Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Google Maps: The View From Above

By the time I've finished visiting my 102 prospective World Wonders, I expect to have amassed approximately three years of actual travel time. In just the first year, I've taken planes, cars, buses, jeeps, bicycles, motorbikes, trains, subways, monorail, boats, tuk-tuks, kayak, hot air balloon, gyrocopter, and horse-and-cart; I've slept in innumerable hotels and hostels, of very varying quality; eaten food of unidentifiable origin and been forced - yes, forced - to thoroughly sample each nation's beer.

All this has been very enjoyable, but no doubt has involved some degree of time and effort. And it's not escaped my attention that's there's a much easier way to do it - Google Maps. By sitting on the sofa in my living room, moving the fingers on my right hand, I can pretty much visit the world. I've got eyes and Google has the images: who needs tuk-tuks, cheap hostels and mystery meat? (I'll continue to find myself forced to drink a variety of different beers.)

So I've taken a little time to find all my Wonders on Google Maps (Wikipedia's GPS coordinates have been very helpful) and see how they look. The purpose of this was mostly just curiosity, but I've found that it's been a pretty useful exercise in getting a rough idea of the scale of many of them. Some are in clearer resolution than others and some even have a nice 45° angle; in many cases (Europe and the US generally), a streetview is also possible. They are all there, albeit pretty blurry in a few cases, proving I suppose that they are indeed on Planet Earth.

Here they are, in a very rough order of size. Google Maps is oddly inconsistent with its zoom and scale, with it varying between locations. Even if it says 50 feet/20 metres, for example, the scale between these zooms can differ. Take a look down and you'll see what I mean. I've selected each Wonder at what I feel is their optimum zoom to show them off, and so I present them here in order of ascending size. I have to emphasise that this only very vaguely relates to the size of the Wonder, and even then, relates to their area rather than height, obviously. Still, it gives you an idea.

Actually embedding every Google Map image made things go a bit mental, so I've taken screenshots of them and pasted them here as pictures. Click on the picture to go to the Google Map, and click on the little orange man to see if there's a Streetview. Also, click on the name of the Wonder and go to my review or preview, for those that I've written.

At 50 foot/10 metre scale

Christ the Redeemer


At 50 foot/20 metre scale

Great Wall of China (at Mutianyu)

The Great Wall is very, very long, but not terribly wide, and so doesn't really do all that well on Google Maps. I could zoom out further but it becomes less identifiable as a wall; even at this zoom it takes a while to figure out what you're seeing. However, to get just the merest sense for how long the wall really is, I advise clicking on the picture and scrolling along the map for a while. It goes on and on.

This is a section at Mutianyu and near Jiankou, which I visited last year. It's fairly run-down, very scenic, and incredibly steep. There's obviously no Streetview, but click on the orange man anyway to see photos of the section, which do it far more justice than this pretty ordinary overhead view.

St Basil's Cathedral

My Wonder is the Kremlin, featured later on, but St Basil's is the most recognisable part of it (well, just outside of it, on Red Square).

Neuschwanstein Castle


Leaning Tower of Pisa

Italy seems to be blessed with a whole bunch of very pretty 45° angles on many of their landmarks. The tower leans to the south, so the lean can't really be seen on this image, but the image can be rotated on Google Maps.

Santa Maria della Salute


St Mark's Basilica

In 1902, the almost-100-metre-tall clock tower collapsed fairly suddenly. Remarkably, given what's around it, little damage was done to St Mark's. One cat died in the incident.

Gobekli Tepe

Not the clearest of images, unfortunately. This is very much a Wonder-in-progress, with the 11500-year-old archaeological site still with years or decades of excavation ahead. You can kind of see one of the stone rings just off the centre of the picture.

Statue of Liberty

The 11-point star-shaped pedestal that Liberty Enlightening The World stands on is very evident when seen from above, but despite the occasional but inevitable conspiracy theory, it is simply that shape (a hendecagram, if you're interested) because that was the shape of Fort Wood, the fortified structure built in 1811 that preceded the statue.

Empire State Building

A slightly disappointing one. I thought there might be a 45° angle, but instead it's a very top-down view of the Empire State Building. Most of the other skyscrapers on my list get better coverage.

Mount Rushmore

Another disappointing one. You can barely see the presidents' faces. This would be a perfect one for the 45° angle.

At 100 foot/20 metre scale

This rewards clicking on and zooming out, to see the Sydney Opera House's great position in the harbour.                                                                                                                                                                  

It might be a bit blurry, but Borobudur's four-way symmetry - representing a mandala - looks great from above. There's lots of speculation about the Nazca Lines being mysterious because their makers could never have seen them from above, but this could equally apply to this symbolic layout of Borobudur, and other such temples, when viewed from the sky.

