I was walking around Washington, DC the other day, en route to a meeting and jabbering on my phone while trying not to get run over, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I have walked past this spot hundreds of times, if not more, and while on level I knew that something was there, I never really knew what it was. I was early so I decided to investigate further.
As it would turn out, this small park and fountain was the National Japanese American Memorial. It was built to honor the courage of Japanese Americans during World War II and is serene and sober, in keeping with its mission. The point here is that I had no idea what this was and I’ve lived in Washington since 2000. That made me wonder how many of these small landmarks must exist around the world that most of use just walk by without notice. After reflecting on my various travels, I have found four hidden landmarks from around the world.
Singapore – At the end of our trip to Bangkok a few years ago, we finished the vacation with a few days in Singapore. It was my first visit to the nation-state and I loved every moment of it. One day, while walking around the downtown area, we noticed a striking monument in front of the Old Parliament House. Because we had just spent some time in Thailand, the image of the elephant drew our attention instantly and upon further inspection, we learned that the statue was a gift from King Chulalongkorn. In 1871, the Thai King embarked on an epic journey to visit various countries around the world, including Singapore. This trip marked the first time a Thai monarch left the country and signified a great opening of the country to the rest of the world. On his trip, King Chulalongkorn gave several countries the gift of a bronze elephant, a symbol of Thailand. Today the statue remains a strong symbol of the close ties between the two countries.
Tel Aviv – After a leisurely stroll down Rothschild Boulevard, the home of Bauhaus architecture, I kept on walking down the street and after a couple of blocks chanced upon the Founders Monument. The monument was dedicated in 1949, the year after Israel formed as a country, and recognizes the pioneers of Tel Aviv. In addition to the names on the monument, three copper bas-relief panels represent the earliest pioneer days of planting and building as well as modern architecture. On the other side of the monument is a fountain and with benches lining the sides, offers a respite from the heat. The only strange part about the monument is the fact that it’s located in a median in the middle of the street and I am sure thousands of people pass by every day without realizing the importance of this little monument.
Madrid – Anyone who has been to Madrid can attest to the fact that the Spanish capital is one of the great cities of the world. I realized this as we walked around the central city, marveling at the architecture and design present on every street. One of the busiest areas of Madrid is the Puerta del Sol, a large square located in the heart of Madrid. There are many important buildings and sites in and around the square, but one that caught my interest was a tiny plaque in the middle of the sidewalk, Kilometro Cero. The plaque indicating Kilometro Cero or Kilometer Zero, is the location from which distances are measured in Spain. While of perhaps questionable importance, the plaque holds particular interest to geography fanatics like myself.
Rome – My trip to Rome was filled with exploration and discovery as we traversed the length and bredth of the Eternal City. One of my favorite sites was the Pantheon, the ancient building originally dedicated to all gods. Today it is one of the most popular spots in Rome, with thousands of people having their pictures taken near the fountain in front of the Pantheon every day. What many people may not realize is that the obelisk in the middle of the fountain is not your average monument.
Rome is a city of obelisks. Amongst the most impressive are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks spread throughout the city like chess pieces. The obelisk in front of the Pantheon is one of these ancient pillars and is formally known as the Macuteo obelisk.
Macuteo was originally part of the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis and was moved to the Temple of Isis in Rome near the Minerveo obelisk. It was rediscovered in the 14th century and found a home on the Capitoline before being relocated to its current location in the 18th century.
These are just a few of the countless hidden sites around the world that may not seem like much at first glance, but which carry tremendous importance.
What are your favorite hidden discoveries?