The Mysterious Power of Place

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Our planet Earth has some of the most spectacular landscapes, natural features and man-made structures – those that exert a magnetic quality, captivating the traveller, real or armchair-bound, with spells that defy any easy or exact analysis. Some of these special places are the work of nature: mountains, volcanic islands, rivers and jungles. Others are locations of extraordinary human endeavour, where architecture and natural surroundings blend harmoniously in the form of temple complexes, royal palaces, monastic retreats and holy cities.

{This is a Series of Excerpts from the book Strange Worlds Amazing Places: A Tour of Earths Marvels and Mysteries, Get it Here}

Landscape and imagination combine in the creation of legend and some cities, such as the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete, are directly associated with ancient myths. Others, like the Mayan city of Copan in Central America, tantalize us with half-discovered histories, enigmatic inscriptions and legends, passed down through the centuries, of prehistoric rituals that may still be practised in some form today.

Many of the landscapes have attracted through the centuries knowledge-seekers – from holy men to poets – who were drawn there by beauty, or remoteness, or both. Some of the locations exist only in the human imagination. Legendary utopias, they are the haunts of mythical heroes, such as King Arthur’s Camelot, or they are elusive realms such as El Dorado and the drowned continent of Atlantis. Yet these places too weave a spell just as profound as any that can be pinpointed on a map.

The wondrous landscapes of the planet tell a story of ceaseless change. In the 4500 million years of its existence the Earth has been tempered by fire, flood and ice. Millions of years of intense volcanic activity were succeeded by millions of years of rain. The Earth’s crust cooled, hardened, cracked, melted again and recooled, as the earliest permanent rock-beds were laid down. Some of the planet’s most ancient rocks are from this period of turmoil. Samples from Minnesota in the USA, Swaziland in Africa, and sites in Western Australia date back 3500 million years, and a volcanic pebble from Greenland is estimated to be 4000 million years old.

Endless rain cloaked the planet with great seas in which, eventually the first microscopic life form would be nurtured. The slow, convective currents within the Earth’s fluid mantle, powered by the heat of compaction and radioactive decay, still flow today, carrying the vast, rocky rafts known as tectonic plates, reshaping continents and oceans.

Many of the secret and wonderful areas of the planet have become accessible to all in the early 21st century. There are numerous places all around the globe which have extraordinary landscapes of elusive enchantment – in an empty desert, an echoing forest, an ancient temple still crowded with worshippers, wildlife of the African plains and the rocks of the Galpagos Islands.

We in Search of Life attempt to share the experience of the other human inhabitants of the globe, often far removed in time as well as geographical distance. Who were the builders of the Great Wall of China, the worshippers of Stonehenge, the rock painters of Australia’s Northern Territory? In discovering others we discover ourselves. A waterfall, a rocky arch, a mountain top fill us with the same awe as that experienced by men and women speaking other languages, worshipping other gods, and maybe inhabiting other millennia. Perhaps the most captivating aspect of special places and landscapes is that ultimately, they show us our common humanity.

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