MetaMonuments April 19, 2019 9:48 AM   Subscribe

End of another week, let's talk about something else that is not related to politics. In light of the recent Notre-Dame de Paris fire, I thought it might be nice to have a thread where we can discuss other beautiful monuments/historical places from around the globe. Share with us places that you've visited in the past or would like to visit if given the opportunity. If you have old travel photos and feel comfortable sharing, all the better. As always, be kind to yourself and others. Cheers.
posted by Fizz to MetaFilter-Related at 9:48 AM (38 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I pre-like this thread.

I'm a big fan of UNESCO world heritage sites and sometimes plan my travel around them. I loved Sighișoara in Romania (actually loved everything about Romania, and would go there again in a heartbeat). Fave shot from our time there.
posted by missmobtown at 10:09 AM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I lived in Malawi for 3 years, and on a few occasions I made it to the Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art at the Mua Mission. The museum there, along with the artists' workshop and the nearby Catholic church, are breathtaking. There's a deep reverence for the cultural history of the Chewa, Ngoni, and Yao people, including their languages and spiritual traditions--despite the cultural centre's connection to the Church. Historical narratives are presented in a way that's engaging and accessible. History is treated as a living, breathing thing--the centre seeks not only to preserve culture but to renew and enliven it for generations to come. My (then-girlfriend) wife was so moved by the Centre that she decided she wanted to work in museums, libraries, or cultural institutions for the rest of her life--and she now works for the Smithsonian.

And on top of all that, it's staggeringly beautiful. The frescoes, the wooden carvings, the masks, the cloth and quilt work. The nearby church is filled with floor-to-ceiling wood panels carved in the most intricate manner, serving a similar purpose to the iconography in stained glass windows, with the central figures of the Christian religion depicted with African features in a Malawian cultural setting.

When I heard about the burning of Notre Dame, I thought about Mua and what a colossal loss it would be if something similar happened there.
posted by duffell at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've spent the day gardening, by which I mean ripping out what my more knowledgeable SO points me at, mostly ivy on this occasion. A lot of ivy. Plus I speedwatched a French film which I only realised after playing had subtitles only in Spanish. I speak neither. Still, it did have an offshore wind farm so job done.

I'm now sitting in the de-ivied (good lord that is apparently a real word) garden with a large rum & ginger, a friendly cat, some vegan snacks and a pound of burgers (very non-vegan) on the grill.

Anyway, I've been lucky enough to visit quite a few UNESCO sites but my burgers are done. Back later.
posted by biffa at 10:38 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love Prague, especially the city center and the Charles bridge. SO AMAZING.

And a plug for a building in my city: Union Terminal in Cincinnati. The Hall of Justice was based on it!
posted by cooker girl at 10:59 AM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

One of my most cherished sightseeing memories is the rows of stones at Carnac. I was surprised to find them so stirring, more than the other megalithic or very old ruins I’ve seen. It’s hard to put my finger on why. I’m not that knowledgeable about what archaeologists think they were for (other than the obvious tombs) or a fan of any particular theory. This made me a gawking tourist, which was probably part of the emotional charge I felt when I first saw them—but I think my reaction was more than just “ah, unsolvable mysteries(tm) of the ancients(tm)!” They're so... intentional, and sitting thinking about the effort of getting those stones in place in that gorgeous spot made me a kind of dreamy I’ve never felt anywhere else.
posted by miles per flower at 11:46 AM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Probably the coolest place, historically speaking, was the Kapellbrucke in Luzern. It, too, caught fire back in 1993, but the restoration was nice, and you can't tell now.

I've seen a handful of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, although, amusingly, not the one in my small hometown that's supposedly one of the best-restored ones.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:46 AM on April 19, 2019

I have also not been to the nearest UNESCO site, which is old Cornish mineworkings. It's quite easy not to get around to what's local I think. My favourite heritage site is probably one of the Medici palaces in Florence, I went in to this high-walled courtyard and a choir of schoolgirls started up a hymn and the acoustics were incredible. It still gives me shivers to think about 25 years on.

Seeing the Colosseum for the first time, just looking up while walking down the street, was cool.

I was really into Greek mythology when I was a kid and was lucky enough to go to Athens for work a while back. Our hosts took us to an open rooftop restaurant on a warm November evening and all through dinner I just had to look up to my left to see the acropolis, that was great.

Notre Dame though, I really love wandering up the left bank whenever I am in Paris. I elected to graduate in Paris and went to ND with my folks while we were there. Been back multiple times while in the city for work, it's always felt central to my favourite parts of the city so I seem to end up there on most visits. I know the building will still be there but it feels like it will be the removal of something which felt permanent but has turned out not to be. Which is always a difficult thing to deal with.
posted by biffa at 12:10 PM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel oddly reticent to post my experiences to this thread, as often the most breathtaking experiences I've had have been where I've had no prior knowledge or expectation going into them. A friend took me to [redacted] and I didn't know anything other than it was a church, and after walking in I was so overwhelmed that I think I forgot to breathe for about 20 seconds; and on a family holiday, being in [redacted] on my own was one of the most otherworldly things in my life. But then again, some things are amazing even if you do prepare yourself; I thought I knew what I was expecting when I went to see the Vasa, but photos and descriptions do not do it justice.

When I was a child, the south transept of York Minster, probably the most impressive medieval building near where I grew up, went up in flames. I don't remember the fire, but I do remember the Blue Peter competition to design new roof bosses. I love York Minster and the old city of York, and they are beautiful places to visit - but I think that early experience of something so old, so apparently indestructible, being vulnerable means that things like the Notre Dame fire aren't shattering to my worldview. Any loss of great art is terrible, but I've always sort-of been aware of art's impermanence.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:27 PM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was quite fond of Kiyomizu-dera (personal photos 1, 2, 3) in Kyoto. Can't put the reason in a nice bullet point, as I didn't even do the water thing the temple is famous for, but it was just a really lovely place to put a temple.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:43 PM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, biffa, I found the Cornish mineworkings fascinating. My great-great-great grandfather was a tin miner from Camborne. We found the family graves in the churchyard and the house where my great-great grandfather met my great-great grandmother. We toured Geevor tin mine and walked along the shore past many ruined mineworks. One of my favorite vacations, and the pasties were so good. I learned a few tricks to up my pasty game at home, and now mine taste really cornish, better than my mom's or grandma's.

My favoritest vacation spot, though, is the Aran Islands. My wife and I went on our honeymoon there in 1997 and walked the inland road from Kilronan to Dun Aengus. Seventeen years later we took our 11-year-old son back with us and walked the shore road. The cliffs, the walls, the rocks, the cows, the green, the sky, the sea, the vastness and age... it links this world with another world. It's transcendent.
posted by rikschell at 1:36 PM on April 19, 2019

I was last in Paris in 1989 and it occurs to me that I don't remember our student group touring Notre-Dame (though I'm sure we must have.) But the missus and I did tour La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona a few years ago, opting for the tickets that let us climb to the very top of one of the spires. Different style of architecture, for sure, but it was beautiful all the same. And it's still under construction!

New car update: I'm loving my Subaru Crosstrek that MeFi helped me rationalize buying. Well, MeFi and that settlement check from the insurance company.
posted by emelenjr at 2:05 PM on April 19, 2019

Kyoto has about twenty elementary schools built in the 1920s and 30s, using what was then cutting-edge steel-reinforced concrete technology (especially post-1934 when some wooden schools collapsed in the Muroto Typhoon). When I was a grad student there I spent a lot of time going around them with a camera, trying to record their particular architectural features (although I'm a complete amateur with regard to both photography and architecture).
They were built in that sweet spot when ordinary public-works architecture was beautiful, with graceful hints of Art Deco here and there. They share a lot of design features, although each one has its own distinguishing touches--particular patterns of tiles, corners built curved instead of 90°, and so on. The lines are just exquisite.
Some of them have since been knocked down, and I'm really glad I took the pictures first (although kicking myself for using an old-fashioned disposable instead of a proper digital camera, maybe I can get the photos digitized at some point...). I need to go back and look again properly.
posted by huimangm at 4:25 PM on April 19, 2019

I have 3:
The hagia Sophia. It took my breath away. Stunning to thing of building that now let alone in 500ad. And then when attaturk declared it a secular museum and spent money to show both the Christian and Muslim history there. Amazing. Shame if it gets turned back into a functional religious icon. But I digress

Round tower in Copenhagen. We knew it'd be cool. But my gosh. Again the craftiness of people nearly 400 years ago astounds me. And when I majored in physics I had a great interest in tyco brahe. On top of that seeing it have a profound impact on my young kids was really a moment for me

Lastly, the yugoslav museum of history and technology (near or adjoining tito's grave). Full of early jet age optimism and the right kind of national pride (we designed this bad ass toaster, it's so bad ass!!! It has jet fins and lights on it!!!). It was an accidental visit with a serb, a croat, a Montenegro, and me. Odd grouping for sure but we were all fascinated by it.

