Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Jan. 12 2015 12:12 PM

The Tessellated Pavement: Mother Nature’s Mosaic

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Looking down onto the siltstone platforms on the Eaglehawk Neck isthmus in Tasmania, Australia, is like peering through an airplane window onto a grid of fields and roads. The rows of rectangles—each of which is a shade of brown, or green if covered by moss—appear too neat to have been made by nature. But humans played no part in their construction.

The crisscrossed rock is a geological formation known as “tessellated pavement” for its resemblance to Roman mosaic floors of the same name. The Eaglehawk Neck formation began when pressure at the Earth’s crust caused cracks to appear in the rock at perpendicular angles. That happened, if you’ll pardon the vague estimate, around 60 million to 160 million years ago. Salt water has since eroded the areas between the lines, giving the joints an enhanced appearance and creating a tiled effect.

Tessellated pavement is found in only a few places on Earth. Bimini Road, an underwater rock formation in the Bahamas featuring neat blocks of limestone, caused much argument following its discovery in 1968. Geological consensus is that the road is a naturally occurring tessellated pavement, but the folk at self-described “pop archeology site” Ancient Origins—as well as some scientists, according to the Epoch Times—posit that Bimini Road is a human-built remnant of Atlantis.

Visit Atlas Obscura for more on Eaglehawk Neck and Bimini Road.

More geological oddities around the world:

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Jan. 9 2015 2:03 PM

Porter Sculpture Park: Nightmare Fuel at a Convenient Roadside Location

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Approaching exit 374 on the I-90, just west of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, you may be tempted to stop at a roadside jack-in-the-box. Not Jack in the Box, home of the Spicy Sriracha Burger, but a sculpted metal jack-in-the-box that wields a knife and smiles while crying blood.

The maniacal figure is one of over 50 unsettling metal creations created by local artist and former sheep farmer Wayne Porter. His Porter Sculpture Park, open since 2000, is home to all manner of nightmare fuel, including a screaming head with a hand bursting from its scalp, a spiky, sharp-toothed dragon with empty eye sockets, and a head perched atop a leg, its eyes and mouth sewn shut.

Handwritten placards alongside the sculptures provide a bit of context—or further confusion, depending on your perspective. (The signpost beside the head-on-a-leg explains that “In order to be wise, one first must be mangled.”)

More eye-catching outsider art:

Jan. 8 2015 12:29 PM

The Baby Jumping Festival of Castrillo de Murcia

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Most Catholics are baptized into their religion as infants by being gently dunked under cleansing waters, absolving them of their original sin. In the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia, however, fresh babes are laid in the street so men dressed in traditional devil costumes can run around jumping over them.

The yearly festival, known locally as El Colacho, takes place 60 days after Easter during the village’s religious feast of Corpus Christi. No concrete origin for the bizarre ritual exists, but it dates back to at least the early 17th century. During the holiday, parents with children born during the previous year bring the little tykes out and place them in neat rows of pillows spaced out down a public street. Then, while the excited parents look on, men dressed in bright yellow costumes and grotesque masks begin filing through the crowd, whipping bystanders with switches and generally terrorizing everyone.

This is all fun and games, as the main event is when these “devils” run down the street jumping over the rows of babies like Olympic hurdlers. Once the little sinners have been jumped over, they are considered absolved of man’s original transgression, and are sprinkled with rose petals before being taken away by their (likely very relieved) parents.

While there are no reports of injuries or babalities caused by the flying devils, the strange practice has been frowned upon by some of the higher-ups at the Catholic Church: in 2012, Metro UK reported that Pope Benedict went so far as to ask Spanish clergy to distance themselves from the ritual. However, El Colacho continues to take place each year. No one can tell this village that they can’t send it devil-men careening over helpless infants.


Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images


Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images


Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Fascinating festivals to experience:

Jan. 6 2015 12:48 PM

This Former Ironworks Is Now a Giant Neon Playground

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Until 1985, the German town of Duisburg, in the country’s west, was home to a sprawling blast furnace complex belonging to the local Thyssen ironworks company. When a downturn in the city’s steel and mining sectors resulted in the closure of the complex, Duisburg was left with a 180-hectare industrial wasteland crowded with hulking buildings.

Rather than raze the rusty skeletons of the ironworks, the city decided to convert the whole area into a public park. Designed in 1991, Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (the Landscape Park of North Duisburg) has since become a grand recreation venue that embraces its industrial past.

Many of the buildings have been repurposed for social and sporting pursuits. The gasometer, a cylindrical tank formerly used to store natural gas, is now a diving pool with a water depth of 40 feet. A towering blast furnace serves as a panoramic viewing platform, while the casting house, once home to freshly smelted pig iron, is equipped with a high ropes course and, in summer, an outdoor cinema.

The really spectacular stuff, however, happens at night. When the sun sets, the buildings glow in a rainbow of neon hues, making the smokestacks, crisscrossing metal staircases, and lofty ceilings appear even more dramatic. The light installation, by British artist Jonathan Park, was added in 1996.

