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Part of what distinguishes human beings from other species is our singular talent for changing the world around us to suit our needs.
Of course, we started small – tents and huts were built for shelter, warmth and security. It wasn’t long, though, before our imaginations allowed us to break free of our limitations and bend our environment completely to our will.
The results can be seen across the planet. From the Pyramids of Giza to the Empire State Building, man-made constructions have been inspiring wonder and awe in the beholder for millennia. We’ve consulted our experts, and come up with a list of our most desirable architectural wonders of the world (not necessarily the best known), based on aesthetics, history and location.
Of course, we can take you to see all of these feats of engineering for yourself…
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
Deep within the subterranean salt-mining tunnels of Zipaquira in Colombialies an uncommon treasure. The Salt Cathedral’s alcoves and icons are carved from the very rock itself, and the result is a place of profound spirituality, connected intimately to both earth and heaven.
The structure began life as little more than a shrine, erected by the miners who prayed for safety and prosperity. Today, it has evolved into a multi-faceted complex, alive with colour, divine sculptures and visiting pilgrims: it is considered one of the most significant Colombian cultural and religious achievements.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge, over a kilometre of suspended steel and concrete, is a monumental accomplishment of engineering. Its rich orange towers, combining art deco design elements and colossal weight-bearing capabilities, have become icons of San Francisco and symbols of American ingenuity, and it functions to ease the lives of residents by supporting over 40,000,000 crossings per year.
The bridge dominates the landscape, whether glittering in the sunlight, lit by atmospheric lights at night or rising majestically from the mist.
Take me there: United States trips
Duomo of Florence
For centuries, this gargantuan gothic cathedral has stood sentinel over the thriving culture and turbulent lives of the Florentine people, at one point serving as the seat of the council of Florence. Its towering golden domes and the intricate, artful stone-work of the façade make it a delight to look upon, quite aside from Vasari’s panoramic fresco that adorns the ceiling.
Aside from a few choice works of art, the interior is minimalist and spacious, so as to reflect the sobriety, and the low value placed on material goods, of religious life.
Trip: Italy trips
Rock Churches of Lalibela
High in the Ethiopian hills, surrounded by hardy greenery and sloping valleys, one of the architectural gems of Africa is carved from the very face of the stone itself. The small village of Lalibela is home to eleven churches, clustered together in one site of immense cultural value.
The churches represent an incredibly advanced feat of rock-cutting and construction, as well as an immense devotion to spirituality. The buildings are ancient monoliths: single massive blocks of weather-eroded, moss-covered rock, thought to include amongst their number the largest monolithic church in the world, Biete Medhane Alem.
Take me there: Ethiopia trips
Hassan II Mosque
When King Hassan II of Morocco ordered the construction of the most impressive, beautiful building in all of Casablanca, this mosque, named for him, was the result. The subtle, skilfully designed marble structure features the tallest minaret in the world and is built on a headland overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The floor in the great hall is made from glass and the roof is retractable, allowing worshippers to connect with God through the restless sea and the open sky. The mosque is a hub of activity, full of vibrancy, celebration and life.
Take me there: Morocco tours
Burma’s most sacred site is a skyward-reaching spire of glinting gold, which broadens at its base into a wide, tiered dome. Huge statues of mythological lions stand guard over the entrance to the pagoda, within which sacred artefacts and statues abound.
At the pinnacle, monstrous diamonds and rubies abound, and the entire structure is coated in around 60 tonnes of pure gold plating, lending its graceful curves and intricate ornaments the kind of splendour reserved for the holiest of spiritual places.
The Kiyomizu-Dera temple is an oasis of peace within the thriving metropolis of Kyoto, surrounded by cherry blossoms, a waterfall and low, leafy hills that evoke the iconic watercolour imagery of the country’s culture.
The temple’s design, too, is traditionally Japanese. Dating back centuries, the sweeping curves, wooden infrastructure and elaborate ornamentation of the complex’s various buildings form an island of tranquillity in a sea of activity.
Take me there: Kyoto trips
A lesser-known Indian palace (by comparison to the Taj Mahal), the Hawa Mahal is no less awe-inspiring. The design is masterful; the top of the building takes the shape of the crown of Krishna, whist the face’s honeycomb window pattern and latticework employ incredible engineering to create a cooling effect on the surrounding area.
The regal red-and-pink sandstone walls appear particularly resplendent in the pure light of dawn, soaking up the rays of the intense Indian sun.
Take me there: India trips
If you want to see these architectural wonders of the world for yourself, browse our tours below.