Europe has countless historical monuments and each one holds great significance in making this continent what it is today. Be it the Colosseum of Rome or The Alhambra or the Eiffel Tower; each is an architectural marvel in its own right and these spellbinding monuments have been a major attraction for me for as long as I can remember.
Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul – The Dolmabahce Palace holds a place of great historical significance and it was the official residence of six of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. I embarked on the guided tour of this incredible piece of history with my Dolmabahce Palace tickets which were booked in advance. The knowledgeable guide related the history of the Palace and its significance during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan and the many stories that emanated from the walls of the Palace. On a personal note, the major highlight of my visit was the grandiose of the crystal staircase and the Throne Room. The chandelier that was gifted by Queen Victoria is still hanging in its place of pride in the Throne Room.
Colosseum, Rome – The Colosseum in Rome is a phenomenal structure and an engineering feat by the Romans considering that it is over 1900 years old. I was awestruck by the design and the magnitude of the place. I was fascinated by the underground tunnels in the Colosseum hence I joined the guided tour which requires separate Colosseum tickets. These tunnels served as a transportation network to move the gladiators, animals and other things on to the arena. The Colosseum of Rome is one of the finest monuments that showcases the grandeur of the Roman Empire.
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona – What makes this still under construction Basilica one of the most intriguing historical marvels is the time it has taken to implement all the designs that Gaudi had mapped out in great detail. I had read a great deal about this particular Church but nothing prepared me for the impact it made when I first saw it. The blend of Gothic and Art Nouveau style of architecture is so inspiring and captivating that I could spend hours just looking at the facade of the Sagrada Familia. Once inside, I was struck by the beauty of the stained glass windows and the way the sunlight streamed in turning the interiors into a magical place. I also realized that to truly appreciate the beauty of the Sagrada Familia one visit is not enough.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul – The Hagia Sophia has a fascinating history; it was first built as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Church but its purpose was changed several times over centuries depending on who ruled the region. During the tour I learned that even the four minarets outside were not built together but at different times and by different rulers. It served as a mosque, then a museum, then again in 2020 it was changed back to a mosque. Remnants of different dynasties and religious significance can still be seen in the Mosque. Mosaics of the Virgin Mary with the Child can be seen in several places including the Apse. Each piece of architecture in the Hagia Sophia relates a story and the 104 columns are no different. I even made a wish at the Wishing Column while exploring the different styles of the columns.
The Alhambra, Granada – The Alhambra fortress is a massive complex of palaces, gardens, towers and other buildings. Since I had done some prior reading before my visit to the Alhambra I was able to chart out what parts of the complex I would like to see most. My main focus was in the palaces and the gardens. I visited the Palace of Charles V, the Nasrid Palaces, the Mexuar and the Generalife gardens. At the Alcazaba, I went to the top of the watch tower to enjoy the panoramic views of the city of Granada. The spectacular scene was completely worth the effort to get to the top.
Eiffel Tower, Paris – Everyone in the world has seen the Eiffel Tower of Paris in movies, shows pictures, etc. but the effect it has when you actually visit the place is incomparable. I wanted to see the view from the summit, which was truly incredible. The first floor has a transparent floor which is really amazing and gives a good view of the Esplanade. There are several shops here which I went exploring and also saw the Cineiffel which is a cinematic projection of the history of the Tower. The second floor has a massive observation deck as well as a Michelin starred restaurant and the office of Gustave Eiffel.
Seville Cathedral, Seville – The first point I would like to make about the Seville Cathedral is that this is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and the construction of this inspiring structure took an entire century to complete. The central nave is over 42 meters high and there are 80 chapels within its premises. It was built on the remnants of a mosque and the Patio de los Naranjos is a standing representation of those times. The Royal Chapel is one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture I have seen. The last stop of my visit was the Giralda Bell Tower which I climbed to the top to take in the views of the city and the Cathedral complex.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna – The Schönbrunn Palace grounds and gardens do not require a ticket to visit and it opens at 6:30 am so I went there in the early morning to explore the massive grounds, fountains and gardens. By 8:30 am the doors of the Palace opened for visitors and I was part of the first round of the Grand Tour. The rooms were grand and really impressive,in the Orangery Mozart and Saleiri used to perform and till today the Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra and Ensemble continue to carry the tradition. Did you know that the Schönbrunn Palace is home to the world’s oldest working zoo? Besides the usual wild animals like the Big Cats, you can also see Giant Pandas in this zoo.
Kronborg Castle, Denmark – This castle is famous for being the setting of the Shakespearean play, Hamlet and it was called Elsinore in the play. This was the first thing that attracted my attention when I first heard about this palace. In simple words, the Castle is truly magnificent but it is equally strong in its defense. It was built like a fortress with ramparts and bastions on the outside for protection. Guided tours of the Castle are available where you get to explore the crypts, the catacombs, the statue of Holger the Dane and the massive grounds of the Castle.
The Acropolis, Athens – A visit to the Acropolis in Athens is one of those experiences that stays with you forever. Despite the fact that most of the buildings are in ruins it still stands tall as a symbol of the greatness of ancient Greek civilization. The building used to be the center of religious as well as governmental work in ancient times. The highlights of my visit was the Parthenon, the Odeon of Herodotus Atticus, the Temple of Athena which is also known as the Victory Temple and the Propylaia.
Right from the first time I ever entered these historical monuments I have been captivated by their architectural finesse. It is amazing that in the times when no technology or machines existed man has managed to create such incredible structures that have withstood the test of time. Every one of these historical marvels are unique and showcases the skills of those who designed them as well as those who brought those designs to life.