If you get anywhere near one of these landmarks, don’t mis it. These are sights that will be indelible in your memory.
Great Wall, China
Built about 2,000 years ago, the Great Wall zigzags 163 miles across northern China, dotting mountains, plains, grasslands, deserts, and plateaus like the spines on a dragon’s back. Many sections are now in ruins or have completely disappeared (pieces are often carted off as a source of stone for local houses and roads), but enough exists to remain a formidable sight.
The wall began as a series of independent walls erected within different states in northern China—to protect themselves against warring factions. Great armies of soldiers, prisoners, and local people were conscripted to build the walls, with repairs and extensions carried out as needed. After China became unified under the Qin dynasty in 256 B.C., Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered that the separate walls be joined together as one defensive battlement against the Huns, invaders from the north. Ever since, the Great Wall has been a symbol of Chinese unity and architecture.
The crenellated wall averages 26-feet high and 20-feet wide. Along the wall, guardhouses and signal towers are located at regular intervals. The most accessible section is at Badaling, a two-hour trip from Beijing. If you have the time, the Mutianyu section (43-miles northeast of Beijing, is even better preserved.
Taj Mahal, India
Most travelers call the Taj Mahal the world’s most beautiful building. It has perfect symmetry, and the hue of its white marble varies from hour to hour, season to season. Two of the most sublime times to view the Taj Mahal are at sunset and during a full moon.
Shah Jahan, fifth Mughal emperor, commissioned the Taj Mahal in 1631 in memory of his second wife, a Persian princess named Mumtaz Mahal, as a tribute to his enduring love. A tree-lined reflecting pool fronts the monument, and tall minarets at the four corners of the raised terrace help complete this work of architectural and artistic genius.
Treasury at Petra, Jordan
Petra is an amazing archaeological World Heritage site in Jordan, famous for its many structures. References to the ancient Natabacan city are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is a city of great religious significance; the nearby Ain Musa) Springs of Moses) is believed to be where Moses struck a rock with his staff to extract water. The impressive and elegant Treasury stands at the end of a narrow gorge, its facade and large square interior carved out of the sandstone. Built between the second and first century B.C., it is identified as the Treasury, but its actual function remains unknown. A temple? A royal tomb? Scholars continue to try to unravel its mysteries.
The Kremlin, Russia
This historic fortress-palace, from which the tsars ruled the expanse of Russia, is matched in size only by the Forbidden City in China. High defensive walls punctuated with a series of 17 strategic towers completely enclose the Kremlin (“citadel”), encompassing 68 acres. The 230-foot Savior Tower, built in 1941, dominates the Kremlin skyline. Inside, ornate buildings—palaces, government centers, churches—collectively make the Kremlin an architectural masterpiece. Three cathedrals, including St. Sophia, a fine example of Byzantine architecture, cluster around the Kremlin’s main square.
Standing in Red Square is more exciting and memorable than all the newsreels and TV shots of this famous place.
Mont St. Michel, France
A favored site for French royalty throughout the ages, Mont St. Michel boasts 1,200 years of history. A distant dream-scene silhouettes this island abbey and sends spirits soaring. Since the sixth century, monks have lived in this secret fortification that floats like a mirage from miles away. This was Christendom’s place to get nearer to God. From here, there were views of the sea and of beautiful Normandy. Today, the offering remains sacred to pilgrims and tourists.
The ancient Roman city of Pompeii lay hidden and forgotten under volcanic waste for more than 1,500 years before archaelogical excavations slowly began to unearth it. On August 24, A.D. 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in a cataclysm so violent that the mountain literally blew up. The explosions sent billowing columns of volcanic steam, cinders, and ash high into the sky, then showered and buried the once thriving city. Most of the 20,000 citizens escaped with their lives. However, a few thousand lingered too long and did not survive the toxic fumes. Archaeologists have revealed many of Pompeii’s streets, temples, theaters, homes, public baths, wall murals, and floor mosaics, reconstructing a fascinating history of Roman life.
Yellowstone National Park, United States
Some 600,000 years ago a massive volcanic eruption from the center of what is now Yellowstone National Park spewed an immense volume of ash over the western United States, much of the Midwest, northern Mexico, and some areas of the eastern Pacific. The eruption left a caldera, a collapsed crater 30-miles wide by 45-mileslong.
In 1872, President Ulysses Grant signed a law declaring that Yellowstone would forever be “dedicated and set apart as a public park.” It became the world’s first national park.
The park has hundreds of geysers. Old Faithful, named for its regularity, erupts approximately every hour. Other Yellowstone geothermal features include bubbling mud pools, hot springs, colorful limestone terraces, and steam-spouting fumaroles. The national park also protects a unique ecosystem that is home to a wealth of flora and fauna, including iconic Rocky Mountain wildlife such as grizzly bears, buffalo, wolves, and elk.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric site of megaliths arranged in concentric circles—the largest being 108 feet in diameter—and horseshoe patterns. These standing stones measure up to 20 feet high and weigh as much as 110,231 pounds. Studies reveal that the stones came from faraway mountains.
The latest scientific estimates say Stonehenge was built in stages between 3000 and 1500 B.C. Why and how the stones came to be erected on Salisbury Plain remains a mystery. Some speculate Stonehenge was an astronomical calendar; others believe it was used for religious ceremonies. The once popular theory that Stonehenge was created by the Druids, the Celtic priesthood, was disproved when science found that it has been built at least a thousand years before the Druids.
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The question of who built the pyramids, and how, has long been debated by Egyptologists and historians. Standing at the base of the pyramids at Giza, it is hard to believe that any of these monuments could have been built in one pharaoh’s lifetime. The accounts of Herodotus, the fifth-century B.C. Greek historian, suggest that the labor force totaled more than 100,000 people. Modern Egyptologists believe the real number is closer to 20,000.
The three great pyramids—tombs for Pharaoh Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure—are massive. Each stone in the pyramids weighs more than two tons. The Sphinx, which embodies the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh, is believed to be the head of Khafre and the guardian spirit for his entire burial complex.
The 1908 edition of Baedeker’s Egypt warns: “Travelers who are in the slightest degree predisposed to apoplectic or fainting fits, and ladies traveling alone, should not attempt to penetrate into these stifling recesses.”
Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia
The Burj Khalifa has, for the moment, claimed the oft-changing title of the “world’s largest building.” Yet the former titleholder, the Petronas Twin Towers, completed in 1997 and measuring 1,483 feet high, still retain their visually dramatic design, courtesy of U.S. architect Cesar Pelli. They can be appreciated easily from all directions. Halfway up the buildings, a 90-foot twin-tier sky bridge dramatically connects the structures on the 41st and 42nd floors.
On the border of Argentina and Brazail, the Iguazu Falls is the largest waterfall system in the world. Two hundred plus feet high, it’s an amazing experience to view, by hiking, helicopter, or taking a boat ride.
Grand Canyon, United States
One of the natural wonders of the world. It is 277-miles long and up to 18-miles wide and an average depth of one mile. Both the north and south rims are well worth visiting. On either side, staying for 24 hours is well worth the investment. The daylight shining on the canyon walls is an ever-changing panorama of colors and hues. It’s a wow!
Rafting through the bottom of the canyon is an exhilarating experience filled with fascinating sights and a few thrills over some rocky stretches of a churning river.