Thursday, 9 July 2015

68. Wonder: Cologne Cathedral

(For the Cologne Cathedral preview, please click here.)

Cologne Cathedral's facade is the largest church facade in the world, a cliff face of Gothic sculpture at 157 metres high. The cathedral is 144 metres long, taking up an area of almost 8000 square metres, filling a volume of over 400,000 cubic metres (you could fit 10,000 elephants inside, although this would be very disruptive). The vaults inside reach 45 metres high and there are over two acres of windows alone. These are all pretty big numbers. Yet Cologne Cathedral is so much bigger. It is so much more than numbers. A lot more. Visit Cologne and see the cathedral in person, and suddenly it's the biggest building in the world

That's how it seems. Cologne Cathedral is an immense spectacle. There are three other Gothic cathedrals on my list, three other non-Gothic cathedrals, seven other churches or basilicas, and nine other candidate Wonders which incorporate Christian houses of worship in some manner. Cologne Cathedral is the mightiest. Though just one of many Gothic cathedrals in northern Europe and so hardly unique, it makes an impression all of its own. The Notre-Dame de Paris might be iconic, Amiens Cathedral might be ornate, Chartres Cathedral might be pure and unspoilt, but Cologne Cathedral has heft – and it's a quality that even the irreligious, the uninspired, and the Godforsaken can't ignore.

The above photo is taken from next to the train station, from the Bahnhofsvorplatz ("train station forecourt", not one of Cologne's greater feats of imagination). The station is Germany's fifth busiest, with almost 300,000 people passing through each day. Most visitors to the city arrive here, and the above is the sight that first greets them. What an introduction. Dark, vast, overwhelming, intimidating, unmissable: it's a "wow" moment more than a mere photo can do justice to. If a first-time visitor to Cologne doesn't stop in their tracks and at least widen their eyes a little, well, they should turn right back round and take a train to somewhere more appropriate to their tastes: a high rise beach all-inclusive, a shopping mall, a shiny super casino. Cologne is not for you. Europe is not for you. We may have some stern differences of opinion. I'll fight you outside.

As you might guess, I am a fan of Cologne Cathedral. Few buildings have ever made such a first impression on me. I first visited during the World Cup in Germany in 2006. I was there for the football and don't think I'd even been aware of the existence of the cathedral – until I arrived. Exiting the train station, there it was. I was awe-struck. I'd seen plenty of churches and cathedrals before, of course, but nothing with the power of this one. It was so dominant. Being by the train station, at the heart of Cologne, it was a hub of activity, from passing traffic, sightseers, tour groups, beggars, touts, football fans, worshippers, shoppers, and these awful “living statue” people (curiously, there were none this time – I hope they've been banned). This giant cathedral, begun 750 years earlier and on a site with 2000 years of history, had the entire city revolving around it. For the entirety of the two days I spent there, I was mesmerised. It was 2006, I was 27 years old, and Cologne Cathedral was the greatest building I had ever seen in my life.

A lot has happened since then though. I've visited 67 other of the greatest structures mankind has ever made. Significantly, I've visited various other Gothic cathedrals, contemporaries of Cologne's. How would it now seem? Now I had more to compare it against, would Cologne Cathedral suddenly have become more ordinary? When doing my research, some of these other cathedrals – Chartres Cathedral notably – regularly came a lot higher up in the lists. Cologne Cathedral often didn't appear at all. What was up?

Fortunately, I was in good company. With me, fresh from our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle and quick trip to Ulm Minster, was Piltup. Piltup is a man who is very keen on his Gothic cathedrals and has seen plenty. It was his first time in Cologne. He'd heard my hype but he wouldn't be easily so overawed. He'd make his own mind up, and would give a very useful, more balanced view of matters. In other words, unlike me, he didn't have an existing inbuilt bias.

I'm happy to say that he ended up just as enthusiastic as I am.

