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12 Astonishing Man-Made Structures Around the World

These mountainside monasteries and mega-sized monuments will mystify and move you.

Throughout history, humanity’s quest to leave an indelible mark on the Earth has manifested in the creation of remarkable structures that defy time, nature, and, sometimes, belief. This pursuit of greatness has often been driven by a competitive spirit, with civilizations, empires, and countries vying to eclipse each other by constructing edifices that are larger, superior, and more ground-breaking. Take the city of superlatives, Dubai, for instance. It is home to the tallest of the tall, the Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper that simultaneously holds records for the highest occupied floor in the world and the elevator with the longest travel distance, among other accolades.

Some of the world’s most impressive man-made structures have their origins in religious visions and myths, while others—including the Great Wall of China—were established due to profound fears of attacks from outsiders. From the secular to the sacred, avant-garde to ancient, behold this assorted assemblage of awe-inspiring architectural achievements around the globe.


1 OF 12

La Sagrada Familia

WHERE: Barcelona, Spain

And the winner for the longest construction of a basilica goes to La Sagrada Familia, which has been slowly unfolding since 1882. It has also hoisted trophies for “Most Remarkable Venue” in the world and  geometry and mathematics prowess, and it currently holds the  Guinness World Record for the tallest art nouveau church. Upon completion, it will oust Germany’s Ulm Cathedral to become the tallest church of any kind, anywhere in the world. Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished symphony in stone is a must-see for architecture buffs in Barcelona due to its soaring spires, intricate facades, and the uncommon merging of Gothic and art nouveau styles.

INSIDER TIPYou can sidestep the entry fee to Sagrada Familia by attending a Sunday morning church service.



2 OF 12

Burj Khalifa


At over 828 meters tall, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is another record breaker, having snagged the title of the world’s tallest building, an accolade that has been officially ratified by Guinness World Records. It is so tall that top-to-bottom cleaning takes three months. This neo-futurist spear thrusting into the sky was completed in 2009 and instantly redefined Dubai’s skyline with its jaw-dropping height and elegance. It is not only to be admired from below, though. There are observation decks on levels 124, 125, and 148, offering unparalleled views of the city and the desert. Travelers with a fear of heights need not apply.

INSIDER TIPTo tick having a meal at the tallest lounge on Earth, make reservations to dine at The Lounge, Burj Khalifa, which occupies floors 152, 153, and 154

3 OF 12

Wieliczka Salt Mine Chapel

WHERE: Wieliczka, Poland

Carved by miners’ hands and sculpted entirely from salt, the Chapel of St. Kinga in the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a rare subterranean wonder. Devout miners crafted it as a dedication to Princess Kinga of Hungary who reportedly brought salt mining to Poland, and everything from the chandeliers to the altarpieces, and a wall carving of The Last Supper is made of salt. Along with Ethiopia’s Rock-Hewn Churches and Aachen Cathedral in Germany, Wieliczka Salt Mine was added to the very first list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978. It is located 13 kilometers southeast from the center of Kraków and it is 327 meters at its deepest point. Visiting it on the Tourist Route takes between two and three hours, and you’ll learn about various salt extraction and transportation methods, climb over 800 stairs, explore saline lakes, and also see the salty chapel.

4 OF 12

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

WHERE: Paro Valley, Bhutan

With four main temples and eight caves 3,120 meters above sea level, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktsang) in Bhutan is a serene and spiritually significant site to feast your eyes on. Perched precariously on a cliffside, it was built in 1692 to mark the spot where Guru Rinpoche—who brought Buddhism to Bhutan—is said to have flown on a tiger’s back. The Buddhist complex is only accessible by foot (via three different paths), and the journey up is a tempestuous trek through misty mountains leading to a place that appears to be suspended between heaven and earth.

INSIDER TIPNote that shoes and cameras are not permitted inside the monastery.


5 OF 12

Great Pyramid of Giza

WHERE: Al Haram, Egypt

There are so many impressive aspects of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Along with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Temple of Artemis, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it’s the last of them still in existence. Located on the west bank of the River Nile, construction of the three Pyramids of Giza was completed around 2560 BC and they were erected as tombs for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The Great Pyramid (Khufu) is a 454-foot-tall monolith impressively built with around 2.3 million blocks of stone.

