10 Iconic Structures That Identify a City

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A Brief History

On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France and has stood as a symbol of that city ever since. The tallest man-made structure in the world at that time, it remained the tallest until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York.  Many cities have a structure that is readily recognized as the most prominent symbol of that city.  Here is an inexhaustive list of 10 of the most iconic ones, with follow-up lists planned to cover other iconic structures that exist in such other major world cities as London.

Digging Deeper

10. The Sydney Opera House.

Opened since 1973, this beautiful building on the Sydney, Australia waterfront instantly identifies the city.  The 1500 performances per year in the various performance theaters are visited by over a million people and include ballet, orchestra, and other fine arts besides opera.

9. The Terminal Tower, Cleveland.

Not enormous by today’s standards, when it was completed in 1930 it was the tallest building in the world not located in New York City and the 4th tallest building in the world.  Incredibly, it remained the tallest building in North America not in New York City until 1964 (when the Prudential Building of Boston was made).  No longer even the tallest building in Cleveland, the Terminal Tower is still the symbol of the city that was once the 5th most populous city in the US.  Cleveland ranked among the top 10 US cities by populations in all of the decades from the 1890s through the 1970s.  In 1950, Cleveland had a population of 914,808!  In 1970, even Cleveland’s largest suburb, Parma, had a population over 100,000.  Today, Cuyahoga County, in which Cleveland remains the county seat, possesses a population of over 1 million residents.  As for the county’s iconic tower, it appears in all of the following films: The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Deer Hunter (1978), A Christmas Story (1983), Major League (1989), Proximity (2001), Welcome to Collinwood (2002), and The Oh in Ohio (2006).  The tower can also be seen in Spider-Man 3 (2007) and The Avengers (2012), parts of which were filmed in Cleveland, despite being set in New York City…

8. The Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.

Even among other iconic buildings such as the White House and the Capitol, the Washington Monument remains the most visible symbol of the city. At over 555 feet tall, the monument is the tallest stone structure in the world and is what is called an “obelisk.”  From its completion in 1884 until the erection of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the Washington Monument was the tallest man=made structure in the world.  In 2011 the monument was shaken by an earthquake and seriously damaged, although it did not fall.  Reinforcing and restoration work has been done since then.

7. St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow.

No longer a Russian Orthodox church, St. Basil’s now serves as a museum (since 1928), but it remains just as beautiful and just as impressive as ever.  Actually a complex of 10 churches clustered around the central cathedral, its spires and domes make it look like something from a fairy tale.

6. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

Opened in 1937 as the longest suspension bridge in the world (until 1964) the big red bridge spans the water known as The Golden Gate, a strait between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.  Soaring well over 700 feet tall and stretching almost 9000 feet (the longest single span is 4200 feet) the mighty bridge has been the farewell and the welcome home for ships leaving and arriving at San Francisco like no other structure.  The second most prolific suicide location in the world (after Nanjing, China), leapers have a fall of 245 feet to the water, the impact of which kills the jumper. Unofficially, around 1600 people have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge!  The youngest suicide jumper was 5 years old.

5. The CN Tower, Toronto.

Completed in 1976, the CN Tower was the tallest freestanding structure in the world (over 1800 feet tall) until 2010. The highest observation deck is located over 1400 feet above sidewalk level and a rotating restaurant sits over 1100 feet up.  The CN Tower is not only a premier tourist attraction, but is also an important telecommunications transmitter.

4. The Space Needle, Seattle.

At 605 feet tall it was once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. Contain 25 lightning rods, the Space Needle is as impressive today as when it was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair.  Although over 50 years old, the Space Needle retains an aura of high technology and modernism.

3. The Colosseum, Rome. (Alternate spelling, Coliseum.)

The original mega-stadium built with tax dollars (or the Roman equivalent!), this great structure has withstood 2 world wars, being stripped of its stone for other projects, and every earthquake and sort of weather time could inflict upon it since it was built in 70-80 CE.  Once host to 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, the Colosseum held gladiator fights, animal hunts, sea battles (for which it could be flooded) and any sort of public entertainment that could be dreamed up.

2. The Empire State Building, New York.

The tallest building in the world for 39 years, this brick icon is unmistakably the symbol of New York.  It, like the people of New York, has survived King Kong,  The Great Depression, and being struck by a B-25 bomber (by accident) in 1945.

1. The Eiffel Tower, Paris.

Built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower was actually expected to be temporary and torn down in 20 years.  Luckily, the use of the tower as a radio broadcast antenna gave it continued life so that it has become inseparable with the image of Paris.  At 1063 feet tall, the structure it passed to become the world’s tallest was the Washington Monument.  Over 250 million tourists have visited this beautiful landmark.

Question for students (and subscribers): How many of these structures have you visited?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Parragon Books.  100 Landmarks of the World: A Journey to the Most Fascinating Landmarks Around the Globe.  Parragon Books, 2011.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.