Venice, Italy

The Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria

As can be expected from a centuries old church built in a canal city, the undercroft of this house of worship is beautifully flooded
19 Sep 2014
London , United Kingdom

Fitzroy House

This historic London residence was once the womb of Scientology
19 Sep 2014
Paris, Illinois

Faerie Traces

In a grove of fast growing walnut trees outside Paris, Illinois, a marker shares part of the largely forgotten history of the fictional Kcymaerxthaere's road building culture
19 Sep 2014
Nevşehir Province, Turkey

Derinkuyu Underground City

The deepest underground city in Turkey was designed to protect 20,000 people behind massive stone doors
19 Sep 2014
Principe, São Tomé and Príncipe

Roça Sundy

This nearly abandoned plantation was once witness to an eclipse that proved Einstein's theory of relativity
19 Sep 2014
New York, New York

The Treasures in the Trash Museum

A New York garbage depot holds a secret museum to weird and wonderful refuse
19 Sep 2014
Recent activity


The Oracles of Rome: Two Architectural Oddities Predict the Apocalypse

by Elizabeth Harper / 19 Sep 2014

article-imageSt. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome (photograph by Dnalor 01/Wikimedia)

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome has seen its share of destruction. Since 340, it’s been struck by lightning, damaged in an earthquake, accidentally burnt to the ground, and sacked by pirates. It seems nothing shy of the apocalypse will keep this church down. But according to local legend, the four horsemen might be riding in sooner rather than later. The collection of papal portraits here are linked to the end of the world.

article-imagePapal portraits (photograph by ho visto nina volare/Flickr)

Every pope is depicted in a large mosaic installed in a niche around the perimeter of the church. They're all exactly the same size and neatly laid out in a single-file line under the windows. The only problem is, there’s a finite number of niches. A second row would certainly throw the aesthetic off so the legend says that when the niches run out, the world ends.

Even though the tradition of the portraits was started by Pope St. Leo the Great in the 5th century, the niches and the legend are newer than you might expect. At first, the portraits were frescos. They were only added sporadically, frequently falling behind the times, until 1823 when a fire ravaged the building. During the rebuilding of the basilica, Pope Pius IX ordered the portraits to be reinstated and brought up to date, this time using mosaics. If a pope’s likeness wasn’t well-documented, artist Filippo Agricola arbitrarily assigned him a face (so even the most devout Catholics won't recognize a few). The project was completed in 1875, and since then the mosaics have been added pope-by-pope.

article-imageMosaic portrait of Pope Francis (photograph by Antoine Taveneaux/Wikimedia)