It looks a bit of a jumble if you're not familiar with the layout, but the chapel containing the Emerald Buddha itself is the large building at the bottom. It's pretty fuzzy, but if you look really closely - in the upper section of the temple (a little left of centre on the image) - you can see the scale model of Angkor Wat.

And here's the real thing. The patches of blue and green are scaffolding.


It would take Usain Bolt over 9.58 seconds to run from head-to-toe of this giant Burmese Buddha, although as it would be a vertical drop I guess he'd plummet at the same rate as the rest of us. But click on the image and scroll to the left - there's a convenient giant reclining Buddha for Usain, or anybody else who fancies a run.

The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world, but it turns out that it looks rubbish from above.

Whereas, in contrast, the Lotus Temple, which I found such a drab disappointment, looks spectacular.


Doesn't it look dinky?

Kailash Temple in Ellora

A shame it's not at a better resolution, but this shot really shows how the entire structure was just hacked out of the cliff.


You've got to look really closely to find the Buddha here. Check out the two boats - large and small - just by the shore, and then look immediately to the right, by about 200 feet. You can just see the Buddha's head and body between the green of the trees and bushes.

Or so Wikipedia's coordinates tell me. It looks a little like a quiet Japanese suburb.

Small but perfectly formed.

Unfortunately, entirely submerged under a mess of scaffolding until next year.

Cologne Cathedral

From above, just like any other cathedral - observe the cruciform layout. You need to stand in the square by the western facade and look up to fully appreciate what a huge beast of a building this is.

This highlights what I think is one of St Paul's biggest weaknesses - the lack of space around it. Cathedrals are beautiful buildings, and benefit from having a bit of space to stand back and appreciate them. St Paul's has that tiny area to the west; otherwise you've got to grab glimpses from between buildings.

The shadow on the water is the best part of this picture.

Stonehenge would have benefitted from a closer zoom, but at least this highlights how near that stupid road is.

Ely Cathedral


I think the castle looks stunning from this angle.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel would probably look better a little more zoomed out, but in the Google Map image this has caught it low tide, which highlights quite how badly the area has become silted up, and how badly needed the "re-islanding" project is needed. This image, at the time of writing, is obviously over a year old, as just out of shot to the south the lines of cars and buses can still be seen parked at the entrance. This was stopped in April last year. Hopefully, in a few years, I can post a nice zoomed-out shot, with Mont Saint-Michel an island again.

Amiens Cathedral


Chartres Cathedral


The last thing a badly-positioned parachutist would ever see.



Thiepval Memorial


Dome of the Rock

This reminds me of a fuzzy image of a distant star.

Abu Simbel

It's there, honest. Though not at all clear, the main set of four statues are at the bottom left of the image. At the top, just right of centre, is the smaller temple fronted by six statues. Clearly, Ramesses II wasn't thinking of Google Maps when he planned these.


The overall site is much bigger, as are all the Maya cities, but we have here the core of Palenque.

Nazca Lines - monkey glyph

In the centre of the image, with the tightly-coiled spiral tail.

Easter Island moai

Well, apparently. Could just be some hay bales.

Djenne Mosque


Church of St George

Very dinky, but also very apparent the entire thing has just been dug from the ground.

Ak Orda Presidential Palace


At 100 foot/50 metre scale

Chateau de Chambord


Chateau de Chenonceau


Avignon Papal Palace


Pont du Gard

Between the time it took for me to take the screenshot and this post to be put up, Google have obviously passed by the Pont du Gard and taken another picture. Click on the image - now it looks suspiciously like a Klingon bat'leth.

Sagrada Familia

In the grid-planned Eixample district of Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia fits very neatly into one city block.



Florence Cathedral

Within its surrounds, one of the prettiest Google Maps Wonders out there; all red terracotta and grey stone.

St Peter's


The Colosseum


Verona Arena

Smaller and less famous than the Colosseum - but still in use 2000 years on.


Is the Parthenon really this small? I guess I'll find out.

Hagia Sophia


Blue Mosque


CN Tower


Gateway Arch


Hoover Dam

Quite a dramatic shot, this: the sheer power of the dam using all its might to force back the water.



At 200 foot/50 metre scale

A disappointing Google Map image, pretty indistinct. The curving, three-towered, Skypark-topped hotel is in the centre of the shot, with the swimming pools visible on the right side.

From this angle, seemingly ready for take-off.

Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan

Google hasn't really gone hi-res in Burma yet (oddly, you'll get far clearer shots in North Korea - the Ryugyong Hotel for example). Here we have Bagan's biggest temple, Dhammayangyi, as seen through the frosted glass of a bathroom door.


