for the skies
The Great Pyramid,
one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, remained the world’s
tallest monument for several millennia. But in the late 19th century,
Mankind once again began to reach for the sky – sometimes
with imagination and symbolism, sometimes purely because it could,
and wanted to show as much.
the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one remains: the
Great Pyramid. Apart from great, it is specifically high. In fact,
it was only with the spire of Lincoln Cathedral in ca. 1300 AD
that Mankind was able to surpass its height. Reaching a height
of 525 feet, the cathedral’s central spire was destroyed
in a storm in 1549. Before, the St Lievens Tower in the Dutch
town of Zierikzee was meant to be constructed to a height of over
600 feet, but despite this concept’s support from the Vatican,
the tower was never realised. So when the spire of Lincoln Cathedral
collapsed, St. Olav's Church, in Tallinn, Estonia became the world’s
tallest structure, only minimally smaller than the construction
it replaced, at 522 feet. That too, however, was hit by lightning,
in 1625, making the Great Pyramid once again the tallest structure
on Earth. It was only in 1876, when the Notre Dame Cathedral in
Rouen was finally completed, rising to a height of 495 feet, that
the Great Pyramid lost its pole position. But the cathedral’s
fame was short-lived; in 1880, the Cologne Cathedral reached 515
feet in height.
original height of the Great Pyramid was 481 feet. Though part
of the Seven Wonders, it was not the largest wonder, as it was
smaller than the Pharos Lighthouse, whose precise height has been
the subject of intense and sometimes vitriolic debate. It is said
that its light could be seen from a distance of 32.5 nautical
miles, leading one to conclude that its height must have been
ca. 650 feet, though estimates range from 383 to 755 feet. Most
are only willing to give it a height between 383 and 450 feet,
which would thus make it smaller than the Great Pyramid. However,
once again, it is modern man doubting the accomplishments of our
forefathers, who were quite precise about how high this lighthouse
rose: much higher than 450 feet.
Though since destroyed, the bottom of the first square of the
lighthouse is now the castle that sits in the harbour of Alexandria,
providing a popular tourist attraction, if only to escape the
soaring heat of the city and gaze over the blue waters of the
Mediterranean Sea. According to Strabo, it was made out of marble
and granite and was 100 feet square at the base, almost double
the size when compared to the 55 feet square on which sits The
Washington Monument is an extremely large obelisk – and
often seen as part of the “Masonic landscape” of Washington,
D.C. It measures 555.5 feet in height and is the world’s
tallest masonry structure unsupported by steel. It too is made
out of marble and granite, like the Pharos lighthouse.
The original intended site for this obelisk was the Jefferson
Pier, a few hundred feet west of its present location. It would
have designated the precise intersection of the city’s east-west
and north-south axes, in line with the White House, and would
have been a veritable “obelisk topped with benben stone”
in the very heart of the capital. But the idea had to be abandoned
on practical grounds: the designated ground was too marshy –
resulting in the true east-west axis being thrown off by one degree
to the south.
The Great Pyramid was said to have been built in twenty years;
the Washington Monument took much longer. As early as 1783, Congress
approved the erection of a statue in honour of George Washington,
though it was proposed that this would be a more traditional equestrian
statue. Lack of funds resulted in new ideas, as well as delaying
the laying of the first stone of the Monument, which occurred
on July 4, 1848. The Civil War and other problems caused further
delays, until it was finally completed in 1888. That year, the
Monument became the tallest structure in the world, taking over
from the Cologne Cathedral; it held on to its position until the
Eiffel Tower was completed a decade later.
delays to the Washington Monument meant that New York’s
Statue of Liberty, officially known as “Liberty Enlightening
the World”, stole much of the Monument’s limelight.
“Liberty” was a colossal statue given to the United
States by France in 1886 – two years before the completion
of the Monument. The sculptor was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi,
but it was Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel
Tower, who engineered the internal structure.
The statue is 151 feet tall, with the foundation adding another
154 feet, giving a total height of 305 feet. Not massive, but
impressive enough and one of the most recognizable icons of the
United States. It means that Eiffel engineered both the most signature
sights of both New York and Paris.