Enough of this love-in for Cologne Cathedral, let's find out a little about how and why it's here in the first place. On August 15th 1248, the foundation stone was set, but that was just Day 1 of the physical construction. The origins of the cathedral go back a lot further. Cologne was a Roman city. It had first been settled almost a century earlier, but after a few decades of sniffing around, in 50 AD the Romans came in and founded a new colony. They called it Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, or "Claudius' Colony near the Altar of the Agrippinians" (Claudius was the Roman emperor of the time, and the Agrippinians was the new name of the local people, named after Claudius's wife, Agrippina Minor, who had been born there 35 years earlier). It's not entirely certain, but the site the cathedral is on today was used in some form, perhaps as a temple, perhaps as an atrium, perhaps a bit of both. Evidence remains - visiting the treasury immediately underneath the cathedral floor, part of an old Roman wall are incorporated into the medieval crypts. A reconstructed Roman gate also stands in the square in front of the facade.

Christianity came to the Roman Empire from 313 AD and at some point, although it's still far from certain, Cologne's atrium or temple or whatever was razed to make way for a baptistery. By the second half of the 6th Century – and we're now moving onto more certain territory – a cathedral was in place. Cathedrals back then were rarely set and finished structures, and it was modified over and over, a mishmash of extensions, until around 800 AD, when the whole thing was torn down to make way for a new, better, grander cathedral. Over 100 metres long, it was an impressive landmark for its day. A mosaic on the floor of the current cathedral gives us an idea of what it may have looked like.

But tastes were changing. By the 12th Century, a revolution was sweeping across northern Europe and especially France, but not one involving lots of guillotines and aristocracy, this one involved construction on a previously unthinkable scale, to completely alter the look of towns and cities. With a few architectural breakthroughs, a new style of church appeared, a grander, more spacious, lighter style of church, covered in sculpture, filled with gigantic sheets of stained-glass. It was a giant leap of sophistication. We call this now, of course, Gothic architecture (the terms was coined centuries later, they probably just called it "building big stuff" back then). In 1247, Cologne decided to get in on the action. The Archbishop of Cologne, Konrad von Hochstaden, decided to demolish the existing cathedral and build a Gothic one. And not just any old Gothic cathedral, he wanted a beast, a great and suitable home to show off the cathedral's star attraction – the relics of the Three Kings.

You might recall the Three Kings from the Bible. Jesus was born and they popped in with some gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh – nappies and a babygro might have been more practical, but that's not how kings rolled back then. Despite many myths and traditions, we have no idea who these kings or wise men really were (we don't even know how many there were - three is merely assumed by the number of gifts given) and their fates after their historic visit is unknown. If one strand of hearsay is to be believed, they died (peacefully) at the exact same time and were buried in the same tomb in Palestine. A few hundred years later, St Helena (the mother of Emperor Constantine) discovered their remains and brought them to Constantinople. After various adventures, they eventually ended up in Cologne in 1164, a gift to the Archbishop of Cologne by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. By now, these were Grade A relics, the kind of relics that brought in loads of pilgrims, and in medieval Europe, pilgrims meant donations. In modern terms, it would be like Prince Charles gifting the corpses of One Direction to, say, the city of Manchester, who would them on public display - well, wouldn't you pay good money for that? To house the Three Kings' bones, in around 1200 a no-expense-spared reliquary was designed. Over two metres long, shaped like a basilica, opulently decorated, covered in gold and silver and gems, it was – and still is - the largest reliquary in existence.

These three sets of bones in a box really are the reason Cologne Cathedral stands today. Without them, the energy, impetus, and most importantly money would never have been around to build a cathedral of record-breaking proportions. The reliquary is still in the cathedral today. It sits near the back of the cathedral, behind the high altar, a huge, golden, exquisitely designed box. In the afternoon of our only full day in Cologne, Piltup and I joined the English language tour of the cathedral. I'm often wary of guided tours, especially group ones – ours had around twenty people – but the Cologne Cathedral one was excellent. The guide was fluent (if he was German, he must have lived in an English-speaking country for many years) and kept the explanations and descriptions clear and thorough. The tour allowed access into the back of the choir area, normally not possible for the general public, and close up scrutiny of the reliquary. It's quite something.

