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15 famous landmarks, put into context
April 19, 2014 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes, famous landmarks lose some of their draw when put in context, as seen in this Imgur gallery, which was expanded and modified slightly by Bored Panda. For more physical context, there are Google earth links below the break. posted by filthy light thief (96 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Acropolis is not less awesome in context than out of context. It is, in fact, more awesome in context.
posted by gurple at 2:30 PM on April 19 [44 favorites]


Also, I don't know, the Arc de Triomphe still looks pretty important/central/big in that wider shot.
posted by axiom at 2:31 PM on April 19 [7 favorites]


The wider shot of Mount Rushmore is insane. Just insane. I can't even think about it.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:33 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


And Central Park is freaking gorgeous. Wow.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:35 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


I had no idea the forbidden city was situated in a city like that. I thought there was a distance you needed to travel to get there, like hiking up mountains or something.
posted by dabitch at 2:36 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Mount Rushmore, Hollywood Sign, Santorini, Central Park, and the Arc de Triomphe are still cool. The Little Mermaid is the biggest fakeout.

The first time I saw that photo of the pyramids my mind was blown. Since the city is so close to them, there is a KFC where you can see the pyramids through the window.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:39 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]


It's worth noting that Stonehenge is seeing modern intrusions relocated and replaced including the A344 roadway (the closer one), although plans for tunnelling the A303 under the site appear to be indefinitely shelved.

I also felt the framing of this was a little disingenuous -- I mean, many people know that some of these are in fully urban habitats, or at least, they were in my day. Maybe it's the HDR/selfie era (as well as the sharing without attribution era) that has made people accustomed to seeing these in only the most advantageous of photographic angles?
posted by dhartung at 2:39 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


For about half of those, I refute the premise, because they look just as impressive in context. I've seen the Hollywood sign a million times from miles away, but I still look for it through the smog and feel a little tingle when I do so. For nearly all of them, the context shot is a view most people will never see anyway, so it's not like anything is lost for someone who visits these things in person.
posted by LionIndex at 2:42 PM on April 19 [14 favorites]


Good points, some of the context just changes the feeling of the iconic structure or statue, not necessarily diminishing them.


dabitch, I'm not familiar with the history of the location, but this Wikipedia article makes it sound like the grounds were to be a central location for running of the government from the time it was first built.


there is a KFC where you can see the pyramids through the window.

And here's photographic proof.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:42 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]


Re: Arc de Triomphe, guess why the junction was called L'Étoile ("The Star").

As for the Sagrada Familia, it is right in the Eixample, an "Enlargement" built contemporarily to the beginning of the work on the cathedral. La Pedrera and the Casa Batlló are also in a different part of the Eixample, as well as some neo-gothic buildings.
posted by sukeban at 2:45 PM on April 19


It's not so much that the attractions lose their draw as it is an explanation why one's tourist pictures never look as awesome as one would like them to.
posted by looli at 2:51 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


I've seen a fair chunk of these and the context does not really make most of the ones I've seen irrelevant in terms of how impressive they are. The little mermaid is a bit crap, even in these pics the first one has clearly had some serious effort put into making it looks interesting, but it isn't - the context is largely irrelevant, its crap on its own account.

The Acropolis though is very impressive - it dominates the area around it and even though it is in the middle of a major city it is not in return dominated by that context. Stonehenge I do find a bit unimpressive but not due to the wider context, mostly because its just a pile of rocks in a field, and that's how it felt to me even when stood right in the middle of it (I'd rather have St Michael's mount, I was very excited when I went past that within foreknowledge one day). Stonehenge was one of those things I had wanted to see for a while and then we were going past it one day (its on the route from my place to my in-laws place, I will be driving past it again in about 10 hours) and stopped and I just found it distinctly underwhelming.

The Arc de Triomphe is fine as part of its city scape, its not that impressive in its own right, so it actually probably benefits from its wider context. I'd say the same is true for the Brandenburg Gate - its not all that exciting as a structure, its perhaps more interesting in terms of its historical relevance and location at the east-west interface of Berlin.

The Sagrada Familia is an enthralling building and trying to say that's any less so because its in a city is plain dumb, if anything its more interesting for being a century long experiment in a major urban centre.

