Architecture Mysteries That Baffled Historians

Here are some architectural mysteries that baffled historians!

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From secret chambers inside famous monuments to an ancient mega-pyramid that no one can find, let's investigate some of the most curious architectural mysteries that have baffled even the smartest historians.

Sphinx Secrets

For over 4,000 years, architects, historians, and beyond have marveled at the Great Sphinx of Giza. While most of us are preoccupied with the statue’s exterior appearance, archeologists have been investigating some tantalizing clues hinting that the sphinx sits on top of an ancient underground network.

Usually hidden from the view of onlookers, a small hole, near the Sphinx’s tail can be found. This, some theorists have suggested, may be connected to an underground city of chambers and interconnecting tunnels below.

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There are several shafts and holes dotted around the statue. While all lead to dead ends, and many are estimated to have been carved by treasure hunters after the sphinx’s construction, there are plenty of theories as to what may lie within or further beneath the sphinx.

Legend has it that there is a maze below the Sphinx that leads to the mysterious Hall of Records, an ancient library that is said to house essential knowledge of mathematics, medicine, and beyond. In other words, the answers to just how advanced the ancient Egyptians really were.

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However, there is no meaningful evidence for such a place ever having existed. Skeptics argue that the area under the Sphinx would be a terrible place for any kind of library, especially since it’s prone to groundwater flooding.

While it remains unclear exactly what’s down there, who knows? Maybe the ancient Egyptians are still managing to hide secrets from us in the modern world, in a pyramid scheme of secrets, if you will.

The Lost Chinese Pyramids Of Xi'an

The mere mention of the word “pyramid” is sure to conjure images of those in Egypt but China may be keeping a few enormous ancient pyramids of their own under wraps. In the 20th century, there were multiple reports of Western visitors to China encountering a gargantuan white pyramid, just outside the city of Xi’an.

Sightings of the pyramid date back to 1912 when American travel agent, Fred Schroder, wrote that he’d seen the pyramid while walking with a Buddhist monk, who told him that the pyramid was at least 3,000 years old and 1,000 feet-tall. That’s over twice the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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The second and third sightings came from U.S. military pilots in 1945 and 1947, both of who claim to have seen a white pyramid capped with a giant gemstone of some kind. Soon after these sightings, a photograph of the supposed pyramid appeared in Western newspapers, but something was wrong.

The pyramid in the picture was subsequently identified as the Maoling mausoleum, which is indeed in the Xi’an region. But it looks nothing like the white, jewel-topped pyramid described in the sightings. What’s more, it’s a mere fraction of the alleged size, being just 155 feet tall.

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These conflicting descriptions have led many to believe that there’s something more to this pyramidical mystery. Some online theorists believe that the Chinese government is deliberately concealing at least forty pyramidal mounds around Xi’an, which appear to have been planted over with fast-growing cypress trees.

If true, this could explain why no one has seen the white pyramid in so long. It’s also possible, and maybe more likely, that the gleaming pyramid could have been some kind of optical illusion, with reflections or glare from the sun accounting for the white-looking pyramid as well as its jeweled top.

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Either way, the question of why the pyramids have been concealed remains. Some scholars suggest it’s merely an act of respect for the tombs of historic figures, taking precedent above explorative research. More whacky theorists think there may be secrets nestled in the tombs that the Chinese government wants under wraps.

One thing’s for sure: these pyramids aren’t looking likely to be dug up any time soon, so it seems true confirmation of the white pyramid, and why it would be willingly concealed, will remain entombed for now.

Pyramid In Antarctica

If the idea of a pyramid in China isn’t crazy enough, what about one in Antarctica? In September 2016, a bizarre image appeared online, showing what looks to be a long-lost pyramid half-buried in Antarctic snow. Standing at over four thousand feet tall, many saw this polar pyramid as a sign that Antarctica could once have been home to an ancient, and very advanced civilization.

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Sadly, many scientists debunked any theories of advanced polar civilizations, stating that the structure was simply a mountain with an uncanny resemblance to the man-made pyramids we recognize. Most likely, its unique shape was the result of a process called freeze-thaw erosion, in which water fills up cracks in the mountain, then freezes and expands when temperature decreases.

