The World's Most Famous Buildings and Structures
Prehistorical and Ancient
The megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange in Ireland covers over an acre and was constructed around 3200 B.C. Buried for centuries, the mound was rediscovered in 1699 and was restored starting in 1962. The tomb is extensively decorated with spiral and lozenge shapes. At the winter solstice, the rising sun shines down a long passage and lights up a cross-shaped chamber.
Stonehenge, a massive circular megalithic monument on the Salisbury Plain in southern England, is the most famous of all prehistoric structures. Thought to have been built c. 2000 B.C., it may have been used as an astronomical instrument to measure solar and lunar movements.
The Great Sphinx of Egypt, one of the wonders of ancient Egyptian architecture, adjoins the pyramids of Giza and has a length of 240 ft. Built in the fourth dynasty, it is approximately 4,500 years old. A 10-year, $2.5 million restoration project was completed in 1998. Other Egyptian buildings of note include the Temples of Karnak, Edfu, and Abu Simbel and the Tombs at Beni Hassan.
The Parthenon of Greece, built on the Acropolis in Athens, was the chief temple to the goddess Athena. It was believed to have been completed by 438 B.C. The present temple remained intact until the 5th century A.D. Today, though the Parthenon is in ruins, its majestic proportions are still discernible.
Other great structures of the ancient Greek world were the Temples at Paestum (c. 540 and 420 B.C.); the famous Erechtheum (c. 421–405 B.C.), the Temple of Athena Nike (c. 426 B.C.), and the Olympieum (begun in the 6th century B.C.) in Athens; the Athenian Treasury at Delphi (c. 515 B.C.); and the Theater at Epidaurus (c. 325 B.C.).
The Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater) of Rome, the largest and most famous of the Roman amphitheaters, was opened for use A.D. 80. Elliptical in shape, it consisted of three stories and an upper gallery, rebuilt in stone in its present form in the 3rd century A.D. It was principally used for gladiatorial combat and could seat between 40,000 and 50,000 spectators.
The Pantheon at Rome, begun by Agrippa in 27 B.C. as a temple, was rebuilt in its present circular form by Hadrian (A.D. 118–128). Literally the Pantheon was intended as a temple of “all the gods.” It is remarkable for its perfect preservation today, and has served continuously for 20 centuries as a place of worship.
Famous Roman triumphal arches, built to commemorate major military victories, include the Arch of Titus (c. A.D. 80) and the Arch of Constantine (c. A.D. 315).
St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice (1063–1071), one of the great examples of Byzantine architecture, was begun in the 9th century. Partly destroyed by fire in 976, it was later rebuilt as a Byzantine edifice.
Other famous examples of Byzantine architecture are St. Sophia in Istanbul (532–537); San Vitale in Ravenna (542); and Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin, Moscow (begun in 1475).
The cathedral group at Pisa (1067–1173), one of the most celebrated groups of structures built in Romanesque style, consists of the cathedral, the cathedral's baptistery, and the campanile (Leaning Tower). The campanile, a form of bell tower, is 180 ft high and now leans 13.5 ft out of the perpendicular.
Other examples of Romanesque architecture include the Vézelay Abbey in France (1130) and Durham Cathedral in England.
The Alhambra (1248–1354), located in Granada, Spain, is universally esteemed as one of the greatest masterpieces of Muslim architecture. Designed as a palace and fortress for the Moorish monarchs of Granada, it is surrounded by a heavily fortified wall more than a mile in perimeter.
The Tower of London is a group of buildings and towers covering 13 acres along the north bank of the Thames. The central White Tower, begun in 1078 during the reign of William the Conqueror, was originally a fortress and royal residence, but was later used as a prison. The Bloody Tower is associated with Anne Boleyn and other notables.
Westminster Abbey, in London, was begun in 1050 and completed in 1065. It was rebuilt and enlarged in several phases, beginning in 1245. With only two exceptions (Edward V and Edward VIII), every British monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the abbey.
Notre-Dame de Paris (begun in 1163), one of the great examples of Gothic architecture, is a twin-towered church with a steeple over the crossing and immense flying buttresses supporting the masonry at the rear of the church.
Other famous Gothic structures are Chartres Cathedral (France; 12th century); Sainte-Chapelle (Paris, France; 1246–1248); Reims Cathedral (France; 13th–14th centuries; rebuilt after its almost complete destruction in World War I); Rouen Cathedral (France; 13th–16th centuries); Salisbury Cathedral (England; 1220–1260); York Minster, or the Cathedral of St. Peter (England; 1220–1472); Milan Cathedral (Italy; begun in 1386); and Cologne Cathedral (Germany; 13th–19th centuries; damaged in World War II but completely restored).
