When you consider how tumultuous and violent history is, we’re kind of lucky we have anything at all to remember it by. What isn’t destroyed by wind, rain, earthquakes, and volcanoes tends to be ruined by the hands of human beings.
There are many relics of civilization (and nature) that remain to us, tucked away in museums, or else so large that they are museums in themselves: colosseums, palaces, temples consecrated to forgotten gods. But there are many wonders of the world we’d love to visit — if only they still existed.
These are the top 7 amazing places that no longer exist. We may never get to see them, but they’re still worth imagining!
1. The Library of Alexandria, Egypt
Destroyed: Unknown, conflicting dates
The Library of Alexandria was one of the greatest institutions of learning in the ancient world. Its burning, and the destruction of the information preserved within its walls, has become symbolic of all the lost histories, biographies, artifacts and records we really wish we had inherited.
Calling it a “Library” is really a bit of an understatement. The Library was part of a larger “Museum” — and a “Museum” in this context is really more like a university campus. There were study halls, lecture theaters, even a menagerie of exotic animals. It was a place of research and discovery for the best minds of Egypt and beyond from its founding in the 3rd century BC until its sacking.
Sources are contradictory as to the timing and cause of the Library’s ultimate ruination. One story holds that it was accidentally levelled by Julius Caesar; according to the historian Plutarch, the besieged Caesar burned his own ships and the fire spread to the Library. Another theory holds that several fires and earthquakes over the centuries gradually ruined the place.
Whatever the cause, I would give anything to undo it. God only knows how much history died with the Great Library.
2. Shakespeare’s Theatre, London
Destroyed: June 29, 1613
If you visit modern London, you can go to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and see a spot of Hamlet. But the version you’ll see today was opened in 1997, close to but not on the precise site of the original.
In favor with the monarch of their time (Elizabeth I), Shakespeare and his company were actually able to finance the construction of their own theater, the Globe, which opened in 1599. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a fire 14 years later, which broke out when a prop cannon misfired during a performance of Henry VIII. It seems even Henry’s ghost had an appetite for destruction.
Shakespeare opened a new Globe a year later, but it was shuttered in the 1640s by the Puritans, zealous protestants who felt theater was decadent and destabilizing. The new Globe was subsequently torn down.
3. The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, China
As the name suggests, this nine-story Buddhist pagoda was built with white porcelain bricks that reflected the sun’s light; after dark, lamps illuminated its shiny enamel surface in a display that was surely unlike anything else in the medieval world. Finished in 1431, the Porcelain Tower was characterized by foreign visitors as one of the great wonders of the world.
The original tower was destroyed in 1856 by the millenarian Christian Taiping rebels, likely in order to deny their enemies a point from which to survey and shell the city below. However, after an enormous donation by a Chinese businessman, a replica was opened on the site of the original in 2015. Still, it’s not quite the same thing…
4. Sutro Baths, San Francisco
Not all lost wonders are ancient. San Francisco’s Sutro Baths first opened their doors in 1896, funded by the super-rich then-mayor Adolph Sutro.
Sutro had taken a page from the Roman playbook by opening this massive indoor swimming pool. Actually, it contained 7 separate salt water pools of differing temperatures. It was the largest such facility in the world, capable of accommodating 10,000 people at any given time. Although Sutro personally owned the baths, he insisted on reasonable prices so that average San Franciscans could enjoy themselves there.
Unfortunately, this meant the Baths lost money in the long run. After Sutro’s death, his family added an ice rink and later an arcade, but there was just no way of turning a profit with such a large, out-of-the-way attraction.
The baths were sold in 1966 and burned down the following year in suspicious circumstances.
5. Guaíra Falls, South America
Just as not all lost wonders are ancient, not all are manmade either. The Guairá Falls on the border of Brazil and Paraguay were perhaps the most impressive in South America. Though not the largest in the world, the sheer volume of falling water dwarfed even Niagara Falls, sending out a mighty roar that could be heard for 20 miles around.
Guairá was actually 18 individual waterfalls clustered into 7 groupings, earning them the Portuguese nickname Sete Quedas or Seven Falls.
The falls were subsumed by an artificial lake in 1982, after the Brazilian and Paraguayan governments jointly agreed to build a hydroelectric dam in the area, a decision mourned by citizens and tourists alike.
6. Troy, Turkey
Destroyed: Many times, abandoned AD 500
Perhaps the most famous city in the history of the world, Troy was the subject of the Trojan War passed down to us in Homer’s Iliad. As it was first told centuries after the events, Homer’s version of the story surely isn’t historically accurate. But it turns out there really was a Troy, and there really may have been a Trojan war in the 12th century BC.
The modern site of its remains is in northwestern Turkey. The site was discovered in the 19th century and excavated by a number of intrepid archaeologists. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can technically visit the ruins of Troy. But exactly which Troy you’re visiting remains the subject of debate. It seems the city was destroyed many times. And each time, it was rebuilt from its own rubble. Which layer (if any) represents the Troy of Homer cannot really be said.
The last inhabited incarnation of Troy seems to have been abandoned around 500 AD.
7. The Second Temple, Jerusalem
Destroyed: 70 AD
The Hebrew Bible claims that the First Temple was built by King Solomon and later plundered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. However, since there have been very few archaeological digs in that part of Jerusalem, there’s no corroborating evidence that it ever existed. Not so with the Second Temple.
Sadly, what little we know of the temple comes from biased sources, and our knowledge of it is far from complete. But it was probably the greatest religious structure ever constructed. Its walls were 20 storeys high, supposedly built with stones weighing as much as 400 tons. It was said it could hold up to a million worshippers at a time.
We know for sure that the temple was large and formidable enough that Jewish factions used it as a fortress of last resort in their abortive rebellion against the Romans in 70 AD. It was subsequently destroyed, almost certainly by the Romans, though the pro-Roman Jewish aristocrat and historian Josephus claims both sides were partly to blame.
Tragically, all we have are insufficient descriptions to help reconstruct the Second Temple in our imaginations.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the legacies and mysteries of the lost wonders of the world.
Still want to learn more? Check out 15 Countries With Ancient Ruins You Should Visit.