THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 29

…You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

constantinople-001

Afridi must have drifted off, despite an effort to keep one of them peeled. The sun is giving back the day, silhouetting the domes of Constantinople’s many mosques, and others who have chosen this old city as a destination, begin to stir noisily. This entire foreign hubbub trims the much welcomed mental respite for a psychologically fatigued traitor/defector/fugitive/ husband/father.

The conductor/funnyman goes out of his way to sweep Aldona’s berth, perhaps feeling personally responsible for the success of whatever the man is up to. Surely he has done the same for an untold number of equally fascinating patrons.

“I was awake, sir,” responds Afridi to the bonus care. “Say, please take these as a token.”

afghan-noteHe takes possession of several rumpled Afghani notes given him and is truly impressed, so much so that he reaches into his own pocket to fetch a business card, which is printed with magnetic resonance. “Use this in Istanbul, a value that trumps money; it contains my name, the password is “ByZantium”. {Please note that it is abdullah-ashtaar-001electronically case-sensitive}

He hands him his card.

Double A meets double AA. “Your kindness will rewarded by the Creator of us all. Perhaps we will meet again.”

You can disembark any time you like, but you can never leave.” On a dark desert byway, dusty breeze in my hair, the warm smell of opiates rising up in the air…

Aldona Afridi extracts what he can from the cryptic statement, while holding a key to a most ancient of world capitals in his hand. Within moments the bullet train swooshes to an abrupt stop, compelling people and objects to spill to the front of each car; standers go down, sitters double over, and sleepers tumble in their blankets. Those new brakes really work.

But they have arrived at Marmaray Station as promised, safely and on time.

ok-now-what


THE RETURN TRIP

Constantinople by Gianomo Franco

Map of the island of Constantinople, created in 1597 by the Venetian Giacomo Franco

Episode 29


page 28

By the Wonderful Sea – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Remarkable Ocean

and

Sea Settlements

Ocean cities. Settlements in seas. Famed writer Jules Verne was on to something with “Propeller Island,” after all. (see below)

In this account, we explore some of the most ingenious ways in which human settlements have taken a marine form that thrive in modern times, while paying respects to some real-life versions of Atlantis found below the waves.

10. MS The World

The brainchild of Knut U. Kloster, MS The World is remarkable and globally unique condo at sea. With everything from sports facilities to a grocery store, this “largest residential yacht on the planet” is an apartment ship with 165 residential apartments, in total measuring 644 feet, 2 inches long and 98 feet wide. A board of directors elected by the residents, plus committees, plan out the ship’s travel routes, budgeting and on-board activities, along with shore stops.

The attractive vessel is a place to reside, with its fully livable apartments that range from its little studio residences to middle ground studio one or two-bedroom apartments, regular two-bedroom apartments, all the way up to three-bedroom suites with a full range of amenities. One to three expeditions (typically informed by 20 or more relevant experts, for planning) take in culture, scenery, and natural history of places like Madagascar, the British Isles/Hebrides, and the Northwest Passage.

9. Kansai International Airport

A masterpiece of Japanese engineering, Kansai Interntional Airport, opened in 1994, is an airport in the middle of the sea. Well, in the middle of Osaka Bay, offshore of Japan’s main island, Honshu, to be exact. Originally planned to be floating, the airport was instead built on sand, creating a runway-shaped construction surrounded by water, with all the amenities expected at an airport.

The airport is connected to Honshu by a narrow strip for rail and road transport, and has been judged as an engineering disaster due it its history of sinkage into the soft sands and mud of Osaka Bay and the subsequent costs. The airport nevertheless received recognition as an American Society of Civil Engineers “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” award recipient in April 2001. The airport notably weathered a 120 mile-per-hour typhoon in 1998 and survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake without destruction despite the thousands of deaths on Honshu.

8. Jules’ Undersea Lodge

While not quite a full city or even a town, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is a most unique hotel that requires SCUBA certification for guest access. Located in Florida, the structure is located 21 feet below the waves. Celebrity visitors to the lodge have included Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau.

The lodge itself is located in a mangrove environment with 42-inch windows while hot showers, music and movies, beds with a view of wild fish outside, and a kitchen containing a microwave and fridge are present in the lodge. A variety of stay packages ranging from just a few hours to a full overnighter are available, along with dive training if the required certification is not already held by visitors.

7. Palm Islands

The United Arab Emirates is a land home to some of the world’s most remarkable feats of marine engineering. Take the Palm Islands, a set of stunning marine archipelagos with rays and centerpieces that can be most fully appreciated from aerial views or space photographs. The islands include Palm Jumeirah, a precisely palm leaf shaped archipelago, Palm Deira Island, and Palm Jebel Ali, located along the Dubai coastline. Started in 2001, the developments contain a vast array of dwellings and commercial buildings constructed on the rays and stems. Breakwaters protect the construction works on the islands.

The project scale was most impressive. The first of the Palm Islands, Palm Jumeirah, utilized a whopping 3 billion cubic feet of sand, dredged from the Persian Gulf, built into the palm shape with GPS, while mountain rock totaling seven million tons was used to form the seven-mile breakwater protection system. Near the Palm Islands are two more human-made archipelagos, The World, named after its construction in the likeness of a map of the Earth, and The Universe, built to resemble the Milky Way Galaxy.

6. Neft Dashlari (Oily Rocks)

Extending from overturned scrapped tankers and connected by trestles and pipes is an expansive ghost city in the Caspian Sea. Located off the coast of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Neft Dashlari, or Oily Rocks, is one of the strangest urban areas on the planet. A ramshackle yet industriously constructed network of oil drilling facilities, stores, and apartment buildings stands bizarrely perched throughout the settlement. Neft Dashlari gained the amenities of an entire town including stores, educational facilities, and homes, plus libraries and service centers. Dormitories with five stories and hotels were among the grander structures built.

The community was literally built on top of overturned ships, which serve as building foundations. The site holds the Guinness World Record for being the first ever offshore oil platform. Neft Dashlari is now largely abandoned, with only some settlement remaining. A dark episode in the history of Neft Dashlari was the perhaps less than surprising, with the disappearance of three workers following the collapse of living accommodations into the Caspian Sea.

5. The Boat City of Aberdeen Harbour

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has a complicated cultural history. Aberdeen Harbour exists in stark contrast to the towering and densely clustered skyscrapers for which Hong Kong is famous. Here in the harbor, there are large congregations of boats on which dwellers live and work. Restaurants are included in the amenities offered by the “boat city,” adding significantly to the tapestry of the village as a unique attraction.