6 OF 12

Great Wall of China

WHERE: China

You’ve never seen a serpentine structure this colossal before. The Great Wall of China, constructed over centuries by various emperors, serves as a monumental defense formation stretching thousands of miles along the northern border. Contrary to popular belief, the bulwark cannot actually be seen from the moon, as confirmed by NASA. It is, however, still massively impressive when you factor in its various components and materials (watch towers, platforms, troop barracks, brick, wood, and marble sections), the number of Chinese provinces it crosses over more than 20,000 kilometers, and the fact that it is actually a series of conjoined walls that is now the world’s largest military fortification.

7 OF 12

Mont Saint-Michel

WHERE: Normandy, France

Rising from the tidal flats of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is a medieval marvel, an island commune crowned by an abbey. It was established in 708 after Bishop Aubert of the nearby town of Avranches had a vision in which Archangel Michael insisted he build a church atop an island. From a divine command to a fortress of faith, this rocky islet became a pivotal Christian pilgrimage site in Europe. During the Hundred Years’ War, its strategic design and tidal defenses made it impervious to sieges, and the abbey’s later role as a prison inadvertently preserved its structure until its closure in 1863. It was classified as a Historic Monument in 1874 and joined the respected ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979.

8 OF 12

Angkor Wat

WHERE: Siem Reap, Cambodia

A monument so grand it makes other religious sites look like micro chapels, Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century as a temple and final resting place for King Suryavarman II. Featuring a  699-foot central tower surrounded by four smaller ones, the temple’s design is a cosmic representation of the five-peaked Mount Meru, where the Hindu god Vishnu resided. Beyond its symbolic features, Angkor Wat houses a two-kilometer-long gallery of bas-reliefs (three-dimensional stone carvings) that narrate tales of Vishnu and King Suryavarman II’s victories, making it a structural masterpiece as well as a historical storyboard spread across 81 hectares.

9 OF 12

The Colosseum

WHERE: Rome, Italy

Designed to entertain between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators—from regular folks to the highest echelons of Roman society—and used for naval battle simulations, mythological dramas, fight-to-the-death gladiatorial contests, and also public beheadings, Rome’s Colosseum is now one of Italy’s most celebrated tourist attractions. It is also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This architectural titan was the largest amphitheater ever built and it is a testament to the ingenuity of the Flavian dynasty emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian who orchestrated its spectacular construction from concrete and sand between AD 72 and 96.

10 OF 12

Taj Mahal

WHERE: Agra, India

On the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra stands the Taj Mahal, an ode to love immortalized in marble. Built by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth and completed in 1653, it transcends its function as a mausoleum. With its near-perfect symmetry, optical illusions, and intricate craftsmanship, it is a jewel in the crown of human achievement and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

Its construction involved the labor of thousands of marble workers, decorators, architects, and mosaicists, and there are several unverified myths regarding its construction, including tales of workers having their eyes gouged and hands cut to prevent its duplication. Well passed its 350th birthday, the iconic structure is wholly intact, and in-person visitors often report that it’s even more impressive than pretty pictures would suggest.

11 OF 12

St. Peter's Basilica

WHERE: Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, the heart of the Catholic Church, was built over a span of 120 years, starting in 1506. With an interior so vast it could fit two football pitches, some might call it a visual overload. It boasts a facade by Carlo Maderno that stretches 115 meters wide and its sacred halls house some of Christianity’s most revered artworks such as Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture. Above, the dome—another of Michelangelo’s gifts to the city—pierces the Roman sky, a beacon that has watched over the city for centuries.

INSIDER TIPShoulders must be covered for all visitors and no mini skirts or very short shorts are allowed in the basilica.


12 OF 12

Chichen Itza

WHERE: Yucatán, Mexico

Chichén Itzá is to Mexico what Machu Picchu is to Peru: a celebrity-status pre-Hispanic city adored by millions annually. This is hands down one of the most magnificent human-built constructions found in the Mayan empire. The site has a series of monuments including the Temple of the Jaguars, the Mayan ball court, and a circular observatory called El Caracol. None is more spellbinding than El Castillo (“The Castle”), a 79-foot-tall step pyramid with 365 days for each day of the solar year. It is famous for the illusion of the feathered serpent deity Kukulcán that descends its steps to fertilize the earth only during the spring or autumn equinox, showcasing the Mayans’ architectural and astronomical expertise and their deep connection to the cosmos.


erichelque2419 March 17, 2024

Regarding Chichen Itza,  "one of the most magnificent human-built constructions found in the Mayan empire", repeat after me: THERE. NEVER. WAS. A. MAYAN. EMPIRE. The Maya were organized in a multitude of warring city-states, a little bit like in Ancient Greece. Initial theories that there might have been such a thing as a Maya empire were discarded a long time ago.