Check out these 25 landmarks that have intrigued travelers for centuries. From Egypt to Japan, they open a window on the sometimes strange history of ancient civilizations.
Surrounded by a few hundred burial mounds and very far from the place of origin of its megalithic stones, Stonehenge is considered by many travel enthusiasts to be the epitome of mysterious monuments. However, it did not appear suddenly, but rather resulted from centuries of hard work. The earth and the channel around the monument date from 3100 BC, while the erection of the stones would have taken place between 2500 and 2200 BC, although not everyone agrees on these dates. Theories abound as to why it was built, but it’s likely had many uses over the centuries. Adoration of the stars, spiritual rituals or worship of the ancestors, all these explanations have their defenders and some even think that it was a place of healing, given the state of the bodies that were dug up there.
What could be stranger than an 80-ton stone head resting on a treeless island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and bathed by currents that make access particularly difficult? And yet, Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, does exist, and we know that its first inhabitants came from Polynesia. These stone statues, or moai, were carved from local quarry rock, transported to their current location and arranged so that they face the interior of the island. They are meant to represent tribal ancestors; during the conflicts between the tribes, they were thrown face down. They were probably moved with logs, but by the time the Europeans discovered the island, there were no more trees. The scarcity of this resource may have played a role in the conflicts. Many statues have been straightened and the Rapa Nui National Park is now a UNESCO protected site.
Nazca Geoglyphs, Peru
Easily identifiable from the air, the Nazca geoglyphs are invisible on the ground. These large figures traced on the ground of the desert of southern Peru are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are hundreds of them in various styles, some consisting of simple geometric shapes, others finely drawn and representing animals such as monkeys, sharks and lizards. The largest extend over 200 meters. They were created by removing red pebbles that covered the ground, revealing the white limestone. It has long been wondered how it was possible to create such large figures while on the ground, but the discovery of the remains of what appear to be wooden stakes used to mark their location has lifted the veil on this mystery. However, we still do not know what purpose they served. Speculation is rife. For supporters of the ufological theory (in particular Erich von Däniken), they would constitute indications intended for extraterrestrials in search of a landing field.
For others, they would reproduce planetary alignments and for still others, they would have served as landmarks for the Nazcas to find the wells they had dug for irrigation.
The great pyramids of Egypt
Surely the ancient Egyptians never imagined that their stone structures half-buried beneath the desert sands would spawn such a profusion of Hollywood movies and dime novels in which curses, treasure hunters and mummies would play a major role. Although the dates of their construction and the methods the builders used are increasingly clear, many questions surrounding this place considered among the most popular travel destinations remain unanswered. Recent explorations of their narrow corridors using cameras mounted on robotic vehicles might shed a little more light on what the Egyptians had in mind when they were erected.
Stonehenge in Michigan, USA
On the face of a three-foot rock in the waters of Lake Michigan, Mark Holley, an underwater archaeologist, discovered what he and his colleagues believed to be a prehistoric sculpture. Located in the bottom of the East Grand Traverse Bay, the so-called sculpture depicts a mastodon, a spear stuck in the side. If the thesis is confirmed, it would be the first sculpture of its kind to be discovered in the New World. If it is invalidated, go see the side of Beaver Island, nearby: there, another unauthenticated site seems to represent a calendar circle like that of Stonehenge, but much smaller. If the rocks are small, the theory that they are arranged according to the course of the sun, the moon and the stars for agricultural purposes does not lack defenders, far from it.
In Mexico, the temples and pyramids dating from the time of the Mayas bear witness to an extraordinary mastery of construction techniques. This people also had a highly developed alphabet and advanced astronomical knowledge. In fact, its calendar is so accurate that it can still be relied on today to predict eclipses, which naturally leads people to speculate about when the Long Count calendar period will end soon, which falls in 2012. Could it be the end of the world? Probably not. The end of this powerful people is much more fascinating and mysterious. Its cities had collapsed even before the arrival of the European conquistadors. Located in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, Palenque is just one of the many archaeological sites he left behind.
Machu Picchu, Peru
You have to climb a lot to reach Machu Picchu, which is 2430 meters above sea level. This photogenic city clinging to the clouds of the Andes was built by the Incas in the 15th century in honor of Pachacuti, the one of their emperors. It remained hidden, even from the eyes of the Spanish invaders, until 1911, when it was “discovered”.
To get there, you can take the train in Cusco to the winding road that leads there or walk all the way from the entrance to the Inca Trail, a fabulous hike that will still take you several days.
