Most travelers know to visit the Musee d’Orsay while in Paris or the Guggenheim Museum when in New York City. Yet there are hundreds of buildings that get overlooked, either because of their location or simply the number of sites in the city deemed worth seeing. With jaw-dropping structures in mind, the members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com have put together a list of the Top 10 Overlooked Stunning Buildings.
MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM DRESDEN, GERMANY
A discussion of overlooked stunning buildings caused multiple members to immediately mention Dresden. Though many of the city’s buildings were severely damaged in the bombing campaigns of World War II, Dresden has worked to restore its landmarks including the Royal Palace with its incredible sgraffiti (a mural technique involving multiple layers of plaster in contrasting colors) and the Frauenkirche, a Protestant church with outstanding Baroque architecture. However, a new landmark has emerged that deserves proper attention: the redesigned Dresden Museum of Military History. The original building had a number of reincarnations, but once Germany unified a design competition was held for an extension and rebranding of the museum. Daniel Libeskind, perhaps best known for winning the competition to rebuild ground zero in New York City, designed a bold interruption of the original building’s symmetry with a glass and steel wedge slicing through the structure. According to the architect’s website, the new extension with its openness and transparency was envisioned to reflect the new democratic society of Germany, in comparison to the original rigid building and the country’s authoritarian past.
THE MEZQUITA CORDOBA, SPAIN
Spain’s history of occupation and religious overhaul is no better exemplified than through the Mezquita in Cordoba. Nestled between Seville and Granada in the rolling hills of Andalucía, Cordoba was once the capital of the Moorish emirate in Spain. The Great Mosque was built as the primary site of the Muslim religion in the country, complete with traditional Muslim architectural elements such as arches and complex woodwork. In the 13th century, following the Reconquista by the Christians, the entire complex was revamped into a cathedral now known as the Mezquita. The building is a rare example of Mudejar style, or the mixing of Muslim and Christian elements that occurred when the two cultures lived side by side. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a must-see for a visitor to southern Spain.
THE JANTAR MANTAR JAIPUR, INDIA
A visit to Jaipur usually includes the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and the Amer Fort, but another great landmark is the Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observation site in Jaipur that stands out as the most significant and best preserved of India’s historic observatories. Unlike modern observatories with telescopes and special lenses, the Jantar Mantar was built in the early 18th century for observing astronomical events and positions with the naked eye. Among the 20-plus fixed instruments at the compound, a VirtualTourist member noted that his favorite was the Jai Praksh Yantra, a pair of hemispheres made from marble and sunken into the ground that is capable of determining both the ecliptic pole during the day and the celestial coordinates at night. Multiple members suggested hiring a guide to better understand the different instruments and their uses since many were used for purposes other than simple astronomy, such as telling time and predicting monsoon weather.
THE HANOI MUSEUM HANOI, VIETNAM
While most visitors to Vietnam focus on temples and colonial buildings, the new modern museum in the country’s capital might change that tradition. The Hanoi Museum, designed by GMP Architekten of Germany, incorporates some common themes of museum construction with a new twist, literally. Photos of the museum’s interior, with its white walls and large spiral ramp, somewhat resemble Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, except the exterior of the Hanoi Museum completely contrasts the former’s exterior. The Hanoi Museum resembles an inverted pyramid with four levels of descending squares, the bottom level significantly smaller than even the first floor. This significantly smaller bottom level means that the surrounding gardens and water features almost appear to begin beneath the building, leading visitors from the outside in. Visitors encounter exhibits from the history of Hanoi and reconstructed traditional Vietnamese villages upon entering the museum landscape and then can enter the museum from any one of the four sides.
ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM BOSTON
Few house museums have the history, collection and longstanding influence within the community as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. One of the foremost female art patrons of her time, Stewart Gardner was a true character who enjoyed travel, adventure, and entertaining in a way that was somewhat scandalous for a lady of her social breeding and education in Victorian Boston. The museum, located in the Fenway area of Boston, was actually built after Gardener realized her Back Bay manse could not house her growing collection. Built in 1902, the museum is modeled after a 15th-century Venetian palazzo. Among the more than 2,500 pieces in her collection, highlights include multiple Sargents, Whistlers and Titian’s Europa. In addition to the building’s storied legacy, the museum has continued to evolve its role in Boston’s artistic and cultural future most recently by adding a new wing, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, to the historic palace in order to relieve pressure on the historic spaces and spread out the collection.