I guess this last one isn't akin to a unesco site or anything but all 3 gave me a sense of odd pride in human animals and what were capable of in our own times despite the challenges time and socialogical knowledge presented.
posted by chasles at 4:51 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite places in the world is the VDNKh (All Russia Exhibition Center). Today (or at least a few years ago) it is a delightfully absurd combination of triumphant architecture, genuinely interesting sculpture, cheesy vendors straight out of Skymall, and national tourists eating donuts and drunkenly falling into fountains. I can't think of any place that better captures my world view: a glorious and uplifting vision of what the future could be and a deeply cynical, ugly view of what the world actually is.

To be fair, Machu Picchu and Teotihuacan are also pretty fucking cool. But, they lack snarky self-awareness. Or, if they possess it, I don't know enough to recognize it.
posted by eotvos at 4:55 PM on April 19, 2019

Since my birthday, Niagara Falls.
posted by clavdivs at 5:42 PM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

On my university trip through northeast Asia, we started in Tokyo, then went to Kyoto, after Japan, we went to Taipei, Hong Kong, and finally spent a month in China. Going from the Midwest, where old, and history, meant maybe one hundred years (I've always been fascinated by that, where in Boston, old has a different meaning than Chicago, and then in a place like Los Angeles, an 'old' building is a fraction of an 'old' building in Chicago), to Asia, where old was measured in centuries was a strange sort of rush for me. Visiting Kamakura, and seeing the tree on the grounds of Hachimangu that's stood for 700 years, then, on a weekend homestay with a family I wish I'd stayed in touch with, going to Hase-dera in Nara, walking on steps that were literally a thousand years old sort of blew my young mind.

Then, in China, seeing the remnants of thousands of years of history scarred by the attempts during the Cultural Revolution to destroy them, there was something almost palpable about the age of sites we visited. One quick pit stop between Xian and Beijing, and we went to the Longmen cliff carvings, a cliff face filled with carvings of Buddha. There, one of the things that stood out to me was that, from the way the sun hits the cliff, the age of the site was easy to see. On the left, northern side, erosion had softened or smoothed over many details, simply because the sun never directly hit those parts, and moisture and wind over years had erased most detail, while the parts the sunlight hit directly were clear and the details still readily apparent.

It's funny, but having seen so much of China and Japan, I've never been to Europe, and it's dawning on me that I might never get there. There is an absolute ton of things I would dearly like to see and experience, from minor stone circles in England that I did a diorama on in elementary school, and sites connected to Arthurian legend, and Hadrian's Wall. I'd love to have the time to visit France and Spain as well, but in a more vague, these places call to me, but I wouldn't be able to tell you anything I'd specifically want to see.

On a different note, of personal history, yesterday I went to the embassy in Tokyo to renew my passport, and it was shockingly painless. I had planned to be there at least an hour, and Mrs. Ghidorah would come into Tokyo after and we'd get lunch together. I was in and out in less than fifteen minutes, and there was suddenly a lot of time to kill, so I walked from the embassy to Azabujuban, sort of meandering along through an area filled with embassies, old religious private schools, various headquarters of Japanese corporations and political groups, not really looking for anything, but not making a beeline. At one point, I looked up and the sign on the stone wall I was walking along said International House of Japan, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was the first stop, coming by bus from Narita airport, on that school trip. I actually checked the date, we were there on September fourth, 1998, my first day outside America. Before the chance to take that trip, I'd been a person who thought America was big enough, and that I'd never need to travel overseas, and probably would never do so. Right in front of me was the beginning of my literally life changing experience, where, after the trip, I returned to the states, finished college, and left for China in October of 99, then back to Japan in late June, 2000, where I've been almost nineteen years. It was my first step in all of this, and there I was, with however many steps since, right back at the beginning.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:42 PM on April 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think this counts: I saw the Queen of England when I was a teenager. I was on a student trip to London, and I was really just in the right place at the right time. We wandered up into a crowd and found out it was waiting for Her Majesty, so we decided it was worth waiting a few minutes until her car came through the gates. I was far off, but for a flash, I saw her quite clearly through the open window, waving. She wore a pale butter-yellow dress and the usual smile. I snapped a picture. In those days, you had to wait, but it came out well enough to prove I had been there.

Obviously millions of people have seen her in person; it's her job to be seen. But it meant a lot to me. At that moment, I was quite aware that I was possibly the first one in my family for generations to see a reigning monarch in person. Again, that's not an achievement, but I felt so awestruck, so country. That is, I suppose, what the apparatus is designed to do.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:21 PM on April 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Putting my voice up for the Rotunda and Lawn at the University of Virginia. Designed by Mr. Jefferson. I loved walking down past the Lawn rooms and the Pavilions on the way to class each day.
posted by AugustWest at 9:06 PM on April 19, 2019

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair bit — for work, for fun. It’s just been a priority for my partner and I. The place that absolutely took my breath away more than anywhere else — and it was totally unexpected— was the Taj Mahal.