Hagar Qim, Malta
The name of this Neolithic site means “standing stones”, which will surprise no one. Erected between 3500 and 2900 BCE, Hagar Qim is located on the southwest coast of Malta from where it overlooks the Mediterranean. The largest rock measures 7 meters by 3 and weighs 20 tons. Part of the building is aligned with the points where the sun rises and sets on the summer solstice, giving rise to a theory that this and other structures may be older than they are. believes. These temples are puzzling, as there is little other evidence to indicate that a civilization advanced enough to build them lived on the archipelago. How did the builders get there and by what architectural prowess did they succeed in arranging 20-tonne megaliths?
Located on the shores of the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany, Carnac is famous for its beaches, but also for its approximately 3000 standing stones which date from the Neolithic era. Archaeologists don’t know why they were erected, but regardless, they undeniably capture the imagination. The site’s four groups of menhirs are arranged in rows and stretch for 4 km. The tallest stones are to the west, the others decreasing in size as one moves towards the east. This is the largest collection of menhirs in the world.
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
Laid out over 11,000 years ago, this archaeological site in southeastern Turkey dates back 6,000 years before Stonehenge. Everything is enormous: the pillars, some of which are decorated with engravings representing animals, can reach 5 meters in height and weigh 10 tons; some of the stone enclosures are 20 meters in diameter. Geomagnetic analyzes indicate that 16 megalithic enclosures are still buried in the ground.
According to archaeologists, it will take at least 50 more years of excavation work to unearth the monuments and other artifacts that the site contains. What we know for certain is that this Neolithic site predates the beginnings of agriculture by 500 years and the invention of writing by 6,000 years. When you consider that archaeologists first thought it was an ancient cemetery of little historical interest!
Georgia Guidestones, Georgia, United States
On a plain in Georgia, USA, are the Georgia Guidestones, one of man’s most bizarre and mysterious constructions. This structure consists of 6 granite slabs almost 5 meters high and weighing about 20 tons each. Instructions for survivors of a possible ‘apocalypse’ are written in 8 languages, including Swahili, Hindi and even Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The monument is oriented to follow the migration of the sun (from east to west), depending on the time of year. The sponsor of the Georgia Guidestones remains to this day anonymous and unknown, thus giving rise to many conspiracy theories and other questions.
How could the Incas have moved the massive stones that build the Sacsayhuamán fortress, in Peru? Some scientists still wonder. This huge Inca fortress, located two kilometers from the city of Cusco, impresses tourists and researchers who visit it every day. The biggest slabs of the construction, which weigh more than 120 tons, were extracted from a quarry located more than three kilometers from the site. Also, the building has the shape of a puma’s head, a sacred animal in the Inca tradition. The stones constituting the fortress are also extremely well arranged and always solid. Several thousand years after construction, the quality of engineering of the fortress is such that one cannot pass a sheet of paper between two stones,
Even after several earthquakes, frequent in the region, the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán still stands, perfectly upright, as when it was created.
Yonaguni underwater structure, Japan
The underwater structure in Yonaguni, Japan is as interesting as it is mysterious. This 5000-year-old temple lies at the bottom of the sea, more than 25 meters deep. The structure, huge platforms gathered in the shape of a giant pyramid, is more than 75 meters long. It is located at the southern end of Yonaguni Island, Japan, hence its name. It was discovered in 1985 by Kihachiro Aratake, tourist diving organizer, who was then scouting for a possible dive. Some scientists say that this would be proof of the existence of a prehistoric civilization in this region. Other researchers believe that it is rather a rock structure that formed naturally, despite its surprising shape which resembles stairs or a pyramid. Talking about that, steepest stairs in the world.
Chand Baori, India
Chand Baori is a step well, called Baori. Located in the state of Rajasthan, India, this 30-meter-deep well is probably one of the finest examples of architectural motifs from that era. It was built in the 10th century, with the aim of serving as a water reserve during chronic droughts in the region. The well has 3500 steps arranged in 13 levels in the shape of a “V”. It is very difficult to imagine how the realization of such a structure could have been made possible, considering the little technology available at the time of its construction.
Ajanta Caves, India
The village of Ajanta is located in the state of Maharashtra, India. You can find a group of 30 artificial Buddhist caves, dug into the mountainside, out of the rock. As mysterious as they are intriguing, the oldest of the caves date from the 2nd century BC. The caves had two main functions, some served as a refuge for the monks during the rainy season, while the others served mainly as a prayer and meeting room. Although mass tourism has partially destroyed most of the caves, some have remained almost intact, still testifying to the incredible work that went into building this hidden gem.
The largest Roman temple ever built is not located in Greece or Rome, but in Baalbek, Lebanon. The site, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is made up of ruins from the Greco-Roman period. Despite the almost total destruction of the temple by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius, it is still possible to observe 6 of the 54 columns still standing. The mystery, here, lies in the choice of the place of construction: why did the Romans choose the site of Baalbek to build this immense temple there? Despite the recent wars and conflicts that have taken place in the region, the Roman heritage of this monument has survived to be still standing and observable.
