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Atlas Obscura

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton

German prince who had booby trapped fountains that would go off at random intervals and spray unsuspecting guests. At each fountain there was a spot which stayed dry, and that was where prince always stood.

1978 - 92 members of a New Age sect excavated a mountain in Piedmont, Italy. Behind a secret door in a humble farmhouse, was a five level underground temple. Authorities alerted by a disgruntled ex member eventually gave them a retrospective permit.

The Galileo Museum in Florence has an exhibit of his middle finger displayed on a golden goblet, pointing up to the heavens, or in defiance of the Church, you take your pick. The finger was purloined by a priest when, 95 years after his death, Galileo's remains were being moved to a monumental tomb.

The "Merry Cemetery" in Romania: started when 14 yo boy hired to carve crosses for graveyard, back in early 1930's. Then he started carving clever or ironic poems about the deceased, as well as painting portraits of them, often depicting the way they died. His successor says families want true life of the person to be represented.

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Europe's oldest observatory built in Copenhagen 1642. Has no stairs, just a spiral brick path that winds round a central column 7 times. Large heavy telescopes and machinery needed to be lifted to the top, and wagons were easiest way. As well as a sightseeing destination, the tower is the venue for an annual unicycle race in which riders pedal up and down the ramps.

Iceland's Phallological Museum started with a bull pizzle whip and now had nearly 300 specimens including a 5 foot 7 inch blue whale penis. There is also a small collection of human ones bequeathed to the museum by men who were keen to have their genitals preserved for posterity. Following their silver medal win at the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Iceland handball team each provided casts of their cocks. They are painted silver and displayed in a row behind glass.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem supposedly built on the site of Jesus's crucifixion is shared by six different Christian denominations: the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox. Arguments and fistfights over territories and boundaries are not uncommon. One small section of roof is disputed between the Coptics and the Ethiopians. At all times a Coptic monk sits in a chair placed on a particular spot to assert their claim. One stiflingly hot day in 2002, a monk moved the chair 8 inches to find a bit of shade. Eleven monks were hospitalized in the fight which ensued. Sometime in the mid-1700's a workman left a small ladder on a ledge against the wall of the second floor. No-one has dared touch it for fear of inciting more violence (except in 1997 when a mischievous tourist plucked it from the ledge and hid it behind an altar until it was put back in an "appropriate place" a few weeks later.)

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St Simeon spent 37 years at the top of a 50 foot pillar, tying his body to a pole so he would sleep standing up. A church, now ruined, was built around the pillar after his death (459 AD). The pillar itself has been whittled down to just a few feet by centuries of pilgrims carving off shards for themselves.

Skeleton Lake high up in the Himalayas - hundreds of people originally thought to be Japanese soldiers who had perished in WW2. But dated to 850 BC, and they all died with wounds only to heads and shoulders. Concluded that they died in a severe hailstorm, trapped in a valley with no shelter from sudden barrage of tennis ball sized hail.

Self-mummifying monks of Shugendo, Japan. Ten year process, starting with 1000 days diet of nuts and seeds, whilst undergoing rigorous exercise designed to get rid of all body fat. Second stage is diet of bark and a toxic tea designed to dessicate the body and make flesh poisonous to maggots. Finally monk is locked into an underground stone tomb with no food or water. Only connection to outside world a bamboo air tube and a bell. Every day he would ring the bell to indicate that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After 1000 days, tomb re-opened. If the body has decomposed tomb is resealed. The few who have successfully mummified themselves are worshipped.

Marathon Monks of Mt Hiei - to attain sainthood, undergo a 7-year program of daily long-distance walks on little sleep and meager rations. First, 100 consecutive days of 25 mile walks, without eating, drinking or resting. (If he fails to complete, he is expected to suicide.) First 3 years, one set of 100 days per year. In next two years, two 100 day sets. At the end of that, undergoes 7 day fast without water, food or sleep. (Used to be 10 days but zero per cent survival rate forced a change). Year 6 the distance increased to 37.5 miles, then in last year to 52 miles a day. About 50 monks have completed ordeal; one of them has done it twice 1973-80, then, after a 6 month break, from 1980-7.

Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop coffins - anything you want: Brooklyn Museum in NY has a Nike sneaker while British Museum has an eagle shaped coffin.

Airplane House in Nigeria's capital, Ajuba, is a two-storey concrete house topped off by an airplane. Builder's wife always wanted to travel, but raising 7 kids got in way. Plane is 100 ft long, with engines in each wing. Cockpit offers city views.

Coober Pedy, the Australian opal mining town, has night golf. Luminescent balls + players carry square of turf to tee off from.

"Put a sock in it" originates from early Victrola record players, which had no volume control. To lower the sound you had to stuff something like a sock into the speaker horn.

If the falling-down Parthenon in Athens is too decrepit for your taste, Centennial Park in Nashville has a full scale, intact, concrete replica.

Durham, N Carolina, has the Can Opener (aka Gregor St Rail Trestle) - a low clearance rail bridge built before minimum height laws - regularly slices the top of trucks.

Museum of Bad Art rejects 90% of submissions bc too good. Choose wonky perspective, confusing symbolism and lurid colors. People often lack hands or facial features bc those are hard. "Juggling Dog in Hula Skirt" is regarded as a "fine example of pointlessism".

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Home in Tijuana is a brightly painted, 5 storey, 18 ton nude woman called La Mona. Builder and his wife have their bedrooms in woman's breasts, study in her head, kitchen in her stomach, and the bathroom, of course, is in her backside.

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