Well, under these huge warehouse roofs, at least.

The park to the east (drably named "Millennium Park") acts as the face of a sundial, with the skyscraper as the gnomon. However, in this picture, obviously taken in the morning, the shadow is nowhere near the park. It turns out that the alleged "tallest sundial in the world" only works in the afternoon, which is handy for office workers waiting to finish work, but hardly qualifying it as a fully functioning sundial. It would be like having a watch that only told you when it was between 3 and 5pm daily.




Krak des Chevaliers






The Great Pyramid

Just look at the last few buildings - all huge in their own right - and then look at the Great Pyramid. Pretty big, eh? That's a lot of stone.


Some say that Angkor Wat is the biggest religious building in the world, others say that it's Karnak. As Angkor Wat appeared ages earlier in this entry, the evidence would appear to be on Karnak's side.

Valley of the Kings


Disney World

I've not yet been to Disney World, and visiting would perhaps make it easier, but I found it quite a difficult one to identify on Google Maps. I think what we have here is the Cinderella Castle at centre-top and so I guess this part is focussing on the Magic Kingdom theme park.

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan

Our ancient ancestors sure were good at building giant pyramids.

Chichen Itza

No offense, El Castillo, but you look pretty tiny compared to the previous two pyramids.



Machu Picchu

A great place to visit on foot no doubt, but by the looks of it not one to get excited about for anyone looking on from a space station.

Burj Al Arab

The "H" is for "Hotel". Or something like that.

Burj Khalifa

This looks like a computer game screenshot of a futuristic moon-city..

At 200 foot/100 metre scale

Click on the picture, then scroll right and just a little bit down to find the Taj Mahal.



Another world famous Wonder not designed for the spaceman.

Cairo Citadel

A bit of a sprawl. The Mohammed Ali Mosque - Cairo Citadel's most recognisable feature - can be seen left of centre (the lumpy bulges with a square courtyard).

Leptis Magna


At 500 foot/100 metre scale.

The Kremlin is the wonky D-shape dominating the left side of the picture. Red Square is to the Kremlin's top right, and St Basil's is that small lump directly to the right of the Kremlin.

At 500 foot/200 metre scale

Another difficult one to fully identify on Google Maps, especially as it is over a fairly large area. This, I think, is the Historic Park, and some ruins can be seen left of centre. However, confusing the whole issue is the amount of water - I think this image was taken during the devastating floods of a couple of years back, when Ayutthaya (and much of Thailand) was partially underwater.

So, Karnak is the biggest religious building? Perhaps not. Angkor Wat stakes its claim again.

The clouds don't help, but the terraces can kind of be seen, like visible contours on a map.

I hope this doesn't get my blog flagged as obscene.

Turns out that the Forbidden City is pretty damn big.

City of Arts and Sciences


Pyramids of Giza

To get an idea of size, look at the very first image of the Christ the Redeemer statue. One side of the Great Pyramid, centre-top, is almost two times the width of that entire image.



At 1000 foot/200 metre scale


The individual monasteries are almost indistinguishable, but they are on top of some of these lumpy rocks.

Golden Gate Bridge


At 1000 foot/500 metre scale

Dhammayangyi, as seen earlier, is that squarish block near the middle.


At 2000 foot/500 metre scale

Forth Bridges

The third bridge, a mini-Millau lookalike, will be completed by 2015 and will be to the right of the existing ones.


At 1 mile/2 kilometre scale

Nazca Lines

This shot covers the overall area of the lines, I believe, but might be a little too far out to get the details. Zooming in doesn't make things clearer, to be honest. Some of what you can see from here are roads and rivers.

Easter Island


At 200 miles/100 kilometre scale (about 1,000,000 foot/100,000 metre) scale

Ok, you'll be hard pushed to make out the details of the Wall here - this is pretty much the map of China. But from east to west, the wall is there. The biggest thing mankind has ever constructed, thousands of miles of wall across deserts and mountains. Combine everything you've seen so far, and it could be contained within one city, barely making a dot on this map. The Great Wall is a series of lines, all the way from the Bohai Sea to somewhere on the west. Simply immense.

However, after seeing this picture, it’s hardly credible that anyone could ever have believed the “seeing from space/moon” myth. Perhaps they should line the Wall with huge red neon spotlights to make it true.


  1. Thanks you have given me the tour of the world free of cost. Super

  2. This is extremely a comprehensive and helpful blog about google maps coordinate. I have found here with ease what is searching. These views are really awesome! In fact, first time in my life, i am looking these views clearly. Thanks dear!


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