Sydney Opera House

Like a flotilla of grand ships under sail, gliding across one of the world's great natural harbors, the Sydney Opera House arrests every visitor's attention. Since opening in 1973, this performance complex has become the very emblem of Sydney, while also raising the cultural tone of a city that began as a convict settlement and has retained a raucous edge of honky-tonk.

Each year the Opera House presents some 3,000 performances in its main spaces -- the 1,547-seat Opera Theatre (opera, ballet); the 2,679-seat Concert Hall (symphony, jazz, dance, pop, and special events such as conventions); the 544-seat Drama Theatre (theater, musical theater, and contemporary dance); the 398-seat Playhouse (plays, lectures, and seminars); and the newest addition, the 282-seat Studio (music and performing arts).

Famous Landmark Image Gallery

With distinctive roofs shaped like sails, the Sydney Opera House stands on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor.
With distinctive roofs shaped like sails -- the highest rising 221 feet above the
water -- the Sydney Opera House stands on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor.
See more pictures of famous landmarks.

But the design of the building itself takes center stage, the star of the show. Surely one of the 20th century's most masterful architectural statements, it is utterly original with its peaked white roofs shaped like sails or shells. Danish architect Jorn Utzon topped the field in an international competition to win the design job. Of the structure, he predicted: "In the hot sun of the day it will be a beautiful, white shimmering thing -- as alive to the eyes as architecture can make anything, set in the blue-green waters of the harbor. And at night the floodlit shells will be equally vibrant -- but in a soft, more majestic way."

Because the unique structure required engineers to invent new technology, the work took 14 years and came in a whopping 1,450 percent over budget, at 102 million Australian dollars. (The original projection was four years and seven million Australian dollars.) The architect resigned part way through the project, after clashing with the engineers and government, and the design work was completed by local architects.

Today few people remember that controversy and only enjoy the beauty of the Opera House. In fact, this striking building put Sydney on the map. One Australian Member of Parliament observed that the Sydney Opera House was the greatest public-relations building since the Egyptian pyramids. He might just be right.

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:


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.