Atlas Obscura

These massive concrete acoustic mirrors, or “listening ears,” were built in England between the world wars to monitor the skies for the telltale sounds of airborne invasion. Their parabolic shape collected and magnified sound waves in the air over the English Channel and directed them at a microphone positioned just in front of the parabola. The mirrors effectively gave Britain a fifteen-minute advance warning of an impending attack. A precursor to radar, the dishes were made obsolete at the end of the 1930’s and have been left to the elements. 📸: Photo by @forgottenheritage.

This is Fort Bourtange, a beautifully designed, star-shaped fort in the Netherlands. Star forts were designed to give guards a panoramic view of any potential attackers, and originated in Italy in the 15th century. The fort remains perfectly preserved, with historic churches, cobblestone streets, wooden windmills, marvelous bridges, and old military barracks strewn across the 11-acre pentagon. 📸: Photo by GEBruiker

Hidden within an office building in Munich, a staircase seemingly leads you up… to nowhere. “Umschreibung” is in fact not a staircase at all, but an ominous sculpture by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The sculpture, which is made of steel and is over 30 feet tall, is a staircase in the shape of a double helix. The bottom of the steps has a small opening, so you can actually climb the stairs yourself. “Umschreibung” is a German word which means “euphemism,” or “circumlocution.” Is it a reminder that no matter how hard we work, we might all be going nowhere? Or perhaps that life isn’t a destination but a journey? Your call. 📸: Photo by @anabel_mmn - thanks for using #atlasobscura!

Jay Gatsby may have been a figment of Fitzgerald’s imagination, but New England has its very own, very real version of the larger-than-life character: its local queen of scandal, Madame Sherri. The glamorous eccentric threw fabulous parties at her “castle” in the middle of the forest, and drove around town in a custom-made cream Packard car, with a monkey perched on her shoulder. These ruins are all that’s left of the elaborate house she had built, which fell into disuse when she ran out of money. After falling prey to vandals, the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1962, leaving behind only the foundations and a section of the staircase. Madame Sherri died in poverty only three years later, a ward of the state. 📸: Photo by Atlas Obscura user Skygazer69

In 2007, the near-perfectly preserved Neolithic-era remains of two humans were found locked in an embrace. Studies show that the pair, one male and one female, were between 18 and 20 years at the time of their death. The unusual double burial and tender positioning caused a stir when the discovery was made. The archaeologists who uncovered the remains did not want to separate the two, and the skeletons were excavated and preserved along with the block of earth around them. The eternal lovers locked in a hug, can be seen at the Archaeological Museum in Mantua, near where they were found. 📸: Photo by Dagmar Hollmann

One of the largest bamboo bridges in Asia, the Millennium Bridge extends 75 feet (23 meters) from one side of the Ayung River to the other. It is connected to the Green School, an ecologically sustainable complex that’s also made out of bamboo, as well as mud and local grasses. Nearby, there is a community of bamboo houses. These projects were all started by the team at IBUKU, an organization dedicated to beautiful and natural building, to demonstrate how bamboo can be used as a renewable alternative to concrete or steel. 📸: Photo by IBUKU

Slope Point, the most southerly spot on New Zealand’s South Island, is perched upon rugged cliffs that dip into the sea. Cold winds tear through the air, battering the land and all that grows upon it. The weather is so fierce that the whipping winds have left a patch of trees weirdly warped. The tangled trees stretch sideways rather than upwards, like a permanent, ill-advised hairdo. 📸: Photo by Flickr user Ben.

Rising from the water like rusty invaders out of H.G. Wells, the Maunsell Army Forts are decaying reminders of the darkest days of World War II. Part of the Thames Estuary defense network, the anti-aircraft tower-forts were constructed in 1942, with each fort consisting of a cluster of seven stilted buildings surrounding a central command tower. When operational, catwalks connected the buildings. The forts are now in varying states of decay. 📸: Photo by Steve Cadman.


Kilwa Kisiwani Ruins

These are the stunning ruins of what was once the center of one of the greatest empires in East Africa. From the 9th century all the way up until the 19th century, Kilwa Kisiwani was a wealthy and powerful port, reaching its peak around the late-Middle Ages. At its height, the empire stretched from Kenya to Mozambique, and Kilwa Kisiwani’s prosperity was crucial to the development of Swahili civilization. During this time great structures were built that are now abandoned ruins, all that’s left of the late empire.

This beautiful Victorian ironwork masterpiece was built to keep London from smelling like poop. London in the mid-1800’s was a booming urban center that quickly outstripped the capacity of its sewers. In the summer of 1858, unusually high temperatures and the rivers of waste flowing into the Thames from overfull cesspools resulted in a smell that hung over the entire city. The “Great Stink,” as it came to be known, eventually resulted in the construction of the Crossness Pumping Station. The interior of the station was decorated in massive amounts of elaborate ironwork, giving the otherwise vile industrial site a delicately Victorian feel and earning it the nickname, “The Cathedral on the Marsh.” The pumps, named “Victoria,” “Prince Consort,” “Albert Edward,” and “Alexandra”, were upgraded a number of times over the decades after their construction until the site was finally decommissioned and abandoned in the 1950’s. 📸: Thanks to intrepid explorer @watsonontour for tagging this photo with #atlasobscura!

This unique Lady Liberty in Lviv, Ukraine is one of the only examples of the figure sitting down. While the lady has her traditional crown and torch, the reclining figure is also flanked by two strapping shirtless men, marking the first time in history that Lady Liberty has been shown to be getting any action, even if it is just a metaphor for workers or something. The building atop which the statue sits now houses the city’s Ethnography Museum, so if you find yourself going to see one of the exhibits, be sure to look up and take in the relaxed figure. 📸: Photo by Aeou