What is it about statues? They don’t do anything; they just sit there (or stand there). They are usually just grey, or off-white, or green – rarely very colorful. Yet people seem to love to visit them.
Here is a quick tour of the world’s twelve most famous statues to visit. Please keep in mind that any list like this is pretty subjective. For instance, I could have filled the top 12 with giant Buddha statues that draw large crowds in Asia. Possibly even with Rodin sculptures, as he has several famous ones under his belt. Or various Greek or Roman antiquities.
Or I could have been more parochial, and listed a few Canadian statues.
So take this list for what it is, a great starting point for a Westerner to do a world-tour of some of the best known statues.
12. Terrace of the Lions, on the Greek island of Delos
OK, so I had to sneak in just one Greek ruins statue – or put more correctly, a suite of statues. The Terrace of the Lions is so-named because it is guarded by a row of a dozen terrifying lion statues. Built in 600 BC, just seven of the lions remain on this Aegean Island.
Worth noting here is that this list draws the distinction between “statues” of people or animals and sculptures that could portray non-living things or nothing at all (like the Washington monument or the Great Pyramids of Giza).
11. Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C.
This is the only statue on the list that I have seen close up, in person. The Lincoln Memorial is in fact a building in the style of a Greek Doric temple, but in the very center it houses a huge seated statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA, the man who freed the slaves.
Standing at 19 feet tall, the seated figure would be at least 25 – 28 feet tall standing. The imposing image stares across The Mall to the Capitol from its seat on the banks of the Potomac.
10. The Terracotta Warriors, just east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province in China
In university, I took a Chinese history class, just for fun. Less than a decade earlier, a Chinese farmer had accidentally unearthed what turned out to be three fields containing over 8000 terracotta sculptures, mostly of soldiers, but also of horses, chariots and non-military people. The statues date back to around 250 BC – a vast collection that got Chinese historians all excited just in time for me to read about them in class. You can read more here.
9. Nelson’s Column, in Trafalgar Square in London
The most famous statue in the UK was built at Trafalgar Square to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 – which I have just learned is a battle during the Napoleonic wars. I suspect the statue is not famous so much for the man or the battle, as for being a towering pillar in the very center of London and being Hitler’s target in World War II (He had planned to move it to Berlin as a symbol of victory over the Allies).
8. The Little Mermaid, in the waters outside Copenhagen in Denmark
The Little Mermaid statue commemorates the fairy tale of the same name, written by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark‘s most famous author. Small and unimposing, the 1913 work of art attracts the attention of tourists and vandals alike.
7. David, by Michelangelo (Florence)
You might notice something different about this entry. Whereas the previous statues had a name and a location, this one has a name and artist – the artist being more important than the location).
And so divides the world of monuments and commemoration from the world of art and sculptures. This is a list of statues, not sculptures. Yet, it cannot be denied that this and a couple others you will soon be reading about are also statues. And since they are tourist attractions, a travel blog must include them in its list of statues.
David was commissioned in 1501 as one of many statues to decorate Florence, but became a symbol of Florentine independence. It has remained in Florence to this day, now housed at the Academia Gallery.
6. The Stone Moai, of Easter Island
I am sure you have seen pictures of the giant stone heads of Easter Island. There are 887 of these monuments created by the Rapa Nui civilization in the first millennium AD, dispersed around this remote Polynesian island. These heads are at least iconic as any statue on this list.
5. The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin
This is the iconic image of philosophy, and other “sculpture” that happens to be one of the best known statues in the world. From a travel perspective, we do have one little problem, though. There are 28 full-size bronze casts of the sculpture in museums and outdoor spaces around the world, and well as an untold number of smaller replicas.
4.The Venus de Milo, by Alexandros of Antioch
Bruce Springsteen sang about her, but the Greek sculpture Venus de Milo dates back to at least 100 BC. The beautiful lady with no arms, also known as the Aphrodite of Milos, stands today in the Louvre museum in Paris.
3. Christ the Redeemer, on Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil
Here we go into the top three most iconic, most famous, most symbolic statues in the world. There are just two visual symbols that pop to mind when thinking of South America – Machu Pichu in Peru and Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
Standing 98 feet tall (not counting its pedestal) and 92 feet wide, this is considered the largest art deco statue in the world. Completed in 1931, it has come to symbolize Brazil. You can climb up to the foot of the statue and get an amazing view of the city and of the famed Sugarloaf mountain in the bay.
2. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt
Nothing symbolizes the mysteries and the glory of antiquity more than the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Although Egypt might not be the safest place to travel right now, almost everyone’s bucket list includes seeing these two wonders of the ancient world that share a common plot of land.
At 66 feet in height and 241 feet in length, it is one of the biggest statues in the world. Yet we know nothing of how it was made or for what purpose.
1.The Statue of Liberty in New York City
No statue in the world is as famous as the Statue of Liberty, mostly because Hollywood loves to set movies in New York City, and to show images of the Statue of Liberty to prove that they are really shot in New York City.
The Statue of Liberty is the most iconic statue of all, because it symbolizes at one time a nation, a city and a concept – liberty. It is meant to be a welcoming beacon to immigrants landing from abroad as it stands on Liberty Island in New York City Harbor.
Standing 151 feet tall, but twice as high with the pedestal, it is one of the tallest statues outside of Asia. (It’s hard to top so many giant Buddhas!)