The relics of the Three Kings were a prime draw but it wasn't the only one. Our guide pointed out a thousand-year-old crucifix, made from oak that has been dated to 970 AD. It doesn't seem to have the bones of saints hidden within, or be possessed in any kind of heavenly way, but it was the star attraction of the old cathedral, before being usurped by the Three Kings.

All this meant that Cologne was highly rated in the medieval pilgrim equivalent of the Lonely Planet. For Konrad von Hochstaden, looking at the old, battered pre-Gothic cathedral, and likely having visited some of the amazing Gothic cathedrals in construction elsewhere, it would have been an easy decision The money was pouring in; he needed to capitalise. Just as a football team under under new, wealthy ownership might replace their shabby stadium with a flash, purpose-built one, Cologne was ready for a new cathedral.

An architect called Gerhard probably came up with the designs. Who was he? We barely know. An architect then was regarded as just another job, like a butcher or a blacksmith, and little more is known of Gerhard beyond his name. Nobody then was thinking that, centuries later, we might be interested in hearing a little about the man who designed the thing. We may assume he'd visited the other cathedrals in construction, maybe even worked on them too, and likely had built something before. It would be a lie to say that Gerhard was hugely innovative, but he wasn't supposed to be. Cologne Cathedral wasn't intended to be innovative. It was just intended to be bigger, to be grander, using the modern but increasingly established Gothic techniques. In that sense, you might compare Cologne Cathedral to the Great Pyramid. It wasn't the first giant pyramid, but was the biggest.

Construction started well, if not exactly quickly. While we expect buildings to appear in a matter of years today, in medieval times cathedrals were long-term projects, expected to span generations. A couple of chapels were completed in the first fifty years, and by the second half of the 14th Century – a mere 150 years later! - the nave had been roofed and the cathedral was ready for full-scale services. The following century saw work on the south tower begin, bells being hung, lots of stained-glass windows installed, and most of the cathedral interior was fit for purpose. It wouldn't have looked too different from the interior we see today.

But then, finally, the money and the enthusiasm ran out. In 1560, a mere three hundred years after work had begun, it stopped.

For centuries after, Cologne boasted the biggest stump of a cathedral in the world. The good news was that it was fully functioning and did almost everything required from a cathedral: worship, community events, a city meeting place. The bad news was that it looked like a building site. It was crowned by a wooden crane, a huge wheel-operated thing that had once lifted stones to the roof but now sat dormant. It became the city's landmark for generation upon generation. By the 18th Century, the cathedral was beginning to fall apart. Some restoration work was done, but it took active vandalism to spur the city into life. During the French Revolution, Revolutionary troops occupied Cologne and trashed the cathedral. Not being terribly keen on religion, they wrecked the interior furnishings and would probably have done worse if the cathedral wasn't so big and damn difficult to destroy. Instead, they used it as a hay store – a common fate for cathedrals in that era.

But once the dust had settled, the hay was moved out, and order had been restored, the people of Cologne took a good look at their huge cathedral torso. They realised both what could have been lost, and what could still be. In 1833, the first cathedral architect for centuries was appointed, a man called E. F. (Ernst Friedrich) Zwirner. He drew up plans for the completion, and was aided by a voice from the past. Back in 1300, the-then architect, Johannes (son of Gerhard's successor, Arnold – no, none of these men appear to have had surnames) had drawn up the plans for the cathedral's grand facade. The plans had been assumed lost, but they turned up in sections in the attic of a guesthouse and in a Paris antique shop, in total comprising sheets of parchment four metres long.

It was exquisite luck. They may look a little messy here, but they were packed with detail and became the model for the cathedral's completion. In 1880, 632 years after work had begun, Cologne Cathedral was complete, as per the original medieval Gothic plans.


