Places to See Before You Die Around The World

Taj Mahal
Every year for the past decade or so, more than three million travelers have visited India's Taj Mahal. The white marble monument-completed over some 15 years by the emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631-rises on a three-acre site on the Yamuna River in the northern city of Agra.

By the mid-1990s, the Taj's splendors-such as the 187-foot, minaret-flanked dome, fronted by a reflecting pool and surrounded by a walled garden-had deteriorated markedly, prompting a multimillion-dollar restoration effort spearheaded by the Indian government. The massive undertaking includes scrubbing the marble exterior and a restoration of the massive red sandstone main gates, including the replacement of semiprecious inlay.

The restoration is expected to take several years. Even before the scaffolding comes down, however, visitors will discover that the monument's aura of serenity-long associated with this symbol of romantic love-remains intact. Today, access to the site is regulated by the use of timed tickets; visitors stroll among the gardens and gleaming interior spaces in an atmosphere closer to the tranquillity envisioned by Shah Jahan himself. This significant preservation project, says Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, demonstrates the progress that can be achieved by "public-private partnerships.' Long-term plans, she adds, include anre-creation of the site's original gardens.

The Statues of Easter Island
About 2,000 miles off the coast of South America sits the Chile-governed Easter Island. Just 14 miles long and 7 miles wide, it was named by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who discovered it on Easter Sunday in 1722. Archaeologists and historians have debated the island's history, but it is believed that Polynesians landed on the island around A.D. 800 and depleted its resources until it was practically barren.

What they left behind, however, remains one of the most captivating riddles of engineering: nearly 1,000 monolithic statues. The massive effigies, on average 13 feet tall and weighing 14 tons, are thought to represent ancestral chiefs raised to the level of gods. According to archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg-who is the founder of UCLA's Easter Island Statue Project and has studied the artifacts for nearly 30 years-about 95 percent of the statues were carved in the volcanic cone known as Rano Raraku. Master carvers, who taught their craft over generations, roughed out the statues using stone tools called toki and employed sharp obsidian tools to make finer lines.

The real mystery-how a small and isolated population managed to transport the megalithic structures to various ceremonial sites-has spawned decades of research and experiments. "It is amazing that an island society made of 10 to 12 chiefdoms had sufficient unity and ability to communicate carving standards, organize carving methods and achieve political rights of way to transport statues to every part of the island," Van Tilburg says.
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