25 Most Monumental Feats of Construction in History

Posted by , Updated on May 20, 2024

Whether it was 2000 years ago or just during the turn of the last century, one thing about humans is certain – we are good at building things. From walls that span thousands of miles to skyscapers that pierce through the clouds we have always held a fascination with massive construction projects. So, get ready because we are about to go on a world tour of the 25 most monumental feats of construction in history.

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The Great Wall of China


Also known as the ‘Long Wall of 10,000 Li,’ the Great Wall of China was built between 250 BC and 1450 AD as protection against invading Mongolian forces and other nomadic groups. This is the most recognized structure in China as its stone walls span over 3,889.5 miles and besides being the longest structure ever built it has also claimed the most lives during its construction.


The Great Pyramid of Giza


The oldest and largest of the three pyramids in Giza, this is the most notable as the Home of the Sphinx. It was made from 2.3 million limestone blocks, which were sourced and lifted by human hands from over 500 miles away and like the Great Wall it claimed countless human lives. It was constructed over a 20-year period and was completed in 2560 BC.


The Colosseum


Located in Rome, Italy, the Colosseum was built between 70 and 80 AD on the outskirts of the Roman Forum as the flagship site of the Roman Empire. Having a seating capacity of 50,000 spectators, it was initially used as an amphitheater for holding gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles. It remained in used for nearly 500 years and has an entire underground maze of corridors that rivaled the complexity of its exterior. Nowadays, you can only see the surviving façade of its outer wall, which has withstood countless fires, earthquakes, and invasions.


The Taj Mahal


Built by the Fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, as a tribute to his third wife, the Taj Mahal was constructed with a workforce of 20,000 laborers for a time period of 22 years. It was also accomplished using 1,000 load-bearing elephants and teams of 30 oxen to transport marble and other materials up a specially constructed 9.3-mile ramp leading to the construction site. Its walls and domes were covered in precious stones and gems but this was all plundered during the successive wars. Legend has it that Shah Jahan ordered to cut off the hands of the craftsmen and architects so that they would not be able to build another grand monument like the Taj Mahal.


The Hagia Sophia


The Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world before the construction of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520 in Istanbul, Turkey. This monument is considered to be the embodiment of Byzantine architecture because of its massive dome. It was completed in 360 AD under the instruction of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It was an ex-patriarchal basilica and mosque that now serves as a museum and is generally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world due to the unique characteristics of its design.


The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing


Designed by the Chinese Emperor Yongle in the 15th century, the Porcelain Tower has an octagonal shape and the top of its roof is marked by a golden sphere. It has nine stories with a total height of 260 feet, and one has to climb 130 steps of the spiral staircase just to reach the top floor. Its unique appeal lies in the white porcelain bricks of the tower, which were adorned with glazes and stoneware creating a blend of colors on the sides depicting images of animals, flowers, and landscapes.


Chand Baori


Constructed in the 9th century, this is a famous stepwell situated in the village of Abhaneri near Jaipur, India. Located opposite the Harshat Mata temple, it has 3,500 narrow steps with over 13 stories. Stepwells are used as a source of groundwater, and since they are covered and protected and of architectural significance, they can also serve other purposes such as a relief for daytime heat and as a place of social gatherings and religious ceremonies. This is considered a monumental construction feat due to the complexity of the stone structure and the kind of technology available at that time.




Otherwise known as Saksaq Wawam or ‘House of the Sun,’ this ancient stone wall is located 7 km from the center of the Cusco City of Peru. It is believed that this was built by the Kilke people between 900 and 1200 AD before the domination of the Inca Empire. It is also the route of many chicanas or underground catacombs, which connect the historic piece of architecture to other Inca structures. This engineering marvel has confounded the Spanish conquerors who were so amazed by it that they believed it must be the work of demons.


Leshan Giant Buddha


The largest statue of Buddha ever carved in a cliff, the Leshan Giant Buddha towers over 232 feet into the air. Its fingers measure 11 feet in length while its 92-foot long shoulders are big enough to be a basketball court and even a hundred people can sit on its lap. Construction was overseen by the monk Hai Tong in the year 713 to scare the water spirits that caused boat accidents in strong river waters, as it overlooks the confluence of three rivers in the Sichuan Province of China.




This is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, which contained a massive urban complex that is known for its celestial, geographic, and geodetic alignments. The site includes some of the largest pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas with large residential complexes and colorful well-preserved murals. The city was thought to be established in 100 BCE and may have had a population of 200,000 at its peak in 450 BCE. The most famous landmark is the Pyramid of the Sun and in 1987, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Underground Churches of Lalibela


During the 12th or 13th century, King Lalibela of Ethiopia had a vision that his capital, Roha, could one day rival Jerusalem in terms of architectural and spiritual glory. Because of this, he commissioned workers to carve 11 monolithic churches from the same block of red volcanic scoria rock with their roofs at ground level. Nowadays, only four of the rock-hewn churches were still fully standing, with the rest either partially attached at the sides of the rock or having liberated facades. The churches are connected to each other by a maze of underground tunnels, which took advantage of the natural aquifers deep in the ground.


El Mirador


Known as the ‘cradle of the Mayan civilization,’ El Mirador is a 500,000 acre site in Guatemala, which is known for its five Pre-classic Maya cities, the world’s largest pyramid by volume, the ‘La Danta;’ and the remains of the world’s first highway system. A remote site located deep in the jungle, it was only discovered in 1926 and was completely mapped in 1978. The area of the civic center is about 10 square miles with 35 triadic structures. El Mirador was established as a national park by the Global Heritage Fund and the Guatemalan and US governments as looters, drug traffickers, and deforestation threatened to destroy the site.


