Hidden Secrets of the World's Most Famous Landmarks
Landmarks are akin to great presents. Like gift wrap, their facades are often striking, but once opened, they often reveal something you never expected. We've found ancient and modern landmarks from around the globe with secrets that are sure to surprise you.
There's no doubt you'll immediately recognize many of these popular attractions. Read on to discover the hidden rooms, symbols and meanings behind some of the world's most famous landmarks.
The Washington Monument's Symbolic Ties to the Vatican
In 1852, Pope Pius IX contributed a piece of marble from Rome's ancient Temple of Concord to help build the Washington Monument after the Washington National Monument Society made a donation request. The marble was known as "The Pope's Stone."
The Capitol Building Depicts Washington as a God
Watching politicians and visitors from high above on the Capitol Rotunda's ceiling is "The Apotheosis of Washington," a fresco created in 1865 by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi. Recognizing George Washington's unique place in American history, the painting shows the nation's first president ascending to the heavens and becoming a god.
Westminster Abbey's Cosmati Pavement Depicts the End of Times
Visit London's Westminster Abbey and inside you’ll find an incredible pavement at the front of the High Altar. This amazing floor is believed to symbolize the end of times. Created in 1268, the pavement is named after the Cosmati family of Rome, who were famed artisans. It was hidden under carpeting for many years and only recently rediscovered.
Tower Bridge's Symbol for Toll Collectors
Travel along the Tower Bridge and you'll probably spot flags with an unusual mark that can also be found carved into stonework around London. The Bridge Mark is the emblem of the Bridge House Estates, a group formed by the City of London in 1282. The Bridge House Estates is tasked with the Tower Bridge’s maintenance.
Could There Be Alchemist's Symbols at Notre Dame?
Could Notre Dame Cathedral, one of Christianity's most famous landmarks, hide secret alchemical symbols? There are some who believe the church holds secrets revealing how to transform ordinary metals into gold.
The House of Commons' Red Lines Prevent Bloodshed
Inside Britain's House of Commons, visitors may spot double red lines on the carpet drawn by the front benches. The red lines measure two sword lengths that are one inch apart. They were created so that the Prime Minister would have enough time to draw his sword in defense should someone unexpectedly pull out a sword and lunge at him — or her.
The Great Wall of China's Feminist Symbols of Peace
There's a section of the Great Wall of China decorated with lotus blossoms, cloud carvings and fluffy balls, common symbols of peace in Chinese culture. But these ancient carvings were created by special artisans — the wives of the wall's soldiers who were laborers. This area has come to be known as the "Feminist Great Wall."
Mount Vernon's Personal Appeal for Peace
George Washington’s Virginia estate has a cupola over the mansion with a symbolic weathervane that pleads for peace. In 1787, Washington tasked architect Joseph Rakestraw with creating something that would "have a bird … with an olive branch in its mouth … that it will traverse with the wind and therefore may receive the real shape of the bird."
The Sphinx Was a Symbolic Security Guard
While the Great Sphinx of Giza has been thought to be an ancient Egyptian deity, it was also a subtle warning meant to convey that any potential looters needed to steer clear of the Necropolis.
St. Peter's Basilica Secret Family Crest
Vatican City's art is filled with many mysterious symbols, including those found in St. Peter's Basilica. Inside is a spot known as St. Peter’s baldacchino, a pavilion-like area that’s 98 feet tall. Inaugurated in 1693, the columns supporting the baldacchino are decorated with bees.
The Taj Mahal: Symbol of Love or Intimidation?
For centuries, the world has marveled at the Taj Mahal, an ornate mausoleum created by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. Built from 1632 to 1647, it was thought to have been a symbol of Shah Jahan's enduring love.
The National Archives' Guard Dogs Were Actually Pets
The National Archives was described by Herbert Hoover as a building designed to be "a temple of our history." There are several symbols in the sculpture and artwork found throughout the building, including a group of dogs believed to symbolize the guarding of truth along with the documents contained inside the building.
Sydney's Opera House's Symbolic Tapestry
Completed in 1973, the Sydney Opera House stands out along the city's skyline. This unique building was created by Danish architect JØrn Utzon, whose expressionist design has made the Sydney Opera House into an icon of Australia.
What Secrets Does a White House Desk Hold?
Sitting inside the Oval Office is the Resolute Desk, a gift given by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. But the Resolute isn't just any desk. It was created from the timbers of a British ship recovered by the United States.
