Landmarks of The World (Part 2) - Stonehenge, Ayers rock, Wall of China,The Eiffel Tower

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4.    Most mysterious: Stonehenge

There are certain obvious statements that can be made about Stonehenge. It was certainly no natural occurrence or coincidence; the main rock material is from nowhere near where the monoliths now stand at Amesbury, Wiltshire, yet the geometric shapes and layout of the remaining stones suggest they were laid in accordance with man-made designs. And the stones themselves are enormous. Seriously big, with some weighing in at an estimated 50 tonnes; to put this into perspective, this would take over 500 men to move just one with no machinery.

Description: Stonehenge

There were three known phases of construction to the Henge, originally dating back around 5,000 years, but owing to the stones’ durability, it has been difficult to pinpoint the dates in between. Even more difficult was to know exactly what the purpose of it all was. Dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, there are references to human and animal bones found during excavations of the site, but none that would suggest that its final purpose was that of a graveyard.

Today, aside from the tourists, the henge is a destination for modern day Druids who flock to the relic each summer to revere the ancient and mysterious monument at the Solstice. Others are visitors who believe in the circle’s heating, fertility and Epiphanyesque qualities. But the truth is that we don’t really know much about how, why or when this undoubtedly significant work came to be; and this of course leaves the door wide open to tales of olde folklore and colourful recounts…

With no written documentation from those ‘that were there’ we have stories including Merlin’s magic summoning the stones from Ireland and placing them as gravestones to honour those that died defending against the invading Saxon army; then there’s the tale of the dancing wizards who were petrified under the spell of another rival wizard where they stand to this day, frozen in time. Or was it really the African giants that settled in Ireland, bringing with them a temple of stone which was re-erected in Country Kildare before being magically transported to the Salisbury plain?

The only truth we can accept it that we are unlikely ever to know how or why Stonehenge came to be, and must simply enjoy its enigmatic charm.

5.    Most spiritual: Ayers rock/ Uluru

There’s a reason souvenir-swiping tourists in their thousands return the chunks of sandstone rock they’ve chipped away from Ayers Rock in the spiritual heart of Australia; enclosed notes bemoan the bad luck that’s occurred ever since they were stolen, and many simply say ‘sorry’.

Description: Ayers rock/ Uluru

But while the theft is prohibited, no-one is aware of any kind of curse on those who carry off these tourist trophies; and the Aboriginal people, while grateful for the piecemeal return of the rock, remain bemused by the accompanying tales of woe. What the Aborigines do believe however, is that Ayers Rock, which they only is it the natural and spiritual centre of Australia, it is one of the most sacred places on earth.

 Uluru rises a majestic 350 m out of the arid, dusty Outback of Australia’s Northern Territory and forms the backbone of the rich belief system of the Aboriginal people. Its creation, they believe, dates back to the Dreamtime, when the ancestral beings rose up through the ground of a flat, featureless earth and created the world around them. They brought the sun, moon and stars, they carved the earth, they brought nature, and they brought knowledge. And it is their spirits which now live in the landscape, and in the giant sandstone rock.

Consequently the rock is revered, its sublimity unsurpassed by any man-made shrine the world over.

When not photographing the almost hourly colour changes for which Uluru is famed (a pinkish-red colour in the dawn light, through to magenta and purple as night falls), tourists are able to approach the Rock and walk around its 9 km circumference, punctuated with rock paintings, crevices and sacred pools. The greatest sadness caused to the Aboriginal people however, is the permission granted to tourists to climb Uluru. To make a climbing frame of this ancient and spiritual wonder brings not only great distress, but also sores of deaths as the climb is steep, slippery and undertaken in extreme temperatures. All injuries and deaths are mourned at length by the Aborigines, and they continually implore the authorities to prohibit the climb, and to remove the metal posts, serving as guiderails, which have been driven deep into their spiritual heart.

6.    Largest great: Wall of China

Man is responsible for many a mark on earth’s surface, but only some are arguably as impressive as the very best of Mother Nature’s creations. Just one such feat of stringent engineering and raw determination, however, is the Great Wall of China.

Description: Description: Wall of China

Sadly, the lovingly retold myth that the Great Wall is visible from the moon is just that, a myth; but this doesn’t stop the sheer scale of the structure from overwhelming even the most resolute of muralists. The main section of the Wall stretches an enormous 5,500 miles (including natural, impassable formations that form part of the overall planned defence barrier) from the Shanhai Pass in the east to Top Nur in the west. In fact, if one were to measure the sprawling ‘tributaries’ of the walls across the various contributing dynasties, we’d be talking more like 13,000 miles…

With some sections built as early as the seventh century BC, the wall has essentially been in a constant state of rebuild and repair over the course of its existence.

Initially comprising various sections that were ultimately joined together to form one solid structure, the Wall was designed to protect China’s northern region from any unwanted factions drifting into Chinese territory.

The idea to join up all of the older walls was executed during the Ming Dynasty in the fourteenth century, in an effort to abate what had become a rather drawn-out war of attrition against both Manchurian and Mongolian tribes; the Wall eventually succumbed to the ongoing Manchu invasions as late as the seventeenth century.

Description: Description: Wall of China

Unfortunately, it is predicted that we may lose large sections of the Wall through natural erosion leaving only the parts that support tourism in any real state of repair. It’s no wonder that this awe-inspiring achievement of man attracts folk from around the globe and it is very much on any travelers’ list of places to see before they die. Unfortunately this, alongside the more acceptable natural weathering from nature, is responsible for expediting the slow decay of the Wall itself. Litter, graffiti and vandalism is rife among the fabled watchtowers of the Great Wall and unfortunately, owing largely to the sheer size and location, there’s little in the way of slowing the destructive process.

7.    Most visited: The Eiffel Tower

A survey conducted at the end of last year has revealed that more Brits have visited the Eiffel Tower than they have Buckingham Place. While the purpose of the research is to suggest that Brits are neglecting their heritage in favour of foreign landmarks, it needs to be pointed out that the Eiffel Tower is, in fact, the most visited of all the world’s landmarks. You’re unlikely to speak to many people who haven’t stood somewhere under its speckled shade, or taken the trip up to one of its three tiers.

Description: Description: The Eiffel Tower

Not so popular in the early days, the Eiffel Tower met with massive opposition after its construction for the 1889 World Fair from the artistic and literary elite of Paris, who considered it abstract and ugly and in very bad taste. So much so, that it was only spared from demolition in 1909 when its practical potential as a platform for the transmitting antennas necessary for the new science of radiotelegraphy was spotted.

Now the image of Paris, and even France itself, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited paid landmark in the world. With a total 200 million visitors since it was shunned as the city’s bête noire, Gustave Eiffel’s iconic creation now commands visitor figures pushing the seven million mark every year.

Of these millions, many will simply stare up through the girders. For the fit (and/or slightly less patient), the stairs can be taken to the first or second platforms, and for those who can put up with the wait of hour for the lifts (we did mention it was the most visited of all world landmarks), all three platforms can be accessed at ease – unless of course, the Parisian wind has picked up, in which case the third platform will be closed.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also (un)officially the world’s most photographed landmark. Photo-sharing website Flickr was analysed recently by experts who scanned almost 35bmillion images, posted by 300,000 users, and revealed that the Eiffel Tower was top of the snaps.

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