I haven't been to Central Park but the picture here actually makes it look pretty impressive.
posted by biffa at 2:54 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Ya agreed the places dont lose sparkle because they're near other stuff. First time I saw the arc de triomphe I must have said, holy shit that thing is huuuugggeee" at least 10 times. Having traffic lights nearby didn't diminish that.
posted by chasles at 2:54 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


It's just the pyramids really. Everything else is fine. I don't know how exciting anyone expects Mt Rushmore to be, but it is just as dull up close as it is far away.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


Those aren't "squalid garbage dumps" behind the Taj Mahal, it's just litter in the floodplain of the river it is built next to.
posted by ropeladder at 3:05 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


Thanks, filthy light thief , I meant more like it had some open (climby) space like Acropolis does. Here it looks like the city is going to eat it. They didn't even leave a bit of park!
But I agree, it doesn't make most of these look less impressive. Santorini looks like a vision on the cliffs, and I guess I know now where they shot all those 80s Piz Buin ads. Taj Mahal's littered floodplain isn't it's best side though.
posted by dabitch at 3:09 PM on April 19


In person, the sudden shift from city to desert made the pyramids at Giza more interesting, in my opinion. It was like, citycitycitycitycitycityWHOAalienlandscape on the approach.

The pyramids and the Sydney Opera House are the two landmarks I've encountered that I found even more interesting in reality than in photographs. The pyramids because they're so old and massive and incredibly precise, and the Opera House because it's new, precise, dramatically situated, and shapeshifts as you view it from different angles, a fact I never appreciated because I'd seen pretty much only the iconic images of it backed by the Harbor Bridge.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:23 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Agree with all those who aren't particularly surprised to see that so many of these are in the middle of cities. In several cases they were built there to begin with. It is a good example of how photography can be used to editorialize, though (in all the examples, not just the traditional views).

On the other hand, I did find the golf course next to the pyramids a bit jarring.
posted by TedW at 3:24 PM on April 19


I think they got it backwards with the Santorini pictures. If anything it's more impressive when you realize it's perched on the inner rim of a giant volcanic caldera, nearly 1000 ft above the sea below.
posted by calamari kid at 3:29 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


I remember when I first went to visit the Alamo, it was so teeny and stuck right in the middle of San Antonio, and it was just...sad, really. I don't know what I expected, but it was more like an Alamo diorama than anything else.
posted by xingcat at 3:40 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


About 13 years ago, A friend of mine who was working on an Egyptian dig sent me a photo of the pyramids through the window of a Pizza Hut. I still want to go see them in person, but it was a jarring moment.
posted by PussKillian at 3:47 PM on April 19


I remember when I first went to visit the Alamo, it was so teeny and stuck right in the middle of San Antonio, and it was just...sad, really. I don't know what I expected, but it was more like an Alamo diorama than anything else.

I was just about to type up a comment on how years ago my mom and I tried to go to the Alamo. When we couldn't find it we stopped into some kind of store -- in a little mall I think? -- to ask directions. It was across the street. It's our biggest in-joke.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:48 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


All of these make me appreciate them even more when zoomed out, with the exception of the Little Mermaid and the Mona Lisa.

I agree with EvaDestruction about the Pyramids. I was initially surprised to see that Cairo stretches all the way up to Giza, but later it makes it even more interesting.
posted by cell divide at 3:51 PM on April 19


That Mona Lisa image is why I've never seen the painting, despite several visits to the Louvre. Just not interested in fighting that kind of tourist crowd.

The Acropolis' situation in Athens is breathtaking.
posted by Nelson at 3:51 PM on April 19


I've never had a huge desire to visit Barcelona until now. Look at those lovely city blocks, each with their own courtyards!
posted by starscream at 3:52 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]


The thing about Stonehenge that makes it awesome is that (barring modern A-roads) it's fully integrated with the landscape that surrounds it. The current setup with the visitors center and the parking lot across the road robs it of its landscape context. There are barrows all over the place as well as causeways that seem designed for processional approaches to the monument. You can get that kind of experience if you know where to go, but just driving up the A-road, parking and then going through the welcome center and out to the stones does nothing to convey what Stonehenge was about.
posted by ursus_comiter at 3:55 PM on April 19 [7 favorites]


When you do go, starscream, almost any Gaudí is worth the extra look. They'll keep building the Sagrada Família and it'll still be the most awesome construction site in the world.
posted by dabitch at 4:02 PM on April 19


The only thing that makes any of these "less awesome" are the ghastly HDR/digital effects employed in most of the up-close shots.
posted by wats at 4:08 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]


Are there sheep grazing in the paddock near Stonehenge? It looks like it.

