At the crossroads of major faiths, the longest-living democracy in Africa is an inexhaustible source of architectural prowess. Over the past decades, and century for some, churches, temples and mosques have ensconced themselves in the paradisaical landscape of Mauritius. To further cement their place in history, we take you on this unforgettable epic.
Saint Francis of Assisi Church
As the oldest-standing church on the island, dating back to 1756, the Saint Francis of Assisi Church is located in Pamplemousses. Erected with basaltic rock, meticulously carved, it possesses an inverted wooden frame used for ships. The Presbyterian bell, outside, dates as far back as 1734, close to a bust of Mahé de Labourdonnais, the French governor of the island. The church is located opposite the SSR Botanical Garden.
Shri Prasanna Venkateswara Temple
The village of La Laura-Malenga, founded in 1921, is home to a treasure known to few. Surrounded by lush green sugarcane fields, cattle and homegrown vegetables, this temple is a total escape from modern life. At the foot of the Pieter Both Peak, erected in 1992, this safe haven pays tribute to lord Venkateswara (a form of the Hindu god Vishnu). The building went through a major renovation in 2010, with artists from southern India contributing to the works. The highlight of the temple is, however, the shrine of lord Venkateswara inside, covered in gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Kwan Tee Pagoda
This oasis, facing the harbour in Port Louis, has been home to Chinese sailors’ piety since 1842. As the oldest pagoda on record in the Southern Hemisphere, it is associated with the god of wealth, Choisan. The building is painted in red, green and yellow, symbolising happiness, prosperity and purity respectively. The pointy corners will certainly remind you of Imperial China. Count on the massive garden to transport you to the temple’s glorious past.
Notre Dame de l’Auxilliatrice
A religious symbol in remembrance of men lost at sea, this church celebrates colonial architecture. The inside wooden frame, along with its pastel red roof on the outside, demark this building from other stone-walled ones across the island. To go the extra mile, a clamshell acts as the holy-water basin at the entrance. In its native Cap Malheureux, Notre Dame de l’Auxilliatrice is located only a few steps from the azure blue sea.
Pandurang Khestra Mandir
Although relatively small in size, this temple was built in 1902, following the arrival of indentured labourers from Maharashtra, India. In the village of Cascavelle, where it welcomes devotees all year round, the temple is recognizable by its three domes. The building has under its roof several Hindu idols; with the main one being lord Ganesha (the god of wisdom). Part of the shrine is made of carved volcanic rock from the vicinity, conferring the temple a unique look and feel. The architectural know-how of several Indians was warranted to complete the building.
A savant blend of Moorish and Mughal architecture characterises this mosque, located in the capital city of Port Louis. Operational since 1853, it went through an expansion in 1878. A sacred monument to the Muslim community in Mauritius, the Jummah Masjid was originally known as Mosqué des Arabes (Mosque of the Arabs). Although the Arabs were the first to discover Mauritius in the 10th century, the Muslim community on the island originates from India. Recognisable by its immaculate white colour and green trimmings, the mosque has an Indian almond tree in the middle of the courtyard.
Sri Siva Subramanya Temple (Mountain Temple)
Setting foot on the island in 1884, Velamurugan, an Indian labourer, had the dream of erecting a temple on the flanks of the Corps de Garde Mountain. In 1907, his unshakable determination came to fruition, with hundreds of steps leading to the modest temple higher up the mountain. Today, it has been transformed into a divine Dravidian piece of art, dedicated to lord Murugan (Hindu god of war). The temple is now a major pilgrimage site in Mauritius, especially during the Thaipoosam Cavadee festival.
Ganga Talao (Grand Bassin)
Having as its location a dormant volcano crater, it is the number one pilgrimage site for Mauritians. Several temples are scattered around the lake, with a few idols erected on the surface of the water itself. Encompassing the best of Hindu architecture, the various buildings are richly decorated with sculptures of animals and flowers. Ganga Talao (Lake of Ganges) is also home to the tallest statue on the island, standing at 33 metres (108 feet).