Mysteries come in many forms: ancient, modern, unsolved, and unexplained. But the world’s most mysterious buildings are a physical force to be reckoned with. They’ve become popularized on websites like abandoned-places.com, weburbanist.com, and the granddaddy of them all, atlasobscura.com, an exhaustive user-generated and editor-curated database of the unusual.
Our list of mysteries doesn't trot out clichéd write-ups of the Bermuda Triangle and the Egyptian pyramids, nor is it promoting the usual suspects of PR-pushed “haunted hotels.” These peculiar structures are original, lesser-known, and often arcane. Mystery after all, must be authentic.
“In an age where it sometimes seems like there's nothing left to discover, our site is for people who still believe in exploration,” says Atlas Obscura cofounder Joshua Foer, whose own favorite mysterious buildings include a murder mansion in L.A. and an art house in Centralia, W.A.
“It's easy when traveling to get stuck on very well worn paths,” reiterates cofounder Dylan Thuras. “Often the most memorable thing you see on your travels is not the beautiful palace, but the run-down theme park left to rot on the outskirts of town. These places give you more context than the highly polished tourist routes.”
Our definition of mysterious is broad and varied. Some buildings on our list are being eaten alive by the earth, such as a sand-swallowed lighthouse in Denmark’s Jutland and a lava-buried church in the remote highlands of Mexico. Others have design elements that seem to defy logic or were mysteriously abandoned by their people centuries ago. New York’s shadowy Renwick Smallpox Hospital has more recent traces of human life—and an eerie energy that lingers.