The Duomo (cathedral) in Florence, with its pink, white, and green marble façade, has become a symbol of the city and the Renaissance. Construction began in 1296 and was completed nearly 200 years later, with the addition of Brunelleschi's massive dome. The adjacent baptistery is famous for its gilded bronze doors by Ghiberti.
The Vatican is a group of buildings in Rome comprising the official residence of the pope. The Basilica of St. Peter, the largest church in the Christian world, was begun in 1452, and it was rebuilt between 1506 and 1626. The Sistine Chapel, begun in 1473, is noted for frescoes by Michelangelo.
Other examples of Renaissance architecture are the Palazzo Riccardi, the Palazzo Pitti, and the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence; the Palazzo Farnese in Rome; the Palazzo Grimani (completed c. 1550) in Venice; the Escorial (1563–93) near Madrid; the Town Hall of Seville (1527–32); the Louvre, Paris; the Château at Blois, France; St. Paul's Cathedral, London (1675–1710; badly damaged in World War II); the École Militaire, Paris (1752); the Pazzi Chapel, Florence, designed by Brunelleschi (1429); and the Palace of Fontainebleau and the Château de Chambord in France.
The Palace of Versailles in France, containing the famous Hall of Mirrors, was built during the reign of Louis XIV in the 17th century and served as the royal palace until 1793. Built on the colossal scale typical of many works of baroque architecture, the palace is also noted for its gardens, which include some 1,400 fountains.
Outstanding European buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries are the Superga at Turin (Italy); the Hôtel-Dieu in Lyons; the Belvedere Palace at Vienna; the Royal Palace of Stockholm; the Bank of England, the British Museum, the University of London, and the Houses of Parliament, all in London; and the Panthéon, the Church of the Madeleine, the Bourse, the Palais de Justice, and the Opera House, all in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower, in Paris, was built for the Exposition of 1889 by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. It is 984 ft high (1,056 ft including the television tower).
The Guggenheim Bilbao Museum (1993–97) in Bilbao, Spain, was designed by Frank Gehry. The undulating form of this riverfront building, clad in glass and gleaming sheets of titanium, has been compared to a fish, a boat, and water itself.
Asian, African, and South American
The Taj Mahal (1632–1650), at Agra, India, built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, is considered by some as the most perfect example of the Mogul style and by others as the most beautiful building in the world. Four slim white minarets flank the building, which is topped by a white dome; the entire structure is made of marble.
Another well-known Muslim edifice is the Citadel, located on an outcrop of limestone overlooking Cairo. Begun in 810, it was fortified (1176–1183) by Saladin during the Crusades.
Petra, in Jordan, is an ancient city whose buildings have been carved out of the surrounding hills. It was the capital of the Nabataeans in the 4th century B.C. The most famous of its buildings is Al Khazneh, a temple or treasury, with its impressive two-story facade jutting out from a pink rock.
Other famed Muslim edifices are the Tombs of the Mamelukes (15th century) in Cairo, the Tomb of Humayun in Delhi, the Blue Mosque (1468) at Tabriz, and the Tamerlane Mausoleum at Samarkand.
Angkor Wat, outside the city of Angkor Thom, Cambodia, is one of the most beautiful examples of Cambodian, or Khmer, architecture. The sanctuary was built during the 12th century.
The 8th-century Borobudur Temple on Java is a masterpiece of Indonesian Buddhist art and architecture. Its ascending terraces feature bas-relief sculptures and 72 Buddha statues.
The Great Wall of China (begun c. 214 B.C.), designed specifically as a defense against nomadic tribes, has large watchtowers that could be called buildings. It was erected by Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang Ti and is 1,400 mi long. Built mainly of earth and stone, it varies in height between 18 and 30 ft.
The Forbidden City (1407–1420) in Beijing served as the seat of imperial power during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911). It is the world's largest palace complex, covering about 183 acres and including 9,999 buildings.
Typical of Chinese architecture are the pagodas, or temple towers. Among some of the better-known pagodas are the Great Pagoda of the Wild Geese at Sian (founded in 652) and Nan t'a (11th century) at Fang Shan.
Other well-known Chinese buildings are the Drum Tower (1273), the Three Great Halls in the Forbidden City (1627), Buddha's Perfume Tower (19th century), the Porcelain Pagoda, and the Summer Palace, all at Beijing.