Piltup was very satisfied with the conclusion to this tale. “It makes the difference,” he said, “between the cathedral being a part neo-Gothic structure done to 19th Century tastes, and being the original medieval cathedral that just happens to have been finished a little late.” I couldn't agree more. Cologne Cathedral is an authentic medieval cathedral, and that's despite it only being finished well into the age of photography.

And what a relief for Cologne. After six centuries, the pride and joy of the city was finally finished. Then, just six decades later, the gates of hell opened.

World War 2 was not kind to Cologne – the proliferation of 1960s buildings to a far-older street plan pay testament to that. It was one of the top three bombed German cities, and a principal bombing target of the Allies. The cathedral is right next to the central train station and near the Hohenzollern Bridge. Seemingly it was doomed. There were 262 separate air raids dropping 35,000 tons of bombs, destroying virtually the entire city centre, and about 40% of all buildings in Cologne. Yet the Cathedral stood. One US soldier, upon entering the city and seeing the devastation is quoted as saying, "It's a mystery to me how the cathedral towers could have survived that without collapsing." How, how the hell, did the biggest building in all of Cologne, at the very heart of it, survive – almost unscathed?

Well, it didn't - it was still badly damaged, but just not nearly as destroyed as its surroundings. The Allies sometimes get the credit, with it being suggested that they deliberately avoided targeting the cathedral. But this is a legend – there is no way that their bombs dropped from ten thousand feet or more could have been carefully placed everywhere but the cathedral. The cathedral vicar of the day, a man called Max Loosen, deserves much credit. In 1936, he could see the war coming and had every item in the treasury measured and prepared for storage. Crates were brought in. When war broke out, it was a simple matter of packing them away in a matter of hours. Where were they stored? In the cathedral itself. It was the safest place. The massive stone vaults beneath the cathedral are virtually indestructible and a secure room was found to store everything. Over three hundred crates of stained-glass windows joined them a few year later. They'd been somewhere considered even safer, the archbishop's palace, until it was destroyed in 1943 and the crates sent back, unharmed, to the cathedral vaults.

The structure of the cathedral helped too – bombs literally bounced off the sloping roofs to safety (well, unless you happened to be standing next to the cathedral). Still, much damage was done. On 29 June 1943, there was a huge air raid, killing 4300 people, making 230,000 homeless. Cologne was in pieces. The cathedral too was devastated. Some of the roof collapsed, destroying the 16th Century pipe organ. All remaining windows were smashed. Rubble filled the interior. For the first time since the war had begun, the cathedral had to be closed for worship.

But still it stood. In a way, despite being around for centuries, this was when the cathedral came into its own. Throughout the war, the cathedral had been a symbol of hope. Being in the French Gothic style, and therefore not German, it had never been a Nazi symbol. Instead, it was a visible symbol of survival within the ruins of the city. As soon as the war was over, the repairs begun.

As you can see, the repairs are ongoing, although not war-related of course. On something this old, this ornate and this big, maintenance is a neverending issue. Our guide explained it cost €7 million a year to maintain, with ninety people employed in the workshop. Within the cathedral grounds, you can see the parts that have been removed and set aside for restoration.

I'd timed my visit for a Sunday, so aside from the afternoon tour, I attended High Mass in the morning (I like to witness a Wonder at its original purpose when possible). Piltup opted not to attend - he said he'd rather do anything else - meaning I was going it alone. All other church services I've gone to on this Wonder quest so far have been accompanied, usually with Danielle who is Catholic and therefore knows what to do. This time I would just have to take my cues from those around me.

