Unknown architectural wonders

We've all heard of the Coliseum, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.  But what about the world's undiscovered architectural wonders ?  The man-made wonders where most crowds don't stray ? 


One of the most overlooked landmarks in India, Rajasthan’s CHAND BAORI is a spectacular square step-well, 13 storeys deep, with walls lined with scores of ‘double staircases’ that descend some 30m to the bottom of the well, where a pool of ’emerald green water’ awaits.  The mesmerizing maze of ‘symmetrical steps’ “appears to form a never ending path deep underground.”  With its 3,500 steps, Chand Baori is one of the deepest and largest of its kind in the world.  Built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty between 800 and 900 AD, Chand Baori was designed to be as practical as it was pretty.  Due to the structure of the well, the bottom of it remains cooler than the surface, critical in the hot, arid landscape of Rajasthan.


Built in 1907, the Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest ‘mud-structure’ in the world, constructed almost entirely of sun-baked earthern bricks, sand and a mud-based mortar and plaster.  It is considered one of the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahalian architectural style and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.  The Mosque’s 3 minarets are decorated with bundles of RODIER PALM, which double as scaffolding for the annual repairs —- a tradition that’s become a local festival in April and May.  “The brutal North African summers bring out cracks in the mud and weaken it over time.  Before the yearly rains that follow, the locals get together and re-coat the entire building with clay from a dried-up pond.”


A fortress of monumental proportions, Derawar’s 40 stunning bastions rise from the desert in a striking square formation.  Combined, the fortress’ walls form a circumference of some 1,500m and stand some 30m high.  “This is a magnificent structure in the middle of the CHOLISTAN DESERT.  Many people don’t know about the Derawar Fort.  Even most Pakistanis don’t know of it.”  And for good reason, to get to the fortress, visitors must hire a guide with a 4-wheel drive vehicle to make the day- long trip from the city of Bahhwalpur, Pakistan through the Cholistan Desert to the fort, where special permission from the Amir or local leader is needed to go inside.


The world’s largest, most expensive and heaviest civilian administrative building, Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament, is truly an unknown wonder.  Built by hated Communist Dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the building is so huge that its difficult to take a photograph that does its scale justice.  Built in 1984, the neo-classic building has 12 storeys (with 8 additional storeys underground), and some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000 sq.m.  The project cost the people of Bucharest much of their city.  To build the Palace of the Parliament, one-fifth of Central Bucharest was razed, including most of its historical districts, more than 30 Churches and Synagogues and some 3,000 homes.  The patterned carpets on the main level, which run through 100’s of yards of wide corridors, were woven inside the building during construction.  Weaving them outside and bringing them in was not feasible due to their sheer size.


We have all heard of the Great Wall of China, but few know that India also has its own Great Wall, which has long been overshadowed by its neighbour to the East.  The Great Wall of India, also referred to as KUMBHALGARH, is the 2nd longest Wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.  Located in Rajasthan, the Wall is 4.5m thick, in some areas, extends for 36km and has 7 fortified gates.  Rana Kumbha, a local ruler, commissioned the Wall in 1443 to protect his fort situated on a hill above.  Legend has it that despite several attempts, the Wall could not be completed.  Finally, the King consulted one of his spiritual advisors and was advised that a sacrifice be made and a volunteer offered his life so that others will be protected.  Today, the main gate stands where his body fell, and a temple stands where his severed head came to rest.  The Wall was enlarged in the 19th Century and now protects more than 360 temples within its walls, but it remains an unknown treasure to most of the world.

STARI MOST, Bosnia-Herzegovina

STARI MOST, Bosnia-Herzegovina
If every great architectural landmark has a story, Bosnia’s Stari Most has a comeback story.  The Old Bridge or Stari Most, as it is called by locals, was built of 456 blocks of local stone in 1566 by the Ottoman Turkish architect Mimar Hajrudin.  The ‘hump-backed’ Bridge is located in the city of Mostar, where it crosses the Neretva River.  At 4m wide, 30m long and 24m high, it is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.  Built in the 1990s, the Bridge was destroyed by Bosnian Serb and Croat forces during the Bosnian War.  After the war, the city — and the Bridge — began rebuilding.  It took almost 10 years to make that idea come to life and in July of 2004    , a new ‘old bridge’ was open again.  While the Bridge has changed since its construction, one long-time tradition remains : locals still dive off the bridge into the icy waters of the Neretva to show off their bravery and skill. 


Lotfollah mosque inner entrance
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is a architectural masterpiece and a study in harmonious understatement.  Located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square, in the city of Isfahan, the stunningly elegant Mosque was built between 1603-1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas.  It was named after the ruler’s father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah, a revered Lebanese scholar of Islam.  The Mosque is unusual, in that it features ‘no minarets’ or ‘courtyard.’  This was probably because the Mosque was never intended for public use, but rather served as the worship place for the women of the Shah’s harem.  As such, the prayer hall is reached through a long twisting, underground hallway, and the decoration, on the Mosque, is extraordinarily exquisite.  The Dome makes extensive use of delicate tiles that change colour throughout the day–from CREAM to PINK.  Inside the Sanctuary, one can marvel at the complexity of the mosaics that adorn the walls and the beautiful ceiling with its striking yellow motifs.  The shafts of sunlight that filter through the few high, latticed windows, produce a constantly changing interplay of light and shadow.
———- Husna Haq.

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