There is remarkable architectural design all over the world. Whether it’s the sleek, modern cityscape of Tokyo or the towering historical monuments of Paris, being an architecture enthusiast has never been more exciting. It’s easy to miss the hidden gems and clever designs tucked away in various locations and structures. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 10 amazing architectural secrets around the world that you can experience on your next travel adventure.
Related: 10 Incredible Old Buildings That Are Still In Use Today
10 London’s Tower Bridge has hidden cameras
Anyone familiar with British culture will no doubt be familiar with London’s Tower Bridge, one of England’s most distinguished landmarks. Standing over 200 feet (61 meters) tall, this structure is a suspension bridge spanning the River Thames, which can accommodate both road and river traffic. However, what some people may not know is that the bridge holds a secret: the tilting chambers.
Tilt cams were originally built to help move large counterweights during bridge lifts. Mostly off-limits to the public, the chambers are made up of two enormous main rooms, both 99.5 feet (27 meters) tall and located within the bridge’s piers. Construction was not easy, as engineers had to meticulously excavate the foundations below the River Thames and descend into the depths via steel cages. From time to time, the Bascule Chambers are open to the public for special events and tours.
9 There are optical illusions in the Parthenon
Athens, Greece, is home to the Parthenon, an architectural masterpiece built between 447 and 432 B.C. It was meant to replace a previously damaged temple. It is one of the most visited heritage sites in the world, seen by millions of tourists every year. The structure was made with pure white marble and did not use cement or mortar. Greek architect Phidias oversaw the construction of the Parthenon, including things like a statue of Athena, the structure’s famous white columns, and a bit of secret mathematics that created a fascinating optical illusion.
The Parthenon is intentionally designed with geometric irregularities, such as non-equidistant columns that lean inward. These imperfect lines help give the building the impression of perfect geometry and alignment due to how the human eye perceives depth. Designers had to take human perception into account and correct it.
8 Discover a secret crypt under the Washington DC Capitol
The Washington DC Capitol is one of the best-known historical monuments in the United States. First built in 1793, the Capitol was established as an official building to house the United States Congress. Its location in Washington DC was a compromise between the North and the South of the United States. However, what some people may not know is that there is a secret crypt hidden under the Capitol building.
The crypt, originally called the Great Hall, was built for George Washington and his wife, Martha, to serve as their final resting places. However, numerous disagreements and delays within Congress prevented the remains of the Washingtons from being placed in the crypt. The space has a European cathedral design in its substructure, giving it a spooky mausoleum look and atmosphere. To this day, the crypt remains empty, except for statues of notable figures from the founding days of colonial America.
7 New York public libraries have secret apartments
New York City has some of the largest and most impressive libraries in the world. It is the fourth largest library system in the world. More than 11 million books make up the incredible research collection of the New York Public Library. However, there is one thing that visitors to the library may not be aware of: the secret apartments located in the building.
Some 13 hidden apartments remain in the library, a holdover from the time when library custodians and their families lived in them. Due to renovations over the decades, these apartments now stand empty, with most of them being removed. The library currently plans to convert the remaining apartments to program spaces to better accommodate the ever-changing needs of the library. Many of these spaces are decrepit and decaying, and are a reminder of a curious time in the library’s history.
6 Notre Dame’s gargoyles double as water jets
Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the crown jewels of French architecture. Located in Paris, France, this gothic cathedral is world famous and packed with intricate and ornate design elements. The gargoyles on the cathedral are perhaps as famous as the church itself (many people will be familiar with the Disney characters). The Hunchback of Notre Dame and his gargoyle characters). These statues resemble mythical creatures, such as dragons, demons, etc., and are magnificently carved out of stone. But some people may not know that gargoyles act as a secret water drainage system.
Rainwater was a big problem for the cathedral during its early days, as there were no gutters or collection systems in the church. Running water would potentially ruin the building material, causing erosion and cracking. The engineers decided to create gutters within the flying buttresses of the church itself, using the gargoyles to drain the water as part of the drainage network. And best of all, the system blended perfectly with the architecture.
5 One Times Square is almost empty
Times Square in New York City is one of the most famous and most visited places on the planet. It is the heart of Manhattan, home to one of the world’s largest entertainment centers and the iconic Broadway Theater District. Every year on New Year’s Eve, the famous New Year’s ball falls from Times Square’s One Times Square building to ring in the new year. From the outside, One Times Square looks like any other commercial skyscraper, but it’s actually empty on the inside.
One Times Square is some of the most expensive real estate in the world, but it relies almost entirely on advertising space to generate million-dollar revenue. During the 364 days of the year, the interior of the building remains empty and unused. The reason for this is that getting the building up to safety codes is currently a very difficult task, which means it is much easier to keep it vacant.
4 St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City has a secret sundial
Vatican City is more than the holy home of the Pope himself. The official spiritual center of Catholicism serves as the administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as being home to around 800 church members who work directly under the Pope. It is home to iconic wonders such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, etc. Many prospective visitors to the Vatican may not be aware that the city’s famous St. Peter’s Square actually has a hidden sundial designed into it.
The cobblestones of Saint Peter’s Square, made of marble and granite meridian, act as clock markers. In the center of the plaza rests an 82-foot (25-meter) stone obelisk, which functions as the sundial itself, which can tell the time quite accurately from the shadow cast by the sun. This was first created for timekeeping and astronomy purposes in the 18th century.
3 Brighton Pavilion Secret Tunnels
Brighton, England attracts many tourists with its beach, resorts, and historic architecture every year. The city is also home to one of the largest underground tunnel networks in England. These secret tunnels are 147 years old and stretch for vast distances below Brighton. They were first designed in the 1870s for use as complex sewage systems. Brighton experiences occasional heavy rain, so these drainage systems are vital to prevent damage and loss.
The Victorians did not want to deal with cesspools, which would dump the waste directly into their backyards, leading to one of the largest engineering projects in British history. Millions of bricks were meticulously laid and cemented with Brighton Beach sand, which is all the more impressive given that this was long before power tools and hydraulics existed. The tunnels also served as secret passageways for royalty and servants to pass from the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Dome.
2 The Chrysler Building has a hidden spire
Located in Manhattan, New York, the Chrysler Building is one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. It was built in 1930 by architect William Van Alen and is best known for its distinctive Art Deco design. Its architecture is filled with arched doorways, eagle gargoyles, intricate ornamentation, and its signature spire, which is adorned with triangular windows and crown-shaped structures. However, the Chrysler Building has a secret: a spire hidden inside.
During the construction of the building, architects and engineers competed with other designers for the title of the tallest building in the world. But they didn’t want to reveal their final height until the last second. The solution was to build the spire within the crown of the building itself and then lift it up when it was time to show the final height. And while the Chrysler Building ultimately lost the height wars, remnants of that secret spire still exist within the crown to this day.
1 The Capitol Records building sends a secret message in Morse code
Built in 1956, the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, California is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Its futuristic, space-age design stands out clearly against the urban backdrop of Los Angeles. It was originally created as the headquarters of one of the most important record labels in the United States, Capitol Records. This historic building also displays a secret message in Morse code.
The idea for the building to broadcast Morse code messages into the sky was originally the brainchild of former Capitol Records president Alan Livingstone. Leila Morse, daughter of Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse code, had the honor of lighting the Capitol Records skylight when the building opened. In her honor, the light has been emitting this Morse code since her establishment, keeping her namesake legacy alive in the night sky.
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