High Mass in Cologne Cathedral was very well attended and virtually the entire cathedral was filled. People were standing. There was a choir, numerous bishops (or archbishops, cardinals, priests, vicars, deacons, I can't tell the difference) and their entourage, and the occasion had the feel of calm grandeur befitting the cathedral. A middle-aged man and his wife sat next to me, very well dressed, upright, clearly there for genuine worship. What a fraud I felt. Although I was able to sit and stand at the right times, the man quickly sussed me out as a heathen. I didn't join in with the kneeling down for prayer and, to my despair, absolutely everybody else around seemed to do so – usually I can take heart in the solidarity of other tourists. I was able to find the correct hymn number in the songbook but the man must have wondered why I bothered, as being in German I didn't dare attempt sing along (in fairness, out of respect to the wider world, I wouldn't have done so in English either). He of course sang loudly. I could sense – and I stress that this is entirely my own paranoid interpretation – the upright gentleman's disapproval. Finally came the part I dread most about Mass, the part where you need to turn to your neighbours, shake their hand, and say “Peace be with you.” Why does Catholicism need to be interactive, I thought to myself. Going to a Protestant church is so much easier – you can just sit there and look thoughtful. The gentleman duly shook my hand, with some surprise it seemed, and wished peace upon me (well, I'm assuming that's what he said) and the moment passed smoothly enough. But by the time Communion came round (it seemed to take an age, High Mass is not a brisk affair), I'd had enough. I waited till the man and his wife had popped off to get their wafer and wine and I slipped out. I think I'm done with religious service.

After some beers to recover and the guided tour, Piltup and I went up the south tower. It was one of the more disappointing towers I've been up, especially given the magnificence of the cathedral. Largely, it's a climb up a tight, endless, spiral stairway, passing the occasional panting fat person in the midst of deep regret. An entertaining intermission to visit a bell – even more entertaining when it began chiming all of a sudden, making a pair of children jump – was the only highlight.

That's not quite true. After the tight spiral stairway, we appeared on the inside of the base of the south tower. An iron structure allowed us to climb further, and this included the appealing novelty of going directly via the vaulted ceiling.

But otherwise the climb isn't anywhere near as compelling as the likes of St Paul's and Florence Cathedral, which incorporate a visit to the inside and outside of their domes, or the Notre-Dame which takes you from one tower to the other, passing by the huge rose window in the middle. Even the tower top was a disappointment – it was cramped, covered in protective wire, and the stonework made it difficult to get the best views. Lest it seems like I'm complaining, it was still a great view, and a great opportunity to see the higher parts of the cathedral up close, but the experience wasn't as visceral as the likes of Chartes Cathedral's tower climb, which was exposed, had little in the way of protection, and was pretty damn terrifying in an exhilarating kind of way.

Gratifyingly, despite Cologne having some of Germany's taller buildings (Frankfurt dominates this category with the entire top ten, but Cologne has four of the top thirty) the cathedral remains the tallest building of the city. The cathedral has been a World Heritage Site since 1995 but in 2004 UNESCO put it on their “In Danger” list for a couple of years due to plans for a nearby high rise. That seems to have done the trick – good old UNESCO – and authorities abandoned the plans. Still, it didn't stop them building this monstrosity.

That's "Colonius" (named, I believe, after the human colon) and it's 266 metres tall, built in 1981, and less than two miles from Cologne Cathedral. By the spurious definition of what is a building and what is not, it's technically not a building and so it seems to have been allowed to soar higher than the cathedral. It's a telecommunications tower and used to be open to the public, but has been closed since the 1990s. What an eyesore. I may have forgiven it a little if I could have climbed up, because it would have least given good views of the cathedral. It would look a little something like this.

To be honest, High Masses, tours, tower climbs, treasury visits, all are unnecessary for the appreciation of Cologne Cathedral. To enjoy the cathedral, all you really need to do is hang around and look it. From the front, from the sides, from the back, it doesn't matter. It truly is a magnificent thing to look at – it looks like someone has taken a pump to a regular cathedral and inflated it.

