The Great Pyramid of Giza. The Great Wall of China. The Parthenon. The Eiffel Tower. Stonehenge. Great structures capture our imagination and give us a lasting collective heritage. (They also provide the backdrop to innumerable selfies.)
But while they may last for centuries, these familiar objects have widely divergent building times. Some take decades to erect, others just a few years. Still others have been slowly created over centuries. Here are some of the world's most famous landmarks, along with the time it took to make them a reality.
- 1953 VOTES
For such a long-lived and imposing structure, the Colosseum in Rome was completed in a surprisingly short time. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, as the ancient Romans were world-class builders.
The structure took about 7-8 years to build. The project was initiated around 72 CE by Emperor Vespasian, who had an interest in securing legitimacy for the Flavian dynasty by creating a massive public work for the people of Rome. He passed in 79 CE when the Colosseum was mostly finished; his son Titus dedicated it the following year with 100 days of games.
The project would have involved enormous amounts of labor; perhaps as many as 20,000-30,000 enslaved people were employed to quarry the stone and build the structure.
- 2800 VOTES
Herodotus claimed that the Great Pyramid of Giza - the tomb of the pharaoh Khufu - was built in 20 years by work gangs of up to 100,000 people. Modern scholars think the number was more like 20,000, but don't dispute the 20-year time frame. Construction began around 2550 BCE. The pyramid was the tallest human-made structure in the world for more than 3,700 years, until the completion of St. Paul's Cathedral in London in 1221.
Despite popular misconception, there's no evidence that enslaved people built the pyramids. The laborers may have been peasants working in the off-season. They may have owed labor to the pharaoh as part of an implied social contract, but were not slaves in the standard sense.
- 3738 VOTES
In the mid-5th century BCE, as the Greek city-state of Athens was in the ascendant following the defeat of invading Persians (and before the disastrous Peloponnesian War), the famous leader Pericles ordered a great project of construction on the Acropolis, the elevated citadel that overlooks the city.
Construction on the main building, a temple to Athena, began in 447 BCE and continued until about 438 BCE, when the large gold-and-ivory statue of the goddess was installed inside. The rapidity of construction was noted even in ancient times, and was commented on by Plutarch in his Life of Pericles.
- 4714 VOTES
The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris - a centennial celebration of the French Revolution. Conceived by French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel and an engineering team, the tower used modern construction techniques to reach a height of 1,083 feet, making it the tallest human-made structure in the world until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930.
The tower was erected with remarkable speed - only 22 months. Each of the 18,000 metal pieces was created with extreme precision, allowing rapid assembly. Journalist Emile Goudeau described the construction site:
A thick cloud of tar and coal smoke seized the throat, and we were deafened by the din of metal screaming beneath the hammer. Over there they were still working on the bolts: workmen with their iron bludgeons, perched on a ledge just a few centimetres wide, took turns at striking the bolts (these in fact were the rivets).
One could have taken them for blacksmiths contentedly beating out a rhythm on an anvil in some village forge, except that these smiths were not striking up and down vertically, but horizontally, and as with each blow came a shower of sparks, these black figures, appearing larger than life against the background of the open sky, looked as if they were reaping lightning bolts in the clouds.
- 5700 VOTES
Although it looks like a palace, the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is a mausoleum, commissioned in 1631 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who had perished in childbirth.
It took some 20,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants to build the gargantuan marble edifice. Construction began in 1632 and continued for two decades.
- 6597 VOTES