For many of us, getting a chance to witness monuments like the Eiffel Tower or Mount Rushmore are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
However, while millions of tourists visit these iconic global tourist attractions, they often don’t know about the secrets and mysteries behind them (or inside them).
Here are secrets of seven of the world’s most iconic monuments.
1. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most iconic destinations. With its towering height and unmistakable shape, it can be seen all over Paris. Once inside it, tourists can see virtually the whole of the city.
The Eiffel Tower was completed on March 31, 1889, for the World’s Fair, and its official website claims that over 7 million visitors make a pilgrimage to the site on an annual basis. It also estimates that over 300 million people have visited it since the year of its opening to the public.
But did you know that at the very top of the tower is a secret micro-apartment designed by the tower’s architect, Gustave Eiffel, himself? As Architectural Digest reveals, the small flat, which is 1,000 feet above the city, was used by Eiffel for his own enjoyment. The most famous guest was an American inventor, Thomas Edison. Visitors today can finally see the cozy space, complete with wax impressions of Eiffel and Edison.
2. The Statue of Liberty
Just three years before the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. This monumental copper statue was a gift from the people of France to the United States, commemorating the American Revolution. Gustave Eiffel contributed to the design of the framework.
Representing the role the United States had played in inspiring the cause of freedom around the world, the statue is visited by 3.5 million people every year according to CNN.
While many people enjoy their visit to the Statue and the museum next to it, those who haven’t visited often focus on Lady Liberty’s crown and torch rather than her feet. Looking down instead of up, you see a set of broken chains. According to the National Parks Service, which manages the monument, the unshackled chains were designed to represent the abolition of slavery by the 13th amendment in 1865.
3. The Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci’s painting La Gioconda, known in English as the Mona Lisa (c. 1503–1519), would probably be the most expensive painting in the world were it ever to come up for sale. Per the Guardian, the Louvre Museum in Paris, where the portrait is housed, is visited by over 10 million people a year. An astounding 80 percent of these visitors come expressly to see the painting.
But while many of the visitors stare as long as they can at the enigmatic expression on the face of the painting’s subject, believed to be Florence noblewoman Lisa del Giocondo (1479–1542), this version wasn’t the only one da Vinci completed.
The so-called Isleworth Mona Lisa is believed to be an earlier version of the famous painting that hangs in the Louvre. With the painting extensively studied by art historians and scientists, the artist who was responsible for this canvas almost certainly seems to be the same as the more famous version.
Unfortunately, this earlier version is in the hands of a private collector, but curious art buffs can watch a whole episode of PBS’s Secrets of the Dead devoted to the painting.
4. Mount Rushmore
This emblematic mountain sculpture of four of America’s greatest presidents, from left to right, George Washington (1789–1797), Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809), Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), and Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865), is truly a national treasure. Built in the Black Hills of South Dakota, construction began in 1927, and, slowed by the Great Depression, did not finish until 1941.
While around 2.5 million tourists per year come to visit the site, per the National Parks Service, many of them don’t know that what they see from the ground isn’t all there is. In fact, the builders created a “hall of records” inside the mountain, which was never fully completed.
The monument’s master architect, Gutzon Borglum, wanted to have a massive space in which the nation’s founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1789), could be housed, visited, and kept for posterity. While the outbreak of World War II ended construction, in 1998, enamel panels were sealed inside with details of the monument’s creation and the history of the United States, left for future generations to discover as a time capsule.
5. The Sphinx
Often called the Great Sphinx of Giza, this sculpture is considered one of the world’s oldest surviving monuments. According to many scholars of Egyptian history, the date of its construction was around 2500 B.C., during the time of the building of the second Great Pyramid.
Though today the Sphinx is known for its exposed bedrock from which it was cut and its missing nose and beard, in ancient Egypt, it would have looked rather different. Archaeologists believe the monument would have been painted bright colors, just as sarcophagi and the insides of tombs were.
As the Smithsonian explains, pigments of paint discovered on the sculpture have led some researchers to believe “the Sphinx was once decked out in gaudy comic book colors.”
6. Big Ben
While the iconic British clock tower in the Palace of Westminster in London is often assumed by tourists to be the place to spot and take a picture of, the name refers only to the Great Bell inside, which weighs a whopping 13.7 tons. Why it is called that remains a mystery.
Meanwhile, some people believe that the “Ben” in question was Sir Benjamin Hall, the engineer who was in charge of installing it in 1859. Others claim that it was named for heavyweight bare-knuckle boxing champion Ben Caunt (1815–1861), whose nickname was “Big Ben.”
7. The Golden Gate Bridge
Constructed over the course of four years, from 1933 to 1937, this masterpiece of engineering and design linked San Francisco to Northern California. In 1985, the bridge celebrated its billionth driver!
However, while many people assume that the bridge looks red, in fact, it was painted in “international orange.” This color has proven to be highly visible during the regular fog that settles over the San Francisco Bay.