A mountain is one kind of landmark the oldest kind. Large, changeless, visible from afar, it is a landform that travelers,seafarers and mapmakers can use as a reference point to establish where they are in the world. A few mountain appear in this blog, but they have been chosen not for their position on the earth but for what they have become in the human imagination. This is because landmarks have long been more than physical objects:they are not just a matter of geography, but of cultural identity. The earliest human societies invested the outstanding features of their surrounding with spiritual importance. Mountains were the homes of gods, rivers ran from this world to the next, forest trees grew in sacred groves. Such landmarks anchored the lives of ancient peoples, and even where the old spirits no longer seem so present this cultural attachment to local natural landmarks is one that we have not altogether lost. Table mountain, for example, is the emblem on the flag of Cape Town, and Japanese pilgrims still climb Mount Fuji respectfully dressed in the white robes.
Most of the landmarks described on the following blog are not natural features, however, because for several thousand years humanity has been stamping its own marks on the world. The urge to build, to leave behind lasting monuments, has dotted the earth with remarkable structures. Some spectacular relics of the most ancient civilizations, such as the Great Sphinx f Giza or the enigmatic figures of Easter Island, we have yet to fully understand, while others, such as the Parthenon or the Colosseum, help us to see more clearly into the lives of our distant ancestors.
These great ruins are not only symbols of the ancient cultures that created them, but of the places where they still stand. The Colosseum still says ‘Rome’ and the Parthenon still says ‘Athens’. Every country, every city, has acquired its icons over the centuries, and the choice has not always been predictable. Some were initially trivial or unpopular – such as the Hollywood Sign or Eros in Piccadilly – but have become world famous simply by winning local public affection. Other are so outstanding beautiful, original or clever that the world beats a path to see and admire them. Cathedrals and temples, elegant bridges, giant statues, historic clocks, modern skyscrapers and structures of many other kinds have established themselves as unique landmarks, defining their locations but also helping to define the societies that live around them.