I’m not so into seeing and doing the thing that you’re supposed to do, that everyone else is doing, and the trip to Agra is so hot, crowded, over-touristed, filled with street hassle, just supremely unpleasant, and you walk through those gates ...and you are just stunned with the perfection of it. Pictures cannot do it justice, the brilliance of the marble, the perfect balance and symmetry. And I can totally oversell it to people who’ve never been, knowing confidently that it will still surpass any expectation one can imagine.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:26 PM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think the place that actually took my breath away was la sagrada familia. Gaudi's amazing design, and we got in just as the late afternoon sun was streaming through the stained glass windows, it was like something out of my best and most poetic dreams. I have to go back when it's finished and spend days there.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:33 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I was 16 I spent a month in Normandy with a family whose son had just been at our house. They were really sweet people and took me around everywhere - but the thing that knocked my socks totally off was Mont St Michell. I remember being just gob-smacked by it and taking two rolls of film.

Two years ago went back with my own kids and was everybit as impressed. More, even as they have since renovated and incorporated the tidal flats and natural surroundings to the monument. We didn’t take a tour/hike because I didn’t know and I seriously regret that. But damn, is it still a beautiful, crazy thing.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:08 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since my birthday, Niagara Falls.

Slowly I turn, inch by inch, step by step!
posted by hippybear at 3:18 AM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

My absolute favourite church in the world is the Basilique Cathedrale de Saint-Denis. Less so the royal tombs (though the effigies of some of the kings and queens are arresting, especially Marie-Antoinette and Henri II + Catherine de Medici), but because it's such an explosion of Gothic glory restored to white limestone perfection. Visit on a sunny day, and the pale stone is the perfect canvas for the stained glass; the multicoloured pictures projected from the windows move slowly, from one pillar to another, across a queen's skirts, lighting up the lions that sleep at the feet of her husband.

Visit on a Friday morning, if you can. Because the Place Victor Hugo in front of the Basilica is a rainbow of a market with all African and Mediterranean goods imaginable, food and clothes both. It's open on Sunday, too, but on Friday the local ladies in their mosque finery would make Marie Antoinette herself jealous because their hijabs and headwraps are beyond spectacular. A Friday morning there is Paris in a nutshell and so much better than just staying in the city centre.

(Runner-up: Hasedera temple complex in Sakurai, Nara prefecture, because the peonies and the Main Hall and the calmest afternoon in my life.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 3:23 AM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think Köln (Cologne) Cathedral is pretty remarkable. Also, there are Roman ruins just a short distance away that gives the entire site some kind of amazing historical perspective.

Mesa Verde National Park is pretty great if you like ancient American Native ruins. It's not majestic or anything, but the effort it took for people to build those dwellings there and what remains even after centuries is pretty astonishing.

Celle, Germany is also a bit astonishing. It's one of the only cities that wasn't bombed during WWII and so there are buildings there which are hundreds and hundreds of years old. Half-timbered houses, even. It has a beautiful little castle, and is entirely charming.

I haven't managed to visit many really interesting places that are man-made. Lots of National Parks and stuff, and a bit of Europe. I haven't really visited anywhere in the US that is a constructed object that I've felt awe about.
posted by hippybear at 3:32 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

We've been to Puerto Rico twice in the last three years. I love the juxtaposition of the city wall in San Juan that has been there since the 1500s, today mostly protecting an upscale shopping district. Also, The San Juan Cathedral is the oldest Catholic Chuch in the the US, and 2nd oldest in the Americas. Even though I am a (very) lapsed Catholic, I find the idea that people have walked up the same hill to the same place to say essentially the same prayers since the early 1500s really inspiring. I guess I would had that same feeling at Notre Dame if I had visited, which I haven't yet.

I also really like the Western side of the island, which as much more of a shabby beach town vibe to it. I guess what I'm saying is I should probably figure out how to move to Puerto Rico.

Vacation photos from Puerto Rico
posted by COD at 6:31 AM on April 20, 2019

Walking through one of the side streets on to the Campo in Siena is pretty amazing. I'd seen pictures but nothing prepared me for the actual feel of that place.
posted by Namlit at 8:24 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I lived in Helsinki for two winters and worked at the university, and every night I got to pass by the grand Lutheran church at Senaatintori. That’s one of my strongest memories from those winters - quiet walks down Aleksanterinkatu at night, the cathedral just across the square, glowing in the snow.
posted by eirias at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

So many places. A couple places that enchanted me as a five-year-old: Madurodam in the Netherlands, and St. Mark's in Venice, mostly because it was fun to chase the pigeons. Much later, I fell in love with the Eixample in Barcelona, the closest we have to an Art Nouveau city.