Despite some viewing the floating neighborhood as a visual disturbance, the boat city is gaining an established place in Hong Kong’s culture. Movie depictions of Hong Kong make good use of the boat city for both panoramic views and as the setting for great action scenes. In historic times, the pirate life of the boat city was colorful, to say the least.

4. Ko Panyi

The image is incredible. One of Thailand’s most fascinating sights is the aerial view of Ko Panyi. With multi-colored roofs, the buildings of the village on stilts extend outward in a rough question mark shape around the base of a precipitous stony island, formed from a single mini-mountain that rises from Phang Nga Bay. Ko Panyi is in southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Province on the Malay Peninsula, between the Thai border with Myanmar to the north and Malaysia to the south.

A testament to the resourcefulness of its founders, Ko Panyi was established by Toh Baboo, friends and family who were Muslim ocean travelers who arrived around 200 years back but were unable to settle on land as foreigners upon arrival in Thailand. Today, the 300 families numbering almost 1,500 individuals live in the village that clusters around the rock. Dwellings, restaurants, a mosque, and even a floating football pitch are among the features of the village.

3. Fadiouth, Senegal

In the African nation of Senegal, a section of coastline known as Petite Côte is a village of fishers that is divided between a land-based section of settlement, Joal, and a much stranger island portion of the village, Fadiouth. Joal-Fadiouth’s two sections are connected via a wooden footbridge, 1,312 feet in length. Fadiouth is bizarre because it is on an entirely human-made island, and that island is made from discarded yet rather precisely placed seashells.

Over the last century (and more), villagers have been toiling at a two-fold project. On one hand, they have been harvesting marine mollusks for food, and on the other, casting the shells aside. This has created the huge midden that grew into the island supporting Fadiouth. Fastened by mangrove roots and other coastal wetland plants, the shell island resists the tides. The theme everywhere is shells. The famous cemetery is made of shells, while streets and buildings sport shells. The population is Christian and Muslim and is known for its close community held together by residential embrace of religious diversity.

2. Halong Bay Floating Villages

Vietnam is home to a spectacular floating village group that has achieved world recognition for its cultural and architectural uniqueness. Amongst pillar-like mountains that emerge from the waters of Halong Bay are four floating villages comprised of multiple buildings on rafts that form a fishing community. The four villages in Halong Bay contain 1,000 villagers and are named Cua Van, Ba Hang, Vong Vieng, and Cong Tau.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the villages provide a base for fishing lobster, shellfish, finned fish, and squid. Larger vessels resemble land-based houses in their design, while smaller boats are moored to the dwelling boats, which can themselves move around or anchor to neighboring dwellings to allow convenient forays through the bay. The largest village, Cau Van, hosts the Floating Cultural Center, which seeks to preserve the villages under the auspices of the Ha Long Ecological Museum.

1. Urban Rigger

A floating apartment is a novel concept and even more-so when the apartment complex is made of recycled structures. The Urban Rigger project in Copenhagen, Denmark is just such a remarkable development, with 12 studio apartments for students fashioned from shipping containers. Floating by the shoreline in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Refshaleoen, the project was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group after being first dreamt up by Urban Rigger CEO Kim Loudrup, who encountered great challenges in finding his son student housing in Denmark.

Students appreciate the sustainable, livable design of the mini community on the water, the first residents having arrived in 2018. The shipping containers that make up the apartments focus on making the best use of natural light and are fitted with their own bathrooms and kitchens, while common areas include gardens, a gym, and laundry facilities. Residents can go for a swim right from their doorstep.


By the Wonderful Sea

WIF 10 Cent Travel

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 11

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 11

…Why yes, Shaikh Kamran Khan-Nutkani! Our Korean friends assure me that the invisibility cloak worked like a three-armed lucky Buddha

talibanistan-001

Meanwhile… that very same day, somewhere in Talibanistan, the geographical territory once occupied by: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and all the other “-stans

Sang-Ashi

“Tell us Afridi, are we sure that our Sang-Ashi Probe got through America’s Henchman Satellite Killer Network. Our source at their Pentagon tells us that that it was on high alert 7 months ago.”

Image result for mitAldona Afridi, MIT educated, has a particular set of talents where long-range satellites are concerned.

Why yes, Sheikh Kamran Khan-Nutkani! Our United Korean friends assure me that the invisibility cloak worked like a three-armed lucky Buddha.”

The Sheikh is as intimidating as he looks; lavishly robed, weathered by years of mountain life and

a radical Muslim to his very core. He has a calculating glint in his eye.

The Talibanistani’s foremost expert in laser technology squirms uneasily in a normally comfortable seat, but then again an armored limousine rarely is used to hold a sensitive meeting of such world-changing magnitude. Neither is Afridi at home with himself, having invested his design talents to construct an infamous weapon. He is also collaborating with the famously treacherous Koreans, which does nothing to soothe his restless conscience.

“Our alliance with Korea is essential to the success of our goal,” the Sheikh reminds the man, an arm’s length away.

“Our satellite is safe and ready to take out the spy satellite that has been making our alliance so miserable.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Hotbed for Mischief

Episode 11


page 11

Britbox Beatbox Bumbles – WIF Eye On Britannia

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Bloody Curious

Facts About the

Expansive

British Empire

The British Empire was by far the biggest empire in human history, which doesn’t sound as impressive if we just leave it at that. Consider this; at its height, the tiny island famous for being damp and cold controlled around 24% of Earth’s total area, ruling over 23% of the world population. It was a hugely influential entity, too. Many of our modern technologies first originated there, and its effects can still be seen in many nooks of modern life.

For all of its merits, though, the British Empire was also one of the most controversial empires to have ever existed. While many other European nations had their own territorial empires around the world, the excesses of colonialism are inherently associated with the Brits. For good reason, too, as it was the biggest one of them all, and perfected many of the techniques later used by other colonial powers to keep their numerically-superior colonial subjects in control. Some of them have been extensively discussed in modern discourse – like its prominent role in the establishment of the slave trade – though many of them have been left out of history books.

Because of its size and global influence at its peak, there are still many surprising – and shocking – facts from across the once-mighty British Empire most of us don’t know about.

7. The First Evil Corporation

The British Empire existed as a monarchy throughout its existence, though the true credit for its rapid rise around the world could be squarely given to the East India Company. Think of it as a private firm with its own standing army and patronage from the monarch, as the EIC was instrumental in wrestling control of Britain’s colonies in South and Southeast Asia all on its own.

What most of us forget, though, is that the EIC also pioneered the blueprint for all ‘evil corporations’ to come after it. Its whole business model was set up around efficiently securing the natural resources from its colonies, with support from the central British state in exchange for a bulk of those resources and military backing. It was also the recipient of the world’s first corporate bailout in 1773, when the EIC ran into massive debt and caused banks across Europe to crash. It could be compared to the Wall Street Bailout of 2008, except the EIC was way bigger and more intertwined with global trade at that time than any of those banks ever would be.