The only landmark I've seen up close is the Sydney Opera House / Harbour Bridge, and I agree - they're even better in real life. The whole harbour is beautiful.
posted by daybeforetheday at 4:11 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


There are indeed sheep grazing around Stonehenge. The gift shop has toy sheep on sale to capitalize on that fact. (Although, I still think they should also offer DVDs of THIS IS SPINAL TAP as well.)

The thing that disappointed me about Stonehenge was not the context so much as the fact that they keep people a fair distance away. For good reason, but still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


I had no idea the forbidden city was situated in a city like that. I thought there was a distance you needed to travel to get there, like hiking up mountains or something.

Yeah, the Forbidden City is basically smack dab in the middle of Beijing. Tiananmen Square and Changan Avenue are right out front. What you're thinking of might be the Great Wall or Ming Tombs.
posted by kmz at 4:19 PM on April 19


Yeah, I find the wide shot of a lot of these makes them more compelling. Central Park, particularly. I still have a hard time fathoming how it actually came to pass that the city planners had the foresight and insight to not only set aside such a vast swath of prime real estate, but to invest in having it so stunningly landscaped... the dense city around it is what makes the park so special, and having that big beautiful park in the middle is what makes the city so special.
posted by usonian at 4:20 PM on April 19 [7 favorites]


I took a picture of Tianamen Square and the corner of the Forbidden City in the distance from a McDonalds. That experience was a little jarring.
posted by peppermind at 4:22 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Agreed, I thought all those photos were more interesting with some context. Except the Mona Lisa. And that aerial photo of Barcelona blew my mind a long time ago - it's got amazing 3D futuristic structure.
posted by sneebler at 4:55 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


The Forbidden City is actually right next to Beihai Park, which is Very Large For That Type Of Thing. The Forbidden City itself, IMO, seems much bigger than it is. I've biked past and around it many times (sadly, not in recent years) and walked through it a couple of times. It feels pretty epic, especially if you go in the off season. Part of that is by design. The thing that's surprising to me is how little there is that feels human scale and private, unlike other big famous places I've seen. There are some areas that are off limits, and there are some small residential buildings that you can look in, but the overall effect is very much administrative and awe-inspiring.

To see a more private imperial residence with more gardens and decorative stuff and a more playful feel, you visit the New Summer Palace, which is outside Beijing in the mountains. It's one of the few places I've been where photos absolutely fail to do it any kind of justice. I was lucky enough to go in the off season when there were very few people there, and the whole place was like being inside a dream - you climbed from sight to sight, each more amazing and beautiful than the last. Visiting the New Summer Palace was truly one of the peak experiences of my entire life so far.

The thing is, none of the Beijing landmarks (can't speak to the others) are diminished at all by being in the middle of the city. It's like, "hey, I'm going to go for a bike ride...wow, there's the Temple of Heaven!" If anything, these things are more delightful because they are in a place where you can experience them as part of your everyday life. I could see how maybe some of this would lack grandeur for the visitor who can only see them one time, though.
posted by Frowner at 4:59 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


There was a time when you could have taken a picture of the Forbidden City from the Starbucks that was inside it. Public outcry made them evict it. I think the first link went out of its way to get unflattering photos of the place, and of the Taj Mahal. If you're on the ground, there's no viewpoint where the Forbidden City is not very impressive. Even if you're up on Coal Hill in nearby Jingshan Park, looking down, the F.C. is pretty awesome. To get the photo in the link, they had to get in a helicopter and take it from miles away. Even Google Earth doesn't diminish it like that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:07 PM on April 19


The only two that seemed diminished were Mona Lisa and The Little Mermaid. Which makes sense since all the others were probably planned with context in mind.
posted by pseudodionysus at 5:14 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Ah, Mount Rushmore is crap indeed. Been there, done that, got the Viewmaster reel.