Those who want to experience the park in its fullest glory can stay overnight at the on-site hostel, housed in the ironworks’ former administration building.

Other repurposed industrial sites:

Jan. 5 2015 12:49 PM

You Are Guaranteed to Die During This Church Organ Performance

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Walk into centuries-old St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, and you’ll hear an organ playing. The performance comes with a guarantee: You’ll be dead before it’s over.

Since 2001, a specially constructed church organ has been making its way through an eight-page John Cage composition titled "As SLow aS Possible," which has been stretched out from its original 20 minutes or so to 639 years. The John Cage Organ Project, a group of composers, theologians, and philosophers, decided on the 639-year duration because the church’s main organ was 639 years old in 2000. Hans-Ola Ericsson, a professor of music at Sweden’s University of Lulea, told the BBC in 2003 that the prolonged performance is “a sound that we give to the future to take care of.”

The performance began with 17 months of silence, during which the bellows inflated. The last note change occurred in October 2013, and the next is scheduled for September 2020. Each note change draws a sizable crowd to the church.

While current visitors won’t be around to see the conclusion of the performance in 2640, a piece of them can be with the organ when it plays its final note. For 1,000 euros (about $1,200), you can purchase a “sound year”: a plaque in the church that stakes your claim on one of the remaining 625 years of the performance. Some people’s plaques are engraved with their name, birthdate, and a blank space to be filled in with their date of death.

Inside St. Burchardi. The horizontal black line on the wall is for “sound year” plaques.

Photo: Hoger/Creative Commons

The As SLow aS Possible organ, left, and its placement in the church, right.

Photos: Public domain& Hoger/Creative Commons

The bellows of the specially built organ.

Photo: Public domain

More churches with unusual things happening inside:

Jan. 2 2015 1:36 PM

The Wedded Rocks of Japan

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Every day, an old married couple watches the sunset from a tranquil coastal spot at Ise in Japan’s southern Mie prefecture. Connected to one another by a rope woven from rice straw, husband and wife sit quietly as the sun dips from view. Every morning, when day breaks, the couple can be found in exactly the same spot—still tied together, still standing sentinel.

The rocklike stoicism of this couple makes sense when you consider that they are, quite literally, rocks. In the Shinto religion—the faith of choice for the majority of Japan—spirits known as kami are believed to inhabit people, places, and objects in the natural world. The two rocks at Ise, known collectively as Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks), represent Izanagi and Izanami, the married deities who created Japan and kami, according to Shinto mythology. 

The larger rock, about 30 feet tall, embodies Izanagi, the male, while the smaller rock, standing around 12 feet, is the female Izanami. The rope that bonds them in matrimony is a shimenawa, a sacred Shinto object often placed over shrines and gates to ward off evil spirits. The rope uniting the Meoto Iwa frays fast due to the wind and waves, and must be replaced three times per year.

More rockin’ tales of rocks and boulders:

Dec. 29 2014 1:06 PM

The Unfinished Church of Bermuda

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

Grass grows where the pews ought to be, half the support pillars have crumbled, and the roof is long gone. The unfinished church at St. George's in Bermuda is the result of conflicts in the congregation, money troubles, and one almighty hurricane.

Construction on the Protestant church began in 1874. The building, designed to seat 650, was intended to replace St. Peter's Church, an Anglican place of worship established shortly after the 1612 English settlement of St. George's. 

Things did not go according to plan—140 years later, the church remains unfinished. The first hurdle came when the congregation split and a group of former parishioners left to build their own Reformed Episcopal Church. In 1884, a cathedral in nearby Hamilton burned down, requiring funds to be diverted from the construction project. By 1894, with the unfinished church having suffered from financial setbacks, storm damage, and squabbles within the Anglican community over its legitimacy, the congregation decided they would rather renovate St. Peter's than complete the new church.

Thirty years later, a hurricane caused substantial damage to the western end of the unfinished cathedral, sealing its fate as a modern ruin. Though the church has no ceiling, no floor, and no windows, it has become a popular site for wedding ceremonies. Its gates are currently locked due to safety concerns, but the grassy interior is plainly visible from the outside.


Photo: Ella Morton


Photo: Ella Morton


Photo: Ella Morton


Photo: Ella Morton

Other churches with fascinating backstories:

Dec. 23 2014 11:58 AM

Knight's Spider Web Farm, For Mass-Made Arachnid Art

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

When Will Knight noticed an overabundance of spiders at his Vermont farm in the mid-’70s, he saw not an infestation but an opportunity. Since 1977, Knight has been collecting their webs and selling them as arachnid art at his Spider Web Farm just south of Montpelier. He refers to the farm as "the original web site."

Influenced by a Girl Scout manual and his wife Terry's experience with decoupage, Knight experimented with collection methods until he hit on a winning formula. Inside two dark barns are grids of square wooden frames hanging vertically from the ceiling. Spiders spin their webs in the frames and Knight sprays the delicate gossamer with white paint to make it more visible. He then sticks each web to a wooden board and applies lacquer on top. The spider web plaques, available at the farm and online, sell for $30 to $40 depending on their size.