Rio's Christ the Redeemer Protected Against "Godlessness"
Overlooking Rio de Janiero is the incredible statue known as Christ the Redeemer. Completed in 1931, the idea for the statue came from a religious group known as the Catholic Circle that feared the separation of church and state would create a godless society. The statue was an appeal for the population to embrace religion.
The Hoover Dam Has a Symbolic Star Map
Bordering Nevada and Arizona, Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1936 as a massive irrigation and hydroelectric project. Inside, the dam has a terrazzo floor that contains a star map depicting the Northern Hemisphere at the exact moment of the dam's dedication by President Franklin Roosevelt.
The Supreme Court's Cryptic Carving
In 1923, then-Chief Justice William Howard Taft tasked architect Cass Gilbert to create "a building of dignity and importance suitable for its use as the permanent home of the Supreme Court of the United States."
Mount Rushmore's Secret Tablets
Mount Rushmore, one of America's most famous monuments, just happens to contain a secret room. Located behind the head of Abraham Lincoln, the area was initially created as a Hall of Records by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who hoped the secluded spot would hold and protect valuable historical documents.
The Lincoln Memorial's Hidden Symbols
Over the years, people have speculated about some of the Lincoln Memorial's symbolism. According to the National Park Service, one theory that's actually true is that the Lincoln Memorial contains several hidden symbols, including a bundle of wooden rods called fasces that denote leadership. The symbolic fasces serve as the majestic statue's armrests.
Statue of Liberty
A gift from France to America, the Statue of Liberty honors the United States' commitment to freedom for all. While many visitors focus on Lady Liberty's crown, torch and book, look down at her feet, and you'll see a broken shackle and chain, showing her walking forward.
The St. Louis Gateway Has a Hidden Time Capsule
St. Louis, Missouri's Gateway Arch was designed to honor the westward expansion of the United States. While tourists flock to see one of the United States' most popular landmarks, what's hidden inside is also fascinating.
The Hollywood Sign Didn't Originally Symbolize Movies
The Hollywood Sign is now a symbol of California's movie industry, but originally, it was used to promote a real estate development called "Hollywoodland." The Hollywood Sign was erected in 1923 and was only supposed to stay up for a year and a half, but with the growing popularity of American films, a decision was made to keep it up.
Secret Spirits Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge
The majestic Brooklyn Bridge is a popular landmark frequented by New York City tourists, but hidden deep beneath the bridge are passageways and vaults dating back to the late nineteenth century.
The New York Library's Hidden Apartments
Hidden inside the New York City Public Library's main branch by Bryant Park are apartments. The huge library system demand constant upkeep, and during the 19th and first half of the 20th century, the buildings were heated with coal, requiring a large maintenance staff.
The Alamo's Grisly Graffiti
The Alamo was once a Spanish mission in what is now San Antonio, Texas. However, in 1836, it was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo, in which Texans waged war for independence from Mexico. The men who fought this battle left strange graffiti behind.
The National Cathedral's Hidden Space Rock
Washington's National Cathedral may be thousands of miles away from the moon, but hidden in one of its stained glass windows is a tiny piece of moon rock. The rock was donated by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who collected it during the Apollo 11 mission.
Kilroy Is Hidden in the World War II Memorial
During World War II, "Kilroy was here" was a popular phrase left behind as graffiti by U.S. troops wanting to make their mark while stationed around the globe. The military meme included a cute graphic of a man's eyes and nose peeking over a wall.
Stonehenge's Secret Carvings Revealed
The meaning of Britain's ancient Stonehenge has puzzled people for hundreds of years. In 2003, however, some of its ancient secrets may have been unlocked. Using laser scanners, scientists discovered carvings undetectable to the human eye. Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed in 2300 BC, but scientists theorize the carvings were made sometime around 1800 BC.
Versailles' Secret Apartments
Versailles is a palace that symbolizes both beauty and excess. Hidden inside this incredible estate are secret rooms, many of which were used as private apartments for discreet affairs. One of the apartments was kept by Madame Du Barry, a royal mistress and patroness of the arts.
The Tower of London's Six Ravens
The Tower of London is a historic British landmark, but not many people know that this iconic monument houses six captive ravens. The ravens are permanent residents thanks to a superstition that if the ravens fly off, the tower and Crown will fall.