6. 1857 Sepoy Revolt

There’s no doubt that the EIC was one of the most successful corporations in history, with control over some of the most resource-rich and populous parts of the world at its peak. What started out as a loose group of merchants just trying to set up trading outposts in the East turned into a state of its own, with little to no oversight from the British government in its early days. If you’re wondering why we don’t hear about it as much as other successful business ventures in history, it’s because of the 1857 revolt in British-controlled India.

While the EIC had a standing army of its own, it wasn’t enough to control a territory as diverse and politically-complicated as India. That’s where the sepoys came in. An anglicized word for sipahi – which translates to soldier – they were soldiers picked from local populations to help the EIC army maintain control of the territory. That plan worked quite well for a while, too, until they decided to coat the rifle cartridges with pig and cow meat.

While the reasons behind the rebellion were diverse and numerous (much like all rebellions), the cartridges turned out to be the final straw. You see, the cartridges had to be picked with the teeth before being reloaded into the rifles, which was offensive to Hindu and Muslim sepoys. It gave way to one of the most brutal rebellions in the history of the British Empire, as the rebels came shockingly close to wrestling control of the whole territory. It caused quite a bit of outrage in Britain, too, as stories of rebels murdering British civilians living in India made its way there.

The rebellion was eventually suppressed, though it fundamentally changed how Britain dealt with its colonies. It marked the end of the East India Company, and put the British Indian territory directly under the monarch. It would stay that way until India’s independence in 1947.

5. Influence On Nazi Ideology

When we talk about the Nazis in the modern context, there’s always an air of shock to it. How could an ideology so opposed to human rights and just generally being nice to others gain a foothold in one of the world’s largest democracies of the time? Many reasons are cited, including the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. While they may have contributed to it to an extent, what we often forget is that Nazi ideology never had to come out of the woodwork in the first place. The most problematic parts of it were already out in the open and widely-practiced, especially in the British Empire.

Hitler was massively influenced by British subjugation and control of its overseas territories – especially India – as he wanted to replicate it for Germany. He even referred to Eastern Europe as ‘Germany’s India’, though as we all know, that didn’t exactly go according to plan. The British Empire also kind of had a racism problem, as is proven by Churchill’s (and other British politicians’ of the time) frequent remarks on the colonies.

Moreover, many parts of the Nazi ideology were already popular across sections of governments in Europe, largely due to other countries wanting to replicate Britain’s success in their own colonies. A huge part of that was written out of Western history after the Second World War, though Hitler’s admiration for the British Empire remains well-documented. Despite that, the British Empire’s influence over the Nazis and fascists in Europe is almost never discussed.

4. The Bengal Famine

We’re no strangers to the disastrous policies of the British Empire, so much so that apologizing for them is a sort of an in-joke among the Brits at this point. From its infamous ‘divide and rule’ doctrine to the botched partitions of various countries in the wake of its departure from them, we’d say that we could fill a book with it, if there weren’t already many books like that. The fallout of those policies is still clearly visible in almost all of its economically-disadvantaged former colonies, in the form of inflamed racial and ethnic tensions as well as their economic backwardness after decolonization.

The Bengal Famine of 1943, however, is rarely ever mentioned as a part of that fallout, despite being one of the most devastating and controversial events in British Empire’s history. The mere fact that it’s known as a famine instead of a disaster caused by artificial scarcity of resources should tell you something about why it’s so rarely talked about. By some estimates, around 3 million of Bengal’s population died as a direct result of it, and many more were left malnourished for years to come, as it took quite some time for the state of Bengal – and India in general – to recover from it.

While the official position of Britain has always been that it was caused by a natural drought, recent studies have found that it wasn’t that natural after all. It was actually caused by the redirection of the food resources to Britain’s war effort and halted rice imports due to the Japanese invasion of Burma, as well as not declaring it a famine-hit region at the right time (or at any time since then). One study done on soil moisture data from that time concluded that Bengal was under no threat of a drought, and that the factors leading to the famine were purely manmade. To this day, the Bengal famine remains one of the most severe and deadly famines in history.

3. Still The Empire On Which The Sun Never Sets

As we said above, the phrase ‘the biggest empire ever’ doesn’t mean much on its own, as we have no intuitive way of quantifying how big that actually is, especially considering that history is full of massive empires – like the Roman and Mongolian empires. Consider this; at its peak, the British Empire was so huge that it was daytime in at least some of its territory, earning it its unofficial nickname ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. That’s not to say that it was the only empire like that – as other big empires of the time, like Spain, could also qualify for that description at some point in their history – though Britain held that reputation for far longer than any of them.

While Britain is far from its glory days now, surprisingly, the sun still doesn’t set on it, as it still has many of its former colonies under its control. Apart from the British mainland, there are 14 British territories around the world, and we’re assuming all of them are okay with the arrangement as they’ve not yet asked for independence. Some of those territories are British outposts in uninhabited, remote areas – like its Antarctic base – though they still count as British territory for all intents and purposes.

2. Its Contribution To The Current Conflict In The Middle East

No matter which side of the story you listen to, you’d agree that the Middle East is in kind of a mess right now. With multiple factions – many of them extremist, armed groups – vying for control of vast tracts of countries like Syria and Iraq, there seems to be no end to the conflict. Well, not unless everyone mutually decides to call it quits and go back home. It’s made worse by underlying ethnic tensions between the various groups; tensions that have been unresolved and simmering under the surface for quite some time now. “Surely,” you’d probably wonder, “all of this couldn’t have happened overnight.” And you’d be right, because it didn’t.

In case you missed the title of the article, Britain had a huge role to play in what would inevitably, sooner or later, turn the Middle East into what it is today. It all started with the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire’s territories were divided by Britain, with considerable help from France. Known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the arrangement divided up the whole region according to spheres of influence and territorial ownership of the victors, with little to no regard for the actual ethnic demographics of the place.

To their credit, they didn’t know that they’d have to give up these territories at some point, as colonialism was still going strong around that time. Many terrorist groups in the Middle East still have the removal of the Sykes-Picot agreement as one of their primary aims, something we don’t even consider when we talk about the current state of the region.

1. The Disastrous Afghanistan Invasion

Afghanistan, for some weird reason, has been the focal point of many global conflicts in its history, right from the Soviet invasion in the ’80s to America’s ‘War on Terror’. Like Russia, many countries have discovered the hard way that Afghanistan isn’t the best place to invade, as it’s still a country largely ruled by independent warlords, with little oversight from the central government. The harsh and vast terrain doesn’t help the chances of invading armies, either.

