Colma, The Town of The Dead

South of San Francisco, near Daly City, lies the small town of Colma where the dead outnumbers the living by a thousand to one. It’s less than 2 square miles in size, but crammed within it are as many as 17 centuries where rest the bodies of more than 1.5 million souls.

Nearly all of the dead were once proud residents of San Francisco, both during their lifetime and after. But at the turn of the last century, the city passed an ordinance that banished all dead from within city limits. The government argued that cemeteries spread disease, but the true motive for the eviction was the rising value of real estate —land in San Francisco was too precious to waste on dead people.

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Photo credit: Sharon Mollerus/Flickr

Jal Mahal: Jaipur’s Submerged Water Palace

Submerged in the waters of an artificial lake, in the “pink city” of Jaipur, in the state of Rajasthan, India, is the beautiful marbled palace of Jal Mahal, or “Water Palace”. Not much is known about its history, except the fact that it was constructed by Maharaja Madho Singh in the 18th century —the precise date is unknown— as a place for his duck hunting parties. Later, Madho Singh’s son, Madho Singh II, enlarged the palace by adding a courtyard. Then, it fell into disuse and remained terribly neglected for two centuries until its recent renovation in the 2000s.

Jal Mahal is a curious structure. It’s not exactly a palace, because there are no habitable rooms to stay. Just a terrace garden where the Maharaja took leisurely walks. The palace is actually five stories tall, but only the top floor stays above water. The lower four floors remain mostly submerged when the lake is full.

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Photo credit: Russ Bowling/Flickr

Hess Triangle: The Smallest Piece of Private Property in New York City

At the southwest corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, in front of the entrance to the Village Cigars store, there's a small triangular mosaic set into the sidewalk which reads "Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated for Public Purpose".

The land where the 500-square-inch mosaic lies was part of a larger property belonging to David Hess, where once stood a five-story residential building called the Voorhis Apartment. In 1910, the city decided to construct a new subway line and widen the streets, which meant demolishing nearly 300 buildings in the area. Voorhis Apartment was among the buildings slated for demolition.

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Photo credit: Jason Eppink/Flickr

The Restored Castle of Matrera

Restoring an ancient monument is a delicate business. Do you shore up an existing wall, or redo it completely in modern concrete? When the challenge to restore the crumbling Castle of Matrera fell upon the Spanish architect Carlos Quevedo Rojas, he chose the latter. But did he go too far?

Built in the 9th century, the Castle of Matrera, located on Mount Pajarete, in the city of Villamartín, was once part of a large fortress that was surrounded by walls more than 500 meters long. A thousand years of ravaging storms and countless wars between the Muslim and the Christian rulers had decimated practically everything but the defensive walls and a lone tower. Then five years ago, the tower suffered a partial collapse, requiring immediate intervention.

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Before and after. Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer

The Historic Dutch Ship Batavia, And Its Blood-Curdling History

Moored at Bataviawerf, in Lelystad, in the Netherlands, is an authentic replica of a 17th-century ship named Batavia that once belonged to the Dutch East India Company. The replica was created by master-shipbuilder Willem Vos, who carries an extraordinary mission —to reconstruct famous ships from the golden age of the Netherlands' maritime history using traditional ship-building techniques that were popular during that period. So far, he has built Batavia, while a second ship “The Seven Provinces”, is a work-in-progress.

Willem Vos originally owned a company that built wooden and polyester boats, but with modernization demand for handmade boats was falling. Once, when Vos went to the bank to ask for credit, the bank tried to belittle his company by saying that his profession belonged in a museum —and inadvertently gave him the idea for Bataviawerf.

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The replica of Batavia at Bataviawerf. Photo credit: Malis/Wikimedia

Saudi Arabia’s Abandoned Hejaz Railway

The Hejaz railway that ran from Damascus to Medina, through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, was one of the principal railroads of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and a vital route across the desert. The railway was built in 1900 at the behest of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and was supposed to extend all the way to Mecca in order to facilitate pilgrimage to the Holy city. But its primary motive was to strengthen the empire’s control over the most distant provinces of the empire.

The railway reached only as far as Medina, some 400 kilometers short of its destination, when the First World War broke out and all construction works came to a grinding halt. When the Arabs, led by the strategic British officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as the Lawrence of Arabia, rose up in revolt against Turkish domination, the railway became the principal target. Today, large sections of the railway lie abandoned in the desert with tracks swallowed up by the sand, and carriages and engines toppled over and overgrown with shrubs.

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Photo credit: devillp/Flickr

The Dee Wright Observatory And Viewing Tubes

Google Maps and GPS tracking apps are of great assistance when hiking in the wild, but they still fall short when it comes to identifying distant landmarks such as mountains and peaks.

A clever solution to the problem is a “viewing tube” consisting of a metal tube welded to a rigid object, such as a pole, and pointing towards the distant landmark. When a viewer peers through the tube, he sees the landmark through the other end. Ingenious, isn’t it?

This is what a viewing tube looks like.

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Photo credit: leloupdujura/Imgur

A Mysterious Ice Cave That Produces Ice Only During Summer

About four miles east of Coudersport, in the town of Sweden, in Potter County, Pennsylvania, lies the most puzzling geological anomaly. It’s a small cave, or a pit, with an eight-feet-wide by ten-feet-long opening in the ground. At the bottom of the forty-foot deep chasm is a layer of ice. Large icicles measuring up to 25 feet long and often up to 3 feet thick hangs from the sides and just below the cave’s mouth.

This is the Coudersport Ice Mine, one of nature’s many ice-manufacturing plants. However, unlike regular ice caves that form only in winter, the ice in Coudersport Ice Mine forms during the warmest season of the year. The ice starts to form in spring, increasing in volume as the weather gets hotter and hotter. When winter arrives and there is snow and ice everywhere, and when it would seem to be the most natural time for ice formation, the ice in Coudersport Ice Mine melts away to nothing.

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Photo credit: rivercouple75/Tripadvisor

The Giant Eucalyptus of Australia

Most eucalyptus trees are moderately-sized but come to their native land, Australia, and you will be surprised at how tall these trees can grow. Indeed, eucalyptus are one of the tallest trees in the world rivaling the coast redwoods of North America.

Eucalyptus is not a single species. In fact, it’s the genus, with more than seven hundred species under it. Nearly all of them are native to Australia. The tallest among them is eucalyptus regnans, colloquially known as mountain ash, which regularly grows above 85 meters. It is also the tallest flowering plant in the world.

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Photo credit: Nicholas Jones/Flickr

A Blast From The Past: Episode 26

From the archives of Amusing Planet.

World’s Highest Tennis Court at Burj Al Arab

The world’s highest tennis court stands atop the fourth highest hotel in the world, Burj al-Arab at Dubai. The tennis court is circular in shape and when no session is at play, it doubles as a helipad. The exact height of the tennis court is not known, but the hotel is 321 m (1,053 feet) tall and the court is located very near the top. My guess is, it’s close to 1,000 feet.

In 2005, when Roger Federer and Andre Agassi were at Dubai for a tournament, they were invited to play a few rounds at the Burj’s helipad-converted-tennis court.

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