This expansion can result in large chunks of cliff-face breaking off, leaving a smoother surface on each of the mountain’s sides, and occasionally, a pyramidal shape. So, as exciting as ancient Antarctic civilizations may be, for now, it looks like nature is the real master architect around these parts.

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The Georgia Guidestones

Widely regarded as America’s Stonehenge, the creation of the Georgia Guidestones is not quite as ancient, but it’s just as peculiar.

In 1979, a mysterious man, using the fake name Robert Christian, approached the Elberton City Granite Company in Georgia. With him, Robert brought a scale model of an odd-looking monument as well as ten pages of comprehensive specifications which included instructions for the monument to be erected off Route 77, nine miles outside Elberton.

On March 22nd, 1980, the commissioned monument was revealed. It was a set of stones, engraved with a set of cryptic instructions written in eight different languages, including English, Chinese, and strangely, Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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The instructions seem to detail a plan for a post-apocalyptic society, with ten commandments to follow in the new world, including an instruction that humanity should strive to keep the global population below merely 500 million. But the instructions themselves weren’t even the strangest twist in this tale.

In July 2022, the monument mysteriously met its demise at the hands of an unknown shadowy figure over four decades after its creation. The only evidence relating to the guidestones’ destruction is the footage of an unidentifiable figure running around the stones shortly before the explosion.

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With quite the web of unanswered questions, there’s some doubt as to whether the Georgia Guidestones will even be rebuilt, but if they do, hopefully, they’ll add an 11th commandment: Do not blow me up!

Cathedral of Salamanca's Astronaut

Unless you’re a moon-landing conspiracy theorist, you probably believe humans first achieved space travel in the 1960s. But there’s some medieval architecture hiding mysterious details that seem to suggest otherwise.

The Cathedral of Salamanca in Spain is actually two churches joined together, one dating back to the 12th century and one from the 16th century. While there are many unique carvings on site, there’s one that’s truly out of this world, the carved figure of what is indisputably an astronaut.

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If this cathedral was built in the 16th century at the latest, does that mean there were ancient astronauts? Before your mind races with conspiracies of medieval space travel or alien architects, let’s take a closer look to see if we can figure out exactly what’s going on here.

While it’s true that the construction of Salamanca Cathedral’s newer side began in 1513, there was no such astronaut carving at the time of the cathedral’s completion. Fast-forward to 1992, a restoration project for the cathedral was underway, and one of the tasks involved the stonemasons adding in some quirky touches to reflect our modern world.

The astronaut, as well as a cheeky gargoyle enjoying an ice cream, are the result of this restoration project. While there are still infinite mysteries to unravel when it comes to the future of space exploration, it’s nice to think that this stony astronaut will remain an important signifier of its history.

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Tiny Hidden Houses On Westerstraat

At first glance, Westerstraat in Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighborhood appears to be a street like any other. But not everything is very neighborly around these parts. Eagle-eyed pedestrians passing number 54 Westerstraat might notice something rather odd, the numbers skip directly from 54 to 70.

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But what happened to these missing houses? Were they banished from the neighborhood? Well, they aren’t actually missing at all, you just need to know where to look for them. Wedged inside the 4-inch crack between numbers 54 and 70 are seven miniature houses, all stacked up on top of one another.

Unsurprisingly, nobody lives in them, but why are they there? It turns out there used to be a small courtyard accessible only through a doorway at number 54 that led to the entrances to the full-sized versions of these houses. However, at some point, street access to the courtyard was permanently blocked off by new construction.

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The missing number houses were merged together to create larger buildings, and later, the miniatures were installed as a tongue-in-cheek way to represent the mysterious missing seven street numbers. While they may say it’s not the house that makes a home, the miniature houses of Westerstraat have certainly made themselves at home as a part of the street’s hidden history.

Quinta Da Regaleira Initiation Well

Nestled in the hilltops of the Portuguese Riviera, those who look upon the exterior of the Quinta da Regaleira estate will recognize it as a masterclass in gothic-style architecture. But it’s what lies beneath that makes this fortress a true enigma.

