Architectural masterpieces such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chunnel to the Burj Khalifa, and the Shanghai Tower may give the impression that modern design and capabilities surpass our ancestors' achievements. However, ancient architecture, impressive in its sheer ambition and logic-defying construction, competes with modernity based on its intricate beauty.
Popular Mechanics explored the twenty most impressive ancient buildings, a magnificent list. Some of the usual suspects, Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids made the cut. But popular culture overlooks many far more remarkable structures; such structures offer modern designers insight and inspiration.
The most ancient structure known to be built by man, a stone wall blocking a cave, seems commonplace. But archeologists date the beginnings of this wall, located in Greece, at 23,000 years ago—impressive when one considers that experts date the Pyramids at Giza at 4,500 years ago. Even at the time of discovery, 1987, visitors still occupied the walled cave. Imagine living in the same cave that your ancestors inhabited, going back twenty-three millennia.
Other ancient architectural marvels combine massive workforce with complex engineering. Stonehenge, a structure that lines up with solar events, belongs in this category. The Gobekli Tepe, a site in Turkey, turns the clock back 9,000 years. Experts cite the ancient temple as the first-ever constructed; this caused modern architects to re-think their beliefs as the Gobekli Tepe predates the generally accepted beginnings of agriculture and finds its roots in the theorized time of hunter-gatherers. The massive structure of stone circles lines up with several constellations and lunar cycles. A vast number of people must have constructed the temple; some stones weigh more than 60 tons. Archeologists estimate that builders created the Gobekli Tepe over the course of several hundred years.
Jumping ahead in time, ruins that we see as colossal stone monuments defy belief. Ancient Romans built the Theater of Marcellus in 12 B.C., an arena that can hold 20,000 people. The Aqueduct of Segovia, made from 24,000 stone blocks and no mortar, spans eight miles across hilly terrain to bring water to ancient Segovia. The Coliseum, accommodating 50,000 guests, tops the list of ancient Roman wonders. Spectators could attend gladiator battles and even naval combat reenactments, complete with ships fighting it out in the structure's gargantuan flooded bowl.
Any of these wonders can't help but impress even the least discerning eye. Modern architects find inspiration in these ageless wonders. Ancient Roman design inspired neoclassical architecture featured on Federal Buildings. Archeologists and contemporary designers continue to uncover secrets on how ancient builders created these massive structures. No doubt, archeologists and architects side-by-side will continue to study these structures for centuries to come.