When we travel, we always need a little tourist guide paid 19.99€ at Fnac to show us where to go to meet the 10,000 other tourists who have their little tourist guide from Fnac, and the history of these places we visit. Unfortunately, sometimes, these small tourist guides do not explain everything well and some places that we know well nevertheless hide very secret and sometimes fascinating stories. And no, I’m not talking about the convenience store downstairs, yes it’s a place you know well, but it doesn’t harbor any secrets, except maybe a few rats wandering around in the reserve.
1. The Great Wall of China wasn’t just for defense
The creators of the Great Wall didn’t just build it defensively. Researchers say the Northern Line, a nearly 500-mile-long section called Genghis Khan’s Wall, was not built to stop the ruthless Khan’s advance. These unfortified structures were placed near entrances and exits, at the head of busy paths, to manage the massive movements of people and livestock. The wall allowed the Khitan-Liao empire to control migration, impose taxes and grow fat. Ah yeah, we want to make tune, Khitan?
2. Stonehenge may have been built with pig fat
Stonehenge stones weigh a bit heavy, like 30 tons. The smaller blue stones weigh between 2 and 5 tonnes and traveled almost 150 kilometers from the Preseli Hills in Wales to end up there. And that’s with the help of an unexpected ally: pigs. Pork fat, in fact, according to the ceramic pots discovered two miles away. If pigs were indeed cooked in these bucket-sized containers, they would have been cut into pieces for fat. But archaeologists have found the ancient carcasses nearly intact and showing the kind of burn marks that suggest a spit roasting method. Monument builders therefore surely salvaged pig fat to grease the logs on which they rolled the sleds that transported the enormous megaliths of Stonehenge. Excuse me, but that makes me want to vomit a little.
3. Tintagel Castle was buzzing
Tintagel Castle, famous in Arthurian legend, was a hip, cosmopolitan hotspot. The improbable proof is a slab of Cornish slate 60cm long, which served as a window sill more than a thousand years ago, in a building now destroyed. It’s like a miniature medieval Rosetta Stone, with Christian symbols and Greek and Latin scriptures. Researchers say the stone immortalizes the writing practice of an ancient scribe. And this man of letters of the seventh century was no idler; he knew how to write official documents, but also these illustrated gospels with fanciful letters.
4. Tools from Easter Island could explain the disappearance of the culture
Rapa Nui seems to contain the vestiges of a mass war. The island is dotted with thousands of obsidian spearheads, called mata’a. But even if mata’a are sharp, their creators may not have used them to erase each other from history. So says the scientific art of morphometrics, which compares the size and shape of obsidian tools. Scientists have concluded that the mata’a do not resemble the morphology of weapons actually found on the island. Their shapes vary a lot and, above all, are not very conducive to stabbing the flesh. The Rapa Nui used them for various tasks, such as tattooing or preparing plants. What they didn’t use them for was stabbing. Their decline may therefore not have been caused by catastrophic infighting, but (huge surprise) by European visitors who began arriving in the 18th century. Great European visitors, I hope you are proud of yourselves.
5. The Parthenon may have the wrong name
Built around 430 BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon is one of the most famous buildings in the world. Parthenon means “house of virgins”, but there is no real consensus as to why this particular structure received this nickname. According to ancient texts and historical sources, the Greeks called their monument Hekatompedon, or “hundred foot temple”. This term appears in inventories dating back 2,500 years. It is described as the storehouse or treasury of all gold items made for Athena, including a 33-foot-tall gold statue. The name Parthenon is also mentioned, but it seems to refer to a separate, smaller treasury within the Acropolis complex, which could be the real Parthenon. Especially since it is supported by caryatids, pillars in the shape of women (virgins), hence the name “house of virgins”. So, big petition to call the Parthenon the House of Virgins, we’re going to have a lot of fun.
6. The Serengeti Plain is filled with excrement
The Serengeti is not as untouched as it seems: Stone Age nomadic herders altered the savannah with their dung. This unintentional fertilization has led to widespread greening and improved biodiversity. And it is still visible today in oases called grassy glades. Researchers thought these verdant areas were around 1,000 years old, but analysis of the feces-rich earth revealed they were deposited between 1,550 and 3,700 years ago. Compared to the more barren areas surrounding the grassy glades, the oases were 10 to 10,000 times more fertile, thanks to fecal enrichment which provided nutrients. In summary: shit everywhere, it’s super beneficial.
7. Pompeii was home to many prostitutes
Two thousand years after its heyday, Pompeii continues to amaze the world with a flood of discoveries. Among the most recent, thanks to the Great Pompeii Project, is a fresco that combines the beauty and brutality expected of the Romans. It once adorned the basement wall of a tavern or public house, where gladiators would gather to drink beers and perhaps chat. In the rooms above, prostitutes practiced the oldest profession in the world and helped the gladiators to stay in shape. Super nice, what.
8. The Nazca Lines are from an older, more psychedelic version
Nazca Lines, Peru, is the successor to an art form that began over 1,000 years ago. Recent drone surveys have revealed hundreds of ancient geoglyphs in the Palpa Hills, about 30 kilometers north of the Nazca site. Made between 500 BC and 200 AD, they highlight the evolution of the art and ideology of the Topará and Paracas peoples. Unlike the famous Nazca Lines carved on the Nazca Plateau, which spans 150 km², these older glyphs are carved into the slope of a hill and would have been visible from the populated valley below. So while the Nazca Lines may have been intended for the gods, their predecessors were designed for the gaze of men, perhaps to mark territories. Among them is a representation of a sacred deity with the body of an orc and a human arm, which holds a trophy head. Behind, there is a small logo written “I love Jean Castex”. Human beings are gifted.
9. The Alhambra is full of secret messages
The Alhambra, in Granada, is the Spanish monument par excellence: it was built on Roman ruins in 889, rebuilt by the conquering Moors, then recovered by Spain in 1492. Its many columns, its geometric ornaments and its fountains are supreme works of art. But 10,000 Arabic inscriptions are hidden in the fortress. About 10% of them are verses from the Quran. The others are slogans, attributions, poems, and life advice, such as “Spare your words and you will go in peace.”
10. The Great Blue Hole is a clue to the disappearance of the Maya
Scientific records of storms only go back about a century. But nature keeps its own, more enduring records locked away in rocks and earth, some of which are stored deep in Belize’s famous Blue Hole. This hole, like other similar water sinkholes, traps sediment which floats and settles in layers. Scientists have penetrated into the heart of the Blue Hole and removed an 8-meter-long core that bears witness to nearly 2,000 years of geo-history. It reveals that storm activity intensified around AD 900, around the time of the Mayans’ demise. With the Maya already beset by drought in the late 800s, these ferocious cyclones may have driven yet another nail in their collective cultural coffin. RIP the Mayans, we loved your little calendars that told us when we were going to die.
11. The Taj Mahal is actually a tomb
If people tend to see the Taj Mahal as a huge palace built by an Emperor to offer it to his wife, this is not the case because it is in fact the tomb of the wife of the Mughal Emperor, deceased while she gave birth to their 14th child. The construction of the building took more than 22 years and the price was around 1 billion euros. 22,000 people worked to build the Taj Mahal, along with 1,000 elephants who were employed to transport the stones.