Man-made wonders of the world: Monuments are one giant leap for mankind


A NEW book celebrates the human race’s finest structural achievements to tick off your bucket list

Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished experimental masterwork was a symbol of his love for God and his native Catalonia. Begun in 1882, at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, caused by a tram accident outside the church, work was well advanced on the Nativity Transept.

Adorned with stalactite-like gables and cone-shaped spires topped with twisting finials of coloured broken tiles, it was unlike anything seen in a church before.When the work is completed in 2032 it will be the world’s tallest church building.

The most spectacular archaeological find of modern times was discovered by local farmers in 1974, the Army consisting of at least 7,000 soldiers, 130 horse-drawn chariots and 150 cavalry horses, guarded one side of an extensive imperial burial site.

The life-size figures, created using mass-production techniques (facial features were added by hand) are more than 2,000 years old and form part of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang who began creating the burial complex when he was only 13 years old.

This finest serving example of Moorish architecture in Spain was originally built in the ninth century as a military stronghold, but became far more than a fortress. Under the last Muslim dynasty to rule over Iberia (1232-1492), parts of it were transformed into a palace.

The quality of the craftsmanship was outstanding. Every available surface was festooned with vegetal and geometric patterns or calligraphic inscriptions. Many of its interior arches have no structural function; they were designed solely for ornamental purposes.

Between the 11th and 17th centuries the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) people carved 800-1,000 colossal stone figures, each believed to have embodied the spirit of an ancestor. Often erected on ceremonial platforms known as ahus, the statues (moai) face inland, their backs to the sea.

The question of how the moai (weighing an average of 14 tons) were transported long distances from the quarry where they were carved has long been disputed.

The longest manmade structure ever built is in fact a series of walls. Begun by China’s 1st emperor in the third century BCE, they span 13,170 miles and are made from materials such as dressed stone, kiln-fired bricks, sun-dried bricks and rammed earth, with some held together with sticky rice flour.

An estimated one million of the convicts, peasants, slaves, guards and citizens employed to build it died in the process.

The world’s largest stone Buddha – if upright, the statue would be roughly the height of the Statue of Liberty – presides over the intersection of three rivers. Carved out of a cliff, construction was initiated by Hai Tong, a Chinese monk in 713CE and completed some 90 years later, after his death.

Standing 233ft high, it is an astonishing feat of engineering; seated, with his hands on his knees, he has a head that is approximately 46ft high and 33ft wide.

Most of the statue is carved from stone, only the ears, about 23ft long, are made of different material – wood covered with clay.

A horticultural park that combines natural beauty with innovative green technology and architecture. Opened in 2012, the park is divided into three gardens: Bay East, Bay Central and Bay South which is the largest, spanning six million sq ft.

Its layout, inspired by Singapore’s national flower, is defined by 18 “supertrees”, home to 162,900 plants. The Flower Dome, one of two climate-controlled biomes, is the world’s largest columnless glasshouse, while the Cloud Forest has a 138ft-high mountain housing the world’s largest indoor waterfall.

Known as White Egret Castle or White Heron Castle because it is said to resemble a bird taking flight, and regarded as one of the finest of Japan’s last surviving feudal castles, it was built in 1601-09.

The castle was surrounded by a spiral-shaped moat, within which was a series of fortified gateways, and a labyrinth of courtyards and passageways designed to confuse attackers.An almost impregnable castle, its complex defences were never tested.

Built as a fortress in the 1190s, it became a royal residence in the 14th century before Francois I decided to rebuild it as a magnificent palace and invited Leonardo daVinci to come to France. The artist brought the Mona Lisa with him – she has her own mailbox at the Louvre to receive the love letters sent to her.The glass pyramid was added to the main courtyard in 1989.

More than 2,200 Buddhist temples and pagodas spread across the plains of the ancient kingdom of Bagan in present-day Mandalay provide a unique record of the development of Burmese temple architecture.

Bagan was the principal power in the region from the ninth to the 13th centuries, when more than 10,000 Buddhist temples – smaller temples are grouped around the more important temples – were erected on the Bagan plains of the Irrawaddy River.Although fewer than a quarter have survived, the panorama of pagodas rising from the landscape is an extraordinary spectacle.