The Viewmaster reel is waaaaaaay better than the reality.

I suppose if you could do the Jimmy Stewart thing it might be exciting, but I'm pretty sure they don't let you.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:30 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


They didn't let him, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:37 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


I still have a hard time fathoming how it actually came to pass that the city planners had the foresight and insight to not only set aside such a vast swath of prime real estate, but to invest in having it so stunningly landscaped...

Aaaaactually, the land for Central Park wasn't pre-established and set aside - it was an "eminent domain" thing, where they took over a couple shantytown/slum areas in the southern half. In the northern half, the city just hadn't gone up that far yet; it filled in around the park as the city grew.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:02 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]


Agree that both Rushmore and Niagara Falls gain something from the wide shot. Niagara especially gains something from the scale imposed by buildings. And Rushmore looks large in photos and then you get that wide shot and you are like "Whoa".
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on April 19


I think the hills with the Mt. Rushmore sculpture carved into them would look better without the carving there at all. They're quite lovely hills that look scarred.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:18 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine visited the Louvre several years ago and, after powering through the crowd, decided to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. So every time I think of the Mona Lisa, I think of the picture of the top of my friend's head with a fuzzy something in the background.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:59 PM on April 19


biffa: "The Sagrada Familia is an enthralling building and trying to say that's any less so because its in a city is plain dumb"

Anyone who goes to a cathedral expecting it NOT to be in a city does not understand what a cathedral is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]


Nelson: "That Mona Lisa image is why I've never seen the painting, despite several visits to the Louvre"

When I first saw it in person, I thought the Mona Lisa looked exactly like pictures of the Mona Lisa, only with a lot more tourists. I think I was 12 or so and it was my first major letdown in terms of being really excited to see something and then having the cool thing be not really that cool.

usonian: "I still have a hard time fathoming how it actually came to pass that the city planners had the foresight and insight to not only set aside such a vast swath of prime real estate, but to invest in having it so stunningly landscaped..."

You can thank Hyde Park, William Cullen Bryant, the New York Post, and Frederick Law Olmsted. In that same era, though, lots of cities were setting aside land for major urban parks -- Chicago, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Boston -- increasing urbanization and industrialization made it clear that public greenspaces were necessary for aesthetic relief from the urban landscape as well as for physical health, and there was a great deal of romanticizing of rural life at the time, all at a time when many major American cities were really starting to think of themselves as world cities who wanted to project an impressive face to that world, and a lot of city fathers started thinking of the sorts of projects that last for generations, like parks and big formal public buildings. It all quite happily came together in the massive public parks that adorn so many American cities.

I feel like I'm a lot more likely to go see the Pyramids now that I know they're not in the middle of a desert. I guess I knew there must be an easy way for tourists to get there, but in my head it involved riding a camel into inhospitable environments or something.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


When I first saw American Gothic I was surprised at how small it is.
posted by brujita at 7:30 PM on April 19


Mount Royal's kind of neat, even though most of it is tombs. Lots and lots of tombs. Also, a big overscale replica of an Italian church in concrete.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:44 PM on April 19


The pyramids dominate the Cairo skyline. I remember wondering what it feels like to current residents to be constantly reminded of the former glory of their civilization.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:53 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Barcelona is gorgeous. The bigger picture shows off the squared off corners of the blocks in the Eixample-- a neat trick that makes every corner seem like a little plaza.
posted by zompist at 7:56 PM on April 19


I suppose if you could do the Jimmy Stewart thing it might be exciting, but I'm pretty sure they don't let you.

Or even the Cary Grant thing.

I agree about Rushmore though, and so does everyone else I've talked with who's been there. All of the photos are always zoomed tight, which means that you actually see less in person. The Needles Highway is much more interesting to me than Rushmore is.
posted by Ickster at 8:32 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]


The pyramids really are incredible, which is emphasized by how close they are to the city.