I had a day to wander around Machu Picchu, which is amazing. Another Unesco World Heritage site in South America: Ouro Preto, one of the few places you can see colonial Brazilian architecture en masse. Another good memory is of the Caminito in Buenos Aires.

If I get to travel again, my top three places to see would be the Dayanta in Xi'an, the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora, and Kyoto.
posted by zompist at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love that my city, Nashville, TN, has a full-scale replica of Greece's Parthenon. Inside is a huge statue of Athena, the largest indoor statue in the Western hemisphere.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love that my city, Nashville, TN, has a full-scale replica of Greece's Parthenon.

Wait, what? How is this not something that I already knew about? That's astounding! I've never wanted to visit Tennessee until just this moment!
posted by hippybear at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2019

Wait'll we tell you about the Pyramid in Memphis.

well, I just did, I guess
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:12 PM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was very moved visiting the prison at Alcatraz. The recorded guided tour is very well done, including interviews with former prisoners and guards. Looking across the water to San Francisco, you really get a sense of how devastating it must have been for the prisoners to be there. It must have felt like the end of the world. I felt like I was on holy ground in a place that had known great suffering. There are also still signs of the American Indian occupation of the prison, which began in 1969. Graffiti from the occupation is still visible.

I also loved the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. Like Alcatraz, parts of it are still in ruins. To me, there is something very moving about monuments that haven’t been restored. At the Mission, the Great Stone Church was destroyed in an earthquake during Mass, killing forty people. Part of the church survived, and standing in that place felt holy to me.
posted by FencingGal at 7:12 PM on April 20, 2019

Something you'll probably never see is the stairway inside the Washington Monument, which is lined with commemorative stone gifts from the States and other sources. (You can see photos of them in this 2005 NPS Catalog - pdf). In the late 1960s my older track-star brother and his buddies would drive down there just to run up these stairs, and once, I got to tag along. And how come they were closed, in 1976? We always heard because those commemorative gifts were being vandalized, but BisNow has an alternate explanation.
posted by Rash at 5:26 PM on April 21, 2019

I've been to many places in the world but still nothing has so completely blown me away like Pompeii did. An entire Roman town. That you walk through and see how people lived and the shops on the corners where they sat and the theatres and spaces where they gathered. I've never felt so much like a time traveler.

Of course, they all vanished in an instant and that too is very affecting. I want to go back but also feel that I have to prepare myself again.
posted by vacapinta at 7:26 AM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Petra is the most amazing place I've been, and it was tragic that I spent half my visit there sick in bed.
posted by Riverine at 7:47 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was an English teacher in Japan for a couple of years. I arrived in the early spring, March-April, and by about May people were starting to make plans for what they would be doing over the August holidays. I happened to catch a program on TV at that time about Angkor Wat and immediately decided that that's where I'd go. A bunch of my friends were going to Thailand so we all flew into Bangkok together and then I made my way to Cambodia. It was a great trip and I would love to visit the country again. I ended up making friends on the minibus to Siem Reap and we all went to Angkor Wat together for one day, after that they did other things in town while I rented a bicycle and just explored at my own pace. This was back in 2003 so I am sure that the experience has changed significantly but I would love to go back with my family. I took a ton of photos but this was back in film days so nothing I can post online.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:10 PM on April 23, 2019

One of the most heartbreaking tourism moments of my lifetime was in 2010, during a bus trip around Bulgaria with a group of ethnomusicologists and Balkan folk music/dancing fans. We were on our way to some obscure tourist spot or another when I spotted, high up on the ridge overlooking the Shipka Pass, the Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party (better known as the Buzludzha Monument). I'd known about Buzludzha for a few years already (and apparently I commented on it in a 2012 FPP here), but it hadn't occurred to me that we'd drive right by it (sort of). I asked our bus driver about the possibility of catching a hired car somewhere and meeting up with the group in whatever town later that night, but ... this was rural Bulgaria in 2010. A few years ago, I was in Germany for a festival and looked into the practicalities of hopping over to Bulgaria while I was in the "neighborhood." Upon inquiring with one of the little renegade tour companies that used to do guided tours of the ruins, I learned that the local authorities had finally clamped down, reinforced all the entrances, installed security cameras, and enlisted local law enforcement to aggressively patrol the property. So that dream died forever, unfortunately.
posted by mykescipark at 9:01 PM on April 26, 2019

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