The world is full of bizarre, enigmatic and downright strange places.
While some are man made, others are entirely natural.
Many are shrouded in myth and mystery, while others are easily explained by history and science.
Either way, like beauty, strangeness is in the eye of the beholder.
Now let’s take a look at five of the strangest places on earth.
1. Buzludzha Monument – Bulgaria
Perched atop a 4,700 feet (1,400 m) peak in the rugged central Bulgarian mountains approximately 100 miles (150 km) east of the capital city of Sofia, an unusual flying saucer-like architectural oddity harkens back to an era long past.
Built by the Communist during the height of the Cold War, the Buzludzha Monument was constructed to commemorate the country’s troubled history and promising future.
Though the site was largely chosen for its dramatic splendor, it was also the location of an epic battle between Bulgarians and Turks in the late 1860s.
Perhaps for inspiration, a few decades later in 1891, along with a tight-knit group of likeminded political visionaries, Dimitar Blagoev – philosopher and founder of the country’s left-wing political movement – made a pilgrimage to the site to plot a course for the small Balkan nation.
But it wouldn’t be until more than eight decades later long after Blagoev’s death, that construction got underway in later January of 1974.
Civilian engineers, surveyors, carpenters and masons contributed to the project, but much of the labor was provided by the Bulgarian Army.
First, to create a stable and level base, the peak’s rounded top was blasted away with tens of thousands of pounds of dynamite.
All told, the process shortened the mountain by more than 30 feet (9 m) and removed nearly 15,000 cubic meters of rock.
The monument’s design was the brainchild of Georgi Stoilov, a former mayor of Sofia and co-founder of Bulgaria’s Union of Architects.
Composed of a flattened sphere resting on a relatively small angular base with a narrow spire in the back, at its tallest point the futuristic monument reaches nearly 250 feet (75 m) into the Bulgarian sky.
The interior walls are adorned with intricate mosaics spread over nearly 11,000 square feet (1,020 square meters), most of which depict decisive moments in Bulgarian history.
And not surprisingly, the central mosaic features a hammer and sickle and the following phrase from the Communist Manifesto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”
Together, the mosaics contain more than ten tons of colorful ceramic and cobalt glass tiles and naturally polished river stones from all over the country.
Though they’re both long gone, In its heyday immense images of Marx and Lenin loomed over the central arena as well, which often hosted official functions and celebrations.
After the fall of Bulgaria’s communist regime in the late ‘80s, all maintenance of the facility ground to a halt, and now thanks to weather and vandalism, much of the interior is in total ruin, though the structure itself has stood the test of time.
The monument came with a price tag of more than 14,000,000 leva, or by some estimates nearly 40 million USD today.
A renewed interest in the country’s history and architecture have led to recent preservation efforts, the ultimate goal of which is to not only restore the icon to its former glory, but to turn it into a museum and interpretive center.
2. The Catacombs – Paris, France
Hastened by a burgeoning population, limited space and public health issues caused by traditional burial methods, in the mid-1700s Parisian authorities made the decision to empty urban cemeteries and transfer the remains to an underground site just outside city limits.
The new site for the unorthodox mass burial would be a network of mines that’d conveniently been excavated in the 14th and 15th centuries, and that’d lay abandoned for centuries.
The extensive 2,000-acre (800 hectares) labyrinth of subterranean caves, caverns and passageways was just the solution the city needed for its vexing problem.
Preparing the site and organizing the transfer of bones were entrusted to Charles Axel Guillaumot, a well-respected inspector for the Department of General Quarry Inspection.
Officially decreed by Louis XVI in early April of 1771, the new department’s first order of business was to sure up the abandoned quarries, many of which had collapsed and filled with water.
But the first mass excavation at the Saints-Innocents cemetery – Paris’ oldest – wouldn’t begin until the mid 1780s, just a few years after it had reached maximum capacity after nearly 1,000 years of perpetual use.
Tombs, common graves and charnel houses were emptied of their macabre contents, and workers began the arduous and grisly task of transporting them to their new homes, a job commonly done under the cover of darkness to avoid the prying and often accusatory eyes of the general population.