One of my most indelible travel memories is a sunset horseback ride into the desert just south of the pyramids. I overestimated by horseback riding abilities, so everyone else left me behind and I ended up finishing my ride with a stable boy leading my horse along with his. I got to ride almost alone through the darkening and surprisingly quiet desert, with the pyramids lighting up in the distance. It was really incredible.
posted by apricot at 8:52 PM on April 19


Any time I've seen a map of Manhattan, the layout and placement of Central Park stood out strikingly, so it was no surprise to me.

And as an almost-lifelong resident of Los Angeles (from age 5 to 50), I grew up seeing the Hollywood Sign in context, and as frequently as not, in the background of a picture of some other Hollywood landmark - like the Chinese Theater or the Capitol Records building-thats-supposed-to-look-like-a-stack-of-vinyl (although those were often doctored to fit everything in frame). But especially this go-to picture for Hollywood realtors, the mostly unobstructed view straight-up-Beechwood-Canyon-Blvd.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:02 PM on April 19


The Brandenburg Gate is no less impressive in context. And I daresay that for those of us of a certain age, it's MORE impressive in context.

I visited Berlin roughly every two weeks for a year and a half in the late 80s, and it really chapped my ass that we were not permitted to even get close to it, let alone pass through it. Lose its draw? If you remember thinking the Wall would never come down in your lifetime, you're probably very drawn to it.

Niagara Falls astounds me every time I visit. The Mona Lisa impressed the hell out of me after I got over the shock of how little she is. No wonder she was so easily stolen!

I think some people are just determined to be bored with everything.
posted by MissySedai at 9:06 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]


Or even the Cary Grant thing.

:(

posted by hap_hazard at 9:10 PM on April 19


I thought all the urban chaos right near the pyramids detracted from the experience, but I played the golf course you can see on the far left, holed a miracle putt on the 18th hole. Striking to watch the ball roll toward the hole with the pryamids in the background -- and get a round of applause from some guys having beer on the 19th-hole deck.

Hard to imagine I'll ever top that for best moment on a golf course.
posted by ambient2 at 9:38 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]


Well I'd love to see these except that I'm using Google Maps in Lite Mode because "your browser or operating system is outdated." I'm using a very modern Mac OS and Firefox.

Sorry for the derail but fuck Google for intentionally breaking their products on any browser but their own.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:48 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Actually apparently by Mac OS is too old. Still fuck Google tho.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:49 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


If it is arbitrary and not something your OS lacks a quick user agent string change might fix it.
posted by Mitheral at 11:02 PM on April 19


Those houses next to the pyramids? There's a SPHINX under them!

People kept building houses closer and closer to the pyramids. There were laws to stop it but officials were bribed and closer they got. Eventually they built a big wall to stop people building more houses.

Ground penetrating radar revealed an even bigger sphinx than the Great Sphinx ( there is one in front of every pyramid) under the houses. They can't excavate it because the people living above it want so much money for the land.
posted by drugstorefrog at 11:36 PM on April 19 [12 favorites]


This discussion has really made me think. I was really disappointed with the pyramids, but maybe you guys have a point.
Other than that; yeah, in most of these cases, the context is part of the quality. With the Little Mermaid, the context is the whole idea. Copenhageners never went to look at the mermaid, but to look at the harbor from a good vantage point with a popular restaurant nearby. (The linked postcard gives a favorite view: very early in the morning after partying all night).
posted by mumimor at 1:00 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


When I first saw American Gothic I was surprised at how small it is.

And speaking of perspective (as you might already have heard), the pair in the painting are likely father and daughter, and not a couple.
Nan, apparently embarrassed at being depicted as the wife of someone twice her age, began telling people that the painting was of a man and his daughter, which Grant seems to confirm in his letter to a Mrs. Nellie Sudduth in 1941.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:15 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


drugstorefrog, wow, I never knew about the bigger sphinx!
Stuff underground in cities will always fascinate me. In Stockholm there's the museum of middle ages, which came about after excavations on Helgeandsholmen (The Island of the Holy Spirit) between 1978 and 1980 found some buildings and things they didn't expect. Go underground, find a small city. In Edinburgh you have the real Mary King's Close and the underground vaults below the Royal mile, not made any less spooky by the guided ghost tours taking you through them. And lets not forget, Paris.
posted by dabitch at 2:29 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I remember wondering what it feels like to current residents to be constantly reminded of the former glory of their civilization.

