1. The Taj Mahal, India
Universally admired for its instantly recognisable architectural beauty, the ivory-white marble dome of the Taj Mahal is one of India’s most iconic monuments. It took twenty-two years to complete, with construction beginning in 1631, and involved the work of around twenty-thousand workers, including sculptors, calligraphers, inlayers, stone cutters and an expert in marble-carving, recruited from across Asia – a real labour of love!
However, there is a bitter-sweet love story behind its magnificent facade. The fifth Mughal emperor ordered its creation following the death of his favourite wife – she may have been his third marriage, but it is said she was his true soul mate! He is said to have been so devastated by her passing, following the birth of their child, that his hair and beard turned white. This adds certain poignancy to its snowy exterior, which takes on a pink tinge in morning light and a golden glow in the evening.
2. Empire State Building, New York
Standing at one-hundred-and-two storeys, the Empire State Building and its sky-piercing spire stand at the heart of Midtown Manhattan. An irrevocable icon of the ‘City That Never Sleeps’, it boasts one of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world, with over one-hundred-and-ten-million visitors being drawn in to witness the outstanding views across New York City.
With an Art-Deco style distinctive of its era of completion in 1931, this cultural beacon has become famous on the silver screen many times, from King Kong clinging on to its antennae, to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s anticipated union in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’! In 2012, the building unveiled its new LED lighting system, capable of lighting the skyline with 16,000,000 different colours. Since 1976, the Empire State Building has maintained a tradition of changing colour to recognise special occasions, and never fails to impress visitors with its spectacular displays!
3. Casa Batlló, Barcelona
Casa Batlló is a true artistic triumph. Constructed from the creative brilliance of Antoni Gaudi for the wealthy aristocrat, Josep Batlló, the imaginative facade is a result of painstaking attention to detail incorporating ceramics, stained glass and intricate wrought iron work – you will also notice the varying window size, depending on how far from the top of the building you are, to ensure consistent lighting conditions!
The striking aesthetic of this unique residence is almost unnervingly skeletal and visceral, with fluid lines and skull-like balcony frames – the local name for the building is
Casa dels Ossos, meaning ‘House of Bones’! Inspired by colours and shapes of marine life, the tiling takes on the look of iridescent scales, while the staircase banister takes on the form of a carved animal spine, transporting all who experience this ornamental masterpiece to a surreal fantasy world. Completed in 1906, this is one of Barcelona’s unmistakable treasures, and thanks to Gaudi, is part of the reason why this Spanish city is a hotbed for groundbreaking Modernist architecture.
4. The Shanghai World Financial Centre, China
China’s biggest city and bustling economic hub of Shanghai deserves a worthy landmark, and in 2008 it appeared in the form of the sleek and powerful looking World Financial Centre. Nicknamed ‘The Bottle Opener’ for its distinctively shaped apex, it towers at four-hundred-and-ninety-two meters, making it the third tallest building in Asia. With a cutting-edge design, this glossy mega-structure could easily have stepped straight from the screen of a science fiction film, further adding to the reputation of the city’s futuristic skyline along the mouth of the Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze.
Visitors to fast-pace Shanghai will be itching to scale its height, and the hundredth-floor observation deck features a fifty-five meter-long viewing deck with a glass-floor skywalk, boasting vertiginous views of the city below. Even the lift journey to the top isn’t without a thrill; you will quickly ascend from the ground floor to the ninety-fifth floor in one minute – that’s a speed of ten-meters per second!
5. Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
Clinging onto a staggering cliff side at over three-thousand lofty meters above sea level, Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang, is one of the holiest places of worship in Bhutan. Built in 1692, its stunning location easily makes it one of the most impressive building feats in the past four-hundred years, accessible only after a lengthy trek along the steep mountainous pathways in Paro Valley. Comprising a complex of Buddhist monasteries, all of the buildings are interconnected by staircases carved into the rock, each offering breathtaking views of the area from its own balcony.
According to legend, the temple is built in a cave where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three days and three hours in the 8th Century. It is also said that he flew to the site on the back of a tiger, infamously bestowing the temple its name, while inside, a large tiger statue sits as a tribute to this tale. Not only a marvel in its construction, visitors here will feel a real sense of spirituality at this sky-high sanctuary.
6. Sydney Opera House, Australia
One of the 20th Century’s most distinctive buildings, the Sydney Opera House represents a triumph of modern architecture in Australia. Sixteen years in the making, it was designed by Jørn Utzon, who won an international design competition for the honour, setting him on track to win the esteemed Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2003.
The most iconic aspect of the construction though, was the most difficult to make a reality. The shell shaped roof components were originally of undefined geometry, and the challenge of how to create them took four years and twelve iterations before a solution was found. With one of the earliest uses of computers in structural analysis, the state-of-the-art design was even tested on scale models in wind tunnels at Southampton University, giving it its place as one of the most influential structures of our times. With UNESCO World Heritage Status since 2007, over forty shows are performed every week that extend far beyond opera – from contemporary theatre to cabaret, circus and comedy acts.
7. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Proudly claiming the title of the world’s tallest skyscraper, the breathtaking Burj Khalifa stands at over eight-hundred-and-twenty-eight metres and one-hundred-and-sixty stories high, and that’s just the beginning of the mind-blowing statistics – with over one-hundred-and-ten-thousand tonnes of concrete used to construct the foundation and a weight of aluminium equivalent to that of five A380 aircraft, there is also almost twenty-six thousand glass panels and a telescopic spire created from more than four-thousand tonnes of steel!
Packing such a heavy punch, this tower would perhaps not feel so quite at home anywhere else than Dubai. In the past thirty years, this emirate has transformed itself into a futuristic global powerhouse, pushing the boundaries of luxury travel. This mammoth-size mega-structure also became renowned when Tom Cruise dangled off the side for a heart-stopping scene of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. While visitors probably won’t feel quite so brave, the observation deck is a must-do for spectacular city views.
8. Chapel in the Rocks, Arizona
The Chapel in the Rocks, one of Arizona’s most beloved monuments and one of the world’s most unique man-made structures, spectacularly merges architectural prowess with the beauty of nature. Local rancher and sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, was inspired by her visit to the Empire State Building after observing a cross could be seen in the newly constructed New York tower. Nestled between the red-rock boulders of Sedona, it is particularly beautiful at sunset, and is one of the most inspirational places of worship in the United States of America.
9. St Peter’s Basilica, Italy
The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican City is Italy’s most remarkable religious structures. Completed in 1626 after one-hundred-and-twenty years of construction, it’s fair to say no expense was spared in making this one of the most enduringly impressive buildings in the world. Said to have been built on the site where St Peter was buried between the years 64 and 67AD, construction efforts began in 1506, though progress was slow until Michelangelo arrived on the scene, for the greatest architectural achievement of his life. The dome he designed soars up to almost one-hundred-and-twenty meters in height, while his breathtakingly beautiful Pietá can boast being the only work the revered artist ever signed.
10. Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
Better known as the ‘white temple’, this surprisingly modern place of worship in Chiang Rai is an unrivalled visual feast, designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat. With work beginning in 1997, this is not the usual crumbling stone remnant you might expect to stumble across in Thailand. Dazzling white in colour, and embellished with pieces of glass embedded into the plaster, this Buddhist monument is refreshingly modern and slightly surreal! Fantastically ornate, to enter you must cross the bridge over a sea of outstretched hands, while inside, murals include sculptures of superheroes, film stars and cartoon characters. It may be unconventional, but this is possibly the 20th Century’s most iconic places of Buddhist worship.
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