Many of the bones, especially those of lower class citizens, were unceremoniously dumped into quarry pits, then distributed and piled into galleries by workers below.
The mammoth undertaking continued up until the French Revolution in May of 1789, though it stopped until 1800, after which it continued well into the middle of the 19th century as one phase of a massive urban renovation.
The new site became the Paris Municipal Ossuary in April of 1786, and from then forward became known simply as “The Catacombs.”
Starting in 1809, portions of the Catacombs were opened to the public on a limited basis, but though rumors had spread beforehand, many first time visitors were surprised to find not just indiscriminate piles of bones, but eerie decorative displays and structural elements like pillars and walls made with femurs, spines, pelvises and skulls.
Notable guests included European royalty, famous musicians and actors, and even Napoleon III who visited with his son 1860.
Over the years the ossuary became the final resting place for numerous historical figures, many of who lost their heads – quite literally – during the Revolution, including lawyer, statesman and all-around rabble rouser Maximilien Robespierre, and Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.
Other even more grotesque tales were common too, like of hospital worker Philibert Aspairt, who entered the catacombs 1793 and never reappeared above ground.
Despite multiple searches, his body remained hidden in an obscure tunnel until more than a decade later, and ironically, his final resting place was just a few meters from an exit that would’ve taken him to safety.
It’s estimated that the Paris Catacombs hold the remains of nearly 6 million Parisians, but some claim the number is much higher.
3. Slab City, California
Also known as “The Slabs,” Slab City is an unincorporated, 630+ acre (256 hectare) plot of rugged and remote Sonoran Desert in southern California’s Imperial County.
Located near the eastern shore of the slowly evaporating Salton Sea, Slab City is approximately 100 miles (160 km) northeast of San Diego and 170 miles (270 km) southeast of Los Angeles, and it has been attracting introverts, misfits, artists and free spirits for more than seven decades.
Named after the abundant concrete slabs that were previously foundations of buildings on the the Marine Corps’ Camp Dunlap training facility before and during World War II, Slab City was built as practice range for artillery and anti-aircraft gunners, most of whom were flown in from San Diego, less than an hour away by transport plane.
The camp was officially commissioned in mid-October of 1942 after more than 2 years of construction, and at its peak was a self-sufficient desert town with paved roads, water and sewage systems, barracks, a mess hall and officer’s quarters.
It operated during the war and for three years after, and though it wasn’t officially closed, dismantled and abandoned until 1956, it’d been staffed by a skeleton crew for years before that.
As of October 6, 1961, a quitclaim deed was issued by the Department of Defense which transferred ownership of the land to the State of California, since neither the base or the land were needed, but the deed didn’t include any restrictions, clauses or provisions for things like remediation or restoration.
The Marine Corps did have all the buildings removed, leaving behind little more than useless building materials and the slabs themselves.
At first it was settled veterans who’d gotten out of the service, most of whom had worked or been stationed there.
But though the first residents were recreational vehicle owners, ex leathernecks, pilots and RV-loving snowbirds looking for a little temporary peace and quiet not too far from the glitz, glamor and amenities of Palm Springs, with each passing decade Slab City grew, and by the late ‘90s many of its residents were anarchists, drug addicts, the mentally unstable and fugitives from the law.
In fact between the mid and late-’80s the winter population grew nearly threefold, thanks largely to an article published in Trailer Life and RV Magazine in 1984.
In recent years it has been estimated that in the winter the population often exceeds 4,000, while during the harsh summer months when water is scarce and temperatures hover in the 100s it dwindles to less than 200 diehards with nowhere else to go, and no way to get there.
Eccentric characters and epic works of unclassifiable street art are in no short supply in Slab City, one of the most colorful being a work built by Leonard Knight called Salvation Mountain that took more than three decades to build.
Made from bricks, concrete, auto parts, discarded construction materials and thousands of gallons of colorful paint, it’s a Christian-themed mountain of love that’s been lauded as an icon of American folk art.
A number of movies have been filmed onsite over the years, including the 2007 blockbuster hit Into the Wild starring Emil Hirsch.