The Lost City of Mohenjo-Daro


This Indus Valley civilization was unknown to mankind until its discovery in 1921. It was believed that the culture emerged 4,500 years ago when Mohenjo-Daro was one of the largest urban settlements that profited from the highly fertile lands of the Indus River floodplain and traded with other civilizations in Mesopotamia. It has a planned layout based on a street grid of mortared-brick buildings that probably housed 35,000 residents. Aside from street layouts, it also has a plumbing and sewage system that was more sophisticated than what most western households had until the 20th century.


Macchu Picchu


Also known as the ‘Lost City of the Incas,’ Macchu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th century Inca site that is located 2,340 meters above sea level on an Andes mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, South America. Archaeologists believed that it was built as an estate for the Incan Emperor, Pachacuti in the 1400’s. Popular structures include the Hitching Post of the Sun, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of Three Windows. Macchu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981, a World Heritage Site in 1983, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 1987.


Chichen Itza


This is the most famous of the Mayan archaeological sites in the state of Yucatan and is visited by an estimated 1.2 million tourists every year. It is a pre-Columbian city, which is located in the municipality of Tinum. One of the largest Maya cities, the ruins exhibit a multitude of architectural styles that could have been due to its diverse population. The most famous structure was the Temple of Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent of God, and was believed to be used for the purposes of religious and astronomical observation.


Itaipu Dam


A hydroelectric dam on the Parana River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, the Itaipu dam is 7,919 meters long with a maximum height of 196 meters, which is equivalent to a 65-story building. During its construction, it consumed 12.3 million cubic meters of concrete, while the iron and steel used were enough to complete another 380 Eiffel Towers. Itaipu, which means ‘the sounding stone’ in the Guarani language, also has a hydroelectric plant that was the largest of its kind in the world. Built by the two neighboring countries, Brazil and Paraguay from 1975 to 1991, the power plant can generate 93,428 GWh of electricity that can provide 20% of the energy supply of Brazil and 94% in Paraguay.


The Panama Canal


Started in 1904 and completed in 1914, the Panama Canal was lauded as one of history’s greatest feats in construction and engineering. This is a simple 48-mile ship canal that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. While each door of the locks weighs 750 tons, other obstacles faced by the engineers and construction teams included the dense jungle, elevation of the mountains, tasks of removing soil and rocks, difference in tides, and diseases like malaria and yellow fever. Today, however, a boat traveling from New York to San Francisco can save as much as 7,872 miles using the canal instead of going around Cape Horn.


The Central Railroad


This is one of the most impressive railways on Earth as it climbs over the Andes from Callao to Huancayo in Junin. Built between 1851 and 1907, it consists of over 1,000 miles of rail that traverse the peaks of the Andes, crossing 41 bridges, and burrowing through 60 tunnels. It is the only railway in South America that tops the highest altitude of 4,820 meters.


Eiffel Tower


Named after its engineer, Gustave, Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower or ‘La Tour Eiffel,’ is the tallest building in France. A massive latticework structure it was built for the Exposition of Paris in 1889. This cultural icon of France and one of the world’s most recognized structures was nearly torn down 20 years later after its lease expired, but was kept because many thought that its antenna for telegraphy would be very useful. This is also the most visited paid monument in the world where 7.1 million people ascended it in 2010.


The Golden Gate Bridge


The Golden Gate Bridge is another modern construction feat known for its undeniable accomplishment in the world of engineering and construction and has been considered the “mother of all bridges”. It is a 1.7 mile suspension bridge that spans the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean and has also been named one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World due to its innovative design and ability to withstand the elements.


The Burj Khalifa


Officially recognized as the tallest free standing building in the world today, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates stands at 828 meters and has more than 160-stories.


Viaduc de Millau Bridge


Viaduc de Millau Bridge or the Millau Viaduct is a cable-stayed road bridge that spans the valley of the Tarn River Gorge near Millau in Southern France. Higher than the Eiffel Tower (it was built by the same firm) it was designed by structural engineer Michael Virlogeux and British architect, Norman Fisher. It is now considered the ‘tallest bridge in the world’ with a length of 1.6 miles as it soars to 1,132 feet at its highest point.


The Petronas Twin Towers


Known as the ‘tallest twin towers in the world,’ their height from the ground to the apes is about 378.6 meters but along with the antenna’s height, it can be as high as 451.9 meters. They were completed in 1998 with a construction cost of $1.6 billion. They consist of 88 floors serviced by 78 elevators.


Bailong Elevator


The largest exterior elevator in the world, it looms over 1,070 feet midway up a cliff overlooking a valley far below. It is a glass elevator constructed on the side of a huge rock in the Hunan Province of China in October 1999 and was open to the public in 2002. Known as the Bailong Elevator, it has three Guinness world records including the world’s tallest full-exposure outdoor elevator, world’s tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator, and the world’s fastest traffic elevator with the biggest carrying capacity.


The Empire State Building


A 102-storey skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, it has a roof height of 1,250 feet and stands 1,454 feet with its antenna spire. It was named after New York, the Empire State, and was under construction for 40 years until its completion in 1931. Renowned for its Art Deco style, it was declared to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and ranked number one on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture. In 2011, it was named the tallest LEED-certified building in the United States.