What may be common knowledge now, though, wasn’t back in the middle of the 19th century, when the British Empire decided to make the same mistake as its later counterparts. Its invasion of Afghanistan in 1938 and eventual retreat in 1942 remains one of the empire’s biggest military defeats, despite its technological strength on the battleground.

It all began when the British army – made up of British and Indian soldiers – toppled the Afghan ruler, Dost Mohammed, and installed Shah Shujah Durrani in his place. While their original plan was to take the country and withdraw all of their forces, two of their brigades had to stay back to keep the peace, including their civilian family members. They eventually grew comfortable with their hold on the country, and decided to kick back and relax a bit in Kabul.

It was all going well till the local population started to revolt, as any occupied population would tend to. Because of the rapidly worsening situation, the British decided to take all of their troops (around 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians) and withdraw back into India in 1842, with a promise of safe passage from the local army general. As you probably guessed, the Afghans did not honor that promise, and the British army was harassed and slowly decimated throughout their long journey back across the treacherous terrain. All in all, the entire British army was killed, except one British and a handful of Indian soldiers.


Britbox Beatbox Bumbles

WIF Eye On Britannia

Polska on a Dime – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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 Must-See Places

in Poland

Poland. A land of record holding attractions. A heavily wooded country in places, beautifully urbanized in others, Poland is a gem of European intrigue with a complex history scathed by the tragedies of armed conflict. In this account, we showcase a visitor’s 10 must see sites in surprising Poland, including the world’s largest castle and a mysterious forest.

10. Malbork Castle

Did you know that “The King of Castles,” the largest castle on the planet (by land area) is in Poland? Poland’s Marlbork Castle is a medieval gem that should rank well in any world itinerary of castle tours. Built in the 13th Century, Marlbork Castle, known as the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, consists of a castle and associated fortress construction close to the Polish town of Malbork. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent building attracts visitors looking to tick “biggest castle” off the touring achievements list.

Marlbork Castle is near the River Nogat in northern Poland, built out of brick and typifying Gothic architecture. The construction reflects the Teutonic Order state located in Prussia, where militant German monks fought crusades against Prussian and Lithuanian pagan tribes from the south coast of the Baltic Sea. The crusaders also attacked the Kingdom of Poland, a Christian Kingdom. Thus, the castle is seen as a symbol of the violent religious conflict that embodies much of Europe’s grand but often troubled history.

9. Bialowieza National Park

The primeval forest of Bialowieza National Park is the refuge of the majority of the world’s few remaining European bison, Poland’s national animal. Also designated as a World Heritage Site, the huge relict tract preserves the last of the temperate forest that once grew lush and mysterious across much of the European continent. The first national park to ever be established on the European continent, Bialowieza was declared a protected area in 1932 and stands out for its exceptional diversity. Along with the huge bison, other species seen here include lynx, wild boar, wolves and red deer.

Despite the relatively cool climate of Poland and surrounding lands, 12,000 animal species call the park home. Also known as the Zubr, the European Bison that define this park are iconic giants as Europe’s largest land animal in existence. During the Second World War, pressures on the bison increased, being seen as a source of meat in challenging conditions. Their survival in the refuge stands out as a heroic work of conservation in European history, an accomplishment of the Bison Breeding Center located in the park, the place where all bison left in the world originate.

8. Tatra Mountains

Poland is a country with diverse and fascinating geography, spanning from high mountain Europe to the Baltic Sea. In the south of Poland lies the Tatra mountain range, which is the highest set of mountains in the Carpathian range.

Tatras National Park contains spectacular cave sites as well as mountains, offering the visitor a glimpse of Poland’s most spectacular geographical region. Lakes in these mountains are impressive, particularly Morskie Oko, a lake whose name means Eye of the Sea in English. Morskie Oko is the Tatra Mountains’ largest lake, ranking fourth in depth and located within the national park. The conifer trees, rock outcrops and high elevations contrast sharply with brilliant blue waters that seem tropical in nature until you see the snow beyond. A destination for world class sight-seeing, rock climbing, hiking and caving, as well as paragliding, mountain biking and wildlife viewing, the “Polish Alps” — as they are sometimes called — are a lesser known great attraction of Europe worth any visitor’s time. Strict environmental protection policies are in place to preserve the flora and fauna of the park.

7. Tri-City

Poland is not all about farmland, forest and castles. It is also a seaport nation, with an impressive section of Baltic Sea coastline to offer visitors. Gdansk and and two other coastal municipalities, Gdynia and Sopot are known as the Tri-City, a municipal area with spectacular coastal architecture that is most whimsical, combined with heavy industry and a population of around one million.

The National Maritime Museum in Gdansk showcases seafaring and fishing history of coastal Poland, while the city has some dark history as the place where the first bullets were fired in World War II during the German invasion of Poland. The Solidarity Social Movement also first broke through the Iron Curtain in Gdansk 40 years afterward. Sopot is a lighter destination, established as a sort of recreation zone for European ruling classes of old. Spas, beachfront resorts and summer homes define the often bustling coast of Sopot. Gdynia offers a different sample of Poland, with a more subdued style. Art Deco, socialist and communist architecture are all juxtaposed here, along with fascinating relics, such as the Polish World War II battleship ‘Blyskawica’, now a visitor’s attraction and military exhibit.

6. Wawel Royal Castle

Considered a cultural icon of Polish history as well as a masterpiece of European royal architecture, Wawel Castle is located in the center of one of Poland’s most famous cities, Krakow. The 11th century saw construction of a small castle by King Boleslaw I Chrobry.

King Casimir III the Great renovated until the Royal Castle was a grand Gothic structure, only for it to burn in 1499. Zygmunt I Stary created the current palace, Italian-inspired and representing Renaissance glory. The cultural and political center of Poland throughout the 16th Century, Wawel Royal Castle is a museum in modern times, consisting of five distinct sections open for visitation. These are the Crown Treasury and Armory, the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Lost Wawel and the Exhibition of Oriental Art. These works and the stunning grounds of the castle give visitors a most memorable experience of Polish Royal history. A survivor of history, Wawel Royal Castle was vandalized by Swedish and Prussian forces, Austrian-occupied in the 19th century with intent to make it a mere barracks and then re-incorporated into Poland following World War I. Restoration was underway between the two world wars, continuing once World War II hostilities ceased. Much improvement has been made to the rooms and the castle exterior.