In the grounds of the estate is a mysterious twinset of wells, but curiously, neither of them has ever been used to collect water. On the contrary, the two wells function more like inverted towers, spiraling downwards via staircases adorned with occult symbols, descending into a mysterious abyss. But for what purpose? It’s about as strange as you can imagine.

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These pits are said to have been used as part of a mysterious initiation ritual for one of the most famous secret societies in history, the Knights Templar. The Quinta da Regaleira as it appears today was constructed between 1904 and 1910 by Antonio Monteiro, a man said to have possessed a deep interest in the Knights Templar.

Originally an elite Catholic military organization formed in the 12th century, most historians agree that the Knights Templar disbanded more than 700 years ago. But some believe there are those who have made efforts to revive the society in more recent history, including Monteiro.

Local historians believe that candidates would enter one of these initiation wells blindfolded to descend nine flights of spiral steps before facing the challenge of navigating a pitch-black labyrinth-like grotto. Only if they emerged from the labyrinth, would they finally be welcomed into the mystical Templar brotherhood or similar mystic organization.

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While Templar initiations no longer take place at the Quinta da Regaleira, at least, not that we know of, the mystery of the Knights Templar and their many secrets are sure to live on for all time.

Predjama Castle

While you may think mysterious and magical castles like Hogwarts, Minas Tirith, and the Red Keep only exist in fantasy, a select few have captured imaginations in the real world. Perched in the middle of a four-hundred-foot cliff in south-central Slovenia, Predjama Castle is hiding a secret that you’d think only possible in fiction: the entrance to a complex network of hidden tunnels.

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Woven into a nine-mile-long natural cave system, the tunnels are said to have been built to serve as a convenient hidey-hole for the castle’s residents. The tunnels, which lead to an exit at the top of the mountain, allowed inhabitants to continually gather supplies from the nearby town without being noticed.

Predjama and its caves were once home to the legendary, Erasmus Von Lueg, a local Robin Hood figure, who is said to have fled to the castle after putting an end to an adversary at the Vienna Court in 1483. Despite finding himself under siege at the castle for his crime, Erasmus stood firm thanks to his network of tunnels which allowed him to sneak in and out at will.

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But despite his secret tunnels, legend says that Erasmus ultimately met his end when one of his men betrayed him, blasting him out of the castle walls with no less than a cannon! Whether the tale is true or not, while Erasmus ended up being permanently erased from Predjama, his explosive legend, as well as the castle’s perplexing tunnels, live on to this day.

Pumapunku

Found in western Bolivia, Pumapunku is a curious, ruined temple complex that baffles historians to this day. The stonework is widely thought to date back to 536 AD, built by the Tiwanaku civilization. But there are some details that call this interpretation of its origins into question.

One of the biggest mysteries of Puma Punku’s construction is that the only rudimentary tools we have evidence of being used here are super-simple hammerstones. Despite these tools usually being assumed to be fairly basic and imprecise, some of these blocks look to have been finished to machine levels of precision, with perfectly drilled holes and razor-sharp edges.

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Stranger still is the fact that all of this precision is supposed to have been achieved by a civilization that had no writing system and no knowledge of the existence of the wheel. So, as far as some folks are concerned, something doesn’t add up.

Fringe theorists argue that it was another more advanced civilization currently unknown to historians that built Pumapunku, and some go as far as to propose that the site was made possible through alien intervention.

However, aside from the strange look of the blocks, there’s no concrete evidence that aliens were involved here, and, as happens all too often, this could be a case of us underestimating our amazing ancient ancestors.

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The Loretto Chapel Miraculous Staircase

In 1873, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Catholic order of nuns known as the sisters of Loretto were having a special chapel built. Legend says the nuns had been unable to find anyone to devise a staircase to the choir loft that was suitable for the chapel’s small size.

The nuns began praying for a resolution, when a mysterious man showed up at the chapel, demanding to be left alone while he worked on his very own secret solution to their dilemma. Six months later, the man vanished without a trace, leaving behind the magnificent, but bizarre, staircase he’d built. But what made it so strange?

