May 2024

ISSN: 2207-4910

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The Stories Behind Famous Monuments

They are the most magnificent and emblematic monuments around the world without question. Instantly recognisable, many monuments have become national treasures and symbolise the country itself to the rest of the world. Each famous monument has a story behind its creation, giving each building a soul, and Identity. So here are some facts about some of these famous structures.

Colossus of Rhodes: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes was built from parts of a structure meant to destroy Rhodes.

Used by Demetrius I of Macedon, the Helepolis was the largest siege engine ever constructed in the ancient world: a huge, rolling fortress about 13 stories tall and around 180 tons.  The name Helepolis literally means ‘destroyer of cities’, and was driven by Demetrius, who had the nickname “Poliorcetes”, which meant ‘The Besieger’ in ancient Greek.

History offers two possible reasons for Helepolis failure but either way, the so-called ‘Destroyer of Cities’ was abandoned, having never destroyed a city. The Rhodians tore it down and used parts of it to build the Colossus at Rhodes.

The Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal in India was built as a mausoleum for the third wife of Shah Jahan, who was then the Mughal Emperor.  The principal mausoleum was started in 1632, one year after Mumtaz Mahal’s death, and completed in 1648;  the surrounding buildings and garden were finished 5 years later.

When Shah Jahan was deposed by his son and imprisoned, he was given a view of the Taj Mahal. It also became his tomb after his death in 1666 when he was buried in the mausoleum next to his beloved wife.

The Statue of Liberty: The Statue of Liberty was a joint venture by France and America: France financed the statue, and America would provide the pedestal and site.

By 1885, work on the pedestal was threatened due to lack of funds.  It took workers working ten hour days, seven days a week for nine years to complete.

The structural engineer was the same designer of the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel.  Frederic Auguste Bartholi, the statue’s sculptor, used his mother as inspiration for the Lady Liberty’s face and his wife as the inspiration for the statue’s body.

The Eiffel Tower: The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1899 World Far and marked the centennial celebration of the French Revolution.

Named after its designer, Gustave Eiffel, it was the world’s tallest structure up until l930.

Built in 1889, the tower was to be dismantled in 1909, but it was very useful for communication purposes
and was allowed to stay.

More than 200,000,000 people have visited the tower since its construction in 1889.  The tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world.

The Grand Canyon: In the Grand Canyon lives 75 different species of mammal, 50 species of replies, 25 species of fish, and 300 species of bird.

The entire Grand Canyon is essentially tilted: the northern rim is 1200 ft higher than the southern rim.  Its base is about 1/3 of the earth’s age.

The floor of the Grand Canyon contains fossil footprints of over 20 species of reptiles and amphibians, yet no fossilised reptile bones or teeth have ever been uncovered.

It attracts about five million visitors per year, 83% of which were from the United States.

Great Wall of China.: Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from the moon with the naked eye – it would be like trying to see a hair from 2 miles away.

The longest man-made structure in the world, the wall is a discontinuous network of wall segments built by various dynasties to protect China’s northern boundary.

During its construction, the Great Wall was called “the longest cemetery on earth”, costing a reported 1,000,000+ lives.

In 2004, there were over 41.8 million foreign visitors to the Great Wall of China.

Leaning Tower of Pisa: The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually curved as the upper floors have one side taller than the other to compensate for the tilt.  It began to “lean” because of a poorly laid foundation and loose substrate that has allowed the foundation to shift direction.

It took 177 years to complete as the Republic of Pisa was continually engaged in battle with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

During WWII, the Allies discovered the Nazis were using the tower as an observation post. A US Army sergeant’s decision not to call an artillery strike kept the tower from being destroyed.

In May 2008, after removing another 70 metric tons of earth, engineers announced the Tower had been stabilised for the first time in its history and would be stable for at least 200 years.

Great Pyramid of Giza: The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only one remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Built around 2500 BCE as a tomb for Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, it was the tallest structure on Earth for over 43 centuries, until the 19th century.

Egyptians actually used independent contractors, not aliens.

The pyramidal shape was ideally-suited for a system of ramps. What an astounding coincidence that the shape of the building happened to also be the easiest possible way to move the stones up that building!

Though the chemical composition of the mortar used to build the Great Pyramid of Giza is known, it could not be re-produced using the present techniques.

The Colosseum: About 3.9 million people visit the Colosseum annually.

Its night time illumination is changed from white to gold each time a death sentence is commuted or a
country/jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty.

It also still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church: each Good Friday, the Pope leads a
torchlit Way of the Cross procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.