When it was completed in 1880, it was officially the tallest building and structure in the world. The Washington Monument took the "structure" title four years later, and in 1890 it was jostled from the "tallest building" title by a neighbour, Ulm Minster, taller by four metres. Piltup and I visited Ulm Minster on the way to Cologne, and it's a delightful thing. But though technically taller, it just doesn't compare. Ulm Minster looks like a tall church, Cologne Cathedral looks several dimensions larger, almost incomprehensibly vast, an incredible presence within the city.

The size and grandeur carry it a long way, but the overwhelming amount of sculpture and detail take it all to another level. There's too much to take in.

An added appeal is the cathedral's darkness. This is not a bright, gleaming limestone edifice, it is a brooding, dark pile of stone, covered in decades and centuries of living in a working, industrial city, one that has seen its fair share of wars. In my preview, Piltup - who hadn't visited the cathedral at the time - expressed some reservations about this, stating: “As for the blackened stone, I'm not sure if I like it (bearing in mind that I haven't seen it for real). Generally I have nothing against a bit of wear and tear on ancient monuments, it's part of their history and what they've been through. But a lot of this is simply dirt (from factory chimneys, and more recently from cars). Every time that I have seen a familiar building cleared of its decades of dirt and see it finally the colour it was meant to be seen originally, I have always found it to be an improvement.”

It was an eloquent and well-reasoned viewpoint. And it was one that Piltup quickly shed upon seeing the cathedral in person. Cologne Cathedral suits being dark. It adds, Piltup mused, extra definition to the stonework. It also makes this vast, Gothic, overwhelming cathedral less "nice". This is a cathedral that can survive wars. This is a cathedral that can dominate a city of a million people - is there any other cathedral out there that visually dominates such a large population? It doesn't need a wash.

Let's have the criteria.

Size: 157 metres high, 144 metres long - but so much bigger than that. The facade is truly awesome to behold, a sheer wall of Gothic.
Technical excellence: As with any medieval cathedral, an immense achievement that stretched the limits of mankind's technical know-how of the time. Arguably, Cologne Cathedral being finished in the 19th Century takes a little of the technical shine off, but to be honest, something like this is an achievement regardless of the era (just look at the Sagrada Familia, still in construction today).
Artistry: Exquisite in the details, awe-inspiring in the overall vision. Cologne Cathedral is imposing and refined, and is a spectacle from a distance and an endless treat of details up close.
Age: It started in an era when Mongol hordes on horseback had swept across Asia and were knocking on the door of Europe, and was completed in age of stream trains (just ten years after the cathedral was finished, the Trans-Siberian railway started work, making the journey across the steppes considerably more convenient for any aggressive Mongols). Cologne Cathedral has been around for a while is what I'm saying, spanning from medieval times to Victorian in construction.
Fame: Oddly, it's far less known than would seem deserved. Other cathedrals, Gothic or not, get more attention. The number one cathedral in my eyes is not the number one in the world's.
Importance: To Cologne, immense. The city would be empty, bereft without its cathedral, perhaps moreso than any other city. In the wider sense, it doesn't have quite the historical or architecture significance of churches and cathedral such as Chartres Cathedral, St Peter's, or the Notre-Dame.
Distinctiveness: "Just another cathedral"? What an undersell. If you visit Cologne Cathedral, you won't forget it. It really does stand out from the rest. But look through a picture book of monuments and you'd be forgiven for not marking it as a highlight.
Back Story & Mystery: Its origin stories are classic cathedral - build a huge church to house some relics and pull in some pilgrims. But it's one that then takes six centuries and involves the fortuitous discovery of some presumed-lost plans, before being completed just in time to survive a World War (two, really, but the second was the big one). It's more of a slow-burn tale that takes a little digging to uncover - this doesn't have the sort of defining story that accompanies, for example, the likes of Neuschwanstein Castle and its mad king.
Photogenicity: No photos do the cathedral justice. It's so much more impressive in person.
Wow Factor: Pure wow, right up there with the very best I've seen, ever.