The painted wooden Torii, or Gateway, at Miyajima Island, Japan, stands in the tidal flats opposite the historic Itsukushima Shrine. Built in the traditional Shinto style, with two columns supporting a concave crosspiece on top, the gate serves to welcome the spirits of the dead as they come from across the Inland Sea.
Other famous Japanese buildings include Himeji Castle (17th century) and the Buddhist temples of Horyuji (7th century) and Todaiji (8th century) at Nara, and Phoenix Hall (11th century) at Uji near Kyoto.
Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca fortress in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Thought to have been built and occupied from the mid-15th century, it is surrounded on three sides by stepped agricultural terraces, which are connected to the main plazas and buildings by thousands of stone steps.
Teotihuacán, located in central Mexico, was the largest city in the Americas at its height between A.D. 300 and 900. Built on a grid plan with a central avenue known as the Street of the Dead, it is the site of two enormous pyramid temples and the temple of the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl.
The city of Tikal in Guatemala, with its monumental temples and palaces, embodies the height of the Maya classic period (A.D. 300–900).
Easter Island is famous for its nearly 900 imposing monolithic stone figures called moais that dot the island. The statues are between 10 and 40 ft high and weigh an average of 14 tons. The island's Polynesian inhabitants are thought to have carved the figures between 400 and 1,000 years ago, but how they accomplished this extraordinary task and what the statues meant to them remains a mystery.
The Chrysler Building (1928–1930) in New York City is one of the finest examples of art deco–style architecture. Built for automotive magnate Walter P. Chrysler, the building uses decorative elements borrowed from automobiles. At 1,046 ft it was briefly the world's tallest building.
The Empire State Building (1930–1931) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Manhattan. Features include a tiered structure that recalls ancient pyramids and a mast at the top for mooring dirigibles. Rising to 1,250 ft (not including the mast), it remained the tallest building in the world until the 1970s.
The elegant Seagram Building (1954–1958), by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, soars above an open plaza in Manhattan. Its slim steel frame is covered in amber-gray glass and costly bronze. It has been called the world's most imitated office building.
Rockefeller Center, in New York City, extends from 5th Ave. to the Avenue of the Americas between 48th and 52nd Sts. (and halfway to 7th Ave. between 47th and 51st Sts.). It occupies more than 22 acres and has 19 buildings.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City, was begun in 1892 and is now two-thirds completed. When completed, it will be the largest cathedral in the world: 601 ft long, 146 ft wide at the nave, 320 ft wide at the transept. The east end is Romanesque-Byzantine style, and the nave and west end are Gothic.
The Brooklyn Bridge (1869–1883) was the remarkable achievement of engineer John Roebling. The first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, it has a main span of 1,596 ft.
The smooth, circular form of the Guggenheim New York Museum (1943–1959), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is a Manhattan landmark. The main gallery space features a six-story concrete ramp that spirals up a glass-topped atrium.
The Statue of Liberty was designed by Fredéric Auguste Bartholdi of Alsace as a gift to Americans from the people of France. The statue of a female figure holding a torch in her raised hand was accepted on Oct. 28, 1886, by President Grover Cleveland. The 225-ton steel-reinforced copper structure stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. It is 152 ft tall and stands on a 150-foot pedestal.
The Sears Tower in Chicago is, at 1,450 ft, the tallest building in the United States. Constructed between 1974 and 1976 for Sears, Roebuck and Company, the structure is composed of 75-foot-square tubes that rise to varying levels.
The Gateway Arch, located on the riverfront in St. Louis, Mo., is a tapered curve of stainless steel rising to 630 ft. The tallest manmade memorial in the United States, the Arch was designed by Finnish-born U.S. architect Eero Saarinen and built between 1963 and 1966. Visitors can ride to the top in specially devised capsule-like tram cars.
Mount Rushmore (6,000 ft), in South Dakota, became a celebrated American landmark after sculptor Gutzon Borglum took on the project of carving into the side of it the heads of four great presidents. From 1927 until his death in 1941, Borglum worked on chiseling the 60-foot likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. His son, Lincoln, finished the sculpture later that year.
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, is one of the most recognizable structures in the United States. Designed by Joseph B. Strauss, this elegant suspension bridge has a main span of 4,200 ft.
The Seattle Space Needle was the futuristic centerpiece of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The 605-foot-tall Needle is topped by an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.
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