Mount Rushmore: 90% of the “carving” at Mt. Rushmore was done by dynamite, blasting about 450,000 tons of fine-grain
granite from the mountain.

Originally on George Washington’s right, Thomas Jefferson was dynamited off after 18 months of
work and moved to the left of Washington.

Gutzon Borglum, the memorial’s sculptor, had connections to the Ku Klux Klan: he had spent previous years among the Ku Klux Klan leaders of Georgia, devoting years to a Confederate commemorative carving at Stone Mountain, which was financed in part by the Klan.

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Featured Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

Coming Ready or Not

Japanese Midget Submarines enter Sydney Harbour.

The boom safety net protection across Sydney Harbour was designed in January of 1942 and its construction began that month.  It was located at the narrowest point of the inner harbour entrance, between George’s Head on Middle Harbour, and Green Point on Inner South Head.  This protective net was not actually completed until July 1942.

The single-line steel Anti-Torpedo net was supported between piles. The centre portion was complete, but there were still large gaps at both East and West ends.

Eight Magnetic Indicator Loops were in place across the sea floor of the inner and outer harbour entrances.  The Loop was designed to produce a signal when a vessel crossed over it.

In the late afternoon of 31 May 1942 three Japanese submarines, sitting about seven nautical miles (13 kilometres) out from Sydney Harbour, each launched a Type A midget submarine for an attack on shipping in Sydney Harbour. 

Midget 14, commanded by Lieutenant Kenshi Chuman with Petty Officer Takeschi Ohmori, was the first inward crossing recorded by the Loop system at 8:00 pm.  With all the ferry and other traffic passing over the Loops, its significance was not recognised.  It wasn’t until about an hour and a half later that it was identified as a Submarine.  Permission was sought to open fire but Lieutenant Chuman, hopelessly entangled in the net, solved this dilemma for all concerned.  He fired demolition charges which both destroyed the Midget Submarine and her crew of two.

By this time, Katsushisa Ban was in position to sink Chicago. Ban fired. His torpedo veered off course, passing well ahead of Chicago. It went under the Dutch Submarine K-9, then under an old Sydney ferry, MHAS Kuttabul, berthed alongside Garden Island, and used as a naval accommodation vessel.

Meanwhile, the other two submarines, one with Sub Lieutenant Katsushisa Ban and Petty Officer Marmoru Ashibe on board and the other with Lieutenant Keiu Matsup and Petty Officer Masao Tsuzuku on board, followed at 20-minute intervals.

Katsushisa Ban proceeded up the harbour with USS Chicago as his prime target but he was having problems staying submerged.  Chicago sighted it and fired, but missed.  Meanwhile the third submarine was approaching the nets but was sighted by the Patrol Boat Yandra, which attacked with depth charges.  After a series of explosions it was not seen again.

The torpedo finished its run by striking the retaining wall and exploding, lifting Kuttabul high out of the water.  It came to rest on the bottom and 19 Australian sailors and 2 British sailors died.

The second submarine had not been sunk by Yandra and was later found in Taylor’s Bay, where it was then attacked by two other boats.  The next day (June 1) Navy divers found this midget on the harbour floor.

On 1 June, a registered Loop crossing was recorded at 1:58 am, and the subsequent analysis showed that this was an outwards crossing.  It could well have been registered by Katsushisa Ban’s submarine making good his escape after his abortive attempts to sink Chicago. 

On June 9, 1942, the four bodies of the crewmen from the two Midgets sunk during the attack on Sydney were cremated at Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Crematorium, where they were accorded full Naval Honours and their ashes returned to Japan.  A memorial plaque for those who took part in this daring but unsuccessful raid on our shipping on May 31 was unveiled at Garden Island.

Sadly, 21 men from HMAS Kuttabul and 4 Japanese sailors were killed on that fateful night but the death toll could have been much higher.

War had already reached northern Australia, and now the southern cities were made bitterly aware that the world-wide conflict had reached them.

The midget submarine attack was only the beginning:  gun strikes were made against land targets, and more enemy submarines came south, attacking freighters up and down the continent’s eastern coast.

Note: To learn more of this event on Saturday, 6th July Gillian Lewis from the Australian National Maritime Museum will be our guest speaker. The talk will start promptly at 2:00 pm but please feel free to visit the museum at 1 Bent Street, Concord, early to check out our displays.

This event is free but donations are always welcome and you are invited to stay following the talk to chat with the speaker and our wonderful volunteers.