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For one thing, the spiral steps, which have since been decorated with elaborate handrails, had two full 360-degree turns; a mean feat to design in a self-supporting structure without the aid of modern architectural computer programs.

The staircase didn’t appear to have a central support beam for the stairs to spiral around, leaving many to claim that it was defying the laws of physics, an act of divine intervention. While many historians and architects agree that the staircase is a marvel of craftsmanship, most agree that there must be an earthly explanation behind its mysterious construction.

The main theory is that the twisted outer and inner rings of wood that encapsulate the steps work to support the structure, and the narrower inner spiral takes the brunt of the weight, similar to the central pole seen in most spiral staircases.

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So, while the construction of the Loretto staircase does seem to adhere to the natural laws of physics, the real mystery lies with the man who built the stairs, whose identity remains unknown to this day.

Vettuvan Koil and the Kailasa Temple

India is the home of more than two-million Hindu temples. One of these is the Vettuvan Koil Temple, but what sets it apart from most of the is the mystery of its origins. Located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Vettuvan Koil was constructed all the way back in the eighth century but is known to this day for its intricate stonework.

However, the biggest mystery here is the fact that the temple, carved out of a single, 25-ft-tall piece of rock, was strangely abandoned before completion. While the top of Vettuvan Koil is amassed with highly detailed figurines of Hindu deities, the bottom remains largely unfinished.

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Historians have noted that there is another temple in India that bears a striking resemblance to the Vettuvan Koil. Despite being located more than 800 miles from the Vettuvan Koil, the Kailasa Temple shares some uncanny similarities.

Both structures were carved into their respective hills in the eighth century, and both are dedicated to Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. While the Vettuvan Koil stands at 25 feet, the Kailasa Temple is more than double the size at 60 feet.

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Because of this size difference, some historians have theorized that the Vettuvan Koil is a scale model of the Kailasa Temple, like how modern architects create smaller models of planned buildings to help them understand what it takes to build a larger version.

Local legend, however, has its own take on the unfinished temple, telling the story of a father and son competing to see who could build the most spectacular temple.

The story concludes with the son, who allegedly built the nearby Murugan Shrine, ridiculing his father for taking too long to finish his own shrine, and meeting a very permanent end via his father’s ensuing rage. The father, legend has it, subsequently returned to his senses, abandoning the partially finished Vettuvan Koil in grief.

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This father-son tragedy is said to be how the Vettuvan Koil got its name, which loosely translates to the temple of the slayer. All legends aside, I actually think the scale-model theory is more interesting, and makes the practices of ancient architects all that more awe-inspiring.

Mount Rushmore's Hall of Records

Located in Pennington County, South Dakota, the world-famous Mount Rushmore attracts over two million visitors per year. But despite its popularity, few people realize that this monument of faces is masking a hidden secret.

Obscured from view behind the stone head of Abraham Lincoln is an 18-foot doorway leading to a secret chamber deep inside Mount Rushmore’s cliffside. Weirder still is that the doorway looks strangely unfinished as if it was suddenly abandoned along the way.

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You can’t even investigate the chamber further in person because access is strictly forbidden, even for high-ranking officials, but we do know a little bit about its history. While the construction of Mount Rushmore began in 1927 and concluded in 1941, the idea for the secret chamber came in 1938 from the head sculptor for the monument, Gutzon Burglum.

Dubbed the Hall of Records, the chamber was meant to function as a sort of elaborate time capsule, containing cabinets filled with some of the most important documents from American history, including the Declaration of Independence. However, around the onset of the USA’s involvement in World War 2 in 1941, the ambitious project stalled and was never fully realized.

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Today, it’s reported that a small repository of records including a biography of sculptor Gutzon Burglum, as well as copies of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are indeed stored on the floor beyond the doorway. But who really knows what’s lurking back there? This certainly looks to me like the perfect spot for a secret society meeting.

The Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi Temple

A land of beauty and mysticism, India is a place with a certain magic in the air, and that magic extends to its architecture. Located in Andhra Pradesh, the Lepakshi Temple, is a 16th-century temple surrounded by seventy magnificently carved pillars.

But one of these 70 is hiding a seemingly miraculous ability: it’s hovering above the floor. Known around the world as the famous hanging pillar, the structural detail appears to be attached solely to the temple’s roof, leaving a thin gap just above the ground.

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The hanging pillar sees curious locals and tourists alike often testing out its gravity-defying capabilities. Of course, it’s certainly possible that, with the right kind of concrete attaching it, the roof has enough structural integrity of its own to hold up the pillar’s weight.

However, some eagle-eyed visitors have noticed a slightly more likely explanation: there is what appears to be a small section of the pillar that is in fact in contact with the ground, which could explain how the pillar remains structurally sound.

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Local sources claim that, in the early 1900s, a British engineer tried to move the pillar to attempt to uncover its structural secrets and dislodged it, leaving part of it touching the ground, though this theory isn’t universally accepted. So, the questions of why the Lepakshi’s pillar would’ve been constructed with a gap, and whether the Brits knocked it over, will continue to hang in the balance.

Vermont's Witch Windows

Globe-trotting expeditions are great, but if you look closely, there might be some architectural anomalies to be found just outside your own front door. For decades, residents of Vermont have noticed peculiar crooked windows all over their neighborhoods, and local legends suggest their origins are even stranger than they look.

Dubbed witch windows, local legend alleges these architectural anomalies are so oddly-positioned to make it impossible for broom-flying witches to enter through them, or by some alternative theories, to make it easier for morally-crooked demons to exit the home.

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While the thought of witches attempting to zoom through people’s windows may seem a little silly today, ideas of witchcraft and demons were once very real in the minds of strongly Christian 17th and 18th-century New England settlers. Thanks to this, the witch window’s spooky moniker has seemingly become a local legend, but as with most things magical, things are not what they appear.

For one thing, there’s the question of why Vermont residents would only make use of one small side window to supposedly protect their homes from witches, rather than several. And most significantly, these crooked windows only seem to have shown up two whole centuries after the witch trials!

Despite their creepy connotations, it turns out that so-called witch windows have a more practical history. Vermont is a state known for its old housing stock, with many homes dating back to the early 1800s. Many of these houses have since had new wings installed to maximize space, but the problem was that many of these extensions would cover windows on the original structure.

To solve this problem, builders would often angle a window to fit on the narrow available wall space between the two structures. So, while witch windows may not be linked to any occult magic, the real magic at hand is the creative skills of New England’s construction workers!

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London Noses

Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, red phone boxes, there’s no question that London is filled with some of the most iconic architecture on Earth. With so much to see, it’s no surprise that there are a whole host of mysterious things to sniff out. Like the fact that, for some reason, multiple buildings around the city seem to have noses.

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In 1997, artist Rick Buckley fixed thirty-five replicas of his own nose onto various buildings across the city as a creative protest against CCTV surveillance, placing them right under the noses of street cameras.

While most of the noses were quickly detected and cut off swiftly by officials, some of Rick’s noses remain. The most famous nose still standing is in Admiralty Arch, about 7 feet up the north-facing arch, certainly not something to be sniffed at!

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Wiesbaden Manhole

While the next architectural oddity might look like the entrance to an underground supervillain lair, it's actually one of the most practical features of German streets. Located in the city of Wiesbaden, the mysterious trapdoor is actually a manhole cover, that opens to expose a shadowy spiral stairway leading down into a subterranean maze.

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Unbeknown to many of Wiesbaden’s pedestrians, they are in fact walking over the century-old Salzbach Canal sewer system 23 feet below. But while most manhole covers are circular, this mysterious angular design is more practical than you think.

Round manhole covers, which weigh around 250 lbs, need to be removed for access, but this ergonomic design allows for the manhole to open up without workers having to worry about removing the heavy lid entirely. So, with the streets lined with pieces of architectural ingenuity like this, the phrase German efficiency didn’t come from nowhere!

If you were amazed at these architectural mysteries, you might want to explore more mysteries here. Thanks for reading!

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