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Sigiriya: The Lion Rock of Sri Lanka

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Deep in the middle of Sri Lanka, a massive column of rock juts out from the green tropical forest. It reaches 660 feet tall and features frescoes, graffiti, and landscaped gardens. The rock is known as Sigiriya (see-gee-REE-yah) and holds a special place in the island’s cultural history.

It was established as the stronghold of a rogue king over 1,500 years ago, and today the Sigiriya complex stands as one of the earliest preserved examples of ancient urban planning. Ultimately the rock was unable to save its king, but it succeeded in preserving ancient Sinhalese culture.

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The Forgotten Castle on the Hudson

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On a lonely island fifty miles north of New York City, the bricks of a once-proud castle slowly return to the earth. The crumbling fortress is one of several remaining structures on tiny Pollepel Island, an abandoned six-and-a-half acre crag hugging the east bank of the Hudson River.

The 100 year-old Bannerman’s Castle was originally built as an arsenal, and has been abandoned for the last forty five years since a fire ravaged the island in the summer of 1969. It was the creation of a nineteenth-century businessman and served as an advertisement for the era’s largest military surplus empire.

When the castle’s namesake passed away, the island was forgotten. It’s brief resurrection was cut short by a fatal fire. For half a century the building has been losing battles against nature. Absent intervention in the very near future, it may lose the war.

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Concrete Arrows and the U.S. Airmail Beacon System

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Scattered across the United States is a network of mysterious concrete arrows. They are often found in remote locations or areas difficult to access. Some will be accompanied by a small shack, a few have a metal tower affixed to their base. Many are in good condition while others have succumbed to nature. The shape and direction of the arrows vary, but it is clear they served the same purpose.

The purpose was important: helping early pilots navigate U.S. transcontinental flights at night.

In a era before radar, pilots used ground-based landmarks for guidance. This solution worked for flight during the day, but grounded pilots at night. Before long, a system of beacons was established across the United States to guide airmail pilots around-the-clock. When radar and radio communications made the beacons obsolete years later, most were torn down and abandoned.

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Casualties of Copper: The Berkeley Pit, Montana

Walter Hinick, AP

Tales of gold rushes and silver booms are often recounted from a nostalgic perspective, driven by tall tales of adventures into the lawless Wild West. Perhaps less sentimental is the story of copper, a metal with less value but more significance to the growth of infrastructure. Copper was a major component of industrialization and essential for everything from electrifying the world to fortifying nations during war.

Few mining operations could match the lifetime output of the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte, Montana. For nearly a century, mining in Butte Valley sacrificed the earth to build and defend America. Today the legacy of Anaconda’s enterprise is the Berkeley Pit, a large open pit mine collecting billions of gallons of toxic groundwater.

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Largest Ship Graveyard in the World: Nouadhibou, Mauritania

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Extending from the west coast of Africa is Ras Nouadhibou, a small peninsula shared by Mauritania and Western Sahara. The east side of the peninsula belongs to Mauritania and is home to Nouadhibou, a city of nearly 100,000 residents and the second-largest settlement in the country. The region’s economic capital, Nouadhibou holds less illustrious titles as well: it is also home to the largest ship graveyard in the world.

Financial hardships led to authorities turning a blind eye to ship owners who offered bribes to dump used vessels in the harbor. After nearly three decades of this practice, Nouadhibou’s coastline is a unique landscape of over 300 rotting ships.

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Count Bagno’s City of Toys: Consonno, Italy

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When Count Mario Bagno purchased a large amount of land in the remote northern hills of Italy fifty years ago, he envisioned building a Las Vegas-style adult playground with bars, casinos, and dance clubs. The resort town of Consonno, nestled in the hills of Brianza not far from Lecco, was intended to be the premier weekend getaway for the well-heeled of Milan.

But delays would force the resort to open before it was completed and Consonno never enjoyed the success Bagno envisioned. The clock struck midnight for his City of Toys when a 1976 landslide destroyed the only road into town. Today, the long-abandoned Città dei Balocchi sits vandalized and forgotten.

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