Bright moon last night ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:21 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


That Mona Lisa image is why I've never seen the painting, despite several visits to the Louvre. Just not interested in fighting that kind of tourist crowd.
Those who want a private moment with the lady should arrive first thing in the morning and make a beeline to her private quarters while everyone else is struggling with the maps, buying tickets, and generally getting their bearings. Pick the correct wing then follow the signs with her picture on them. For your next visit. This definitely works, and I've done this at least once when seeing Mona Lisa was the ONLY goal of the visit.
posted by whatzit at 3:27 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


And lets not forget, Paris.

But the Catacombs were made in the 18-19c to accomodate the bones from a medieval plague cemetery to build Les Halles. What you want to see are the excavations under the square in front of Notre Dame.

It's not as spectacular because you're only seeing Roman era walls and the outline of medieval wells and cellars and a few Roman sewers, but that's the romance of archeology for you.
posted by sukeban at 4:33 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


The Little Mermaid is really little .. and if you see it head-on, you get a lovely view of the industrial sector on the other side of the harbour. It's never been impressive apart from the hordes of tourists.

But some places still look amazing, or should I say, their awesomeness has been increased by their surroundings. Taj Mahal, Mount Rushmore (totally insane, really) and The Sagrada Familia look even more impressive because of the way they offer a challenge to their surroundings.

(Just skip the Little Mermaid, okay?)
posted by kariebookish at 4:35 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I think the Pyramids look awesome and imposing no matter what view. Sitting next to the city like that, they look even more like alien invaders.
Oh, and f**k Google's new Maps. Classic Maps rule
posted by Thorzdad at 4:54 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Used to live close enough to Stonehenge that the thrill of the road sign directing to it wore off and even spotting it did as well. For isolated stone circles you want to go to the Orkneys , Ring o' Brodgar and the Standing Stones o' Stenness
posted by stuartmm at 5:32 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen many of these in person, but what impresses me about these shots, like the one of Cairo, are the cities around them. My good lord humans make some big cities.
posted by saysthis at 6:20 AM on April 20


Should have included the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
posted by ymgve at 6:21 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Actually, don't skip the Little Mermaid. Yes, it's tiny, and there are hordes of tourists, but you'll be right next to the Kastellet, which is worth a few hours of your time.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:23 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Does the Sagrada Familia remind anyone else of a giant termite mound?
posted by torisaur at 6:46 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


That picture of the brandenburg gate is absurd, the gate faces on the big boulevard Unter der Linden, a big courtyard, the tiergarten, and is a short distance from the reichstag. Any of that would put the gate in pretty cool context, but they managed to miss all that by taking an off-angle shot. I guess for this one they went for "Famous Landmarks When Blocked By Trees".

Nevermind the most important context of the row of bricks in the ground showing where the wall was.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:55 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


ymgve, thanks for those pictures. Very interesting in context.
posted by sneebler at 7:11 AM on April 20


The first time I visited Niagara Falls I was prepared to be disappointed. I was so wrong. I love the place and look forward to taking my kids there. It's a really physical thing...you can feel the falls.
posted by wintermind at 7:17 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


When I first saw American Gothic I was surprised at how small it is.

Conversely, when I first saw Whistler's Mother (aka Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1), I was surprised at how large it was. Somehow I had always imagined it as a little thing.
posted by gimonca at 9:19 AM on April 20


For Mount Rushmore, you usually get the closeups, or maybe the "avenue of flags" shot. It seems like there was a bend in the road in Keystone where you could get a glimpse of it way in the distance in the middle of all the tourist-trap finery on the main drag, but I can't find an example in GIS. So, I'll offer this instead.
posted by gimonca at 9:38 AM on April 20


If you're worried that the real-life scale will be a letdown, the palace at Versailles doesn't disappoint.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:44 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


At the smallest end of the scale, consider Manneken Pis.
posted by gimonca at 9:53 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I've been to a few of these places, and it is not so much the setting that makes some of them disappointing for me, but rather their huge popularity. I have a really hard time "seeing" a place and immersing myself in its mood and history through crowds of tourists taking photos. I could easily filter out the rest of Athens while at the Acropolis, but the crowds were extremely distracting. What helps is when places are open either early or late so you can go there with less people. I really enjoyed wandering around the ruins adjacent to the Acropolis on the early side with only a few other people around. I loved the ruins on the island of Delos, because pretty much no one lives on the island and it takes effort to get there, so you have the place pretty much to yourself.