5. Zamosc

Dating back to the 1500s, Zamosc is a Renaissance town that offers a time capsule-like experience for visitors, giving an authentic glimpse of ancient Poland with strong Italian architectural influence. The sights of the town range from churches to a grand old university to historic dwellings that reflect the lengthy history of this unique master planned town. The community is located in close proximity to the Ukrainian border. Attractions are diverse and visually pleasing in the town that was built as a collaboration between the great Italian designer Bernardo Morando, and chancellor Jan Zamoysky, after whom the town is named. Zamosc was not only built with specific architectural ideas in mind.

The town was planned with care on a larger scale to be a multicultural hub of European social and commercial exchange, strategically placed along the trade route that connected western and northern Europe with the Black Sea coast. Interestingly, the construction in Zamosc reflects efforts to implement tolerance, as the town contains religious buildings that serve as locations for a variety of faiths to worship.

4. Wroclaw

Peaceful yet vibrant, full of life Wroclaw is a jewel of Polish cultural life. Visitors to the Western Polish city will marvel at the stunning and innovative Gothic architecture that is juxtaposed on unique geography. Wroclaw is spread across riverside lands and a remarkable 12 islands, built by the River Oder, which flows from the Sudeten Mountains to the Baltic Sea. Founded in the 900s, the city has changed hands an incredible number of times. Wroclaw has been under Polish, Silesian, Bohemian, Hungarian, Prussian and German as well as Austrian Habsburg Dynastic rule in its history.

The city survived Mongolian sieges and Nazi occupation, ultimately being returned to Poland after World War II. A remarkable 130 bridges span the city’s watercourse zones, connecting whimsical and grand architectural sites and urban park lands. Visitors can wander the human-scale streets and take in the towering Church of St. Elizabeth, the grand Wroclaw Town Hall, and the market square, Rynek.

3. Wieliczka Salt Mine

The southern Polish town of Wieliczka holds a secret attraction from Poland’s industrial legacy under the surface of the Earth. A source of salt since the Neolithic era, Wieliczka Salt Mine provided table salt from the 13th century up to 2007. Salt price drops and mine flooding led commercial mining to stop in 1996, but the mine is anything but closed. Designated an official Polish Historic Monument (Pomnik Historii), the former royal salt mine offers visitors a chance to explore shafts, passageways and remarkable mining equipment, including giant cogs and horse-operated treadmills.

The mine is also home to amazing underground architecture, including four chapels, each with immaculate detailing. Statues were created from rock salt by miners and stand to this day, while modern artists have added to the collection. To prove the salt mine has it all, there is even an underground lake. Together with nearby “sister” royal salt mine Bochnia Salt Mine and the Zupny Castle, Wieliczka Salt Mine is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

The single darkest legacy among many from the Nazi government’s military occupation of Poland is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. With that name comes a diabolical past that historians have ensured will not be forgotten. Located in Oswiecim, the memorial and museum encompasses the two camps, named Auschwitz I and nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with infrastructure connecting the two sites included in the memorial site. It is here that disturbing relics ranging from camp fences and watchtowers to bunkers and railway tracks used to transport prisoners can still be found.

The ghastly relics include the actual crematoria used to dispose of murdered victims of the Third Reich, while an interesting asset includes the crude gallows used to hang SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoss, the first commandant of Auschwitz. Countless Jewish prisoners, as well as members of targeted ethnic groups, dissidents and others deemed targets of persecution by the Nazi regime were imprisoned at Auschwitz. A shocking 1.1 million people were killed here, including men, women and children. The museum and memorial was established in 1947, a relatively short time after the camp’s eventual liberation near the end of World War II.

1. Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw, Poland’s capital, survived the Nazi invasion that sought to permanently take Poland as a new land asset of the Third Reich. Despite the damage, Warsaw is a city of both architectural and military historical interest. The Warsaw Uprising Museum is a Polish site of national pride that contains five display levels that document the Polish city’s efforts to overthrow German occupation force rule in 1944.

Opened 60 years after the liberation of Warsaw, the museum is within what was once a tram power station, constructed to commemorate the 1944 Warsaw Uprising by remembering the fighters for a free Poland. Exhibits include displays that portray the conflict of occupation era resistance, while a much newer section that opened in 2006 focuses on the history of Allied force supply air drops and includes a faithful replica of a B-24J bomber.


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Fire, Floods, Famine, Lava and Shakers – WIF Bad Things Go Happen

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Epic Natural Disasters

Throughout History

Natural disasters have existed as long as humanity, and in fact a lot longer. This means that pretty much every century in recorded history has been forced to endure one or more incredibly destructive attacks of nature’s strongest powers. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest natural disasters in history, and how they affected the people of that era.

10. Peshtigo Fire

Most people are familiar with the Great Chicago Fire, with its “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow tipped over a lantern” backstory and hundreds of dead. However, it’s far from the most destructive fire in American history. It’s not even the most destructive one that started on October 8, 1871. That dubious honor goes to the Peshtigo Fire of Wisconsin — the most destructive forest fire in America’s history, which caused around 1,200 deaths, burned an incredible 1.2 million acres and burned through 16 different towns, in 11 counties. At one point, it even “skipped over” Green Bay to burn sections of two counties on the other side. It even made the same amount of damage as the much more urban Chicago fire — roughly $169 million.

Where the Great Chicago Fire was a disaster, the Peshtigo fire was hell, plain and simple. The fire was likely started by careless railroad workers who caused a brush fire which the dry summer and unfortunate winds soon whipped up into a superfast wall of flame that some say moved almost like a tornado. The flames “convulsed” and moved in strange ways, eating up all the oxygen and bursting fleeing people ablaze. It looked like the end of the world, and for many, it was. There were heroics, and tragic losses, and desperate survival stories. One heroic man reportedly carried a woman all the way to safety, thinking it was his wife, and when he found it was a stranger he immediately went insane. A young girl spent all night in the river to escape the inferno, holding on to a cow’s horn to stay moored.

The worst damage was done to the fire’s namesake, the town of Peshtigo. 800 of the fire’s 1,200 victims were from there, and the entire place was “gone in an hour.”

9. Ch’ing-yang event

There have been many times when meteors and meteorites have graced our planet with their presence, but arguably the one with the biggest death toll is the Ch’ing-yang event in 1490. Seeing as this meteor shower event in China happened well over five centuries ago, actual details about the event are unfortunately somewhat fuzzy. Accounts of the era report that “stones falling like rain” killed up to 10,000 people on the Ch’ing-Yang area of the Shaanxi Province.

Modern experts have expressed doubt over that exact figure — after all, it is the only meteor shower case with such a giant death toll. However, pretty much everyone agrees that a “dramatic event” happened at the reported time and place, and it’s speculated that a breakup of an asteroid may indeed have resulted in a deadly rain of celestial hail.

