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#3. Saudi Arabia Destroys Muslim Holy Sites to Build Hotels for Muslim Pilgrims

Getty

The number of Muslims making the annual hajj pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia has increased drastically over the past several years to a current annual total of over 3 million people, and they all have to stay somewhere. Deftly rising to the challenge of accommodating them, Saudi Arabian developers demolished pretty much the entire city to make room for hotels, a solution they found in a book of paradoxes they mistook for an encyclopedic collection of the best ideas ever conceived.

extravaganzi.com
This is page one.

That photo above is the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, the tallest hotel/luxury apartment complex in the world, which looms over the Kaaba (the holy stone in Mecca that Muslims face during prayer) like a Las Vegas casino. About 95 percent of Mecca's buildings, most at least a thousand years old, have been destroyed over the past two decades in order to "modernize" the city and make room for increased pilgrim traffic.

This included the construction of the Clock Tower, which sits on a stack of shopping malls atop the blasted ruins of an 18th century Ottoman fortress, because nothing says "holy city" like a multi-towered Disneyland castle we expect Aerosmith to zipline down from at any moment. When the systematic annihilation of national antiquities is enough to make a prominent Saudi historian literally say "No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," chances are it's pretty offensive.

mecca.net Getty
The top is a religious holy city. The bottom is Vegas.

Much of the problem stems from the official religion of Saudi Arabia, which is a strict interpretation of Islam that considers relics and historically significant religious structures to be forms of idolatry. Consequently, the kingdom doesn't need much of an excuse to go around smashing ancient mosques and Islamic landmarks, and since money is the best excuse in the world, they are leveling anything and everything they can in exchange for development capital and pilgrimage revenue.

Among the things that have been demolished to make space for the people coming to see the things that are being demolished was the house of Muhammad's wife Khadijah, which was torn down and replaced by a public toilet, and the house of the first caliph (the first successor of Muhammad), which is now a luxury Hilton (incidentally the namesake of the most famous public toilet in history).

#2. An Elderly Churchgoer "Restores" a Masterpiece Fresco by Completely Ruining It

AFP/Getty Images

If you missed our list of the eight people who defined 2012, you missed out on the story of Cecilia Gimenez, an 80-year-old parishioner and church volunteer in Borja, Spain (please note that none of those superlatives include the words "art historian"). At a certain point, Giminez noticed that the 19th century fresco of Jesus in her church was starting to show some mileage. It had been damaged by years of moisture decay, and some of the paint had started to peel off like Meryl Streep's face in Death Becomes Her. So Giminez, wanting to save the church money on a restoration job, decided to completely destroy the painting herself.

Centro de Estudios Borjanos via itv.com
It looks like a creature that Andy Serkis would be hired to motion capture.

Giminez, burdened with nothing but good intentions, attempted to restore the image of Jesus, but wound up painting a husky Russian grandmother in the middle of a werewolf transformation over it. Upon seeing her truly awful handiwork, the police initially suspected that they were dealing with vandalism, because only sworn enemies of Christianity and/or rampaging drug-addicted teenagers would paint Jesus with a PBR neckbeard on the wall of a church. There is simply no way that image could have come out of someone who wasn't deliberately trying to be an asshole.

itv.com
Giminez later demanded royalties from the church. So yeah, we're guessing that she's less an altruist and more a busybody.

However, Giminez soon confessed that she was responsible for Monkey Jesus, insisting that she had worked on the picture in broad daylight with the priest's permission. Church officials disagreed, claiming that they had no knowledge of the "restoration" attempt that had resulted in a hideous giant thumb with a face drawn on it wearing one of Mike Ditka's bathrobes. We tend to agree with them, considering that it seems highly unlikely that Giminez could have been sitting there for days (or weeks) without anyone looking over her shoulder and subsequently banning her from religion. Ironically, the fresco's popularity has exploded due to all of the curious people flocking to see the repainted abomination, which says absolutely everything you need to know about how news stories travel over the Internet.

#1. Saddam Hussein Rebuilds Babylon With His Name and Face All Over It

Jane Sweeney/Getty

You've probably heard of Babylon, the ancient city first founded in the third millennium B.C., famous for the Tower of Babel, the Hanging Gardens and that song by David Gray. It is one of the most prized excavation sites in history -- after all, it housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, so for all we know, its ruins could be teeming with undiscovered awesomeness. Why "for all we know," you ask? Well, only about a quarter of it has been uncovered, because Babylon is located in modern-day Iraq, and Saddam Hussein completely restricted access to it over the past 30 years so he could rebuild the city in his own bugshit crazy image.

And we don't mean that he built a mock-up Caesar's Palace version of it next to his swimming pool. He literally rebuilt Babylon directly on top of the original city. Hussein ordered additions built onto the ruins, as well as entire sections reconstructed from the foundation up, using modern bricks engraved with his name and a list of praises completely free of both irony and context, including the phrase "Saddam Hussein, the protector of Iraq, rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon." You may notice that the only fact contained within that message is Saddam Hussein's name.

Joao Silva/New York Times
The inscription on this brick is much longer, but contains the exact same amount of bullshit.

He reconstructed the Ishtar Gate, which serves as the entrance to the city, and put up images of himself alongside Babylon's ruler Nebuchadnezzar, sort of like they were shaking hands after opening a Planet Hollywood together. Several completely new buildings, including one of the obligatory palaces that Hussein felt needed to dot the Iraqi landscape like McDonald's franchises, were built over the ruins as well. The alterations (here meaning "pissing on history-ations") were so drastic that the World Heritage Committee withdrew Babylon from its list in disgust. Basically, the world declared that Babylon, one of the most legendary cities of all time, no longer held any historical significance. Hussein was like the George Lucas of priceless antiquity.

Iraq, A Tourist Guide via New York Times Stephen Farrell/New York Times
The Iraqi version of "Greedo shot first."

Joao Silva/New York Times
"Oh, quit bitching. It's seamless, you can't even tell!"

The good news is that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 stopped Hussein's plans to further improve the city with pictures of his mustachioed face (his eventual YouTube hanging pretty much sealed the deal). The bad news is that occupying American and Polish forces then built a base on top of Babylon, digging fuel trenches through layers of artifacts and filling sandbags with local relic-rich dirt. They also built a helipad to allow takeoffs and landings right next to the ruins, which is like blasting exposed dinosaur bones with a leaf blower full of gravel. Although to be fair, if helicopters had existed at the time, Nebuchadnezzar would've totally had one.



C. Coville's Twitter is here.

For more artifacts we'll never have again, check out 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World. Or discover 5 Pieces of Junk That Turned Out to be Invaluable Artifacts.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Mind-Blowing Origin Story of 'Miranda Rights'

And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happened when we put Cody in a room alone with the Mona Lisa.

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