So, my point is that it can be done with some of these sites but it takes some effort. Chichen Itza is in an ok setting (especially since they relocated the road that used to go through the site) but it is hugely popular, and you don't want to be there when the tourist buses arrive, but if you go either early or late, i.e. before or after the buses, it is a whole different experience.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to do this with some of these things, i.e. it is not possible to walk among the stone circles of Stonehenge by yourself, so the best you can do is seek out more isolated places, as stuartmm recommends.
posted by gudrun at 10:07 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


...it is not so much the setting that makes some of them disappointing for me, but rather their huge popularity.

Cross Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia off your to-visit list. There are scads of places as beautiful in N.S., and most of them are not invaded by fleets of tourist buses.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:14 AM on April 20


I saw Stonehenge for the first time last December on the winter solstice. On the solstices and equinoxes, the site is opened before dawn and anyone can go take part in the pagan festivities there on that day. While it's mostly a bunch of drum circles, which aren't really my thing, there was both a festive and a sombre mood prevailing among the stones and you can walk right up and touch them. I had nice conversations with people gathered. After sunrise, everyone is ushered off the site, and you have to pay to get to the observation area about 75 yards away, which seems like it'd be an awful let down. Going on a day when you're allowed to enter the site, though, was a wonderful experience. And my girlfriend's stepdad, who is from England, said that in the 60s, he and his family would stop there for a picnic among the stones, which also seems like a great way to interact with history.

I really like Mount Rushmore for the people watching. It's such a big part of American culture that you see a fascinating cross-section of people there. There's also a couple mile loop trail that takes you much closer to the base of the mountain than the observation area that made the experience a bit more enjoyable. I imagine that most people's experience at Mount Rushmore is colored by the 20-odd mile drive south of the main highway, the last 5 or so of which is the most touristy place I've ever seen. It's a depressing way to be welcomed to a national monument...
posted by msbrauer at 10:39 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


On the other hand - I actually found the tourist crowds at the Fontana de Trevi in Rome added to it. It's an imposing thing in and of itself (I think it's bigger than my apartment), but I got the hugest kick out of sitting and people watching, and seeing people from every nationality and speaking every language all crowding around to all take the same corny throw-a-coin-over-your-shoulder photo. It was really endearing, and I ended up going back to chill by Trevi a second time to people watch again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


About the larger sphinx - quick googling only shows this thing discussed in ancient mysteries, aliens, Atlantis type of pages. Does anyone have an actually credible source for it? Because right now it seems bogus.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:04 PM on April 20


Should have included the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.

Of course, most of that construction is quite recent -- in part due to a combination of large population increases in Islamic nations and inexpensive international travel, which has vastly grown the crowds who come to Mecca. But there's also a very deliberate edifice complex thing going on with the Saudi regime making sure they leave their mark on the city, and with little regard for the history or aesthetics of what is surely one of the more important historical religious sites in the world. Those enormous buildings are surely meant to loom over the Masjid.

Richard Burton would weep.

With the Little Mermaid, the context is the whole idea. Copenhageners never went to look at the mermaid, but to look at the harbor from a good vantage point with a popular restaurant nearby.

My perspective is that a) the statue commemorates a fictional literary character and I'm not sure why people think it is particularly lovely -- the reason for affection is affection for Andersen; and b) it's in what -- especially when first installed a century ago -- is/was a working urban harbor. At one time the Statue of Liberty was surrounded (i.e. across New York Harbor) by railroad ferry terminals and all manner of industrial shipping facilities. I'm actually sure back in the day that was seen somewhat more positively as "industry" including chimneys belching black smoke was a point of pride for many in that era.

