Famous landmarks get a lot of attention from tourists. They are breathtaking to see and great for taking a selfie. It’s especially fun to play camera tricks with something really big so you can put it on social media and say, “Me holding up the biggest monolith in the world!” Although the word is used casually to refer to something overwhelmingly large, a monolith is actually any single natural rock formation, but some man-made structures like obelisks, which are designed to be made from a single stone, also count.
The monoliths on this list are natural formations and dwarf anything quarried by ancient Egyptians or Romans. The Washington Monument is actually made out of bricks, which means it doesn’t count. Here are the ten biggest geographic monoliths in the world, and take your time with that selfie because these massive rocks aren’t going anywhere.
10. DEVIL’S TOWER, UNITED STATES
If there are any monoliths that are also movie stars, it would have to be one of the American entries. Devil’s Tower played a leading role in the Steven Spielberg hit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and now that distinctive image belongs to pop culture for all eternity.
This deserves a spot on the list just for its unique makeup and formation history. Devil’s Tower has a distinctive shape. It’s what’s left of a volcano after the outer rock erodes away, leaving only the igneous core. Before the Hollywood days, the monolith was a popular spot for climbers and still is. It stands at 867 feet, measuring from the summit to the base.
9. SIGIRIYA, SRI LANKA
This is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, and when you see it you understand why. It’s not just the amazing monolith that rises 1200 feet out of the lush forest. Visitors come for the ancient frescos, artwork, brilliant urban design and rich history. The name is Sanskrit and translates to “Lion Rock.” In the year 477 A.D., King Kashyapa chose this location for his palace. He decorated the sides of the monolith with frescos and built a gateway, complete with a giant lion’s paw as part of the base, about halfway up the slope to the summit. Engineers still marvel over the genius of the city’s urban planning, and that’s partly why Lion Rock is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN, BRAZIL
The view of this loaf-shaped rock peeking over the mouth of Guanabara Bay at the skyline of Rio de Janeiro is both scenic and rather comical, as the massive stone doesn’t seem to belong there. It’s actually one of several other monoliths of quartz and granite that stick out of the Brazilian shoreline.
This is a monolith that lives with its peers, unlike the solitary examples on this list, like Uluru and Zuma. Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the city’s top attractions, as it has a cable car and offers amazing views from its 1,299 ft peak. It’s also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012.
7. BEN AMERA, MAURITANIA
We’re not exactly sure how big Ben Amera is, because unlike our other entries so far, hardly any tourists visit what could be the biggest monolith in Africa and the second or third biggest in the world. It rises more than 1300 feet from the surrounding desert, but few other facts are known. It’s in a harsh and isolated but insanely beautiful location, near the border with Western Sahara, about three miles from the nearest village. If you’re looking for a monolith off the beaten path, consider Ben Amara.
6. ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORY
It actually is a rock. How cool is that? It’s a really big piece of limestone, to be precise, which gives it the distinctive pale color. The peak is 1,396 feet high. The upper part of the rock is a nature preserve that’s home to the last wild species of Barbary macaques left in Europe. An important strategic point that narrows the gap between Europe and Africa, an array of stories about war, travel and political intrigue take place in this region. The Romans believed it was one of the pillars of Hercules. The opening scene of the Bond flick You Only Live Twice was filmed here, and it involved a wargame in what seemed like a cheerful seaside town. A great place for a seaside getaway if you’re into military history and resort life.
5. STAWAMUS CHIEF, CANADA
British Columbia has an array of impressive rock formations to view, and one of the most notorious is The Chief. Located in the small Canadian city of Squamish in BC, it has the same name of a nearby town, lake, and river. Nicknamed the Squamish Chief or simply The Chief by locals, this granite monolith rises to a height of 2,297 feet above the waters of Howe Sound.
Myth and Legend surround the awe-inspiring mountain, like the story about how the cleft in the rock face was left behind by a sea serpent with two heads. It’s a popular spot for climbers and photographers.
4. ZUMA ROCK, NIGERIA
A popular landmark that rises to an impressive 2,379 feet, it’s easy to find this igneous monolith just outside of Nigeria’s capital Abuja. If you’re carrying a 100 naira bill (the local currency) in your pocket, you’re carrying a picture of Zuma Rock. Myths and legends surround the ancient landmark. Some say it’s the gateway to the underworld, others claim that the face that seems to look out from the side of the rock is a god watching over the city. Locals claim that the rock even catches fire during the rainy season.
3. ULURU, AUSTRALIA
A striking inselberg, or an “island” of rock in a vast open plain, Uluru could be the world’s most recognizable monolith along with the world’s biggest. It rises 2,831 ft above sea level and has a total circumference of almost six miles. It’s not the highest monolith, but the surface area it covers makes it the largest.
Although Mount Augustus is bigger, that’s a monocline as opposed to a monolith. That means it’s made up several layers of sedimentary rock as opposed to a single piece of sandstone like Uluru is. The location has a deep cultural significance for the local Aboriginal people, the Pitjantjatjara, and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. EL CAPITAN, UNITED STATES
A granite monolith that towers 3000 feet over the Yosemite Valley, this landmark was given its name by a Califonia state militia unit that was exploring the area in 1851. Hikers can climb to the top of the summit via trails that lead out of the valley and rock climbers take on several challenges on the rock face. This is only for high-level climbers. A few of the more notorious routes have names like “Iron Hawk” to ward off the less confident adventurers.
1 SAVANDURGA, INDIA
This massive granite rock rises 4000 feet above sea level, making it the biggest monolith in Asia. It’s frequented by pilgrims, rock climbers, hikers, and curious tourists. The slopes and hills are decorated with shrines and statues. Although it rises higher than Uluru, the surface area is smaller. The entire rock is also known as Karigudda, the black hill, and Biligudda, the white hill. It’s home to nature trails, stellar views and a temple to the monolith’s deity, which contains an idol of an earthly avatar of Vishnu.
BY KRISTY AMBROSE