From Egyptian gods and Roman emperors to slave traders and equestrian statues of long-dead generals whose achievements lay forgotten in dusty old books, people have always been fond of putting up statues. Many are on a manageable, human scale, while others, such as the ones listed here, are truly colossal. Here are the tallest statues on all six inhabited continents and the stories behind them.
Christ the Redeemer
The tallest statue in South America is the imposing Christ the Redeemer located high above the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Depicting Jesus Christ with arms outstretched, the statue stands atop Mount Corcovado to the south of the city, standing at 30 metres high on an 8-metre high pedestal. The statue’s arms span 28 metres.
An installation on the mountain summit was first suggested in the mid-19th Century by a priest by the name of Pedro Maria Boss. The priest proposed the idea of erecting some form of Christian monument on the mountain summit in honour of Brazil's regent, Princess Isabel. While the suggestion was turned down, the idea was later taken up by the Catholic Church of Rio. Displeased with the ‘godlessness’ of Brazilian society following the separation of church and state when the country became a republic in 1889, the church began collecting donations for a monument to be erected on Mount Corcovado in 1920. Donations flooded in and a competition was launched to decide what exactly would grace the mountain’s summit. Finally, a figure of Christ with arms outstretched to symbolise peace was chosen, and the task of designing and building the statue was handed over to French sculptor Paul Landowski and Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa.
Constructed from reinforced concrete with an outer layer of sandstone, the statue took nine years to build from 1922 to 1931. It opened to the public on October the 12th and became an instant hit, not just with the people of Brazil but all around the world. Today, the figure of Christ the Redeemer is one of the most recognisable statues in the world and as much a symbol of Brazil as Samba and the national football team.
Liberty Enlightening the World
Liberty Enlightening the World (or the ‘Statue of Liberty’, as it’s more commonly known) was the brainchild of Frenchman Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Given as a gift by the French in 1890, Liberty Enlightening the World is commonly thought to celebrate America’s independence from the British after the Revolutionary War - a notion reinforced by the date of the Declaration of Independence displayed on the statue’s tablet. In fact, it was originally conceived as a celebration of the end of the US Civil War and the abolition of slavery. This is why Liberty is depicted stamping on the shackles and chains of bondage which lay at her feet.
The statue was paid for by public donations in France, while the pedestal on which it stands, increasing the statue’s height to 93 metres, was paid for by American donors. The combined height of the statue and its pedestal make ‘Lady Liberty’ the tallest statue in North America. Built in France and based on the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas, the statue was shipped to America in 1885 and erected on the site of a former army barracks on what was then called Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. The outer skin of the statue consists of lightweight copper sheets that measure just 2.4 mm in thickness, while the inner structure, designed and constructed by Eiffel Tower engineer, Gustave Eiffel, consists of an iron truss framework.
Originally, the statue was a dull brown coppery colour. However, Liberty’s signature bright green patina began to spread across the statue’s surface fifteen years after its installation. Worried that this was a sign of corrosion, the US Congress ordered repairs to remove the patina. However, the public protested as they rather liked the statue’s green sheen and, after tests were done that showed the patina was actually protecting the metal, Lady Liberty was left the iconic colour she remains to this day.
Statue of Unity
When it comes to Asia, one would expect the top spot to be taken by one of the many Buddhas that tower over the landscapes of many countries across the continent. This was indeed the case until quite recently when India outdid even the mighty Spring Temple Buddha in China by building not just the largest statue on the continent, but the largest statue on the planet.
Dubbed the ‘Statue of Unity’, the colossal, 182 metre figure of revered Indian statesman Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel towers over the province of Gujarat on the west coast of India. The project was announced by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi when he was governor of Gujarat in 2013. Taking five years to build and incorporating 109 metric tonnes of scrap farm machinery donated by local farmers in its foundations, the statue was unveiled in 2018. Including the base, it measures 240 metres in height in total and today attracts 5 million tourists a year.
Patel was a prominent figure in the Indian Independence Movement in the 1930s and ‘40s and the first Deputy Prime Minister of India following independence from British rule in 1947. As well as organising relief efforts that aided Indians fleeing Pakistan to the Punjab following Partition, Patel managed to persuade all 565 ‘princely states’ that had gained independence following the withdrawal of the British to accede to India, forming one unified nation. For this, he was given the title of ‘Unifier of India’, and the immense statue built in his honour commemorates this and his many other achievements.
The Motherland Calls
The Battle of Stalingrad killed or wounded 1.5 million Soviet soldiers and civilians, reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin and proved a turning point in the war against Nazi Germany. It was no surprise, then, that the USSR would commemorate this titanic battle with something truly spectacular after the Allied victory in 1945.
Standing at 85 metres high, The Motherland Calls is the tallest statue in Europe and the tallest statue of a woman in the world. Installed on a hill above the rebuilt (and renamed) city of Volvograd in 1962, the statue depicts the allegorical figure of the Motherland raising a sword and beckoning the people of the Soviet Union to join the fight to save the city (and the country) from tyranny. 200 steps lead up to the statue, signifying the 200 days the battle raged.
Designed by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and engineer Nikolai Nikitin, the statue is hollow inside, consisting of separate concrete chambers piled on top of one another and kept in place by wire ropes. The sword is made entirely of stainless steel and, unusually, the statue is not built on foundations but is instead entirely free standing, kept in place by its colossal weight.
The African Renaissance Monument
The tallest statue on the continent of Africa is also the most controversial on this list. The brainchild of then Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade, the African Renaissance Monument is a 52-metre tall statue depicting a man, woman and child erupting from the earth, signifying the rise of Africa after centuries of colonisation and oppression. The sculpture was designed by Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby, with ‘contributions’ by Wade, leading to him claiming part-ownership of the statue’s copyright and 35% of its tourism revenue. The sculpture was built by North Korean construction company Mansudae Overseas Projects, which has gained notoriety for erecting unpopular statues across Africa since the 1970s.
The statue has caused considerable controversy. Before it had even been built, people took to the streets to protest against its construction, citing it as an enormous waste of money and a testament to Wade’s corruption and mismanagement of the economy. Wade’s claim to 35% of the copyright also came under heavy criticism as the statue was seen not so much as a celebration of a new Africa, but as a money-making scheme for the president. Local Islamic leaders objected to the fact the figures were depicted semi-naked, and the use of North Korean contractors instead of local builders was also criticised. Internationally renowned Senegalise sculptor Ousmane Sow condemned the statue, saying it had nothing to do with art. Despite the almost universal condemnation, the hated statue remains in place to this day. Wade, meanwhile, was ousted from power in 2012.
Australia’s ‘Big Things’
Trust Australia to do things differently. Travel down under and you won’t find any monumental statues celebrating freedom or victory in battle. Not even Gallipoli or the granting of Australian independence in 1942 is honoured with a giant sculpture. Instead, what Australia specialises in is its highly entertaining collection of so-called ‘Big Things’.
Consisting of roughly 150 objects, Australia’s ‘Big Things’ are a loose collection of sculptures of everything from giant prawns, beer cans and bananas to historical figures such as Ned Kelly and celebrations of the country’s original Aboriginee inhabitants, Most were erected as tourist traps beginning back in the 1950s, usually to draw people into roadside diners and to local attractions.
Today, Australia’s Big Things are tourist attractions in their own right, with many people going out of their way to see as many as possible as they travel around this vast country. The tallest of the Big Things is the Giant Koala in the small settlement of Dadwswell Ridge near the Grampians Ridge in Victoria. Standing at 14 metres high, it’s a pygmy compared to the other entrants on this list, but impressive nonetheless!