Here are our favourite 8 lesser known facts about some of the Wonders of the World:
The Great Wall of China
Did you know that parts of this wall date back to the 7th Century? Emperor Qin, the leader who unified China, started extending the wall around 220 BC. Subsequent dynasties continued building and reinforcing the wall until it reached its current length: 21,196 kms. That is just over half the circumference of the earth.
The Lost City of Petra
Petra is not the original name of this city. It was originally called Nabataea and at its height, had a population of 20,000 people. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who used the city as a place to do business due to its proximity to key regional trade routes. The rock wall carving that Petra is best known for is actually a mausoleum for a Nabataean king name Aretas IV. It was built in 1000 AD.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
This, the largest of the three pyramids at El Giza, took an estimated 20 years to build, with workers moving 800 tonnes of stone every day. This equates to 12 blocks per hour, 24 hours a day for 20 years. The pyramid was built as a tomb for a pharaoh named Khufu, as well as his wives and some of his nobles. The outside of the pyramid was original smooth but the limestone casing stones have since eroded. Before this deterioration occurred, the pyramid stood at 146.5m tall. This is equivalent to a 44 storey building.
Did you know Machu Picchu was only ‘discovered’ in 1911? A Yale professor named Hiram Bingham led an expedition to South America in search of the last Incan capital. He discovered Machu Picchu and incorrectly dubbed it the capital. He also explored and documented a city called Vilcabamba that was later identified as the last Incan capital. In the local Quechua language, Machi means ‘old’ and Picchu means ‘chewing coca’ or ‘pyramid/pointed mountain’.
Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has a grisly history in the sense that it was a site of live human sacrifice. The upside is that being sacrificed was considered a great honour in Mayan society. A mass grave unearthed at the site corroborates this theory.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This wonder came about by accident. The foundations of this bell tower were unstable and the structure started to lean while it was being built. The tilt – said to be four degrees off being perpendicular – worsened over time. The tower took 199 years to build and architects working on later stages of the project actually built one side longer than the other in order to correct the lean, meaning the tower bends. The legendary status of the building has meant that modern engineers have reinforced the tower without correcting the lean.
In today’s money, the Taj Mahal cost around $1 billion to build over ten years from 1633 – 1643. The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Jahan, who died while giving birth to her 14th child. The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and is built on 402 acres located 5.5kms from Siem Reap. It was originally a temple devoted to the Hindu God Vishnu, and was later transformed into a Buddhist temple. Angkor Wat translates from Khmer into English as City of Temples.
Are you sitting there wondering where to go next? We understand – that’s how we’ve spent our entire lives.
There is something so exciting about being on the brink of your next adventure. So, if you’re looking for some inspiration, take our quick quiz to figure out which Wonder of the World you should visit next.
1.In your past life you were:
A) A queen
B) A sports star
C) A nomadic trader
D) A drunk architect
2. Your idea of a fun night out is:
A) Shimmying the night away with a group of bellydancers
B) Drinking giant margaritas
C) Star gazing in the desert
D) Drinking wine in the village square
3. You like shopping for:
A) Leather slippers
B) Mexican wrestling masks
D) Hand painted crockery
4. Your favourite food is:
A) Ful medames – a hearty concoction of beans, pastas and spices
B) Fish tacos made with proper guacamole (no sour cream)
C) Mansaf – slow cooked rice served with saffron rice and yoghurt sauce
D) Pizza, pasta, gelato, risotto, arancini, antipasto… and that’s just to start
5. Your favourite place to relax is:
A) By the river
B) At a white sand beach with crystal clear water
C) Next to an inland sea
D) In the mountains
6. You describe yourself as:
A) Ancient and glorious
B) Solid and a bit gory
C) Majestic and fort-like
D) Wonky but classical
7. If you were a wonder of the world, you would want to be:
A) The oldest
B) The coolest
C) The most impressive
D) The weirdest
8. If you were a building, you would be:
A) Built to withstand the test of time
B) Full of secret passages
9. If you could put a price on yourself, you would be:
A) Cheap and cheerful
B) Affordable and great value
C) Pricey but princely
D) Top of the range
10. If you were an animal, you would be:
A) A cat
B) A frog
C) A camel
D) A bird
you answered mostly As
need to visit The Great Pyramid of Giza. Cruise along the Nile,
explore souks and cities, taste the local cuisine (and then walk it
all off as you wander around ancient ruins).
you answered mostly Bs
headed to Chichen Itza in Mexico. Located on the Yucatan Peninsula,
home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and cenotes
(sunken swimming holes), this region combines ancient Mayan temples
with super fun bars and beaches.
you answered mostly Cs
off to the Lost City of Petra. There is nothing more exotic than
heading off into the desert aboard a camel. The good news is that
Jordan is also home to delicious food, great swimming, snorkelling
and diving, and surprisingly sophisticated ancient architecture.
you answered mostly Ds
Leaning Tower of Pisa is calling you, mi amico. Check out this
architectural catastrophe while you enjoy la dolce vita. Dinner
starts with aperitivo at 5pm and ends with gelato at midnight. Take
your stretchy pants!
