5 Historical Landmarks (That Are Total Frauds)
Visiting an ancient building or monument can be an incredible experience that allows modern travelers to feel a physical connection with the people of the past -- at least, if the security guards aren't looking. But tourists mean big money, and with no history cops turning up for the occasional surprise inspection, some of the most famous sites in the world are less "perfectly preserved window into the past" and more "What should be here so we can compete with Disneyland?"
The Parthenon Is Almost Totally A Reconstruction
The Athens Parthenon is one of the most magnificent and instantly recognizable ancient buildings in the world. The stunning marble temple was built at the height of the Athenian empire as a statement of the city's enduring wealth and power. It was dedicated to the city's namesake, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and military victory. Then the empire was pretty much immediately destroyed in a massive war with its neighbors (Athena was also the god of irony, apparently).
But the Parthenon endured. Almost 2,500 years later, it stands tall as a beloved reminder of the wonders of ancient Greece. Which is pretty impressive when you learn it exploded in 1687.
During a war that probably seemed important at the time, the Ottomans were defending the city against Venice, and they decided to use the Parthenon to store all their gunpowder, possibly in the belief that the Venetians wouldn't want to destroy such an ancient and beautiful structure. It's the same reason the Mona Lisa spent World War I strapped to the front of a battleship. The gunpowder was soon hit by a cannonball, triggering a massive explosion which completely destroyed the inner temple and punched massive holes in the outer structure. The building was left in ruins, and remained that way for the next couple of centuries.
The Parthenon we know now is actually the product of modern reconstruction efforts, which began in earnest in 1975 and continue to this day. And by "reconstruction," we don't just mean sanding off the cruise ship graffiti and taking down the charred "Ottoman Gunpowder Depot: 17 Day Without An Accident" sign. Brand-new marble blocks have been hand-carved with ancient techniques and used to rebuild the damaged walls and columns. It's been a massive undertaking, with craftsmen spending up to three months carving a single block to exactly match its original counterparts. In one case, an entire column was hoisted into the air so they could repair a damaged bottom segment, then lowered back down in the most high-stakes game of Jenga imaginable.
And they're currently planning another project to partially rebuild an obliterated wall of the main inner chamber. At some point, it would have probably been easier to simply leave the ruins intact and build a Parthenon II ("This time we have water slides!") next door.
Because of all this, the modern Parthenon is almost unrecognizable compared to 100 years ago. Hopefully this becomes a trend and somebody will finally give the Sphinx its nose back, or at the very least reinstall the giant marble erection we're pretty sure once graced the Lincoln Memorial. And speaking of Abe ...
The Cabin Where Lincoln Was Born Is Just "Symbolic," Which Didn't Stop Us From Putting It On A Penny
Every year, thousands flock to Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, where the humble log cabin that America's most popular president was born in is housed in a magnificent expensive marble memorial. It would actually be a pretty bad mixed message ... if it was truly Lincoln's cabin. But it absolutely isn't, and it's never been remotely plausible that it was. They built a quasi-temple around a completely random shack.
Lincoln's family left their farm due to a legal dispute when he was two years old, and nobody was very concerned with preserving the birthplace of a gangly toddler who probably seemed more likely to become a Sasquatch king than president of the United States. That means the cabin was long gone by 1895, when a New York restaurant owner bought the site, hoping to turn it into a tourist attraction. But since there's only so much you can charge people to look at some farmland, he didn't ask too many questions when a neighboring farmer offered to sell him a rotting old cabin which he claimed was totally the original Lincoln Logs.
There were always strong doubts about that story, which was wildly implausible, backed by literally no evidence, and contradicted by at least one former resident of the farm. There's fanfiction about a time-traveling Captain America being Lincoln's dad that's more convincing. But nobody could prove it wasn't Lincoln's cabin, and there was a strong incentive to look past the doubts.
A 2004 study conclusively demonstrated that the wood used in the cabin wasn't cut down until Lincoln was in his late 30s, which would be an unusual time to be born indeed. So for years, everyone was ignoring that Lincoln's "birth cabin" was definitely some random building. The government even put the "symbolic" cabin on the back of a special edition penny in 2009, five full years after it was proven to be unrelated to Lincoln.
And it's worse than a plain old fake. During the entertainment-starved 1890s, the cabin went on tour around America along with the log cabin where Confederate president Jefferson Davis was born. After the tour ended, the two cabins were dismantled and put in storage. When the time came to reassemble them, nobody could tell which logs belonged to which, so they threw a couple of cabins together and moved on. It's bad enough to give Honest Abe a fake birthplace, but they couldn't even keep it separate from Captain Slavery's logs?
