It’s that time again: love is in the air! Valentine’s Day is an excellent time to celebrate all kinds of love, whether you’re spending it with your dearly beloved, your family, or your friends.
Valentine’s Day is an ancient holiday, and while its origins are largely shrouded in mystery, we know for certain that it’s been around since the Middle Ages. Like many other events and significant touchstones in our collective history, Valentine’s Day was inspired by celebrations of romantic love. Although it has become a bit more inclusive in scope (Galentine’s Day, anyone?), the holiday is still most strongly associated with the image of two people struck by Cupid’s arrow and falling in love.
It should come as no surprise that hundreds of groundbreaking buildings and architectural feats of wonder have been motivated by the power of love. You might have even heard of some of them already! With so many examples out there, we’ve narrowed it down to four monumental buildings.
- UFO House, Puerto Rico
- The Taj Mahal, India
- Torrechiara Castle, Italy
- Mystery Castle, Arizona
UFO House, Puerto Rico
Never underestimate the lengths someone will go to because of a broken heart! The UFO House is a striking saucer-shaped building perched on a hill that immediately catches the eye of anyone driving on the highway that runs beside the hills. But beyond its otherworldly appearance, the house is a testimony to both creativity and the power of a lover wronged.
The designer, Roberto Rivera, built most of the house out of random household items, including dollar-store salad bowls, and various auto parts—there are lampshades made of seatbelts and a fountain crafted from discarded pots and pans.
Rivera was inspired by a promise he made to his high school girlfriend. He would write her love notes that had sketches of flying saucers, and he vowed that he would build a saucer-house, so unique that nothing else in the world would look like it. Rivera’s high school romance actually lasted until college, but she ended up breaking it off. He was so heartbroken that he wanted to jump off his thirteenth-floor balcony, but he decided instead to prove her wrong. After completing his degree in industrial design, he set to work on making his promise come true and bought the property that the UFO House now sits on.
In a shocking twist of events, Rivera’s ex-girlfriend ended up seeing the UFO House and wanted to get back together with him, but he refused. Since then, his house has been featured in various local newspapers and even international publications like the Daily Mail.
The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful and significant pieces of architecture not just in India, but the entire world; it’s listed as one of the modern seven wonders. It was built over a twenty-year period starting in 1632 and is especially notable for combining Islamic, Persian, and Indian influences in one building.
But the Taj Mahal would likely not exist were it not for the deep love of the emperor who commissioned it. Shah Jahan, a member of the Mughal dynasty, met Arjumand Banu Begum when he was only a prince. It was love at first sight for the pair, but they weren’t allowed to marry right away. After taking on two other wives, Shah Jahan—now an emperor—was finally able to wed Arjumand Banu Begum. She would quickly become one of his most cherished queens, to the point that she earned the pet name Mumtaz Mahal which means “Chosen One of the Palace”.
Sadly, in 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to her fourteenth child. Shah Jahan was so deeply grieved by her death that he immediately commissioned the construction of a glorious mausoleum to house her body, and eventually his. The mausoleum was to stand across the Yamuna River facing his palace. Shah Jahan’s vision for the mausoleum was so grand that it would end up taking twenty thousand workers and a thousand elephants to complete it.
He named the building in honor of Mumtaz Mahal, and it would become renowned for architectural accomplishments that were ahead of its time. These accomplishments include the perfect symmetry of the building, as well as the optical illusion created by the specific placement of its minarets. Shah Jahan would later be buried alongside his wife in the tomb that resides in the heart of the building.
Today, the Taj Mahal remains a symbol of India’s wonder and beauty and receives millions of tourists every year.
Torrechiara Castle, Italy
What’s a love story without a little drama? The Torrechiara Castle in the Italian province of Parma was built specifically as a hideaway for forbidden love. Pier Maria Rossi was an Italian nobleman, and he fell in love with Bianca Pellegrini. There was one little problem, though. They were both married!
They were determined to be together, so in an attempt to conceal their affair, Rossi found an existing fortified building and commissioned a castle to be built atop it sometime in the 1400s. Technically, this construction was meant to be a defensive military outpost to maintain control of the valley that lay beyond it, but secretly it would double as a home where Rossi and Pellegrini could continue their relationship.
At first glance, the castle seems harsh and intimidating, but once visitors walk inside, they will be met with a beautiful courtyard. From there, they can see the monograms of Rossi and Pellegrini at the castle church, as well as beautiful frescoes of other significant mythological and historical figures. The castle remains as both a testament to Rossi and Pellegrini’s relationship and a reminder of the medieval times past.
Mystery Castle, Arizona
The Mystery Castle of Arizona is a little different from all the other stories we’ve discussed because instead of being dedicated to the memory of scorned exes or mistresses, this castle was built all because of a father’s love for his daughter.
Boyce Luther Gulley was a Seattle businessman who had some limited training in architectural engineering. When he married and had a little girl, Mary Lou, one of his favorite ways to entertain her was to build her beautiful and intricate sandcastles at the Alki Beach just outside of Seattle. Unfortunately, in 1927 Gulley was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which at the time was an almost guaranteed death sentence. The only known treatment for it was moving somewhere warm and outdoors. Not wanting to infect his beloved daughter and wife, Gulley left them in Seattle and moved to the sunny climate of Phoenix, Arizona. His only communication with them was a few letters sent over the fifteen years that he was gone.
In those fifteen years, Gulley set to building a testimony of his love for his family that would last long after he was gone: a permanent sandcastle that would never be washed away by the ocean. Like the UFO House that we talked about earlier, the Mystery Castle that Gulley built is composed entirely of natural materials and found objects. He used Pyrex dishware in place of windows, and he arranged the rocks that made up the structure of the castle by using a mortar made from goat’s milk, a technique that he claimed to have picked up from the Native Americans living nearby.
When Gulley died in 1945, he left the Mystery Castle to Mary Lou and her mother. He had just one request, which was that Mary Lou would live in the castle until the next New Year’s Day and wouldn’t open a trap door that led to a hidden chamber until that day. When that day arrived, Mary Lou discovered some gold, two $500 bills, letters from Gulley, and a valentine that she had made him as a child. Mary Lou and her mother would live the rest of their lives in the castle.
The castle is still standing in Phoenix today with tours available for $10—the embodiment of a father’s love for his child.
Learning from the Stories Behind the Buildings
We hope that these four buildings remind you that construction isn’t boring or sterile work. It can tell stories, change lives, and allow the deep emotions of people to live on even years after they’ve passed away. Let us know what your favorite story behind the building is below.