8. Calcutta cyclone

The Ganges River delta area is no stranger to tropical storms, but the Calcutta cyclone of 1737, also known as the Hoogly River cyclone, ranks among the absolute worst. It struck on an early autumn morning just south of the city of Calcutta, tearing 200 miles inlands before finally calling it a day. The cyclone brought with it a 30 to 40-foot storm surge (a sudden rise of water level in Ganges), along with 15 inches of rain over just six hours.

The combination of these elemental attacks was catastrophic. Most of the city of Calcutta, built largely of mud huts and brick buildings, was utterly demolished. The city suffered 3,000 casualties, but the cyclone’s overall damage was over a hundred times worse; The disaster is estimated to have killed up to 350,000 people and destroyed around 20,000 boats, ships and canoes of all shapes and sizes.

7. Dadu River dam landslide

On June 1, 1976, a huge earthquake shook the Kangding-Luding area of southwest China, causing all the problems that a major 7.75 magnitude quake can cause. What happened next was worse. A landslide dam (debris from the landslide blocking the water flow of the river), and as is so often the case in impromptu dams, it unfortunately wasn’t built to last.

After building a nice reservoir behind it for 10 days, the landslide dam eventually breached. The water cascaded downstream as a catastrophic wall of death, flooding the areas it encountered to the tune of 100,000 deaths. Experts think that this was likely the most destructive event of this particular nature in history.

6. Coringa cyclones

Coringa was a large and prosperous Indian port city at the mouth of river Godavari. These days, it’s still there, but only as a mere small village. This is because the former busy city went through some of the worst cyclones in history.

In 1789, Coringa received a massive blow when a nasty cyclone tore through the area, leaving around 20,000 people dead. The shaken city was nevertheless able to resume its functions, but unbeknownst to its residents, their terrors had only begun. On November 25, 1839, another, much worse cyclone came, bringing a 40-foot storm surge and punishing winds with it. Once the roar of the storm died down, Coringa’s entire port was destroyed. The death count of the cyclone was an estimated 300,000 people, which along with the 20,000 boats that were also destroyed by the storm marked the end of Coringa’s glory days.

5. Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883

What the Krakatoa volcano’s eruption in August 1883 lacked in death toll (it killed “only” 36,000 people), it delivered in pure, deadly spectacle. The volcano, which was on a 3-by-5.5 mile island between Sumatra and Java, started giving signs of upcoming trouble months before the incident, starting with massive ash clouds, “thundering” noises and strange “natural fireworks” that lit the sky. Unaware of the impeding doom, the people living on nearby islands took to celebrating the show — only to be rudely interrupted when Krakatoa started a very different, deadly party.

On August 26, the first blast threw debris and a gas cloud a good 15 miles in the air. The next morning, the area was shaken by four explosions that equaled the strength of 200 megatons of TNT (the Hiroshima bomb was around 0,01% of that) and could be heard from 2,800 miles away. Super-heated steam, hot gases and volcanic matter scorched the surrounding 25 miles at speeds over 62 miles-per-hour.

The eruption claimed its first victims via thermal injuries from its mighty blasts, and the rest fell victim to the 120-foot tsunami that came when the volcano collapsed into an undersea caldera. Even after its initial terrors were over, Krakatoa wouldn’t stop wrecking humanity’s day. The eruption was so strong that it actually changed the climate and dropped temperatures all over the world.

4. Shaanxi earthquake

In 1556, the Shaanxi province of China had the extreme misfortune of hosting what is thought to be the deadliest earthquake in recorded history. The quake was around 8 on the Richter scale, meaning it was a “great” earthquake that is totally capable of leveling communities near the epicenter. The Shaanxi quake wasn’t content with just communities, either; Chinese annals report that it lasted mere seconds, but was so incredibly strong that it destroyed buildings, remodeled rivers, caused floods, ignited massive fires and even “leveled mountains.”

As you can probably expect, such a massive disaster was bad news for any and all humans who happened on its way. The Shaanxi earthquake had an estimated 830,000 casualties, and it actually cut the population of the area by a ridiculous 60 percent. Oddly, it also managed to affect the architectural trends of the area: Because many people had been killed by falling stone buildings, the rebuilding process saw the adaptation of wood, bamboo and other more earthquake-resistant materials.

3. Yellow River floods of China

Between 1887 and 1938, China’s famed Huang He (Yellow River) went through the top three most destructive floods in recorded history. The 3,395-mile river is extremely silted, which makes especially the North China Plain’s flatlands to be in constant risk of flooding: Since the 2nd century BCE, it has flooded an estimated 1,500 times, and no one can even begin to calculate the death and destruction these floods have brought in total.

We do, however, know unpleasantly well the havoc these three ultra-destructive floods brought on the ill-prepared China. In the flood that happened over September and October of 1887 (and the famine and diseases it brought to the survivors) the death toll is estimated somewhere between 900,000 and two million people. An even more destructive one in August 1931 covered 34,000 square miles of land in water, and “partially” flooded a further 8,000. Up to 4 million people were killed by the flood and its aftermath, and a devastating 80 million people were left homeless. This particular flood is often considered the most deadly natural disaster in recorded history.

The last of the three mega-floods came in June 1938, and it was actually completely man-made. Thanks to the military’s destruction of dikes near Kaifeng in an effort to stop the approaching Japanese forces in the Sino-Japanese war, up to 900,000 people died.

2. The great European famine

If even honest men can do terrible things when they’re desperate, and the best way to make a person desperate is to make them terribly hungry, imagine what would happen if you’d make a whole continent starve. Actually, you don’t need to, because that exact thing happened in 14th century Europe.

The Great European Famine happened when bad weather conditions caused crops to fail all over Europe from 1315 to the summer harvest of 1317. The results were nothing short of cataclysmic. The few years of hunger single-handedly stopped a centuries-long time of wealth and growth, and plunged the continent into a pandemonium of disease, death, crime, and even the indescribable horrors of infanticide and cannibalism. Millions of people died, and it took until 1922 for Europe to recover from the terror. In fact, the effects of the disaster can still be felt today: Reportedly, certain parts of France are still more sparsely populated than they were just before the Great Famine hit.

1. Plague of Justitian

Disclaimer: this one has a death toll that goes right through the roof, though technically it’s not a natural disaster in the “earth rises to devour us all” sense, but rather an outbreak of disease. A massive, massive outbreak of disease.

Imagine being an all-powerful emperor trying to cement your legacy, only to find that the main thing history books remember about you is that a bunch of rodents managed to kill countless thousands of people during your reign … and then giving the ensuing epidemic. Such was the fate of Byzantine’s emperor Justitian I, who became the namesake of the Plague of Justitian (or Justitian’s plague, because why bother giving it just one version of the guy’s name?) just because he happened to be in charge when it struck.

