Not Earthquake-resistance Construction: the Top 5 Skyscrapers Built Before the 20th Century

The term “skyscraper” refers to any building that is forty or more stories high. Anything under that may be a “high rise” building, but it’s not technically a skyscraper. Hey, you’re learning new stuff already! You may think of the skyscraper as a thoroughly modern construct, and in many ways you’d be right. Because it is. But that doesn’t mean that people haven’t been building impressively tall buildings for many years. In fact, we’ve been constructing insanely big things for centuries!
Let’s get off our modern high horses a bit and give a nod to those builders of yore – let’s look at some of history’s older buildings that reached up toward the sky! As to whether or not they scraped it, you be the judge. And note that yes, there are manmade things taller than we’ll be talking about here, such as the Eifel Tower, but that’s not a building, it’s just an… Eifel Tower….

5 The Jetavanaramaya

Image credit: Chictraveler.com

The Jetavanaramaya is a stupa, or a building made to house Buddhist artifacts, located in the city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Maybe it’s only 400 feet tall, but guess what? By modern standards, that would make it 40 stories high, and that just qualifies it for skyscraper height. And also, it’s over 1,700 years old, so give this stupa its due, dammit. The structure, which is a huge dome atop a flat building structure, also has a “footprint” of nearly 2.5 million square feet, so respect for sheer size, too.

4 St. Peter’s Basilica

Image credit: Wikipedia

St. Peter’s Basilica makes this list because it’s tall, sure, but also because it’s kind of the gorilla in the room when it comes to famous, huge-ass buildings. This church is arguably the granddaddy of ‘em all, and inarguably so if you’re Catholic. That’s because, well, it’s the central place of worship of the papacy. At 452 feet tall at its highest point, it may in fact be taller than the Yonging Pagoda was, but we’ll never know, what with the whole weeks of fire in the 6th Century thing. St. Peter’s also gets points for being so breathtakingly lavishly decorated, and for being the site at which so much history has occurred and/or been memorialized. Out another way, it’s worth a visit.

3 The Yongning Pagoda

The Yongning Pagoda had the fortune to be (possibly) the world’s tallest building for a few years, and the misfortune to have been built to such a great height using of wood. Thus… it’s gone. Burned down over a thousand years ago. But in the 6th Century A.D., for an unspecified period of time, it towered over Luoyang City at a height of, purportedly, over 450 feet tall. The story also goes that when the pagoda caught fire, scarcely twenty years after it was built in 516, the conflagration raged for weeks.

2 The Great Pyramid of Giza

Image credit: Pius Lee / Shutterstock.com

The Great Pyramid of Giza rises to a height of 455 feet today, but at its peak (double points for double meaning!) it was about 30 feet taller. 480 feet high would equal about 48 stories. An ancient skyscraper, then! And while modern building like the Burj Khalifa or Tapei 101 may be more than 5 times taller, just you wait and see how those skyscrapers are doing in 4,500 years. Yeah, we’ll see how tall they are in the year 6,513, ok?

1 Lincoln Cathedral, England

Image credit: Wikipedia

Though its spire burned down in 1549, for about 250 years, the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England, was the tallest building in the world. The tip top of the structure reached 525 feet in height, which at the calculation of “10 feet = 1 story” would make the cathedral the equivalent of 52 stories high! We have achieved skyscraper status, and then some!

And you thought the half mile high buildings we can create today were special, huh? Buildings designed with counterweights to factor in the wind at 2000+ feet of elevation, or build on giant casters to account for tectonic movement, buildings… Ok, they’re pretty damn impressive.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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