A powerful tsunami swept ashore at Kamakura, Japan, in 1495, knocking the city flat and ripping away the wooden temple that housed the Great Buddha, the Daibutsu, a colossal bronze statue that had been sitting there in peaceful repose for two-and-a-half centuries. When the tidal wave passed, the figure was still sitting serenely.

The Great Buddha has stayed out in the elements for another five centuries, and today it sits there still -- nearly 40 feet high, even without the pedestal -- meditating and showing a compassionate visage to the world.

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The Great Buddha measures nearly 40 feet high and 30 feet from knee to knee.
©Corbis
Seated on the grounds of the Kotoku Temple, the Great Buddha
measures nearly 40 feet high and 30 feet from knee to knee.
See more pictures of famous landmarks.

Cast in 1252 by sculptors Ono Goroemon and Tanji Hisatomo, the statue represents Amida, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, who by nature is merciful to all people, regardless of their station in life.

To prevent the very tall statue from appearing remote or distant to a viewer below, the figure was purposely cast with its features out of proportion.

The head and shoulders are actually too massive for the lower body. Because of this, when viewed from a distance the statue may look unbalanced, with too much weight at the top. But a person standing just in front of the Great Buddha, as the sculptor intended, sees everything in proper proportion.

To discover how the 90-ton statue was constructed, visitors can go inside the hollow figure via stairs that reach to the shoulders. Seams joining the statue's separately cast layers are revealed, along with 750 years' worth of scratches, cracks, and scars in the bronze.

The Great Buddha's long earlobes have been described as hanging "like dried fruit on a tropical tree." Some of the figure's other facial features are also customary artistic devices, such as its 656 curls of hair. Overall, the masterful design, combined with the patina of age derived from facing the weather for more than 750 years, has created a figure that never fails to capture people and place them under its tranquil aura.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico


To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.