But what is less known, is that the Statue was inspired by the
Colossus of Rhodes, a wonder of the ancient world, which is said
to have stood 100 feet tall, being the tallest statue of the ancient
world. It never did span the harbour entrance, as some popular
accounts would have it, but it did spark the imagination.
The Collosus stood for only fifty-six years, until Rhodes was
hit by an earthquake in 226 BC. The statue snapped at the knees
and fell over. The remains lay on the ground for over 800 years,
and even broken, they were so impressive that many travelled to
see them. Pliny the Elder remarked that few people could wrap
their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers
was larger than most statues. In 654 AD, the remains were sold
to a travelling salesman from Edessa, who had the statue broken
down and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels
to his home. Pieces continued to turn up for sale for years, after
being found along the caravan route.
Since 1970, there has been some debate as to whether to rebuild
the Colossus. Those in favour say it would boost tourism in Rhodes,
but those against say the cost of over 100 million euros makes
the project simply too expensive.
too has its Monument. 311 spiral steps take you 202 feet up above
the London skyline – or at least, it did, before The City
became home to several modern skyscrapers.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren with assistance from Robert Hooke,
and erected between 1671 and 1677, it was built to mark the Great
Fire of London of 1666. The column was topped by a flaming urn
of copper, to symbolise the Fire. The Monument is the tallest
freestanding stone column in the world.
The significance of its 202 feet height is that it is also the
distance to the bakery on Pudding Lane that was the suspected
source of the fire that destroyed the city. The Latin inscription
on the north panel of the pedestal translates as "In the
year of Christ 1666, on September 2, at a distance eastward from
this place of 202 ft, which is the height of this column, a fire
broke out in the dead of night which, the wind blowing, devoured
even distant buildings, and rushed devastating through every quarter
with astonishing swiftness and noise ... On the third day ...
at the bidding, we may well believe, of heaven, the fire stayed
its course and everywhere died out."
Wren and Hooke built the Monument so that it could double as a
scientific instrument. It has a central shaft meant for use as
a zenith telescope and for use in gravity and pendulum experiments
that connects to an underground laboratory for observers to work
in. A hinged lid in the urn covers the opening to the shaft. The
steps in the shaft of the tower are all apparently exactly 6 inches
high, allowing them to be used for accurate barometric pressure
studies. However, modern Health and Safety Regulations have required
the installation of a platform near the top of the structure,
which thus makes such observations impossible – though,
of course, astronomers would argue they have now far superior
means available – and hence no-one is complaining that tourism
takes precedent over science.
of these modern monuments has something that the Great Pyramid
had not: men could climb inside the structure to the very top
and look out across the city. In the absence of such a feature,
tourists used the fact that the pyramid’s casing had been
dismantled as a blessing, as they could thus climb to the top
of the structure – before, recently, the guards were more
forcefully instructed to no longer allow such climbs.
Tourism, too, was of primary concern for the Eiffel Tower, which
rises to a majestic 1063 feet, easily beating all other monuments
in height – and many would say imagination.
The Tower was the winner chosen out of several entries submitted
for the Universal Exposition of 1889. Bourdais and Sébillot
submitted plans for an all-granite, 986 foot “Tour Soleil”
– a “Solar Tower”. It called for a powerful
electric light at its summit: a system of parabolic mirrors that
would reflect light so efficiently from the tower at its proposal
site on the Esplanade des Invalides to all parts of Paris that
even the most remote quarters of the city would receive, as the
engineers confidently put it, “eight times as much light
as is necessary to read a newspaper”. Night would be banished
from the City of Light.
As attractive – or scary – as that design was, in
the end, Eiffel’s design won the contest. It is believed
that he got his idea from the San Jose Electric Light Tower, constructed
in 1881. It is known that a French delegation visited San Jose.
The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance
arch for the Exposition Universelle, there to showcase French
innovations. Eiffel originally planned to build it in Barcelona,
for the Universal Exposition of 1888, but they rejected the concept.
