The World’s Greatest Landmarks
There are jaw-dropping natural landmarks on every continent. Walk enough of Australia’s flat Northern Territory and you will bump into Uluru, or Ayers Rock, sticking almost 1,000 feet (300 meters) straight up out of the scrub. It’s a giant red sandstone egg in an otherwise flat, admittedly enchanting landscape full of springs, caves and aboriginal paintings.
Back in America, if you head south from Salt Lake City, Utah towards Flagstaff, Arizona you’ll happen upon a winding, multicoloured chasm that in some places is a mile deep. Both Uluru and the Grand Canyon are humbling testaments to the power and wonder of nature. There are thousands like them worldwide, and the vast majority are formations that have been created, or endured, over millions of years. In contrast, what we build is short-lived. Just think: how old is the house you live in?
Some would say that true monumental architecture is a thing of the past. Structures such as the Greek temples that last centuries or millennia and are enjoyed by all aren’t too common any more – the last built might have been medieval castles or yesteryear’s train stations. Does the Trump Tower qualify? probably not. The Presidents’ faces carved into Mount Rushmore? It’s not exactly ‘architecture’, but it’s definitely monumental. America is young, so to see awe-inspiring examples of monumental architecture, we need to go elsewhere.
People have been inspired to build great things mostly in the name of religion. This is true for Peru’s Machu Picchu, a stone city that served both as a religious centre and a stronghold. If you haven’t been there, it’s also built into one of the most dramatic settings that you will ever see, with green-clothed spires of rock reaching skywards on all sides. Petra, in Jordan, features ornate temples carved right into sandstone cliffs, while Stonehenge remains a British puzzle from the era of the druids — massive stones forming arches in a ring on the moor.
There are so many places that we would like to take you, but we’ll settle for three man-made wonders: the Taj Mahal, the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and the Great Wall of China. Respectively, they are a celebration, a religious and military center, and a national defense.
The Taj Mahal
The ‘crown of palaces’ is a marvel of white marble located at Agra, Uttar Pradesh, central India. It’s a tribute to the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It’s well known as the ‘jewel of Muslim art’ in India and attracts over 2 million visitors per year.
It’s actually not a palace per se, but rather a mausoleum—the world’s finest. The translucent marble is domestic (from Rajasthan), but it’s inlaid with precious stones from all over Asia: sapphires from Sri Lanka, crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, and the list goes on. In all, no fewer than 28 types of stones, precious and semi-precious, inlay the walls of the Taj.
The Taj is a blend of Indian, Turkish, Persian and other architectural styles. The miracle is that blending styles actually worked! So well, in fact, that ‘the Donald’ erected the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. There, you see? You don’t need to travel overseas after all.
The irony about monumental architecture is that almost all examples were built before we invented all of these great lifting and digging machines we have now. The Taj, which in construction terms pales in comparison to the pyramids at Ghiza and the Mayan ruins of Tikal, involved several teams of 30 oxen each and more than 1,000 elephants to transport the enormous blocks of marble and to complete construction.
The Maya once ruled a huge area consisting of Guatemala, southern Mexico and parts of modern-day El Salvador and Belize. Like the Aztec people of Mexico, they grew more powerful by conquest, which caused them to adopt building methods and architectural styles as they gained territory. Tikal is one of their most powerful centers.
Although traces of the Maya date back beyond 2,000 BC, it was between 250 and 900 AD, their ‘Classic’ period, that most building occurred. The Tikal area once housed upwards of 100,000 people. It’s hard to believe that such a city became almost unknown, lost in the rainforest of the northern Guatemalan lowlands until the mid-19th Century.
When you visit you will find an incredible array of steep-sided temples, plazas and intricate hieroglyphs. Best known at Tikal are the six pyramids, each with a temple on top. They are massive structures of earth covered in stone — like the Egyptian pyramids — with names like the Temple of the Great Jaguar and Temple of the Mask.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however — there are thousands of structures at Tikal yet to be excavated from the jungle that has overtaken them. And that’s after four decades of archaeological work.
The Great Wall
The Great Wall of China was built in an east-west direction to keep Mongol hordes and other invaders from the north out of the Chinese Empire. The Great Wall is just one of many defensive walls, but because of its great length it’s become the one that everyone knows. It measures 5,500 miles (over 8,500 kilometers). It’s so long and traverses such inhospitable territory, in fact, that in 2009 a ‘lost’ 180-mile section was found, built during the Ming Dynasty. It had been buried over centuries by sandstorms.
Several walls were built in the 7th Century BC and were later combined to form the Great Wall. In many places it has fallen down, been destroyed and had its bricks and stones carted away by villagers. Since the very early days, sections of the Great Wall have been rebuilt and improved, mostly during the Ming Dynasty from the 14th to the 17th Centuries.
The Wall is in fact not all wall. It is made up of almost 4,000 miles (over 6,000 kilometers) of actual wall, over 200 miles (350 kilometers) of trenches and 1350 miles (2,200 kilometers) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. The Wall is made of stone, brick, wood and rammed earth depending on what was to hand. As it was, over 1 million workers are estimated to have died during construction — if they had had to transport stone great distances that number would have been higher.
The most famous section of the Wall stretches 100 miles (160 kilometers) between Badaling and Huangya Pass, never more than 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Beijing. This section climbs and descends craggy, forested mountains and includes many fortifications. The Great Wall makes for a great walk, with commanding views on both sides.
Whatever landmark you want to see, from natural to people-built, we’ve got a way to get you to it. The world’s best travel experiences are all here. We have over 4000 small group trips or our experienced adventure travel specialists can build one just for you. This is all we’ve done since 1972. Adventure Center. We’re here to get you there.
Our adventure travel specialists in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton would love to help you; call us toll-free 866.338.8735 or find us at adventurecenter.com for more information.