A 2018 article in Smithsonian Magazine called Slab City “one of America’s last free places.”
4. Waitomo Glowworm Caves – New Zealand
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are famed for their Arachnocampa Luminosa, a species of light producing worms found exclusively in New Zealand.
Other plants and animals like mushrooms, pigmentless ants and super-sized crickets also reside in the primordial caverns, but it’s the shimmering worms that draw visitors from all over the globe.
Though adult glow worms are no larger than a typical mosquito, they excrete long strands of gooey mucus that often hang down more than a meter from the caves’ ceilings like translucent icicles, or more accurately fishing lines, because they ensnare flying insects on which the worms feed.
Both the worms and their secretions produce vibrant turquoise and blue light via a chemical process called bioluminescence, and set above the backdrop of the dark caves, they often resemble views of the Aurora Borealis or the sky in Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
In the indigenous Maori language, ‘Waitomo’ is a conjunction of the words for water and hole or shaft, but though Waitomo is the most famous, it’s just one of a network of four interlocking cave complexes connected by an underground streamway, much of which is inaccessible.
In fact, over the last 30 million years volcanic activity has created approximately 300 individual limestone caves in the region, and geologists suspect there could be hundreds more.
When the caves were formed much of modern day New Zealand was below the ocean.
Over time massive limestone formations grew as the remains of marine organisms collected and fossilized on the seafloor, in some areas reaching 650 feet (200 m) thick.
Later the caves formed when shifting tectonic plates caused the limestone to buckle under the tremendous pressure, creating fissures that eroded over millennia.
The Waitomo caves are filled with stalactites and stalagmites that also formed over millions of years as mineral rich water dripped from the ceiling and slowly calcified.
When stalactites and stalagmites meet in the middle they’re called pillars, and occasionally they twist around one another into dramatic structures called helicti.
Not surprisingly, the Maori knew of the caves’ existence long before they were officially discovered by British surveyors in the mid-1880s.
As early as the late 19th century the locals admitted visitors and provided guide service for a small fee.
The government repeatedly attempted to purchase the caves for years, but eventually resorted to using a number of environmental and public works “acts” in the early 20th century to take ownership, reimbursing the Maori the princely sum of about £625, or about 23,000 US dollars today.
5. Giant’s Causeway – Northern Ireland
Composed of nearly 40,000 interlocking basalt pillars that burst through the earth’s crust nearly 60 million years ago, the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Island is a sight to behold.
During the Paleocene Epoch, Antrim was prone to intense seismic and volcanic activity that often resulted in molten basalt extruding through the area’s abundant chalk beds, which over time created the Thulean Plateau.
As the magma cooled it also contracted causing both horizontal and perpendicular fracturing.
The former created the causeway’s pillars, while the latter gave rise to flat structures known as biscuits.
Though most columns are hexagonal, others are square, pentagonal and octagonal, the majority of which are approximately 40 feet (12 m) tall.
Some are grouped together in clusters that can be nearly 100 feet (30 m) thick, the most dramatic resembling staircases that gradually slope toward and disappear beneath the adjacent sea.
But science aside, according to local lore the columns are ruins from a massive freeway built by giants.
As the story goes, Irish colossus Fionn mac Cumhaill (pronounced Fin McCool) was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant named Benandonner.
He accepted and immediately set about building a causeway over the North Channel between the two countries to facilitate their meeting.
One version of the tale has Fionn defeating Benandonner, but another has Fionn’s wife hiding him in a crib like a baby to prevent his demise.
Upon seeing the oversized “baby,” Benandonner realizes the father must be of epic proportions, and he makes a quick escape over the causeway, destroying it as he went to prevent Fionn from following and killing him.
Across the sea at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa there are similar basalt columns which most likely influenced the unique creation story.
Giant’s Causeway gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1986 and is widely considered one of the United Kingdom’s most impressive natural wonders, though some naysayers still claim it’s a manmade structure.
The site is owned and managed by the country’s National Trust, and before the Covid-19 pandemic drew nearly a million visitors annually.