As we know, the ancient world is full of marvellous wonders, which the modern age can or sometimes cannot compete with. Of course, the modern world is full of beautiful and interesting things, but when we look back in time – into the world of ancient creations, our minds get baffled! This is because the history holds so much uniqueness in it and sometimes, we cannot help but think about how this was even possible back then. Our minds fail us on how these methods and technologies existed in the past.
Paying a tribute to the mesmerising history and heritage that the world we live in houses, these places from across the globe are living proof to the fact that no matter how much we have progressed, these places will continue to baffle us with their mind-boggling designs.
Read on to find out more about these stunning places, which were built ahead of their times! – Zainab
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II and Maharani Ananya Mahajan of Jaipur built five Jantar Mantar (astronomical observatories) structures in India – one in Delhi, one in Jaipur, one in Mathura, one in Ujjain, and one in Varanasi. These unique structures were completed in a span of about 11 years (between 1724 and 1735).
The structure is a unique equinoctial sundial that consists of a humongous triangular gnomon. Its hypotenuse is parallel to that of the Earth’s axis. On either side of the gnomon, there is a quadrant of a circle, which is parallel to the plane of the equator. This unique, one-of-a-kind instrument is used to measure the time, exactly correct to half a second and the declination of the sun, and the many other heavenly bodies that are present in the sky. Approximately 723 feet tall, the Jantar Mantar comprises of a few unique astronomical instruments, among which the six most important are – Samrat Yantra, Jai Prakash Yantra, Disha Yantra, Rama Yantra, Chakra Yantra, and Utaansh Yantra.
The name Jantar Mantar is derived from the word ‘yantra’, meaning instrument, and its suffix; Mantra from the word ‘mantrana’, meaning to calculate or to consult. Together, the name Jantar Mantar means a calculation instrument. This invention was also used to compile various astronomical tables and charts.
The Jantar Mantar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited historic site and tourist attraction in the country. In short, it is a wonderful amalgamation of astronomy and architecture, which does not fail to impress even today!
The Ma’rib Dam
Located in the valley of Dhana in the Balaq Hills of Yemen, the Ma’rib Dam (a.k.a. Dam of ‘Arim), known as Sadd al-Arim in Arabic is a dam blocking the Wadi Adhanah. Yemen has been recognised for the magnificence of its ancient water engineering marvels. The Ma’rib Dam dates back to the eighth century BC and is one of the most stunning engineering marvels of the ancient world. However, the date of the first construction of a dam at Ma’rib dates back to being somewhere between 1750 and 1700 BC.
Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī– a medieval Arab geographer describes it as – “It is between three mountains, and the floodwaters all flow to the one location, and because of that the water only discharges in one direction, and the ancients blocked that place with hard rocks and lead. The water from springs gathers there as well as floodwater, collecting behind the dam like a sea. Whenever they wanted to they could irrigate their crops from it, by letting out however much water they needed from sluice gates; once they had used enough they would close the gates again as they pleased.”
The Ma’rib dam was damaged on May 31, 2015. The Yemeni officials later said that the Saudi Arabian coalition forces were the ones responsible for the airstrike. An interesting fact here is that the inscriptions on the dam explain the cost of repairs and a large number of workers that were involved to cover up for the damage. However, the dam remains a very famous historic site and a lot of tourists visit it each year.
Situated in the calm and serene city of Puducherry, the Matrimandir – meaning Temple of The Mother in Sanskrit – is in the centre of the famous Auroville, a township established by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo. The foundation stone of this stunning structure was laid during the sunrise of February 21, 1971 – on the 93rdbirthday of The Mother. The whole structure took about 37 years to build. Its completion took place in May 2008.
Known as the ‘soul of the city’, the Matrimandir stands majestically in a large open space called ‘peace’ and it does not specifically belong to any particular religion, sect or people. The Matrimandir is a huge sphere, which is surrounded by 12 petals like small structures. Four main pillars support the Matrimandir. These four pillars are set to match the four main directions of the compass. These four main pillars are very symbolic and are named after the four major aspects of The Mother, which were described by Sri Aurobindo – The North pillar is named Mahakali, symbolising her power of splendid strength, impetuous swiftness, warrior mood, irresistible passion, world-shaking force, and overwhelming will. The South pillar is named Maheshwari and symbolises The Mother’s personality of a calm wideness, tranquil, inexhaustible compassion, comprehending wisdom, and all-ruling greatness. The East pillar is named Mahalakshmi, which represents The Mother’s intricate and subtle opulence, captivating grace, and compelling attraction. The West pillar is named Mahasaraswati, which stands for The Mother’s close and profound capacity of intimate knowledge, flawless work, and exact perfection in all the things.
The massive sphere is completely covered with large golden discs. These discs reflect the sun rays that fall on them and this gives the whole structure its breathtaking characteristic radiance. What’s interesting is the fact that inside this dome is a meditation hall, known as the inner chamber. This inner chamber contains the largest optically perfect glass globe in the whole world. The Matrimandir is a place to acquire peace and meditate while leaving the worries of the world behind!
Derinkuyu – An Underground City
Located in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, Derinkuyu houses the largest underground city (among the many other underground complexes in Cappadocia) with a depth of almost 280 feet and can shelter over 20,000 people! According to National Geographic, this underground city has 11 levels spanning an area of approximately four miles, squared!
What’s unbelievable is the fact that this underground city is like any other normal city – it has chambers for various day-to-day activities such as living quarters, food stores, stables, oil and wine presses, livestock, storage rooms, shops, cellars, temples, chapels, tombs, and many other living spaces.
This underground city could be closed from the inside with large doors made out of stone. Additionally, each floor also could be closed individually. It was formed in the Byzantine era and was used as a way protection from the Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine wars that took place between 780 and 1180 CE. This meticulously planned underground city was also connected to the other underground cities via tunnels.
After having read so much about this “underground city”, are you wondering how did the people breathe down there? Well, they had an intelligent system that comprised of dozens of ventilation shafts that brought air from the surface. This further connected to a thousand smaller tubes, which got distributed in the underground city. Now how did they get water? Well, an underground river acted as the perfect source of consumable water that was distributed via a generic irrigation system.
What’s more? Well, this city also provided its residents’ protection from extremes weather conditions. Outside, the temperature would fluctuate every day and with each passing weather, but underground, the weather would always be approximately 55 degrees, which was considered ideal. Despite the numerous theories that arise and although many have tried their best to find out, nobody knows who built this city and why. This ancient architectural marvel is preserved even to this day!
There are lots of things you’d never expect to find for the ancient human civilizations in the middle of the sandy desert; glaciers, polar bears, and shipwrecks to name a few. But at the top of the list has got to be ice. However, the ingenuity of ancient humans with their limited resources and technology continue to astonish us. One of the most amazing feats of ancient engineering would have to be the Yakhchāl structures of Iran.
In Persian, Yakh means ice and chāl means a pit. This is nothing but a very ancient type of evaporative cooler. Confused? Well, the Yakhchāl built above the ground and is dome-shaped. But, it has a subterranean storage space, often used to store ice and sometimes even food. The subterranean space is layered with a thick, heat-resistant material. This material insulates the whole storage space. The water is first channelled from a qanat (underground channels) to the Yakhchāl, which freezes in the structure to create ice during winter and store it for usage in summers.
So what is the Yakhchāl made of? It is made of a unique water-resistant mortar, known as sarooj. This is made of ash, clay, egg whites, goat hair, lime, and sand – all in very specific proportions
Interestingly, Yakhchāl is still used in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan!