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All The Real-Life Inspirations For 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'

List RulesVote up the historical allusions that make you appreciate the show even more.

As an immensely popular show, Avatar: The Last Airbender was appealing to young and adult viewers alike. Avatar: The Last Airbender first aired on Nickelodeon in 2005. Through three seasons, fans followed Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, and others through the four nations of the Avatar world. The cohort went to train with the Water Tribes, traveled through the Earth Kingdom, and met up with members of the Air Nomads during their journey, often doing their best to evade the hostile Fire Nation. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender incorporates humor; likable characters; elaborate, anime-style artwork; and cultural references from around the world. Additional influences are seen in the layered storytelling, rife with philosophy and spiritual beliefs from belief systems across the globe. Many of the customs, traditions, and practices in Avatar: The Last Airbender have strong connections to Indigenous cultures, while the Avatar nations are inspired by real states. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender spawned a world all its own. Comic books, video games, a follow-up series (The Legend of Korra), and a live-action film continue to tell the story of Avatar, recently released on Netflix. Whether you're revisiting the series, watching for the first time, or diving into emerging aspects of the franchise, here are some of the rich influences found within the world of Avatar.

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    Bryan Konietzko Traveled Through The Desolate Highlands Of Iceland To Create The Fire Nation

    The harsh, volatile landscape of the Fire Nation was a direct result of show creator Bryan Konietzko's exploration of Iceland. Volcanoes, craters, and darkness - characteristic of the highlands of Iceland - were incorporated into the Fire Nation. 

    Just like the highlands of Iceland, the Fire Nation also features valleys with lush, green spaces. The Fire Nation is made up of an archipelago of islands rife with seismic and volcanic activity.

    An additional geographic feature that inspired Konietzko was the Gullfoss waterfall, demonstrated by a Fire Nation waterfall that bears a striking resemblance to it. When Piandao instructs Sokka to paint as part of his training, because "landscape painting teaches a warrior to hold the lay of the land in his mind," the waterfall is in the background.

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    The Fire Lord’s Throne Room Is Influenced By The Great Hypostyle Hall In Karnak, Egypt

    Fire Lord Ozai banishes his son, Prince Zuko, after the heir to the throne challenges his father's authority. The disgraced prince sets out to find the Avatar to regain his honor, while Ozai sits high atop his throne. In crafting that throne, Avatar creators left simple notes for the designers and painters on the show - "Egyptian, Chinese, scary." 

    Those words inspired background designer Elsa Garagarza to invoke the Great Hypostyle Hall in her work. The Hall, located inside the temple complex at Karnak, Egypt, was built during the 13th century BC. It features more than 130 sandstone columns, a dozen of which stand over 70 feet tall. The columns look like papyrus stalks, many of which have blossom capitals, with inscriptions and cartouches dating from the rule of Ramesses II through Ramesses VI.

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    The Architectural Structure Of The Fire Sage’s Temple Is Based On The Yellow Crane Tower In Wuhan, China

    The Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China, has origins dating to the third century AD. The tiered tower, demolished numerous times over the centuries, has served military, political, and social functions - a multifaceted history seen in its architectural style as well.

    Verbal descriptions and mentions of the tower over time attest to its dynamic presence and varied features. The Tang dynasty (618-907) described the tower as standing "high up to the sky, down to the river, its double-eave roof resemble a crane, its gates open to four directions, sitting on the tower people can look over the towns far and away and touch the streams close by."

    No one style characterizes the Yellow Crane Tower, very much like the unique Sage Temple found within the Fire Nation on Avatar. The rooftop of the Yellow Crane Tower features corners that look like flames, architectural features that are particularly appropriate for the Fire Nation. The Sage Temple is also strategically located (on Crescent Island) and wiped out during the series.

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    The Water Tribes Are Based On Inuit Culture

    Drawing influences from Arctic groups and culture, the Water Tribes display characteristics of Indigenous groups from around the world. The Water Tribes, as their names imply, bend water - often wielding it as ice amid their cold surroundings. 

    The Water Tribes in Avatar live to the extreme north and extreme south - comparable to Inuit groups who settled in Arctic regions of North America and Asia. Inuit garments resemble those worn by members of the Water Tribes - thick coats lined with fur, mittens, and other warm items - with houses built out of snow and ice, animal pelts, and wood. 

    Within Inuit groups, women often wear their hair long and in loops or braids, just like many of the females in Avatar. This same hairstyle is found among Native American populations throughout the United States. The names of Water Tribe men and women are also directly tied to several Inuit words, as are some of the general terms used in the show. An additional feature of both Inuits, Water Tribes, and Indigenous groups worldwide is the use of kayaks and catamarans.

    In response to criticism for appropriation of Inuit culture - among others - without proper recognition, Avatar producers have indicated that the forthcoming live-action remake will include "a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast." 

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