Justitian’s plague, which was basically a nasty cellar band version of the Black Plague before it went mainstream, had formed in China and/or India, and its tours eventually took it to Egypt and assorted trade routes. it got its big break in the year 542, when the rodents bearing the disease finally reached the mighty city of Constantinople. Reports indicate that the city was struck with pretty much all forms of plague at once: Apart from the Black Death classic bubonic plague, pneumonic and septicemic types were also present. As such, citizens started keeling over by the thousand. Tens of thousands of people died in an extremely short span of time, and matters weren’t helped by the fact that authorities were unable to dispose of the masses of dead, diseased bodies in a timely manner.

After the plague was done with Justitian’s Constantinople, it turned its attention to the Mediterranian and later Persia. Its active career lasted for an estimated half a century, though some indicate that the plague continued its Mediterranean tour for a good 225 years. Ultimately, it’s estimated that the Plague of Justitian killed up to 40% of Constantinople’s residents, and the entire Byzantine empire lost somewhere between 25 and 50 million people. Nice legacy, Justitian.


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Monuments to Something – WIF Landmark Travel

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Mysterious

World Landmarks

The world is filled with ancient monuments built by master craftsmen in order to honor everything from kings and presidents to religious figures. And although most of these landmarks have been carefully studied and researched by scientists and historians, some are simply so old, incomplete, or obscure that we still don’t know very much about why they were built or what purpose they served. The following are 10 world landmarks that, whether by intention or simply due to the passage of time, continue to baffle the people who study them.

10. The Cahokia Mounds


Cahokia is the name given to an Indian settlement that exists outside of Collinsville, Illinois. Archaeologists estimate that the city was founded sometime around 650 AD, and its complex network of burial grounds and sophisticated landscaping prove that it was once a thriving community. It has been estimated that at its peak the city was home to as many as 40,000 people, which would have made it the most populous settlement in America prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The most notable aspect of Cahokia today are the 80 mounds of earth, some as high as 100 feet, which dot the 2,200-acre site. These helped create a network of plazas throughout the city, and it is believed that important buildings, like the home of the settlement’s chief, were built on top of them. The site also features a series of wooden posts that archaeologists have dubbed “woodhenge.” The posts are said to mark the solstices and equinoxes, and supposedly figured prominently in the community’s astronomical mythology.

The Mystery
Although scientists are constantly discovering new information about the Cohokia community, the biggest mystery that remains is which modern Indian tribe is descended from the residents of the ancient city, as well as just what it was that caused them to abandon their settlement.

9. Newgrange


Considered to be the oldest and most famous prehistoric site in all of Ireland, Newgrange is a tomb that was built from earth, wood, clay, and stone around 3100 BC, some 1000 years before the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. It consists of a long passage that leads to a cross-shaped chamber that was apparently used as a tomb, as it contains stone basins filled with cremated remains. The most unique feature of Newgrange is its careful and sturdy design, which has helped the structure remain completely waterproof to this day. Most amazing of all, the entrance to the tomb was positioned relative to the sun in such a way that on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the rays from the sun are channeled through the opening and down the nearly 60 foot passageway, where they illuminate the floor of the monument’s central room.

The Mystery
Archaeologists know Newgrange was used as a tomb, but why and for who still remains a mystery. The painstaking design needed to guarantee that the yearly solstice event occurs suggests that the site was held in high regard, but other than the obvious hypothesis that the sun featured prominently in the mythology of the builders, scientists are at a loss to describe the true reason for Newgrange’s construction.

8. The Yonaguni Monument


Of all the famous monuments in Japan, perhaps none is more perplexing than Yonaguni, an underwater rock formation that lies off the coast of the Ryuku Islands. It was discovered in 1987 by a group of divers who were there to observe Hammerhead sharks, and it immediately sparked a huge amount of debate in the Japanese scientific community. The monument is made up of a series of striking rock formations including massive platforms, carved steps, and huge stone pillars that lie at depths of 5-40 meters. There is a triangular formation that has become known as “the turtle” for its unique shape, as well as a long, straight wall that borders one of the larger platforms. The currents in the area are known for being particularly treacherous, but this has not stopped the Yonaguni monument from becoming one of the most popular diving locations in all of Japan.

The Mystery
The ongoing debate surrounding Yonaguni centers on one key subject: is the monument a natural phenomenon, or is it man-made? Scientists have long argued that millennia of strong currents and erosion have carved the formations out of the ocean floor, and they point to the fact that the monument is all one piece of solid rock as proof that it was not assembled by a builder. Others, though, point to the many straight edges, square corners and 90-degree angles of the formation as proof that it’s artificial. They often cite one formation in particular, a section of rock that resembles a crude carving of a human face, as evidence. If they are right, then an even more interesting mystery presents itself: who constructed the Yonaguni Monument, and for what purpose?

7. The Nazca Lines


The Nazca lines are a series of designs and pictographs carved into the ground in the Nazca Desert, a dry plateau located in Peru. They cover an area of some 50 miles, and were supposedly created between 200 BC and 700 AD by the Nazca Indians, who designed them by scraping away the copper colored rocks of the desert floor to expose the lighter-colored earth beneath. The lines have managed to remain intact for hundreds of years thanks to the region’s arid climate, which sees it receive little rain or wind throughout the year. Some of the lines span distances of 600 feet, and they depict everything from simple designs and shapes to characterizations of plants, insects, and animals.

The Mystery
Scientists know who made the Nazca Lines and how they did it, but they still don’t know why. The most popular and reasonable hypothesis is that the lines must have figured in the Nazca people’s religious beliefs, and that they made the designs as offerings to the gods, who would’ve been able to see them from the heavens. Still, other scientists argue that the lines are evidence of massive looms that the Nazcas used to make textiles, and one investigator has even made the preposterous claim that they are the remnants of ancient airfields used by a vanished, technologically advanced society.

6. Goseck Circle


One of the most mysterious landmarks in Germany is the Goseck Circle, a monument made out of earth, gravel, and wooden palisades that is regarded as the earliest example of a primitive “solar observatory.” The circle consists of a series of circular ditches surrounded by palisade walls (which have since been reconstructed) that house a raised mound of dirt in the center. The palisades have three openings, or gates, that point southeast, southwest, and north. It is believed that the monument was built around 4900 BC by Neolithic peoples, and that the three openings correspond to the direction from which the sun rises on the winter solstice.

The Mystery
The monument’s careful construction has led many scientists to believe that the Goseck Circle was built to serve as some kind of primitive solar or lunar calendar, but its exact use is still a source of debate. Evidence has shown that a so-called “solar cult” was widespread in ancient Europe. This has led to speculation that the Circle was used in some kind of ritual, perhaps even in conjunction with human sacrifice. This hypothesis has yet to be proven, but archaeologists have uncovered several human bones, including a headless skeleton, just outside the palisade walls.

