jesus, the grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land. The silver star marks the spot where Christ was born. During various periods over the past 1,700 years, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity have been, and still are, a pilgrim destination.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is one of the architectural masterpieces of Iranian architecture © Adam Balogh
Of all the places I have visited, Iran greeted me with the warmest welcome and hospitality. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is one of the architectural masterpieces of Iranian architecture, built during the Safavid Empire in Esfahan, once one of the largest cities in the world. On entering the prayer chamber, one is confronted with walls adorned in blue, yellow, turquoise and white tiles, all decorated with intricate arabesque patterns. The design of the Ardabil ‘Carpet of Wonders’, along with that of the interior side of the dome, was inspired by the unity of existence.
The Blessed Virgin Church, Nekresi Monastery, Georgia
The monastery was founded by the Syrian monk St Abibo Nekreseli © Adam Balogh
It was late September in Georgia, the harvest season, and the woods were bathed in soft, autumnal colours; it was a truly magical atmosphere. Warm light embraced me as I entered the Blessed Virgin Church, which dates back to between the 6th and 7th centuries. Inside, there were stasidia – special wooden chairs which can be found only in Orthodox churches – and the walls were beautifully painted. Although Christian churches were already present in Georgia at the time (with one of the first being the Church of St John the Baptist, built in the 4th century), in the 6th century 13 Syrian monks went to Georgia with the aim of strengthening the Christian faith. The Nekresi Monastery was founded by one of them: St Abibo Nekreseli.
The Geghard Chapel and Monastery, Armenia
Adam’s most beautiful experience in Armenia was visiting the mysterious Geghard © Adam Balogh
The most beautiful experience I had in Armenia was visiting the mysterious Geghard. While the main chapel was built in 1215, the monastery complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator, at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. Geghard, the name commonly used today, which means ‘the Monastery of the Spear’, came from the spear that was used to wound Jesus at the Crucifixion. It was allegedly brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude, also known as Thaddeus, and stored here among many other relics for over 300 years. It is now displayed in the Echmiadzin treasury.
Stave Church, Norway
Such medieval, wooden Christian churches were once common in Norway and northern Europe © Adam Balogh
I was astonished on entering the Stave Church, originally from Gol, Norway. Such medieval, wooden Christian churches were once common in northern Europe, and it was most likely decorated in Catholic times with colourful paintings of the saints. There are numerous runic inscriptions and carvings dating back to the early Middle Ages inside the church, most of which are in the chancel and depict animal figures, humans and geometric symbols. The runes on a pillar in the nave can be translated as ‘kiss me, because I am so sad’.
Yeni Camii Mosque, Turkey
This mosque is also known as ‘the mosque with the birds’ among the locals © Adam Balogh
After wandering through the spice bazaar, I always go to this mosque, which happens to be one of Istanbul’s most prominent ones, situated at the opening to the Golden Horn, close to the Galata Bridge. The name ‘Yeni Camii’ (New Mosque) is rather misleading, as the mosque actually dates back to 1663. It is an imposing structure with a large open space at the front, where birdseed sellers have stimulated the growth of a healthy pigeon population – hence its local nickname ‘the mosque with the birds’.
Coole Park, Ireland
Trees are a precious aspect of Ireland’s heritage © Adam Balogh
Every time I visit my old painter friend in the far west of Ireland, I spend some time walking among and embracing the sacred trees in Coole Park, Gort. Trees are a precious aspect of Ireland’s heritage, associated with sacrifice, worship, healing, prayer and other religious or ritual activities. Welcome to the home of elves and fairies!
The ‘Valley of the Winds’, Australia
The Australian aboriginals’ truth had a huge impression on Adam © Adam Balogh
Ever since I had the chance to visit the ‘Valley of the Winds’ at Kata Tjuta, an aboriginal holy place in the Red Centre, not a day has passed when I haven’t remembered the truth observed by Australia’s aboriginals, the representatives of the oldest culture on Earth. ‘We are all visitors to this land; we are one with the Creator because all things come from the same Source. A wise man respects the meaning of things and does what serves the benefit of all existing.’
You can find more of Adam’s photos on his website, Facebook and Instagram pages: