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Top 10 Famous Landmarks That Were Nearly Destroyed

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
The Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only iconic historical structure to nearly be destroyed. For this list, we’ll be looking at iconic and/or historic structures and landmarks that we almost lost due to natural disaster, natural decay or war, but which, thankfully, survive today. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Famous Landmarks That Were Nearly Destroyed.
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Script written by Michael Wynands

Top 10 Famous Landmarks That Were Nearly Destroyed


These iconic structures very nearly joined the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Famous Landmarks That Were Nearly Destroyed.

For this list, we’ll be looking at iconic and/or historic structures and landmarks that we almost lost due to natural disaster, natural decay or war, but which, thankfully, survive today.

#10: The Washington Monument

At approximately 555 feet tall, this colossal obelisk is the largest of its kind in the world. Standing proud on the grass of Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, the Washington Monument is an enduring symbol of American pride, commemorating founding father George Washington, the nation’s first president. In 2011 however, this iconic landmark was “significantly damaged” by an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8. The seismic activity resulted in falling stones and mortar, displaced joints throughout the building and cracks in the pyramidion that tops the structure. Thankfully, the epicenter of the earthquake was over 80 miles away. Any closer, and who knows what would have happened. Even so, the monument was closed for 3 years of repairs.

#9: The Colosseum

Among Italy’s most iconic landmarks, the Colosseum was built in 70-80 AD. During its heyday, it could accommodate between 50,000 to 80,000 Romans, who would crowd the structure to witness everything from gladiatorial combat to mock naval battles. Today, it still receives an average of about 4 million tourists per year. Though the structure shows its age, we should consider ourselves lucky that anything remains! In 217 AD, lightning started a fire, destroying the roof. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it suffered repeated looting and pillaging. Then, in 1349, a major earthquake caused the collapse of the southside, after which stones from the structure continued to be repurposed elsewhere. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the building in 1749 and the church subsequently undertook restoration efforts.

#8: Cologne Cathedral

By all means, considering the bombardment it was subjected to during World War II, it’s a wonder that there’s a city of Cologne at all. The survival of the Cathedral though? That feels downright miraculous. Throughout the war, the building was hit by 14 bombs. A testament to its sturdy construction, the Cathedral remained standing, despite substantial damage - an outlier in a sea of otherwise crumbling buildings. Aerial images taken at the end of the war are equal parts awe-inspiring and horrifying. Of course, the cathedral by no means came out of the war unscathed; many of the vaults collapsed. Repairing the building was a major undertaking, but at least something remained to actually be repaired.

#7: Dome of the Rock

Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, this Islamic Shrine has weathered more than its fair share of destructive forces. It was built in between 688–692 on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, as well as the Temple of Solomon before it, on the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, the architectural wonder was damaged by earthquakes in both 808 and 846. A third earthquake, in 1015, proved most devastating, resulting in the collapse of the dome - only for it to be rebuilt within the next decade. Most recently, in 1984, there was a terrorist plot by the Jewish Underground to blow up the iconic structure. Thankfully, it was never carried out, and the landmark survives, its architecture and mosaics continuing to inspire awe to this day.

#6: Forbidden City

China’s Forbidden City is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the powerful nation. But no amount of might -economic, military or spiritual- can stop a force of nature. Having primarily been constructed out of wood, the Forbidden City is particularly vulnerable to fire. It is something that, for centuries, the massive compound was aware of and prepared for - from torch protocols to huge vats of emergency water. But when lightning strikes… there’s only so much you can do. In 1421, just one year after construction was completed, lightning started a fire that consumed three palaces. Fires again caused major damage in 1557 and 1597. Then, in 1644, the Forbidden City was nearlydecimated when it was set ablaze by the army of Li Zicheng. Luckily, it was rebuilt every time.

#5: Westminster Abbey & Palace of Westminster

Originally built in 960 and 1016 respectively, the Abbey and Palace have required a lot of love throughout history. The Palace suffered a major fire in 1512. Alongside the Abbey, it just narrowly escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666. In 1834 however, it would largely succumb to yet another blaze. Thus the Old Palace was replaced by the gothic structure we know today, which incorporated the surviving Westminster Hall and other vestiges of the original structure. Even so, we very nearly lost the New Palace during WWII, when it was severely damaged by air raids. Westminster Abbey, for its part, should have been destroyed in the 16th century as part of the Dissolution of Monasteries process, but it was saved from destruction by King Henry VIII himself.

#4: Buckingham Palace & St. Paul’s Cathedral

England sure has a lot of iconic landmarks to its name, and wouldn’t you know it… in keeping with their long and storied history, many of them faced annihilation at some point or another. Both Buckingham Palace and the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral were ravaged during the Second World War. The Palace and the Cathedral weathered multiple direct hits during the Battle of Britain, but thankfully, due to their solid construction and more than a little luck - both survived. That being said, Buckingham Palace isn’t the only residence that the Queen has nearly had to say farewell to. In 1992, another one of her royal residences, Windsor Castle, suffered a major fire, which blazed for 15 hours.

#3: Leaning Tower of Pisa

Honestly, given its namesake lean, we’re kind of always worried that this iconic landmark is teetering on the brink of destruction. Despite appearances however, it’s safe - though that hasn’t always been the case! In the ‘90s, a major and costly engineering project was undertaken to partially correct the lean. The angle had progressed to 5.5 degrees and the structure was finally at risk of collapsing. They needed to move 70 tons of earth to do it, but the tower was returned to its 1838 position - and with that, it was deemed structurally sound once more. Funnily enough, the same soft soil that gives the tower its lean, is also what has allowed it to survive multiple earthquakes over the centuries.

#2: Notre-Dame de Paris

This one is still painfully fresh in our minds. On April 15th 2019, a fire broke out in the famous Paris cathedral. The world watched in horror as the blaze quickly consumed the oak roof and the spire, causing substantial damage to the upper part of the cathedral. The heavy oak that made up the structure’s roof, often referred to as the “forest” and which dated back to the 13th century, is irreplaceable, but thankfully, the largely stone structure survives and the city will be able to rebuild. Had the flames been allowed to continue much longer however - it might have been a very different story. Experts estimate that the iconic landmark was only “15 to 30 minutes” from potential collapse.

#1: Parthenon

It might be in rough state, but considering it dates back to 432 BC, we think the Parthenon looks quite good for its age. The crowning jewel of the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon still stands today largely thanks to the ingenuity of the ancient Greeks, but also courtesy of an extensive restoration project spanning decades, which began in 1975. In 1687 however, an explosion caused significant damage to the structure, nearly bringing it down. This was during the Morean War, and the Ottoman Turks used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, which was inevitably ignited during the conflict. Though we’re grateful to have what remains, it’s hard not to think about all that was lost due to the senseless acts of war.


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