History tells wonderful love stories. Even through war, behind all the politics and the fighting, there are some truly remarkable stories. Josephine and Napoleon; Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler; Cleopatra and Antony; Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, the world is fascinated by these stories, some of which are so idolized that we actually think them to be fiction.
These stories are survived by some of the world’s most lavish monuments, some more famous than others, and people have been flocking to them for an age. Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, but what of the others? What are the most romantic buildings and monuments in the world? What are the original Valentine’s?
Chester Thorne was a 20th century millionaire, a founder of the Port of Tacoma, and a man known to indulge his wife’s every wish and desire. Architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter was commissioned to indulge the new Mrs Thorne’s desire for a palace of her own. The result is the 54 room Tudor-Gothic mansion, known as Thornewood Castle, Lakewood, Washington. You can now indulge your own desire for a palace of your own, for a starting price of US $275 per night, plus tax.
In Versailles, Louis XV commissioned Ange-Jacques Gabriel to design a “small” chateau for his ladylove, Madame de Pompadour. Since Madame passed away four years prior to the completion of the building, Petit Trianon was re-gifted to the King’s new squeeze, Madame Du Barry. The building itself is a beautifully designed, elegant, neoclassical manse, that actually received most of it’s notoriety when the lovely King Louis XV regifted it again, this time to the more famous of his loves, Marie Antoinette. She used the manse as an escape from life at court, opening it only to her inner circle, which mostly consisted of her lovers, or so it is said. Visit Petit Trianon as part of a tour to Versailles, there are many that leave from Paris – usually bookable through your hotel concierge.
Love runs rampant in Japan as well. It isn’t limited to English millionaires and French kings. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century warlord, who made his name reforming class structures, abolishing slavery in Japan, consolidating the political clans of Japan and of course, waging war on neighboring countries, had multiple wives. While out and about pillaging and tormenting others, he would write to his favorite wife, Nene, the daughter of a samurai. The two were so in love, that upon Hideyoshi’s death, it was Nene that had the Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto built. She honored his love of tea ceremony by installing two teahouses, both of which are still functioning today.
In an unmistakably medieval tale, noble-born Scot, Devorgilla of Galloway’s response to her husband’s death was to embalm his heart and have it placed in an ivory casket, to be carried with her at all times. In memory of her late husband, Devorgilla performed many charitable acts, the most noted of which was the founding of the Cistercian monastery – Dulce Cor – in 1273. The complex was originally spread over more than 20 acres, and included a large English-style church, complete with bell tower. When the widowed Devorgilla died in 1289, she was buried in the church’s high alter, with her late husband’s enshrined heart. Abbey grounds are open year round, and you can visit the widower, or at least, a stone effigy of her clutching her beloved’s heart.
What better way to capture the spirit of love than with a kiss? That’s exactly what they have done in the Miraflores district of Lima, with a larger than life sculpture titled “El Beso” or “The Kiss”. It is framed by spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, behind wavy mosaic-tiled walls, this monument to love, which depicts sculptor Victor Delfin and his wife in a lusty embrace, was unveiled during the park’s opening on Valentine’s Day in 1993. According to local tradition, the mayor of the district holds a kissing contest here each year. Couples who hold the pose of the sculpture the longest are proclaimed the winners.
Royal romance and loss were the inspiration for the Eleanor Crosses. The glorious gothic crosses were erected by a disconsolate King Edward I following the death of his beloved wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile, in Lincolnshire in 1290. One cross was built to mark the nightly resting places along the route taken by the procession, which carried the Queen to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. Of the original 12 crosses only three — Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire and Geddington and Hardingstone Crosses, both Northamptonshire — remain today. Outside Charing Cross Station in London is a 19th-century reconstruction.
Finally, possibly the greatest, and definitely the most famous tribute to an undying love, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan upon the death of his third wife during the birth of his 14th child. It took thousands of craftsmen from all over India 22 years to build the while marble mausoleum and the surrounding gardens. The structure features touches of Islam, Persian and Hindu cultures. While there are beautifully decorated tombs dedicated to both Shah Jahan and his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, they are actually buried in a plain crypt, beneath the inner chamber, together with their faces turned toward Mecca, in accordance with the Muslim traditions. Though the Shah clearly preferred Mumtaz to his other wives, he did acknowledge them (and Mumtaz’s favorite servant) with several smaller tombs, which sit past the vast garden complex.
What great monuments to love have you visited, and have you been inspired to build your own? Tell me your love stories in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!