Switzerland Has Elaborate Monuments Honoring A Dude Who Never Existed
The elite team of Cracked.com spoilsports has previously discussed how apple-shooting Swiss hero William Tell is definitely fictional. But that hasn't stopped the hill folk of that international financial capital from stubbornly acting as though he was real. The country is practically riddled with monuments to Tell's life, even though he's as real and historically important as John McClane.
To recap: Tell supposedly lived during the Middle Ages, when the Swiss were ruled by the Austrians, who cruelly oppressed them with high taxes and rope sausage whippings. When an evil Austrian ordered Tell to shoot an apple off his son's head, he bravely went through with it, and then mouthed off to the guy afterward. These bold deeds inspired the Swiss to overthrow the Austrian tyranny and forge an independent nation, one dedicated to helping the wealthy never pay taxes again.
As, once again, a fictional person, Tell wasn't part of any of that, although that didn't stop later Swiss writers reworking historical accounts to insert him. They were such huge Tell fans that when an 18th-century historian pointed out that the story was clearly stolen from an old Danish legend, they burned his book in a town square, and were pretty close to burning him as well before he apologized. They also filled their country with monuments to this entirely fabricated crossbow showoff. For example, here's an impressive statue in Altdorf town square, the exact spot where he didn't shoot an apple off his son's head:
And here's Tellskapelle (Tell's Chapel), built on the spot where he absolutely did not leap from a boat to escape his captors:
And here's the big ol' statue in the city of Lugano, which is totally unrelated to the legend, but wasn't about to miss out on that sweet William Tell action:
The real problem is that these statues are all pretty boring, considering they're basically of some old-timey superhero. Why not throw in some Batman villains, or give Tell laser eyes? It'd be just as historically accurate and make the inevitable movie adaptation a hell of a lot more exciting.
A Trump Golf Course Has A Monument To A Nonexistent Civil War Battle
The Civil War saw many men fight and die for a great and noble cause, and many other men die for an extremely dumb and shitty one. And nowhere was the fighting worse than at the "River of Blood," where the waters of the Potomac turned into the elevator from The Shining as two mighty armies fought over a crossing. At least, that's according to a memorial erected by Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Course. It declares:
Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot, 'The Rapids', on the Potomac River. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as 'The River of Blood'.
It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!
Historians, on the other hand, are calling it "The River of Bullshit."
Seriously, there are no records of any Civil War battle, skirmish, kerfuffle, arm-wrestling contest, or even a dance-off taking place at that location. The nearest real fight took place a full 11 miles away. As far as anyone can tell, the Trump Organization invented a battle to jazz up a boring par-4 hole on their course. It's like if a random Applebee's claimed that marines fought to defend Table 7 from the Viet Cong, or the Denver Hilton erecting a memorial to the time George Washington drove the British out of their junior suites.
When told historians were questioning the River of Blood, Trump doubled down, asking "how would they know that? Were they there?" And it's true that without a time machine, it's impossible to say whether everyone forgot to write anything down about such a massive bloodbath. Maybe it was so bad that everyone died and the locals swept the bodies into the river and moved on with their lives. Trump further explained that the 15th tee was "a prime site for river crossings. So if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot -- a lot of them."
Sadly, experts remain unconvinced by the "point at the landscape and speculate" method of history, so the battle won't go into any textbooks for now. At least we can go on imagining the many wealthy asshole golfers who stopped for a somber moment of silence in their finest memorial polos and stretch khakis.
The Four Corners Monument Is In The Wrong Place
The Four Corners National Monument marks the spot where Americans get bored enough to take an interest in cartography. Conveniently located in the middle of nowhere, the popular tourist attraction centers on the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet -- the only place where more than three states touch. If you stand on the marker and contort your body like you're learning yoga at gunpoint, you can technically be in four states at once, allowing you to commit crimes with impunity. That meeting point is the whole reason the monument exists, which makes it all the more astonishing that they put it in the wrong spot.
The weirdly straight borders of the four states came about because Congress was busy with the whole Civil War situation and wasn't prepared to listen to any whining about who should live where. Instead they just split the states based on lines of latitude and longitude. But while that looked great on a map in Washington, somebody still had to tramp through the desert and mark out exactly where those lines were, so that people would know whether they were dying of thirst in Arizona or New Mexico. And with the technology of the time, it wasn't always possible to mark those lines accurately.
As a result, the marker indicating the meeting of the four states ended up around 1,800 feet east of where it should have been. Which is actually pretty good in terms of 19th-century surveying, but not great if you're running a tourist attraction based around the specific point where you can be in four states at once.
But there's a catch. After it became clear that the border markers were wrong, the Supreme Court ruled that fixing them sounded like a lot of work and that everybody should chill out and keep using the incorrect ones. Thanks to this heroically lazy ruling, the monument technically is on the current border between the four states, but not where Congress officially defines the state lines. Everyone's been content to roll with that, although we're sure it'll eventually be resolved when somebody tries to live on the marker to avoid paying child support.
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