The Colosseum and the Great Wall of China are impressive, but they get too much credit! In this list, we dive (literally, in the case of #12) into some of humanity’s most significant and fascinating architectural creations from bygone eras. Beyond modern-day wonders, these structures are especially impressive because they were constructed by our ancestors in ways we don’t fully yet understand. Bring out your inner explorer and find your next vacation spot in our list of unknown ancient architectural wonders you have to visit.
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Tamil Nadu, India
The Meenakshi Amman temple in the southeastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is named after Hindu goddess Pavarti’s avatar Meenakshi. With 14 gopurams (gateway towers adorned with religious figures) and over 33,000 sculptures inside the temple, this is easily one of the world’s lesser-known but most amazing architectural wonders.
Leshan Giant Buddha, China
The world’s largest carved stone Buddha is in Leshan, China, at the convergence of three rivers. With fingers alone measuring 11 feet (3.4 m) long, the Leshan Giant Buddha is 232 feet (71 m) high and has 1,021 buns in his hair (used to drain water off the statue). The monk Hai Tong commissioned the statue to calm the rivers’ water spirits thought to be responsible for numerous boat capsizings.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran
One of the best examples of Safavid-Iranian architecture is on the eastern side of Isfahan, Iran’s Naghsh-i Jahan Square. The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in a unique architectural wonder and mosque in that it has no minarets or courtyard. The reason? It was originally built for the women of the shah’s harem to worship whom would reach the prayer hall through a twisted underground hallway. Tiles on the dome change colour throughout the day from cream to pink.
Chand Baori, Rajasthan, India
A wonderful example of mathematics in architecture, India’s Chand Boari is a 10th century well built to ensure a more stable water supply in the mostly-desert region of Rajasthan. The world’s deepest well, Chand Boari dips 100 feet (30 m) below the Earth’s surface and uses 13 levels and a total of 3,500 steps to reach the bottom. Local legends rumour Chand Boari was built by ghosts in a single night.
Thrown into international pre-eminence due to ISIS’s recent takeover of the city, Palmyra in Syria is (for the moment) a well-preserved example of the ancient ruins used by multiple former civilisations. (It may have even been mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.) The ancient Palmyrenes were legendary traders, setting up colonies along the Silk Road and running operations across most of the Roman Empire.