There’s a theory in psychology that all men are obsessed by size, and that they’ll compete with each other by displaying large objects to substitute for their (often inversely proportional) physical attributes. I’ve no idea if this theory is correct, so let’s try not to think about it as we take a look at some of the world’s biggest man-made structures.

The Great Wall of China | China

The Great Wall of China near Jinshanling
People say that, at 5500 miles long, the Great Wall of China is so big it can be seen from the moon. They’re right, it can. Through a telescope.
The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Originally built to protect China’s northern border, territorial changes mean that most of the wall now goes through the middle of the country (which must be very inconvenient for a few hundred million people.) In fact, the Great Wall isn’t just one wall at all; it’s many bits of wall, some of which aren’t even joined together. I’m no military strategist, but if I was building a giant wall to keep out foreign armies, I’d make sure it was all in one piece. Having a “wall” made out of lots of little, unconnected walls is useless. From this point of view, the foot-high row of bricks that surrounds my front garden is a more successful, structurally coherent wall than China has managed to build in over two thousand years.
Rural section of the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China near Simǎtái
If you’re going to visit the Great Wall of China, make sure you go to the right bit (be careful: it’s quite long.) The Mutianyu section, for example, has been restored and is open to visitors – at between seven and eight metres high, and five metres wide, it’s a pretty impressive bit of wall. Other sections are not in such good condition; the earliest parts of the wall were constructed from earth and wood and many of these have not been maintained. Perhaps this is understandable – historical artefact or not, nobody wants the job of repairing an old lump of wall, made of mud, that’s over 5000 miles away.

Fresh Kills | USA

Rubbish arriving at Fresh Kills Landfill
Officially the world’s largest man-made structure, Fresh Kills is a dump. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful – it’s a landfill site in New York. It opened in 1947 and, by 2001, the pile of rubbish was 25 metres higher than the Statue of Liberty. To those arriving in the USA by sea, this must’ve provided a very different (but no less informative) first impression of the country.
Rubbish being dumped at Fresh Kills Landfill
I’d advise against a visit to Fresh Kills. Even if you’re the sort of person who wants to go on holiday to the world’s biggest rubbish tip, the site’s now closed so it would be a wasted journey. It’s currently being turned into a public park and wildlife refuge, so if you’re determined to go there then that’s what you’ll see instead. The Fresh Kills Park isn’t going to be safe to humans for another 30 years though, so don’t book the flights just yet.

Spring Temple Buddha | China

Spring Temple Buddha in the distance
They may have questionable wall-building skills, but there can be no doubt that the Chinese are good at statues. The Spring Temple Buddha is the largest statue in the world – at 153 metres it’s three times the height of Nelson’s Column (and that’s almost all column with just a little man balanced on top.)
The Spring Temple Buddha's foot
Surprisingly, the three tallest statues in the world are all Buddha – a good result for a deity who’s more often depicted as being short and fat.

Mir mine | Russia

Mir mine
I don’t know if a hole dug into the ground can count as a man-made structure, but the Mir mine in Siberia is no ordinary hole. It’s over a kilometre wide and half a kilometre deep – so big that it has been known to suck helicopters right out of the sky. The Russians were pulling diamonds from this chasm for over fifty years and, at its peak, the mine was producing 10,000,000 carats every single year (which really puts that engagement ring you saved for into perspective.)
The Mir mine is now closed and stands as an empty pit, but surely there’s an obvious use for it when (as we’ve seen) the world’s largest man-made object is a big rubbish tip? Why can’t we just put America’s rubbish down Russia’s hole? All it would take is a bit of organisation and some major diplomatic negotiations. If that doesn’t work, America has got an even bigger hole of its own – the Bingham Canyon mine – although that one is currently still operational, so there might be some objection to filling it full of “garbage”.

Hoover Dam | USA

Hoover Dam's downstream face
I once went on a coach trip to Hoover Dam. When we got there, all the other tourists got out to take photos, but I just stayed in my seat watching a video on the coach’s tiny TV screen. It was The Nutty Professor 2: Meet the Klumps. This decision made me look a bit silly, but I guess I just got caught up in the excitement of seeing Sherman Klump’s flatulent family. In hindsight, I should’ve got out to look at the dam – what I didn’t know at the time was that the coach only had one video, and I was going to have to watch it three more times before the journey was over.
Hoover Dam's upstream face
Most dams are built by our flat-tailed, big-toothed friends the beavers; but how many of these dams can provide Nevada with electricity? Not many, I’ll bet. Hoover Dam, however, is far more than just a big dollop of concrete; it generates environmentally-friendly electricity for over a million people, enough to pay for all its construction and running costs. It’s an impressive achievement and one that’s worth seeing – certainly more impressive than Eddie Murphy dressed in fat suit, pretending to be his own mother.
Photo credits: Jakub Hałun, Fabienkhan, Mark Holmquist, Pedronet, Zgpdszz, Vladimir and L. Richard Martin, Jr.

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