Clearly, Cologne Cathedral is a big hitter. And it's one that you need to visit - it's a lot more powerful in person than it is in pictures. There's only one thing that really lets Cologne Cathedral down: it's a cathedral. It's not original. There are a lot of cathedrals around and this makes each individual one a little less special as a result. Cologne Cathedral may well be the biggest and the best, but its the biggest and the best of a very long list of architecturally similar structures. It is less distinctive as a result. If it was the only cathedral in existence then... well... But it's not.

I made the comparison to the Great Pyramid earlier, itself the largest but neither the first of its kind nor hugely different to the others. But a key difference is that the Great Pyramid doesn't stand alone, it stands as part of a trio, with the Pyramid of Khafre being almost its equal. The enigmatic Sphinx guards them. That would be like Cologne Cathedral being sat next to, say, Amiens Cathedral, with a smaller church making up the trio. A statue of Jesus - why not have Rio's Cristo Redentor? - would the ecclesiastical version of the Sphinx. Clearly this is ridiculous, but it would also be quite a sight. It's also the difference between two entirely different structures that both happen to be unoriginal but best of their kind. These are fine points, but this high up the Wonder league table the fine points can make all the difference. Yet, when the worst I can say about somewhere is that it's not quite as good as the Great Pyramid, you know we're onto something. And I'm talking a top Seven something. Cologne Cathedral has never failed to take my breath away, and it easily holds its own among the very best the world has to offer, squeezing into the number 7 position. Who knows if any of the remaining 38 Wonders can change this - Petra would seem a strong contender - but right now Cologne Cathedral is one of my Wonders of the World.

The Seven Wonders of the World So Far

1. Taj Mahal
2. Great Wall of China
3. Machu Picchu
4. Easter Island
5. Teotihuacan
6. Tikal
7. Cologne Cathedral
Other Wonders
Mont Saint-Michel
The Colosseum
The Eiffel Tower
Millau Viaduct
Angkor Wat
Hagia Sophia 
Chichen Itza
Sagrada Familia
Sydney Opera House
Neuschwanstein Castle
Golden Gate Bridge
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Gateway Arch

Empire State Building
St Peter's Basilica
Chartres Cathedral
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The Alhambra
St Paul's Cathedral
Notre-Dame de Paris
Statue of Liberty
Florence Cathedral
The Parthenon
Cristo Redentor
The Palace of Versailles
The Blue Mosque
Petronas Towers
Mount Rushmore

Notable Landmarks (or National Wonders)
The Golden Temple
Amiens Cathedral
Edinburgh Castle
Shwedagon Pagoda
Pont du Gard
Forbidden City
Hoover Dam
Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha
Avignon Papal Palace
Tower Bridge  
Thiepval Memorial
CN Tower
Banaue Rice Terraces
Leshan Giant Buddha 
Verona Arena
Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Interesting Places
The Sacre-Coeur
Terracotta Army
Marina Bay Sands
Ayutthaya Historic Park

Nazca Lines
Agra Fort
City of Arts and Sciences
Lotus Temple
Three Gorges Dam

Does Not Qualify/Exempt
Walt Disney World/Magic Kingdom


  1. The last of the French wonders departs from the top 7. Much disappointment from the French, I'm sure.

  2. I was expecting Cologne Cathedral to score highly but am very pleased to see that it has got into the top seven. I don't really have much to say as you have said it all above. Just one thing, I notice that you haven't put up the photo of you next to the 1:1 scale replica of one of the pinnacles that was in the square below. So for those who want to get a perspective of how huge this cathedral is, each pinnacle (which can just about be seen in the photos above as tiny little cross shaped things at the top of each spire) is about three times the height of a human being.

    1. Oh, I completely forgot about that. The photo - I just checked - came out a bit blurry, unfortunately, which is probably why I overlooked it. I'd add to it this comment if these comments allowed photos, which they don't appear to. You're right, it does help get across just how massive the cathedral is. Which is very massive indeed.

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