When we think about famous landmarks, it seems as though they’ve been there practically forever. It’s a little strange to imagine a time when they didn’t exist, but it can be even stranger to contemplate that a lot of them came breathtakingly close to being destroyed forever. Some of them are among the most famous and storied landmarks of all!
Let’s look at 10 famous landmarks that narrowly survived catastrophe.
1. The Washington Monument
This national treasure nearly didn’t exist in the first place, and then it was almost destroyed. George Washington himself canceled early plans to build it because the young U.S. was struggling financially. After it finally was built, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in 2011 caused structural damage so serious that it had to be closed to the public. Today, it’s been repaired.
2. The Statue of Liberty
Here’s another iconic U.S. landmark that almost never was. After the pieces were built, they were shipped across the ocean in a French vessel, but stormy seas nearly sank it. Once the pieces arrived, they stayed in storage for over a year until a publicity stunt led to the statue’s construction on Ellis Island.
3. The Alamo
Remember the Alamo? Well, no one would if General Sam Houston had gotten his way. To keep it out of enemy hands, Houston wanted to remove everything valuable from the Alamo and blow it up. Governor Henry Smith refused.
4. The Eiffel Tower
The most famous landmark in France wasn’t so popular with Parisians at the start. They considered it an eyesore and only agreed to its construction on the condition that it would be disassembled after 20 years. During WW2, Hitler ordered its destruction, but the orders weren’t followed.
5. The Sphinx
People travel from all over the world to see this Egyptian landmark that’s over 4,500 years old, but we’re lucky to still have it. More than once over the centuries, neglect resulted in the sculpture being nearly buried beneath the desert sands. Vandals struck, too, destroying the nose, and as the concrete the ancient Egyptians used eroded, the Sphinx sustained major damage to its foundations until a modern restoration occurred.
6. The White House
The White House we see today has seen damage and restorations since its construction. However, the greatest threat it ever faced was in 1814 as invading British forces set fire to it. What saved it? A tornado! Rare in the D.C. area, the tornado brought rains that doused the flames. It also damaged British ships and cannons and killed great numbers of British troops.
7. The Taj Mahal
Although it’s a global treasure today, this tomb built for the wife of Emperor Shah Jahan saw extensive damage and degradation before receiving the care and status it enjoys today. Among the greatest threats were the British, who destroyed much of it as they converted it into a military fort and who once planned to destroy it.
8. The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This famous tower almost became another casualty of WW2. Fearing its potential as a German sniper tower, Allied leaders gave orders to destroy the tower, but the sergeant who received them procrastinated because of the intense heat that made it hard to aim. In the meantime, German forces arrived, forcing an Allied retreat.
9. The Colosseum
Perhaps no structure more symbolizes ancient Rome than the Colosseum does. Time, lightning fires, theft, and vandalism have taken their toll, but amazingly, nearly two-thirds of the original structure still stands today. Modern efforts are underway to preserve what remains for perpetuity.
10. The Parthenon
Like other ancient structures on this list, the Parthenon has faced centuries of erosion and other types of damage. The greatest threat, though, came in 1687, when Ottoman Turks were using the site to store gunpowder during the Morean War. When the gunpowder was ignited during the fighting, there was an explosion that caused major damage and nearly reduced it to rubble.
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Demi Michele is a seasoned traveler, turned freelance writer. Having explored most states and ventured internationally, her love for outdoor cafes, new cuisines, and cultural immersion shines through her wide range of articles. Based in Texas with her family and two Scottish Terriers, Demi turns her adventures into captivating travel narratives to share with readers.