Atlas Obscura

Discover the world's strange and wondrous side. Tag us or use #atlasobscura for a chance to be featured!

An enchanting crop of land sits within Lago di Orta, a sublime lake somehow missed by many of Italy’s tourists. A cluster of religious structures and houses stands on the island, some which are more than 1,000 years old. 📸: Photo by Luca Caratelli.
No single piece of this scene is artificial. The image was assembled using photographs. But they combine to create a Las Vegas that could only exist in dreams. We teamed up with @travelnevada to send two artists on a journey up Nevada’s Highway 95 (aka “The Free Range Art Highway”). This piece was assembled by collage artist @artoffrancescaberrini using original photography shot by her collaborator, photographer @lindseyrickert. Check out the link in our bio to see more of their work, and how they put together this fever dream of a piece. #FreeRangeArtHighway #NVRoadTrip #DFMI
Over 2,000 ancient temples dot the Myanmar landscape at the site of this famed archeological site. What was likely a wondrous metropolis of ornate, gleaming temple spires ritual artistry, the former city of Bagan on the plains of central Burma is possibly even more beautiful now that it is a jaw-dropping ruin.
Bali’s Pura Lempuyang Luhur is a complex of temples that speckles a trail leading to the top of Mount Lempuyang, a holy mountain. A total of seven temples dot the mountain’s slopes. At the lowest temple, a fantastic “gateway to heaven” greets visitors. Locals believe one must never complain on the hike to the temples. If one complains, they will not make it to the top. 📸: Photo by Denis Moskvinov.
Perched on a spindly rock spire in a Greek archipelago, the Tourlitis Lighthouse would make a perfect wizard's tower. The stone column on which it was built had been shaped by millennia of natural erosion into a natural pedestal. The lighthouse was first built in 1897 just off shore from a castle in Andros, but was destroyed in WWII. It was rebuilt in the 1990s by an oil tycoon who dedicated the structure to his daughter. 📸: Photo by Lemonakis Antonis.
In a small village, deep in the High Atlas mountains, lie the remains of a medieval Almohad fortress that once was the capital of a vast empire. The fortress was destroyed in a raid in the 1270s, and all that was spared was the monumental mosque constructed in 1156. The Tin Mal Mosque was abandoned for centuries before being partially restored in the 1990s. 📸: Photo by Rosa Cabecinhas.
The mustache cup of the 1800s was the solution to an embarrassing problem. Being a man in the late 19th century required an impressive mustache, but drinking tea while mustachioed could be perilous. The heat of the drink melted mustache wax, sending the corners of the mustache drooping flaccidly onto either cheek. Enter British potter Harvey Adams, who invented a cup with a small, secret shelf set inside it with a hole to drink through. Essentially a sippy cup for adult men, it kept mustaches dry and shapely.
Portland, Oregon’s Cathedral Park is an unassuming location beneath the St. Johns bridge, where thousands of commuters pass overhead daily. Walking beneath the towering, cathedral-like footings of the St. John’s bridge with the sun streaking through the morning mist is nothing short of a religious experience, and the park stands out even in a city famous for its parks. (Portland is home to the most parks, as well as the biggest and the smallest parks in the country.)
Built in 1901 by Jules Lavirotte, 29 Avenue Rapp is probably the most extreme example of the ornamental delirium that is Art Nouveau. Due to its asymmetry, organic forms and color tones, and use of modern materials, the building was very much an object of gossip at the turn of the century, unsurprising when you’re confronted with it for the first time. The building's facade presents an extraordinary amount of erotic wit, and in case the message wasn’t clear enough Lavirotte designed the wooden door as a gigantic phallus. 📸: Photo regrammed from the intrepid @frau_dvoryankina.
This is the Great Historical Clock of America, the Smithsonian’s most ambitious timepiece, which measures 13 feet tall and comes alive every few minutes. In the 1890s, a team of now obscure Boston artisans covered its wooden case with scrolling scenery and rotating figures. When it was shipped off for display as far away as Australia and New Zealand, newspapers called it “without doubt, the greatest scientific, mechanical and artistic achievement of the nineteenth century.” Check out our Instagram story for clips of its intricate mechanisms at work! Photo via the National Museum of American History.
Entering Clifton’s Cafeteria is like stepping into a psychedelic, Redwood-themed wonderland. Complete with an array of animatronic raccoons, waterfalls, wooden bears, and moose heads, the gloriously kitschy 80-year old establishment is one of the largest public cafeteria-style eateries in the world. Opened in the middle of the Great Depression, the cafeteria operated under the golden rule "Dine Free Unless Delighted.” It was estimated that during one 90-day period, ten thousand people ate for free. Today this Golden Rule still holds true. 📸: Photo regrammed from the intrepid @mingomatic.
These little white houses are actually stone crypts, some dating as far back as the 16th century. The City of the Dead is an ancient cemetery on a hill, where people from the nearby village of Dargavs once buried their loved ones. Local legends have it that the City of the Dead was founded when a plague swept through Osetia, and the little crypts were built as quarantine houses for sick family members, who were provided with food but kept imprisoned until they passed away.
In a state of repose in churches around Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, these jeweled skeletons are ornately decked out for their eternal rest. Yet despite their fascinating garb, they have been almost forgotten. The jeweled skeletons were originally found in catacombs beneath Rome in 1578, but when the Enlightenment came around they became a little embarrassing for the sheer amount of money and excess they represented, and many were hidden away or disappeared. Here are some that survived. 📸: Photos by Paul Koudounaris.
This space age building overlooking the Black Sea would be the perfect hideout for a villain. Indeed, when Druzhba was built in 1986 the structure overlooking the sea was so ominous Turkish spies assumed it was a secret military building. But the building, whose name means “friendship,” is actually a health spa, with amenities like a salt water pool, a cinema, and cafes. Today the spa remains open and popular as ever, catering mostly to tourists. 📸: Photo by Frederic Chaubin.
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