By its very geography, Eastern Europe has been at a cultural crossroads since the emergence of the first civilisations. Valuable goods from spices and amber to silver and gold have been traded here, cultural traditions from clothing to dance have been shared and religions from Eastern Orthodox to Judaism have been practised. It all converged here. Which is why these far reaches of Europe are among the most fascinating and enlightening places to explore. Gate 1 Travel gets you there in comfort and style, and our knowledgeable local guides reveal the secrets and mysteries that make this such a captivating region.
Explore our north-to-south guide to Eastern Europe’s proud nations and cities on Gate 1’s itineraries:
Lithuania: A Stunning Capital Emerges from the Forest
Flat landscapes blanketed with forests and lakes greet you as you drive through Lithuania. Indeed, Mother Nature has blessed this small country with soft contours and stunning green expanses under wide-open skies. The capital, Vilnius, is covered in beauty of another sort. The city boasts one of the largest historic quarters in Europe, a dizzying blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Vilnius Upper Castle has lorded over the scene for centuries and its adjacent Gediminas Tower is a symbol of national pride. The city boasts more than 40 historic churches and former places of worship. Among them, the Gothic St. Anne’s captivated Napoleon so much that in 1812 he exclaimed he wanted to take it home to Paris “in the palm of his hand”.
Poland: Risen from the Ashes
For many, Poland stands out as one of Europe’s most resilient nations. Its beautiful capital Warsaw, straddling the Vistula River, plainly illustrates its beauty. The city saw dark times during World War II, as Jews were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. The city was completely destroyed by the war’s end. After the war, its citizens took to rebuilding their beloved Old Town exactly as it was constructed in the 14th century. Today, the restored cobbled lanes lead to Market Square, its heart, where the Royal Castle and Cathedral of St. John invite exploration.
Medieval Krakow dates back to the 7th century. Many consider this one of Europe’s most breathtaking cities. Its cultural and architectural heritage spans the centuries, leaving masterworks of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras in the Wawel Royal Castle District, in St. Mary’s soaring basilica, in the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, and all along its vast medieval market square. A more sobering sight are the remaining walls of the Jewish Ghetto and the Ghetto Heroes Square. Oskar Schindler employed more than 1,000 Jews in his enamelware factory to save them from certain extermination at camps such as Auschwitz, located right outside the city.
On Poland’s scenic northern coast lies Gdansk, one of the most powerful cities of the medieval-era Hanseatic League, the mercantile guild that ruled the Baltic region. Remnants of its prosperity are visible everywhere along the city’s Royal Route, the pedestrian-only street that once hosted processions for the Kings of Poland. Admire pretty gabled houses, the Gothic-Renaissance Main Town Hall with its soaring tower, and St. Mary’s, the third largest brick church in the world. Perhaps the most fascinating relic from Gdansk’s golden age is the medieval crane that once loaded and unloaded cargo from docked ships, long before the industrial age!
Remarkably, the city of Wroclaw is a vibrant blend of almost all of Europe’s religions and cultures. Its heritage stretches back more than 1,000 years and has been shaped by Germany, Prussia, the Habsburg Empire, and the kingdoms of Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland. Today, it is a bastion of a culture rich in theatre, art, literature, and more. It boasts one of Europe’s most stunning market squares, lovely waterways and parks, and the famed cycloramic painting of the Battle of Raclawice in which the citizenry rose up against Russia in 1794. The city is also renowned for the largest beer festival in Poland, held each June.
That beer may go well with pierniki, the delicious gingerbread of Torun. This city was proclaimed one of the Seven Wonders of Poland for its incredibly preserved Old Town. Astronomy buffs can gaze upon one of its shining stars: the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, the first to suggest that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the universe. Less scientific, but no less enduring, are the miraculous powers attributed to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, housed in the Jasna Gora Monastery. Millions flock here each year just to be in her presence.
Romania: Beyond the Myth of Dracula
There is much more to Romania than its legendary vampire stories. Stunning vistas at every turn, soaring Carpathian Mountains, deeply held folkloric traditions, and beautifully preserved Orthodox churches housed within medieval walled cities combine to make it one of travel’s best-kept secrets.
