Monday, October 12, 2009

Looking for Something New to See on Vacation?

World's Strangest Monuments

From a 25-foot shark crashing through a roof to Mongolia’s giant statue of Genghis Khan, the world’s weirdest monuments display local quirks.

By Lyndsey Matthews

Charge your camera batteries before visiting these monuments: You might need photographic evidence to prove that they’re not just a figment of your jet-lagged mind.

Saint Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse
Prague

What It Commemorates: Saint Wenceslas, Bohemia’s patron saint.

What Makes It Strange: For almost 100 years—even during the dark days of Communist rule—the grand sculpture of Saint Wenceslas in Prague’s Wenceslas Square has been a source of national pride. But today, even the revered saint isn’t spared from the Czechs’ irreverent senses of humor. Sculptor David Cerny’s parody of the St. Wenceslas statue, hanging in the Lucerna Palace mere yards from the original, is of Wenceslas mounted atop the belly of a dead horse that’s been strung upside down.

Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
Tsonjin Boldog, Mongolia
What It Commemorates: The infamous founder of the Mongolian Empire, known locally as Chinggis Khaan.

What Makes It Strange: The 131-foot-tall, 250-ton stainless steel statue, unveiled in 2008 and located an hour’s drive from Ulaanbaatar, is the world’s largest equestrian statue. Visitors can take an elevator to the viewing deck on the horse’s head and look out on the expansive Mongolian steppe. Until 20 years ago, Mongolia’s Communist government banned any celebration of the military leader, but in a surge of nationalism, Mongols have slapped his image and name on everything from an airport to a university and bottles of vodka. The statue is part of a planned theme park featuring nomadic lodging and restaurants serving horsemeat.

Duke of Wellington Statue
Glasgow

What It Commemorates: Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and commander of the British forces that defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

What Makes It Strange: For the past 20 years, this innocuous statue—erected in 1844 on Glasgow’s Queen Street—has been a magnet for late-night pranksters, who scale the statue and top it with traffic cones. Locals argue that the cones are an integral part of the statue, as well as the city’s identity. The government doesn’t agree. City workers knock off the cones with a high-powered water jet, and police have threatened to prosecute the pranksters. But since the public has ignored these warnings, anyone caught putting cones on the Duke is simply told to move on.

Fengdu Ghost City
Fengdu, China
What It Commemorates: This necropolis is modeled after the Chinese version of hell.

What Makes It Strange: During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), two court officials named Yin and Wang moved to Mount Mingshan to obtain enlightenment. Combined, the surnames of this mystical pair sound like “King of Hell” in Chinese, and ever since, locals deemed this a gathering place for spirits. The Ghost City that developed is a complex of Buddhist and Taoist temples adorned with macabre demon statues dismembering humans as they guard the entrance to the netherworld. Landmarks bear frightening names, such as “Last Glance at Home Tower,” “Nothing-to-Be-Done Bridge,” and “Ghost Torturing Pass.” Ironically, the area is literally a ghost city now because of the massive Three Gorges Dam project, completed in 2009, which flooded the town and forced the region’s residents to relocate. Mount Mingshan is now a peninsula that is visited mostly by tourists on Yangtze River cruises.

Calder Mercury Fountain
Barcelona

What It Commemorates: The siege of Almadén, one of the largest mercury mines in the world, by Franco’s troops during the Spanish Civil War.

What Makes It Strange: Keep your hands away from this one. Poisonous liquid mercury pours through a series of iron and aluminum troughs, splashes against a metal piece that sets a mobile in motion, and cascades into a circular pool of deadly metal. American sculptor Alexander Calder designed the fountain as an anti-fascist tribute for the Spanish Republican government for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris (where it was displayed opposite Picasso’s Guernica). Calder eventually donated his fountain to the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, where it is encased behind glass.

Headington Shark
Headington, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
What It Commemorates: The dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

What Makes It Strange: Officially called Untitled 1986, the 25-foot-tall beast known commonly as the Headington Shark appears to have crashed headfirst through the roof of a quaint British home. House owner Bill Heine commissioned the work as a reaction to nuclear power and as an expression of someone “ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation.” Made of metal, polyester resin, and plaster, among other things, the shark was originally viewed as an incongruous eyesore that the city council desperately tried to remove. Today it is accepted as a landmark.

Georgia Guidestones
Elberton, Georgia
What It Commemorates: The monument serves as a set of directions for rebuilding civilization after the apocalypse.

What Makes It Strange: Designed and commissioned by an anonymous group, the Georgia Guidestones consist of five 16-foot-tall granite slabs, arranged in a star-shaped pattern, that function as a compass, calendar, and clock (drawing comparisons to England’s Stonehenge). Some local Christians deem the creations the “Ten Commandments of the Antichrist” for their unsettling nature. (One guide reads, “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.”) The stones have their fans though, including covens of witches and Yoko Ono.

Memento Park
Budapest

What It Commemorates: Hungary’s Communist past.

What Makes It Strange: Most Eastern European countries ceremoniously destroyed Soviet-era relics once they gave occupying forces the boot. However, rather than demolish all vestiges of a painful past, the city of Budapest removed 42 statues from prominent locations and placed them in a suburban park. Statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels are all displayed, along with the Boots, a 1-to-1 replica of the remainder of a 27-foot-tall Stalin statue that an angry crowd tore down in 1956.

Underwater Gallery
Grenada
What It Commemorates: Reef ecosystems.

What Makes It Strange: This series of sculptures in the clear, shallow waters off the coast of Grenada has one highly unusual characteristic: it is accessible only to divers (though it can also be viewed through glass-bottomed boats). Sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor created the works, a series of human figures in various groupings and settings, as the world’s first underwater sculpture park, which also serves as an artificial reef to promote conservation awareness.

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