All that said, I'm frustrated that historic preservation -- at least in the US -- is often focused on jewel boxes of buildings with little regard for their surroundings. We have a fantastic art deco hotel in town (that might get turned into condos some day), but someone actually proposed redeveloping it as a convention center by tearing down all the other 19th century buildings on its block.
posted by dhartung at 1:05 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Ground penetrating radar revealed an even bigger sphinx than the Great Sphinx

This doesn't jibe with recent reliable writing on the Great Sphinx, which seems to have been a uniquely situated object due to the massive block of limestone it was carved out of, amid a quarry used for the pyramids themselves.

Also, the wanting money part is dubious due to the tremendous political respect given to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. I mean, they moved Abu Simbel. Not to mention the tremendous tourist boom that would follow two newly uncovered sphinxes. The entire economy of that town is tied to the pyramid complex.
posted by dhartung at 1:27 PM on April 20


Yeah, the "bigger sphinx" thing is an 'ancient mysteries' type make-believe. There are no credible sources about it. The guy who supposedly did the radar research, Gerry Cannon, is also looking for the Ark of the Covenant in Atlantis.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:41 PM on April 20


As a Dane and sometime resident of Copenhagen, let me add to the chorus of voices that say you shouldn't waste your time on the Little Mermaid. I've never understood the attraction; it's just a small bronze statue - we've got hundreds of those of similar artistic quality in the city.
posted by brokkr at 1:45 PM on April 20


Sorry guys, I was trying to find confirmation after made my post. The wrong way around.
I got that info from the tour guide in Cairo and it looks bogus. D'oh!
posted by drugstorefrog at 2:17 PM on April 20


In the category of American fast-food restaurant offering vistas of antiquities, the best I've seen is the McDonald's that used to be located in the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome. This McD's sits on some of the most valuable tourist real estate in the city of Rome and allows one to rent some of that real estate for the price of a Big Mac and relish a fantastic view of the Pantheon. I actually could not bring myself to do that and sat in one of the cafes right next to the McDonald's drinking white wine, but I actually like the way this democratized the experience of old Rome, which can be a very expensive place to visit overall, and I kind of regret its disappearance (I was there in 2010; I think it went away about two years ago).
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 3:18 PM on April 20


I'm a little amused that the Paris Catacombs are closed on Easter. They're expecting a rush for the exit or something?
posted by gimonca at 3:22 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


drugstorefrog, no worries. Thomas Friedman has written many, many columns based on what a tour guide in Cairo told him.

Related issue: St. Mark's Square in Venice, and a giant cruise ship -- one of the last thanks to a new agreement.
posted by dhartung at 3:24 PM on April 20


La Sagrada Familia reminds me of Watts Towers.

Somebody needs to do Watts Towers!!!

http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Watts_Towers.html

Context really is everything, there.
posted by allthinky at 4:18 PM on April 20


.02 cents:

1. if you live in LA, the Hollywood sign + context is really what you want. City of Dreams.
2. ot/when I saw The Sphinx in Egypt... I felt that my modern adaptation to spectacle and scale siphoned off whatever was remarkable. It didn't help that I was being led around by boyish tourist parasites. I vaguely felt I was in Mexico. The Sphinx was depressingly uninteresting.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 4:18 PM on April 20


Oh my god, dhartung, you bring me tidings of great joy. The first time I was in Venice I saw a similar scene to your photo - a giant cruise ship towering over Venice - and it made me physically ill, it was so wrong. My anti-cruise thoughts may have begun from that point. If they're going to stop bringing in giant ships in, that would be nice. If the practice of offloading a bunch of people who want to run from St. Marks to the Rialto, buying a cheap mask en route, and then leave in three hours could stop too, that would be great.

(If you want to see Venice, stay in Venice at least overnight. Spent a little more money than a few bucks on a cheap mask, don't be a strain on a fragile system without giving a little back. This has been your Pro-Late-Nights-In-Venice message for the day.)
posted by PussKillian at 7:03 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


When you do go, starscream, almost any Gaudí is worth the extra look.

Speaking of Barcelona, the Block of Discord was a bit crummy in context. In photos, the trees in front of the buildings are leafless and they are usually using a zoom lens. In reality, you can't see the whole facades because of the big trees along the avenue, and your viewpoint is either really close up, or way across on the other side of the avenue.
posted by smackfu at 6:02 AM on April 21


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