HORTA MUSEUM BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Many have traveled to Barcelona to see Gaudi’s Modernisme landmarks, but another architect credited with helping to start the Art Nouveau architectural movement is often snubbed. Victor Horta, a Belgian, was incredibly influential in spearheading the movement. In Brussels, four of his buildings are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites, so a great place to start is at his former studio. The Horta Museum, situated in the Saint-Gilles neighborhood of Brussels, was Horta’s personal residence and studio, and it has been converted into a museum that visitors can tour. In addition to being constructed and inhabited by the architect at the height of Art Nouveau, the building’s interior is largely preserved with mosaics, curved windows, ironwork and even the furniture was designed to work together with the building’s architecture. From the Horta Museum visitors can walk to the Htel Tassel and Htel Solvay, other Horta-designed landmarks in the same neighborhood.
MOULAY ISMAIL MAUSOLEUM MEKNES, MOROCCO
Four cities in Morocco are collectively known as the “imperial cities,” each having been at some point the nation’s capital: Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh and the present capital, Rabat. Of the cities, the most commonly overlooked is Meknes because it is much more relaxed than Fez and lacks the sheer number of sights of Marrakesh. However, the city contains some fantastic buildings, including the oft overlooked Moulay Ismail Mausoleum. One of the few mausoleum complexes in the world that is open and accessible to non-Muslims, a visit to the masouleum is said to bring baraka, or divine blessing. Despite the plain exterior, the interior is exquisitely decorated with sunny yellow walls in the three ornate courts, leading to the detailed woodwork and tiling of the anteroom. Although non-Muslims cannot enter the actual tomb area, they can view it from an adjacent antechamber. Not only is the interior awe-inspiring, it is a unique opportunity for non-Muslims to gain entrance to a holy site and learn more about the culture.
SELIMIYE MOSQUE EDIRNE, TURKEY
While most visitors to Turkey focus on the mosques and palaces of Istanbul to gain a greater understanding of Ottoman architecture, some of the greatest masterpieces of the time period are located outside of the city. Sinan, one of the most famous Ottoman architects, designed the Suleymaniye Mosque, the largest mosque in Istanbul and one of the city’s most well-known sites. But it was not this building that he considered his masterpiece. In his opinion, the Selimiye Mosque, in the former Ottoman capital located on the Greek and Bulgarian borders along Turkey’s European side, is his greatest achievement. The building is more of a social complex encompassing madrasas (Islamic schools) as well as shops. It is considered to be the most unified expression of the Ottoman kulliye, or group of buildings constructed around a mosque and managed as a single institution. One of the unique features of the Selimiye Mosque is that the mihrab, the niche in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, is visible from any point inside the mosque.
THE MODERN ART MUSEUM OF FORT WORTH FORT WORTH, TEXAS
Often overlooked as the lesser half of the Dallas Metroplex, Fort Worth has put arts and architecture at the forefront of its community fundraising, leading to a number of outstanding museums in its Cultural District. Most recently, Japanese architect Tadao Ando was commissioned to build the Modern Art Museum, which showcases his talent for incorporating Zen philosophies into his structures and reinforced concrete in their construction. With an interior structure of architectural concrete protecting the collection, the museum is then surrounded by 40-foot-high glass walls that are similarly surrounded by a 1.5-acre pond. The basic materials, simple construction and importance of light and reflection mimic the key elements of a modern work of art. If you are looking for other cool buildings to explore, there are two other landmarks in Fort Worth’s Cultural District. Directly opposite the Modern, visitors can find the Kimbell Art Museum designed by celebrated architect Louis I. Kahn. Further down the street, the Amon Carter Museum was designed by Philip Johnson of “Glass House” fame.
RILA MONASTERY RILA, BULGARIA
Though not widely known outside Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery should be a must-see for anyone visiting the country. Founded in the 10th century by St. John of Rila, the monastery is about 75 miles south of Sofia in the Rodopi Mountains. The complex played an important role in the spiritual and social life of Bulgarian people for more than 10 centuries and the architectural styles of the various time periods are preserved throughout the property. VirtualTourist members commented that the architecture gives an interesting look at the occupied experience of Bulgarians because it incorporates Ottoman elements alongside evidence of the Bulgarian Renaissance. In addition to the building itself, the artistry of the Bulgarian people can also be seen in the monastery’s exquisite ceiling frescos.