Like the “Tour Soleil”, the Eiffel tower was planning
to play with electric light, the new craze of the late 19th century.
On the small balcony running around the platform, tracks were
laid to carry two high-powered spotlights with a range of seven
miles, which could be wheeled around to illuminate different monuments
in the city for the pleasure of those on the tower. At the tower’s
summit, there was also a beacon that had a range of nearly 120
miles and could be seen by observers from the spires of the cathedrals
of Chartres and Orleans. In case of war, it also would be possible
to watch out for the movements of an enemy within a radius of
the modern skyscrapers of Tour Montparnasse or the Tour AXA, each
attaining heights over 675 feet, the Eiffel Tower continues to
be the tallest structure in Paris, welcoming more than five million
visitors per year, and more than 200 million visitors since its
construction; it is the world’s most visited monument. Its
imaginative design is largely to thank for this and that was partly
due to the fact that the tower had to withstand nature’s
elements, specifically wind, and equally that it had to be easily
disassembled; the original licence was only for a period of 20
years, and it was envisioned that when the terrain was handed
back to the City of Paris, the tower would be broken down. Its
popularity changed all that – plus the obvious source of
income the tower brought to the municipal money pot.
Its unique design inspired many copies, including the CN Tower,
located in Toronto, Canada, completed in 1976. The CN Tower is
considered to be the signature building of the city. Reaching
1,815 ft, it is considered to be the world’s tallest tower,
but it is but one of several precise or not so precise replicas
of the Eiffel Tower, which can be found from Las Vegas via the
English seaside resort of Blackpool to Lyon, France’s second
city, who copied the capital’s signature structure and call
theirs “Tour métallique de Fourvière”
– the metal tower of Fourvière, placing it on the
highest hill of the city, thus hoping that it might somehow compete
with the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t…
century after its scheduled demolition, the tower remains Paris’
most visited tourist attraction. This unforeseen gift of immortality
– or at least a reprieve from execution – was also
granted to Brussels’ Atomium, erected for the International
Exhibition of Brussels in 1958. The original intent was for the
monument to be broken down following the end of the exhibition.
Designed by engineer André Waterkeyn, the Atomium symbolises
a crystallised molecule of iron, magnified 150 thousand million
times. Each of the nine large spheres that are joined by tubes
has a diameter of 18 metres and is made entirely from steel, clad
with aluminium. The structure rises to a height of 335 feet and
stands on three enormous bipods, dominating part of the skyline
of the Belgian capital.
of Liberty, New York
Eiffel tower remained the tallest structure in the world until
the early 1930s, when New York’s Chrysler Building, shortly
followed by the Empire State Building, were completed. The latter
skyscraper was the world's tallest building for more than forty
years, from its completion in 1931 until the construction of the
World Trade Center North Tower in 1972. It is now once again the
tallest building in New York, after the destruction of the World
Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The Empire State Building, though executed in Art Deco style,
marked the start in which tall structures began to move away from
innovative designs to “just” office buildings, columns
of steel reaching upwards to the sky – and in the case of
the World Trade Center, falling down, like the Tower of Babel.
The Empire State Building has been named by the American Society
of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
As of June 2007, it is still the ninth tallest structure in the
world, the number one position held by Taipei 101 in Taipei, reaching
a height of 1671 feet (compared to the Empire State Building’s
1250 feet) and completed in 2004.
there are more than 200 buildings reaching higher than 750 feet,
showing that over the past century, Mankind has reached ever more,
and ever higher, to the sky. Steel and glass have allowed for
imaginative constructions, but few of these modern skyscrapers
have much imagination incorporated into them. The higher the sphere
we reach, the more mundane the design seems to become.
The Great Pyramid has thus become dwarfed by hundreds of taller
structures. But despite no longer being the tallest building,
it is still “great”, it still bedazzles anyone who
leaves the centre of Cairo for the other bank of the Nile upon
which it was constructed so many millennia ago. While reaching
for the sky, some have forgotten that height in itself does not
bedazzle; tall, can sometimes be just… high, but not a wonder.