You’ve probably seen them before – Travel guides insisting that you visit certain places before you die; as if visiting them afterwards is a bankable strategy. There is much to be said for visiting those places before flat-lining, but I’m happy to share my own personal list of the top ten world monuments that I’ve visited, all without that superfluous reminder of our common mortality.
10) Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Wedged between two other monuments of note in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square (Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque), the ancient monument called Hagia Sophia – meaning Holy Wisdom in Greek – began its existence as a church before being converted to a mosque and now a museum. It’s massive dome was (and still is) an architectural marvel, and wandering its cavernous halls is a must for anyone visiting this historic city.
9) Empire State Building, New York, USA
Maybe I’m a bit partial to my former hometown, but few monuments have gotten as much screen time as the good old Empire State Building. There are bigger and bolder buildings to be found – even right there in Manhattan – but the classic art-deco architecture and famous views of the ‘Capital of the World’ from its lofty observation deck are timeless, and definitely worthy of my humble list.
8) Big Ben, London, England
Technically, Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower located at the north end of London’s Westminster Palace. But that iconic tower is commonly known for its namesake bell, and far be it for me to harp on a technicality. Well, technically I just did, but…anyway. Big Ben is one of the most recognizable images in of all Europe, especially the U.K. and that, after all, is the point of a famous monument.
7) Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Poised at a scenic point between the Sydney Botanical Gardens and Harbour Bridge, this monument to culture is widely recognizable for its sail-like curves and yawning glass sidewalls. This draws tourists from all over the world (including yours truly) and also doubles as an actual working opera venue. While no one comes to Australia for urban scenery (at least they shouldn’t), a visit here is is a visit to the only world-class man-made monument on the continent.
6) Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The monolithic Christ the Redeemer Statue, which looms over the vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro, is not so much a must-see in and of itself, but rather a recognizable symbol of one of the world’s most amazing cities in what I believe is the world’s most-impressive city setting. Visible from various points around the city, the views from atop its home on Corcovado Mountain provides thrilling views for even the most jaded travelers.
5) The Colosseum, Rome, Italy
In a land full of impressive monuments, the Colosseum in central Rome takes the cake (or cannoli if you will). If you can look past its checkered history as a venue for bloody entertainment, this massive stone arena is the crown jewel of Roman Empire relics. Surrounded by other famous monuments like the Forum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Square (which is technically part of the tiny sovereign state of Vatican City…there I go again) perhaps some of the Colosseum’s thunder gets stolen. But if there is only one building to encapsulate the majesty and glory of ancient Rome, this is certainly the place.
4) Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
When it comes to icons, I can’t imagine anything more recognizable than the Eiffel Tower. This is one of those monuments where you’ll never forget the moment and circumstances when you first laid eyes on it (in my case, after passing out from behind a cluster of buildings while riding a train). It is bigger and more impressive than you think. And if it weren’t for the next three monuments on my list, it could easily be considered number one.
3) Great Wall of China, Northern China
Part of the measure of what makes a world monument great, is the absolutely, must-see factor. You simply cannot (or should not) miss out on visiting this enormous attraction if you are anywhere near northern China. Sure it’s just a wall with guardhouses snaking over a hilly landscape, but that’s not the point. Nothing symbolizes China more than its namesake wall. Just go see it (I’ll refrain from specifying why, as promised earlier).
2) Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Are there any monuments more iconic and recognizable than the Pyramids? Well, I’d say one, but it must be admitted that the Pyramids were here first. Like the Eiffel Tower, you will not forget the first time you see these sentinels of the ages baking in the sun. Whether you believe they were built by slaves, aliens, or an ancient local Egyptian contracting firm, the overall impression will leave you awed and more than just a little bit humbled.
1) The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
I’ve said this before and will say it again here: There is no building on Earth that can compare with the beauty and majesty of India’s Taj Mahal. Add in the whole ‘greatest monument to love’ angle, and really, no other man-made structure can compete. I know I said I wouldn’t bring up the whole pending mortality thing, but if you only get to one spot on this list, make sure this is the one.
Not Dead Yet
Just like your life, my list of monuments is not over. I’ve still yet to visit such famous sites as Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu and the city of Petra to see how they stack up. So while I’m still breathing, (and presumably you are too) I’m keeping my mind – and my list – open to adjustment.
Share your own top ten list with your fellow travel enthusiasts by leaving a comment below.