The nation’s capital, Bucharest, has been compared to Paris for its emerging elegance, wide boulevards, and intentional 1935 replica of the Arc de Triomphe. Neoclassical buildings and Orthodox churches dominate the cityscape of this former communist enclave. Today, museums, opera, and theatre set the tone for an increasingly creative cultural centre. The most imposing building of Bucharest is the Parliament Palace. Even its enormity could not satisfy the ego of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. It is the second largest administrative building in the world after the US Pentagon.
Amidst the bucolic landscapes of Transylvania—the land “beyond the forest” as translated from Latin—the charms of medieval Saxon villages beckon. Brasov, Sibiu, andSighisoara have been lovingly preserved and each evokes the seductive splendour of Old Romania. Narrow streets wind past steeply roofed 17thcentury houses. Intricately decorated buildings bring fairy tales to mind. Wooden dancing figurines within chiming clocks, rare book collections, gingerbread houses, tranquil monasteries, and museums filled with period furniture paint a rich picture of a pastoral past. Of course, in every fairy tale, a wolf lurks; Transylvania is home to the legendary Dracula, Bram Stoker’s vampire inspired by the towers and turrets of Bran Castle. Fortunately, you will also visit castles considerably less malicious: the 19th-century Peles Castle, the romantic summer home of King Carol I, and the 14th-century Hunedoara, with its soaring towers and dramatic drawbridge.
Farther north, two hidden gems of Romania await. Immerse yourself in Transylvanian culture in Targu Mures, once a rural hamlet and today a small city rich in local tradition. The Palace of Culture is the centrepiece, a magnificent Hungarian Art Nouveau treasure built in 1913. Mahogany woodwork, stained glass masterworks, marble staircases, and a hall of mirrors make this one of Romania’s most beloved buildings. The city’s library, founded in the late 18th century, is one of the country’s oldest and houses an astounding collection of manuscripts and artifacts.
And speaking of astounding collections, during your stay in Piatra Neamt, we’re giving you the option to visit Moldavia province’s renowned painted monasteries. Here, local princes and nobles employed painters to adorn ecclesiastical building from top to bottom with bright frescoes. These fully imagined canvases told stories of warfare and redemption to local villagers who were mostly illiterate.
Explore another side of Romania in Timisoara, the cultural centre of the West. This winsome city on the Bega River boasts many buildings from the Austrian Empire, earning it the nickname, “Little Vienna.” Opera, philharmonic, theatre, museums, and more cultural institutions line its gracious streets. There seems to be a performance every night in Timisoara, which might make you think everyone is still celebrating the Romanian Revolution, which started here in 1989. It’s no surprise that Timisoara has been declared the European Capital of Culture for 2021.
Bulgaria: Authentic and True
Perhaps it is because so few travellers visit Bulgaria that it remains one of Eastern Europe’s most authentic nations. Its capital, Sofia, lies scenically at the foot of Vitosha Mountain and is at the geographic centre of the Balkan peninsula. The city has been inhabited since 7000 BC and is rich in Roman and Thracian ruins. Remarkably, many of its Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries survived centuries of iron-fisted Ottoman rule. Today, the National Museum of History chronicles its long past while the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Church stands proudly as a neo-Byzantine symbol of the city’s enduring spiritual heart.
Serbia: Where Life’s Simple Pleasures Endure
With rolling hills and enchanting villages, Serbia transports you back to the simpler times of the Balkans. There is much to endear you to its charms, particularly the three-kiss hello you will receive from the famously friendly locals. This is all despite the nation’s recent tumult, from which it has steadied itself with open-armed confidence. Nis, one of the oldest cities in Europe, resides in Serbia. Constantine the Great was born here before he went on to found Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. Today, this city on the Nisava River is rich in history, some of which you will witness at its Turkish fortress.
Skirting the Sava River, Belgrade is often thought of as the bohemian cousin to the continent’s more refined cities. It might have gotten this reputation in the Skadarlija quarter, which has often been compared to the artistic enclave of Montmartre in Paris. Soak it all in as you browse Republic Square and the café-lined pedestrian zone of Knez Mihajlova Street. To get a glimpse into the city’s long history and architectural treasures, visit the imposing Kalemegdan Fortress, erected strategically where the Sava meets the Danube. Equally impressive, Saint Sava Temple is one of the world’s largest Orthodox churches.
Uncover the countless wonders of Eastern Europe with Gate 1 Travel. When you do, you’ll close each remarkable day in comfortable accommodations, delight in local cuisine, and gain in-depth insight from local guides who call this destination home. Join us!