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15 Historical Photos of Famous Landmarks Under Construction

These photos provide a whole new glimpse at Notre Dame Cathedral, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Eiffel Tower and Trocadero square during sunrise, Paris, FranceAlexander Spatari/Getty Images


We've seen the finished products in photos, movies, pop culture, and maybe even in person, but these goliath landmarks all started as nothing more than an idea. These photos show that in-between stage as these works of art, and historical and cultural landmarks are raised and brought to completion. The history behind now-iconic spots is fascinating, just like these photos showing what famous landmarks looked like 100 years ago.

Nelsons Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, London, April 1844.Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images

Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

This image shows Nelson's Column, one of the most recognizable aspects of London's Trafalgar Square in the first week of April 1844. The photo, taken by William Talbot, may look like a shot of work being actively completed, but in reality, funds had temporarily run out for the building committee that had taken on the project and all work was halted at this stage as the government took over the project.

Victory CelebrationPrint Collector/Getty Images

Arc de Triomphe

Construction began in 1806 on one of the most famous landmarks in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe, to glorify Napoleon's grand army. Forward progress was halted in 1815 at the fall of the Empire but began again nearly a decade later. Construction was often put on hold as revolutions and uprisings began and ended in 19th-century France, but the building was officially consecrated on December 15, 1840, when Napoleon's hearse passed underneath the arch on the way to his final resting place. The monument has undergone construction many times through the years and this particular photo was taken in July 1919 as the statue for French soldiers lost in World War I was constructed in the hollow of the famous archway. Take a look at what the Arc de Triomphe and four other famous landmarks almost looked like.

Workers building via dell'Impero in RomeMondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

The Colosseum

This image from the 1930s depicts workers using axes and drills to build "via dell'Impero," the road that stretches straight through Rome from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. This project finished in 1932, and the road may have been renamed "via dei Fori Imperiali", but otherwise it stayed much the same and is still used to this day by locals and tourists alike.

The Sagrada Familia under construction.PHAS/Getty Images

Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia, or The Sacred Family, is a massive Roman Catholic cathedral located in Barcelona Spain. Construction began in 1882 and the church remains unfinished to this day. This photo shows the progress made by 1887, but while it is used as a functional place of worship, construction continues, funded largely by donations made by visitors and the public. Current estimations guess that it may finally be finished by 2026.

Paris, France - Tour Eiffel, Construction Work, 1889Historia/Shutterstock

The Eiffel Tower

Construction work began on the Eiffel Tower in January 1887 and was completed on March 31, 1889. Going from start to finish in barely over two years, this construction was considered record-breaking in many ways. This monument is well-known to many people, but did you know that the Eiffel Tower, along with these 12 other landmarks, has a secret room?

Luang Pu Thuat Statue Under Construction On White Sky Backgroundkrithnarong Raknagn/Shutterstock

Luang Pu Thuat Statue

Statues of Luang Pu Thuat are scattered throughout Thailand, but none equals this one's magnitude. This statue, located in Southern Thailand, depicts the revered Buddhist monk and is flocked to by locals and tourists alike. This statue is a place of worship for the Buddhist people, and as such, both worshipers and visitors are encouraged to abide by a more conservative dress code. 

VARIOUS Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota: c. 1938. Workmen on the faces of Mount Rushmore. Roosevelt has the scaffolding over his face.Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

Mount Rushmore

The original plans for Mount Rushmore included full-body carvings and a different lineup of the four presidents featured. However, budgeting and constraints with the existing rock face left the designer and sculptors with the necessity for a few last-minute changes. Seeing the etching of our 14th  president this close is quite striking, but these 11 famous landmarks, including Mount Rushmore, look completely different from a distance.

Historical Collection 158Historia/Shutterstock

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built in 1923. Not everyone was happy about construction when it started, as the company that oversaw the bridge's building demolished an estimated 469 buildings on either side to create the foundations and surrounding infrastructure necessary.

VARIOUS San Francisco, California: October 16, 1936. The Golden Gate Bridge under construction, with the roadbed being suspended from the cables.Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

San Francisco Bridge

The five-year construction of the Golden Gate Bridge ended in 1937, revealing one of the most iconic landmarks on the West Coast. But did you know that one of the original proposals was to build an underwater tunnel instead, to direct vehicle traffic underneath the boats? The famous San Francisco Bridge is one of the iconic American landmarks that almost didn't exist!

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