Newgrange is considered Ireland‘s oldest and most famous prehistoric site. The site is a tumulus, a sort of tomb, 85 meters in diameter containing a long covered passage leading to a burial chamber. Built approximately in 3100 BC. AD, about 600 years before the Great Pyramid of Giza, only earth, wood, clay and stone were used for construction. The mystery surrounding this monument relates to the precision of execution and engineering of its construction. Indeed, the structure has remained completely impermeable, despite all the years. Also, each year on the day of the winter solstice, the light enters the central chamber directly at 9:17 a.m. and stays for about 15 minutes.
Circle of Goseck, Germany
One of the most mysterious constructions in Germany is certainly the Circle of Goseck, located in Saxony-Anhalt. It is a monument composed of earth, gravel and wooden palisades. The 3 concentric circles would thus be built to be used as a solar observatory. In the 3 concentric circles, we can see 3 openings. During the winter and summer solstices, it is possible to see the sun’s rays pass through the openings at sunrise and sunset.
According to some scientists, it would be much more than a solar observatory. This construction would be sacred, because the observatory would be built to observe not only the sun, but also the movement of the stars, the lunar cycles and to follow the course of time. The observatory would also have been a place of worship and prayer.
Hill of Crosses, Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses is a place of Catholic pilgrimage. Located in the city of Siauliai, Lithuania, this plain brings together thousands of crosses and crucifixes, each symbolizing a pilgrim’s prayer. Despite the relentlessness of the Soviets in wanting to raze this place of worship and make it disappear, the Lithuanians have always been able to revive the flamboyant appearance of the place. Having become a symbol of Lithuanian folk art, the hill and its some 150,000 crosses still enthroned at its summit, welcomes a large number of visitors, pilgrims or not, each year.
Coral Castle, Florida, USA
The Coral Castle is an architectural structure made of blocks of coral. Located in the town of Homestead, Florida, this Southern architectural whim owes its existence to Latvian Edward Leedskalnin. Built as a tribute to a great lost love, this impressive structure contains several blocks of coral each weighing several tons.
The construction was started in 1923 to spread over a period of almost 30 years. The mystery surrounding Coral Castle is physical. How did an ordinary man of average stature like Edward Leedskalnin manage to move and transport these huge blocks of coral and then build a castle out of them? Scientists are still asking the question today. It is even said that Albert Einstein could not have imagined how the valiant Edward could have done it.
The island of Socotra, located off the coast of Yemen, is above all considered mysterious for its exceptional and unique flora. Indeed, in addition to the very long geological isolation of which the island was a victim, the extreme heat as well as the droughts would also contribute to the completely fascinating flora of the island of Socotra. Botanists agree that about a third of Socotra’s 800+ plants are found nowhere else. One of the most famous tree species on this island, but also one of the most impressive, is the Socotra dragon tree.
Native American city Cahokia, United States
The ancient Native American city of Cahokia is located in Illinois, United States. In the 12th century, it was one of the most populous Native American cities in North America, with between 15,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. The city is made up of 80 mounds of land, still visible today, some of which can reach the height of 30 meters. It is believed that these mounds were used, among other things, to establish camps, to monitor the surroundings and to structure life in Cahokia. Why Cahokia was abandoned even before the Europeans arrived, however, remains a mystery that is difficult to explain. What tribe or grouping lived here? Why did they desert the area? No one knows exactly what happened and that’s part of the charm of this attraction.
The Iron Pillar, Delhi, India
The Iron Pillar is an archaeological remains located in Delhi, India. Its peculiarity is of a metallurgical nature, because it is composed almost entirely of 99.72% pure iron. Until recently, scientists did not understand why the pillar did not rust. An analysis carried out in 2002 by a scientific team from Kanpur revealed that the pillar was covered with a thin layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate. In other words, the pillar had a coating that protected it from the weather, so it could not rust. This pillar is a considerable feat for the time of its construction.
Hashima Island, Japan
Hashima is an island in Japan located in Nagasaki Prefecture. Following the discovery, in 1887, of a large deposit of coal, a fossil fuel, the Island was invaded by many Japanese wanting to work in the coal mine. When the deposit was exhausted, the inhabitants of Hashima left the island, thus leaving all the infrastructures in place. Hashima is today a ghost town , gloomy but fascinating, a window testifying to a past life.
Aokigahara is a 35 square km forest near Mount Fuji, Japan. The mystery surrounding this mythical place is very macabre: the forest hosts an imposing number of hangings and suicides every year. In fact, it is estimated that about 1% of suicides in Japan take place in this gloomy forest.
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