When it comes to great architecture, bigger isn’t always better (though sometimes it is…) Paul Bloomfield tracks down the most spectacular, groundbreaking & just plain beautiful buildings created on the KQ network
City of Great Zimbabwe
When: AD 1000–1450
Who: Shona civilisation
The wow factor: So remarkable are these vast structures – the largest stone buildings in Africa south of the pyramids, and home to a then-colossal city of perhaps 20,000 – that for centuries their construction was ascribed to visiting ancient civilisations. The elliptical, 255m-circumference Great Enclosure, with its 11m-high, 6m-thick walls and mysterious Conical Tower, is the highpoint, believed to have acted as a sanctuary for royal women.
The technical stuff: The massive granite walls were built entirely without mortar, using stones shaped by ‘firesetting’ – heating then rapidly cooling rocks to crack them. The experience: The Great Zimbabwe site is open daily 6am–6pm, and best visited on a tour from Masvingo, 27km to the northwest.
Did you know? The word ‘Zimbabwe’ may be derived from the old Shona name for this incredible site – ‘Dzimba-dza-mabwe’, meaning ‘large houses of stone’. KQ flies: daily to Harare.
ABU DHABI, UAE
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
When: Opened 2007
Who: combined effort of more than 38 contractors
The wow factor: One of the world’s largest mosques, this vast edifice melds Moorish, Mughal and Arab styles in a dazzling confection designed to draw on the disparate architectural, artistic and historic heritage of the Islamic world. The minarets echo Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles, while Moroccan artwork lines the 82 domes. There are also multi-coloured mosaic and glass inlays that create traditional geometric designs and calligraphy.
The technical stuff: More than 40,000 worshippers can pray amid some 1000-plus columns and huge gilded chandeliers – one weighing 12 tonnes. The experience: The mosque is open 9am-10pm daily, closing to tourists on Friday mornings and for prayers at various times during other days. Self-guided visits and free guided tours are available.
Did you know? The mosque’s main prayer hall is graced with reputedly the world’s largest carpet, covering 5627 sq m. Woven in Iran, more than 1200 knotters created its 2,268,000,000 knots.
KQ flies: three times weekly to Abu Dhabi.
When: 12th century AD
Who: King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (and St George… possibly)
The wow factor: The finest of the rock-hewn structures at this famous site, the Church of St George was carved from the solid red volcanic tuff. Forming an elegant cross-shape, and topped with three concentric relief crosses, its three banded tiers and triple-stepped platform create a structure that is simple and beautiful.
The technical stuff: The last of Lalibela’s 11 monolithic churches to be excavated is also the epitome of its style. Twelve true windows piercing the upper level light the graceful cruciform interior of the 15m-high (or should that be deep?) structure. The experience: Morning flights from Addis Ababa to Lalibela take around two hours. A ticket covering admission to all 11 of Lalibela’s monolithic churches costs 910 birr.
Did you know? Legend has it that King Lalibela was ordered to build this church by St George himself, who arrived on horseback and supervised the work personally (hoofprints from the saint’s horse can reputedly still be seen). KQ flies: daily to Addis Ababa.
When: Completed 1929
Who: Edwin Landseer Lutyens
The wow factor: The President’s House (as the name translates) is the centrepiece of an extraordinary project – the creation of a new ‘city within a city’ in New Delhi, launched in 1911 when it was decided to move India’s capital there from Calcutta. The building and its decorations combine classical Western and Mughal architectural styles: the dome may be based on Rome’s Pantheon or the great stupa at Sanchi, depending on your perspective, and elephant statues, cobra sculptures and Rajasthan-style window grilles are wonderfully Indian elements. Flanked by two huge Secretariat buildings and approached along the wide, straight Rajpath, this is one of the world’s most impressive homes for a head of state.
The technical stuff: Construction of the 340-room building (lasting 17 years), involved 700 million bricks. The experience: The Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Mughal Gardens are open to the public in February or March.
Did you know? Lutyens reputedly designed two ventilator windows to resemble his own spectacles.
KQ flies: four times weekly to New Delhi.
Bank of China Tower
When: Completed 1989
Who: IM Pei
The wow factor: Even among the forest of high-rises cloaking this über-modern city, there’s simply nothing quite like this geometric but playful building, the first real skyscraper (over 1000ft tall) to be built outside the USA. With four unequal, stepped, glass-clad quarters resembling growing bamboo, it’s both pointedly modern and beautifully organic, one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable landmarks.
The technical stuff: The tower reaches 315m – up to 367.4m including masts. Five steel columns at the corners of the triangular quarters support the weight of the glass curtain walls, and structural adaptations are designed to withstand typhoons.
The experience: The public viewing gallery on the 43rd floor is open to visitors free of charge, providing stunning aerial vistas of other behemoths in the skyline. You can find it on Garden Road in Central Hong Kong. Did you know? Feng shui practitioners have complained that the sharp edges, triangles and visible X shapes violate traditional principles.
KQ flies: three times weekly to Hong Kong.