Monuments and Landmarks in Europe
© John Smith
The "We Are Our Mountains" statue is Artsakh's biggest icon - ok, maybe only icon. You will see this national symbol on postcards and fridge magnets in Armenia way before you even come to Artsakh. It stands on a hill a short drive (or long walk) outside Stepanakert and was built in 1967.
If you should mention one national icon for Belarus, the Brest Fortress should be it. The grey concrete main entrance with the star-shaped opening is on the 50 BYR note, while the other side of the bill has the south entrance depicted. The fortress was originally built in the 19th century in what was then part of the Russian Empire. It was one of largest of the Russian fortresses, but became even bigger with every modernizing and upgrade it went through. During WWII, the Soviet soldiers defended the fortress so hard against the Nazis that Brest became one of the 11 "Hero Cities" in the Soviet Union along with Leningrad and Stalingrad. Today there isn't much left of the fortress besides the outer wall, which is riddled with bullet holes, and some buildings including a gorgeous Byzantine church. But, considering how heavily it was bombarded, it's impressive that there is anything left at all. The main sights are a towering obelisk and a giant stone face. The internal fame at the base is occasionally guarded by teenage soldiers with guns, who put on a show at the guard shift.
It seems that every nation needs a famous statue - the Faroe Islands have Kopakonan. It's a statue of a naked woman, who steps out of her seal skin. According to legend, seals are humans who took their own life by drowning in the sea. Once a year they come ashore, shed their seal skins and become humans, and dance the night away. The Kopakonan statue is placed in Miklardalur on Kalsoy Island right at the waterfront with Kunoy's majestic mountains as background. In combination with the hike to Kallur lighthouse (from Trøllanes), they make the short ferry ride to Kalsoy (20 min from Klaksvik) well-worth .
© Sarah Hishan
Like a white castle appearing in the sky, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a popular landmark. Located in the 18th arrondissement, its a monument planned as a guilt offering after the devastating Franco-Prussian War and the embarrassments of the government that came with it. It is located at the peak of Butte Montmartre, the highest point of Paris. Needless to say, stunning panorama views can be enjoyed in addition to the church steeped in religious and political history. Inside the Basilica, you'll find golden mosaics above the choir perch that remains one of the largest of its kind while the bronze doors to the portico reenact scenes from the last supper in intricate detail. Visit Sacre Coeur either in the early morning or late evening, when crowds are less and if you want to avoid the long walk up, there's a furnicular to help you out. For budding photographers, dusk provides beautiful shots of the church against a pinkish hue.
Acropolis is of course a huge and important historical site, but what really makes it pop, is its location. Perched on top of a hill right in the middle of Athens, so it can be seen from almost everywhere within the city. The panoramic view from the top is equal amazing and stretch all the way into the Aegean Sea. It was the ancient Greek (not a given) who built this magnificent temple complex around 440 BC and no expense was spared. The crown jewel is no doubt Parthenon with its tall marble columns, which are constructed such they lean slightly inwards to create the optical illusion that they look straight. The Acropolis site is surrounded by several other ancient sites on it's slope, like Theatre of Dionysus and further down, the Ancient Agora (ancient city square). To fully appreciate and understand this masterpiece, a visit to the Acropolis museum is a must.
The setting of this iconic lighthouse is just spectacular. At low tide you can walk out to the outcrop where the lighthouse stands, but at high tide the lighthouse stands isolated on a small rocky island. From the lighthouse you can walk or bike along the coast to La Pulente, where the impressive long beach runs along St Ouen's Bay.
Riga is full of quirky sights. Take this not-so-small Soviet-era concrete monument. Erected in 1985 to honour the Soviet army's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The Nazis were after all in more contempt than the Soviet occupation force, so this fine piece of communist art has been left alone.
The picturesque Trakai Island Castle just has the perfect location. It thrones a small island in the pretty lake of Galvė, at a walking distance of the town of Trakai. The medieval castle was completed in 1409, but was totally renovated in the mid 20th century. It's a popular weekend destination for newly wedded couples and picnicking families - along with hordes of tourists during summer. There are lovely trails along the lake shore and even the town of Trakai has its charming corners of wooden houses and docked rainbow coloured rowboats.
Belém, or more precisely Santa Maria de Belém, is a monument-packed neighbourhood that oozes history. It's here you find the grandiose Jerniómos Monastery, which holds the tomb of the ancient explorer Vasco de Gama, who discovered the seaway from Europe to India. Across the marina, stands another famous Lisbon landmark, the Tower of Belém. It was built to protect Lisbon from pirates and was located in the river a bit off shore, but the devastating earthquake in 1755 redirected the river, so the tower suddenly was standing on the shore. Both the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Other points of interest in Belém are a handful of museums and parks, the nice promenade and the ridiculously popular pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém, where people queue up to buy... hold your breath, egg tarts!
It's no secret that San Marino's old town is cute. It's an UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives more than 2 million visitors every year, mostly Italians. However, the narrow and winding lanes are lined with shops selling anything from the usual range of souvenirs to leather jackets and samurai swords. But the historic center, particularly the fine towers of Guaita and Cesta and the 360 degrees panoramic views are totally worth all the kitsch and neverending hordes of tourists. For a break from the mass, take a small hike along the mountain ridge between the towers.