Knight, now 88, seem to have been destined for this line of work. Among his many tattoos are two spider webs—one on each elbow. He got them inked as a young naval officer, decades before an army of arachnids crawled into his barn and became his business.

Two of the mounted, framed creations.

Photo: Michelle Enemark

More mounted webs.

Photo: Michelle Enemark

A barn full of web-collecting frames.

Photo: Michelle Enemark

Other unconventional farms around the world:

Dec. 22 2014 11:48 AM

Futuro Houses: Otherworldly Homes For Earth-Bound Humans

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

The spaceship-style dwelling pictured above may appear to be a quirky anomaly, but it is actually one of a forgotten fleet.

In 1968, Finnish architect Matti Suuronen designed a prefabricated building later dubbed the Futuro House. Initially intended to be used as a holiday home for skiers, the Futuro had an elliptical silhouette, measured 26 feet wide by 13 feet high, and stood on metal legs for stability. A ring of 20 oval windows added to the extraterrestrial aesthetic. A flip-down staircase granted access to the interior, which contained a bedroom, small bathroom, kitchen, dining area, and a wall lined with a long, curved couch designed to convert into a (very cosy) bed for six. A circular fireplace in the center screamed "space-age ski chalet."

The Futuro House was made from fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic, a light, insulating material derived from oil. Homes made from this plastic could be transported easily and were quick to heat up—a major plus for skiers eager to doff their boots and get stuck into the fondue after a long day on the slopes.

A Futuro floor plan, from a Delaware tourism brochure circa 1970.

Photo:Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis/Creative Commons

Futuros went into production in the late '60s. Marketing campaigns went beyond the ski chalet image and touted the Futuro as an adaptable housing solution for all climates and topography. Licensing deals allowed Futuros to be manufactured across the world, but consumer uptake was sluggish. 

Then came the oil crisis. In October 1973, an Arab oil embargo caused the price of oil to quadruple. Suddenly, Futuro Houses were no longer cheap to make. The dramatically increased costs, combined with a general lack of enthusiasm for the spaceship design, brought Futuro production to a halt.

Fewer than 100 of the homes were ever built. Today the surviving spaceships are, as Allison Meier writes on Atlas Obscura, scattered across the world—countries where they landed include the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. 

Many of the remaining Futuros are quietly rusting away, but others have been lovingly restored and repurposed. As Meier discovered, Australia's University of Canberra has converted a Futuro into a study space, while a Tampa strip club uses its rooftop Futuro as a VIP room

A Futuro House in Pensacola, Florida.

Photo: TimothyJ/Creative Commons

A Futuro House in Milton, Delaware.

Photo: Nan Palmero/Creative Commons

Futuro Houses near Germantown in Ohio.

Photo: Rob Lambert/Creative Commons

A Futuro House at Raglan, on the North Island of New Zealand.

Photo: Anne-Lise Heinrichs/Creative Commons

Other extraterrestrial architecture around the world:

Correction, Dec. 30: The post's first photo caption originally misspelled Rockwall, Texas.

Dec. 19 2014 11:50 AM

Abandoned Nicosia Airport Has Been Trapped in a DMZ for 40 Years

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

In August 1974, the UN established a buffer dividing the island of Cyprus into two states: the southern Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.* The demilitarized zone, established after the Greek military junta backed a coup against the Cypriot government and Turkey invaded Cyprus from the north, is still under UN administration.

When the buffer zone, colloquially known as the Green Line, was demarcated, some of the country’s infrastructure got caught in the middle. One such facility was Nicosia International Airport.

Once the main airport of Cyprus, Nicosia ceased operations in July 1974, shortly after Turkey invaded and the tarmac became a battlefield. Damage to the planes and buildings, combined with ongoing political instability, prevented the aviation hub from re-opening.

Four decades of disuse have resulted in a derelict terminal with broken windows, dust-buried floors, and seats encrusted with layers of pigeon droppings. Tumbleweeds skitter across the tarmac and collide with the sun-bleached shell of a Hawker Siddeley Trident jet, left idle since it was grounded by violence.

Inside the terminal of Nicosia's abandoned airport.

Photo: Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images

UN barrels on the airport tarmac.

Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

Inside the terminal.

Photo: Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images

Bird droppings cover seats in the departure lounge inside the old Nicosia airport terminal building.

Photo: MONA BOSHNAQ/AFP/Getty Images

The abandoned Hawker Siddeley Trident 2E 5B-DAB on the tarmac.

Photo: Dickelbers/Creative Commons

The buffer zone dividing Greek-controlled Cyprus from Turkish-administered Northern Cyprus.

Photo: Athena Lao/Creative Commons

Other amazing aviation places:

Correction, Dec. 22, 2014: This post originally referred to the two states as "the Greek-controlled south and Turkish-controlled north." It has been updated to more accurately reflect the political division of Cyprus.