Called “a tear of marble on the cheek of time” by poet Rabindranath Tagore, the white marble edifice was to be a mausoleum for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631.

Work began in the same year but it took 22 years to complete, employing more than 20,000 workers – including masons and craftsmen from Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Europe – and more than 1,000 elephants.

The mausoleum appears to change colour from pink to white to gold, depending on the time of day, and is decorated with 28 different types of gems.

A masterpiece of Khmer art and architecture, the temple complex in Siem Reap is the world’s largest religious structure, covering an area of some 0.6 sq miles. Construction began in the reign of King Suryavarman II (1113-1150) and is thought to have involved around 300,000 workers.

The temple features 13,000 sq ft of wall carvings, including the visual narration of eight major stories in Hindu myth.

One of the most spectacular, depicting the creation myth, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, shows gods and demons churning the ocean to extract soma, the elixir of immortality.

Linking Manhattan with Brooklyn, the 5,989ft-long bridge was officially opened in 1883.A year later PT Barnum took the world-famous Jumbo and 21 other elephants across to show that it was safe.

The bridge was initially designed to carry horse-drawn and rail traffic with an elevated walkway in the centre for pedestrians and cyclists.

The last trains ran in 1944 and in 1950 the streetcars also stopped. The bridge was then reconfigured to carry six lanes of cars.

Completed in 1973, the distinctive sail-like roof is made of 2,194 precast concrete sections held together by 218 miles of steel cable.

More than merely an opera house, it is a complex of performance and exhibition venues, including a 2,679-seat Concert Hall that houses the world’s largest mechanical action grand organ, above the stage.

A unique circle of huge standing stones on Salisbury Plain, perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, began to take shape in about 2,500BCE. Eighty bluestone pillars were erected and a huge sandstone “Altar Stone” was laid at the centre of the henge.

Later the massive sarsen (dense sandstone) blocks each weighing up to 33 tons, replaced or were added to the pillars.The function of the henge remains uncertain but from the discovery of cremated bones it is likely to have been used as a ceremonial and burial site.

Designed to hold more than 50,000 spectators, the largest Roman amphitheatre was built after the death of Emperor Nero. It provided a huge space for combat between gladiators and animals, reconstruction of battles and mythical episodes and public executions.

Tiered seating ranged from ringside seats for the emperor and senators, to a zone for knights and for the middle classes to a terrace and standing room in the aisles for plebians and common women.

The amphitheatre fell into disrepair after 404CE when the games were abolished.

Ivan the Terrible’s 16th century Orthodox church was officially known as the Cathedral of the Intercesssion of theVirgin on the Moat. It is more popularly known as St Basil’s after the “Holy Fool” Basil the Blessed, who was buried in the church.

Its onion domes were originally hemispherical and gilded; the cathedral’s bright colours were added from the 17th century on. Legend says the Tsar blinded the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, to prevent him building a more beautiful church.

Once the St Petersburg residence of the Russian tsars, this Baroque palace contains 1,500 rooms and halls, 2,945 windows and 117 staircases. When work halted in the 15th century, a medieval crane was left on top of the southern steeple until work was resumed in 1868.

The Palace is now the site of the Hermitage Museum containing one of the world’s foremost collections of paintings and sculpture.

These astonishing feats of engineering, built during Khufu’s reign (c.2545-2525 BCE), include the 480ft-high Great Pyramid, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Inside, the spectacular passageway, the Grand Gallery, leads to Khufu’s burial chamber, which contains his mummified corpse.

At the height of its prosperity in the first century CE, the “Rose-red City” famous for the tombs and temples carved into its sandstone cliffs, had an estimated population of 20,000.Visitors usually approach the city via the Siq, its main entrance, arriving at the famous view of the Al-Khazneh (“the Treasury”) sculpted in the pink rock-face at the end of the gorge.

The Palace Tomb, largest of the Royal Tombs, is believed to have been inspired by Nero’s Golden House in Rome.

Manmade Wonders Of The World, foreword by Dan Cruickshank, is published by DK, £30


About Author

Leave A Reply