The landmarks we love are available for us to visit any time and we may take that for granted. But we’ve been reminded of just how fragile they can be, even when they are built to last for centuries. The world watched watched helpless in 2019 as fire engulfed Notre Dame in Paris. The heavy steeple crumbled, and the roof made of venerable timber fell victim to the flames. A firefighter later wrote that as he battled the fire with tears in his eyes — from emotion as well as smoke — he knew that the famous twin towers were less than an hour from falling. The danger is over for now, the fire is out, and the cathedral is damaged but not destroyed. And now it will be repaired. But this Paris landmark will never be the same.
This prompted me to think about some of my favorite landmarks. Some are well known and some may not be as familiar. I’ve enjoyed visiting all of them. These landmarks allow us to glimpse history, to stand where so many have stood, to remember generations of people who’ve gone before. And I hope these will remain in our world for generations to come.
In honor of Notre Dame, I’ll start with another cathedral. Westminster Abbey is the church of royalty. The present abbey dates from 1245, though a church has been on the property since 1066. The coronation of every English monarch has taken place here since the founding of the church. The last was Queen Elizabeth’s in 1953.
No photos are allowed inside, but here’s a glimpse of the outside. The detail of the architecture is astounding.
The Lincoln Memorial
Not only is this a memorial anchoring one end of the Washington DC Mall, but it is also the scene of historic events. Martin Luther King stood on the steps and gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Inspired by ancient Greek Temples, the design features 36 columns to represent the states in the US at the time of Lincoln’s death. As you draw closer, you will glimpse the great man seated in his chair. He sits looking out on the Mall of the government he worked so hard to preserve during the Civil War.
The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate towers above the center of Berlin. When you think of this city, this is likely the image that comes to mind. It dates from 1791 and was modeled on the Acropolis in Athens. In recent history, the gate was damaged during World War II, then caught in no man’s land when the Berlin Wall went up. The wall was literally a few feet behind the gate, blocking passage. For years the historic gate stood visible but abandoned. Now it’s repaired and open once again to the public.
The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge is a landmark that carries a history involving flood after flood, battles, beheadings, and statues of saints. It is the oldest bridge across the Vltava River in Prague and was once the only connection between the Old Town on one side of the river with the Castle on the other side. This gave the bridge great significance for centuries. Today it is a prime place to visit in Prague.
Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna
This UNESCO palace was for many years home to Austria’s Imperial family. Generations lived here, including Emperor Franz Joseph and his beloved wife, Empress “Sisi.” Visitors to this palace included young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Napoleon Bonaparte. Marie Antoinette of Versailles fame spent her childhood here. The formal gardens of the palace and the extensive grounds can keep you busy exploring for an entire day.We had the privilege of attending a concert in the evening in the Great Gallery, where Mozart gave a concert when he was only six years old. The chandeliers contain more than 1,000 bulbs, but the main attraction here is the ceiling that’s painted with scenes of Austria’s glorious history.
The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was given by the people of France to the United States. She has become a universal symbol of freedom. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. My great-grandparents came to the U.S. from Germany in the late 1800s and would have seen this landmark as they sailed into New York Harbor to begin a new life.
The Roman Colosseum
The Colosseum, a world landmark, sits in the middle of Rome, visited by masses of people year round. Construction started in AD 70 and finished about 20 years later. Today, this grand structure is officially a ruin. Stones, bronze, and bricks were “borrowed” through the years, leaving the Colosseum without some of the top level. The roof over the gladiator dressing area is long gone. The ruined nature of the Colosseum does nothing to discourage visitors but only adds to the romance and intrigue.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge opened in May, 1937 after taking 4 years to build. The roadway deck is held up by metal cables suspended from curving main cables draped over the two red metal pillars that give the bridge its recognizable outline. It has two towers weighing approximately 44,000 tons. I’ve stood on the bridge many times, and I feel it’s secure, but its construction is a marvel that makes some people nervous. I never miss a chance to enjoy this landmark when I’m in San Francisco.
The Menin Gate in Belgium
Belgium suffered invasion during both World War I and World War II. One landmark stands out from my visits to this lovely country. The Menin Gate, at the entrance to the town of Ypres, is a war memorial to the British troops who died near here in WWI. The names lining the walls are those soldiers who remain lost in the fields. Bodies are still being found when the fields are plowed or construction begins. If a body is identified, the soldier is given a proper burial in a cemetery, and the name is then removed from this wall of the missing.
The Last Post ceremony takes place every evening at 8:00 p.m. at the Menin Gate. The tradition started in 1928 and has continued every evening except when the Germans occupied Ypres in WWII. Buglers from the Fire Brigade play and families carry flags to honor the dead. The ceremony is short but moving. This large crowd remained in total, respectful silence. The Menin Gate reminds us a century after the end of the War to End All Wars that we still struggle to find peace.
The Eiffel Tower
This landmark represents Paris, along with Notre Dame, and is immediately recognizable all over the world. I’ve enjoyed exploring the Eiffel Tower from the two levels you can reach by elevator or stairs.
The design is complicated and intricate, far more than it appears from a distance. The metal is held together with more than 2 million rivets. These metal pieces, each so small, work together to hold up the massive structure. And it’s been standing since 1889.
Stories from World War II claim that explosives were set around the Eiffel Tower and that Adolf Hitler ordered it to be blown up. Whether or not that’s true (we will probably never know), the Iron Lady is a landmark seen from all over central Paris. Here’s to many more years of this iconic tower standing tall.
How about you? Have a visited a landmark that stands out in your mind? Is there someplace you hope to visit?