5. Sacsayhuaman


Not far from the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu lies Sacsayhuaman, a strange embankment of stone walls located just outside of Cuzco. The series of three walls was assembled from massive 200-ton blocks of rock and limestone, and they are arranged in a zigzag pattern along the hillside. The longest is roughly 1000 feet in length and each stands some fifteen feet tall. The monument is in astonishingly good condition for its age, especially considering the region’s propensity for earthquakes, but the tops of the walls are somewhat demolished, as the monument was plundered by the Spanish to build churches in Cuzco. The area surrounding the monument has been found to be the source of several underground catacombs called chincanas, which were supposedly used as connecting passageways to other Inca structures in the area.

The Mystery
Most scientists agree that Sacsayhuaman served as a kind of fortress of barrier wall, but this has been disputed. The strange shape and angles of the wall have led some speculate that it may have had a more symbolic function, one example being that the wall, when seen next to Cuzco from above, forms the shape of the head of a Cougar. Even more mysterious than the monument’s use, though, are the methods that were used in its construction. Like most Inca stone works, Sacsayhuaman was built with large stones that fit together so perfectly that not even a sheet of paper can be placed in the gaps between them. Just how the Incas managed such expert placements, or, for that matter, how they managed to transport and lift the heavy hunks of stone, is still not fully known.

4. The Easter Island Moai


One of the most iconic series of monuments in the Pacific islands is the Moai, a group of huge statues of exaggerated human figures that are found only on the small, isolated island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The Moai were carved sometime between 1250 and 1500 AD by the island’s earliest inhabitants, and are believed to depict the people’s ancestors, who in their culture were held in the same regard as deities. The Moai were chiseled and carved from tuff, a volcanic rock that is prevalent on the island, and they all feature the same characteristics of an oversized head, broad nose, and a mysterious, indecipherable facial expression. Scientists have determined that as many as 887 of the statues were originally carved, but years of infighting among the island’s clans led to many being destroyed. Today, only 394 are still standing, the largest of which is 30 feet tall and weighs over 70 tons.

The Mystery
While there is a fairly solid consensus on why the Moai were erected, how the islanders did it is still up for debate. The average Moai weighs several tons, and for years scientists were at a loss to describe how the monuments were transported from Rano Raraku, where most of them were constructed, to their various locations around the island. In recent years, the most popular theory is that the builders used wooden sleds and log rollers to move the Moai, an answer that would also explain how the once verdant island became almost totally barren due to deforestation.

3. The Georgia Guidestones


While most of the mysterious monuments on this list only became that way as centuries passed, the Georgia Guidestones, also known as American Stonehenge, are one landmark that was always intended to be an enigma. The monument, which consists of four monolithic slabs of granite that support a single capstone, was commissioned in 1979 by a man who went by the pseudonym of R.C. Christian. A local mason carefully crafted it so that one slot in the stones is aligned with the sun on the solstices and equinoxes, and one small hole is always pointed in the direction of the North Star. Most interesting, though, are the inscriptions on the slabs, which an accompanying plaque describes as “the guidestones to an Age of Reason.” In eight different languages, the slabs offer a strange ten-point plan to ensure peace on Earth that includes vague proclamations like “prize truth–beauty–love–seeking harmony with the infinite,” to very specific commands like “maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.” Comments like this one have made the Guidestones one of the most controversial landmarks in the United States, and they have long been protested and even vandalized by groups that would like to see them demolished.

The Mystery
For all their controversy, very little is known about who built the Guidestones or what their true purpose is. R.C. Christian claimed he represented an independent organization when he commissioned the landmark, but neither he nor his group has spoken up since its construction. Since the monument was built during the height of the Cold War, one popular theory about the group’s intentions is that the Guidestones were to serve as a primer for how to rebuild society in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

2. The Great Sphinx of Giza


Sphinxes are massive stone statues that depict the body of a reclining lion with the head and face of a human. The figures are found all over the world in different forms, but they are most commonly linked with Egypt, which features the most famous example in the form of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Incredibly, the statue is carved out of one monolithic piece of rock, and at 240 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 66 feet tall, it is considered to be the biggest monument of its kind in the world. Historians largely accept the function of the Sphinx to have been that of a symbolic guardian, since the statues were strategically placed around important structures like temples, tombs, and pyramids. The Great Sphinx of Giza appears to be no different. It stands adjacent to the pyramid of the pharaoh Khafra, and most archaeologists believe that it is his face that is depicted on that of the statue.

The Mystery
Despite its reputation as one of the most famous monuments of antiquity, there is still very little known about the Great Sphinx of Giza. Egyptologists might have a small understanding of why the statue was built, but when, how, and by who is still shrouded in mystery. The pharaoh Khafra is the main suspect, which would date the structure back to around 2500 BC, but other scientists have argued that evidence of water erosion of the statue suggests that it is much older and perhaps even predated the dynastic era of the Egyptians. This theory has few modern adherents, but if true it would mean the Great Sphinx of Giza is even more mysterious than previously believed.

1. Stonehenge


Of all the world’s famous monuments, none has gained as much of a reputation for pure, simple mystery as Stonehenge. Stonehenge has been inspiring debate among scholars, scientists, and historians since the Middle Ages. Located in the English countryside, the landmark is believed to date back to 2500 BC, and consists of several mammoth pieces of rock arranged and piled on top of one another in what appears at first to be a random design. The site is surrounded by a small, circular ditch, and is flanked by burial mounds on all sides. Although the rock formations that still remain are undoubtedly impressive, it is thought that the modern version of Stonehenge is only a small remnant of a much larger monument that was damaged with the passing of time, and it is largely believed that the building process was so extensive that it could have lasted on and off for anywhere from 1500 to 7000 years.

The Mystery
Stonehenge has become renowned for puzzling even the most brilliant researchers, and over the years the many gaps in the history of its construction, the nature of its use, and the true identity of its builders have become known as “The Mystery of Stonehenge.” The Neolithic people who built the monument left behind no written records, so scientists can only base their theories on the meager evidence that exists at the site. This has led to wild speculation that the monument was left by aliens, or that it was built by some eons-old society of technologically advanced super-humans. All craziness aside, the most common explanation remains that Stonehenge served as some kind of graveyard monument that played a role in the builders’ version of the afterlife, a claim that is backed up by its proximity to several hundred burial mounds. Yet another theory suggests that the site was a place for spiritual healing and the worship of long dead ancestors.


Monuments to Something

WIF Landmark Travel