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These Are All the "World's Tallest Buildings" Throughout History

The tallest buildings weren't always skyscrapers!

When you think of the world's tallest buildings, you likely imagine glittering cities like New York, rife with spectacular skyscrapers. However, "tallest" is a relative term. Centuries ago, the pyramids of Egypt and the cathedrals of Europe reached greater heights than any other structures at the time, but they still pale in comparison to today's CN Tower in Toronto or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

To replenish your sense of wonder, we've rounded up some of the buildings—skyscrapers, towers, lighthouses, and more—that made history with their altitude when they were erected. Ranging from just 52 feet to 2,722 feet, here are the "world's tallest buildings" throughout history, presented in chronological order.

The Great Pyramid: Giza, Egypt

great pyramid giza egypt tallest buildings

Height: 481 feet

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that's still fully intact, according to the History Channel. Built between 2560 and 2540 B.C., the Great Pyramid was made using limestone and granite and it initially stood at 481 feet tall.

The pyramid, which was constructed as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu, remained the tallest building in the world for nearly 4,000 years until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in Lincolnshire, England, in 1311. Due to erosion, the pyramid is now about 30 feet shorter, but that doesn't make it any less spectacular.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria: Alexandria, Egypt

lighthouse of alexandria egypt tallest buildings

Height: About 400 feet

While this legendary lighthouse wasn't taller than the Great Pyramid, it still deserves a mention. After all, for centuries, it was the tallest manmade structure that wasn't a pyramid. The exact height of the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt is unknown, but scholars estimate it was at least 400 feet tall when it was completed in 280 B.C. The ancient structure guided ships into Alexandria's harbor for more than 1,600 years, until it eventually succumbed to the damage of three powerful earthquakes in 1375 A.D.

The Lincoln Cathedral: Lincolnshire, England

lincoln cathedral england tallest buildings

Height: 525 feet

For nearly 250 years after it opened to the public in 1311, the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire, England, was the tallest building in the world. (Fun fact: For centuries, the cathedral held one of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta).

The house of worship lost its title in 1548 when its central—and tallest—spire collapsed in a storm. After that, the 495-foot-tall St. Mary's Church in Stralsund, Germany, unceremoniously became the world's tallest building. (And that church saw its central steeple struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1647, so it also didn't hold the title for long.)

The Ditherington Flax Mill: Shrewsbury, England

PYEX0X Restoration of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings continues. Built in 1797, it was the world's first Iron frame building, Shropshire, England, UK.

Height: 52 feet

Though most consider the Home Insurance Building in Chicago to be the world's first skyscraper—and more on that later—there are some architects and scholars who contend that the title actually belongs to England's Ditherington Flax Mill, despite the fact that it was only five stories tall.

Built in 1797, the mill, which was the first iron-framed building in the world, introduced construction techniques that paved the way for taller high-rises.

The Rouen Cathedral: Normandy, France

rouen cathedral normandy france tallest buildings

Height: 495 feet

The Rouen Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church in Normandy, France. And though parts of the current building have been around since the 11th century, it was the addition of a new steel spire that made the 495-foot cathedral the tallest structure in the world from 1876 to 1880, according to Architectural Digest. To this day, it remains the tallest cathedral in France.

The Home Insurance Building: Chicago, Illinois

T81P75 Home Insurance Company, First Skyscraper, Chicago, 1884

Height: 180 feet

The 10-floor Home Insurance Building in Chicago, Illinois, opened in 1885, is generally viewed as the first skyscraper and the first building to be supported both inside and outside by a fireproof steel and metal frame, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 1891, two more stories were added to the colossal project, bringing the original 138-foot structure to 180 feet. But in 1931, the building was demolished to make way for the Field Building, a more modern skyscraper that currently has 45 floors.

The Eiffel Tower: Paris, France

eiffel tower tallest buildings
Tom Eversley/Shutterstock

Height: 1,063 feet

When it opened in 1889 as the entrance to that year's World Fair, the Eiffel Tower became the tallest structure in the world. Standing at 1,063 feet tall, about the height of an 81-story building, the Eiffel Tower is still the tallest structure in France. And for more on the City of Lights, here are The 20 Best Cities to Visit Before You Die.

The Singer Building: New York, New York

B1P4PC New Singer building in New York tallest buildings

Height: 612 feet

Located in the Financial District of lower Manhattan, the Singer Building broke two interesting records in regards to its height. For one, when it was built in 1908, the building was the tallest in the world (not counting spires or towers), rising above the competition with 41 above-ground floors. When it was demolished in 1968, it became the tallest building to ever be demolished.

The Metropolitan Life Tower: New York, New York

metropolitan life tower new york tallest buildings

Height: 700 feet

Known colloquially as the Metropolitan Life Tower, this building was the tallest in the world from its completion in 1909 until 1913, when it was outdone by another New York City structure on this list. For years, the Met Life Tower mostly housed the offices of the Met Life Insurance Company. Decades later, the building, which stands 50 floors tall, is mostly made up of the 273-room New York Edition Hotel.

The Woolworth Building: New York, New York

woolworth building new york tallest buildings

Height: 792 feet

Located in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, the Woolworth Building took over the Met Life Tower's title when it opened in 1913. As the tallest and grandest building in the world until 1930, it boasted an impressive 55 floors at a time when skyscrapers were still fairly new. Years later, the Woolworth Building is a historic landmark.

The Bank of Manhattan Trust Building: New York, New York

bank of america trust building new york tallest buildings

Height: 927 feet

Similar in appearance to the Chrysler Building, the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building was built in the same year: 1930. For a few months, it replaced the Woolworth Building as the tallest building in the world—that is, until a spire was added to the top of the Chrysler Building, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

The Chrysler Building: New York, New York

The New York Skyline with the Chrysler Building tallest buildings

Height: 1,046 feet

For just one year, from 1930 to 1931, the Chrysler Building in New York City was the tallest skyscraper in the world, with 77 floors that originally contained the Chrysler Corporation's headquarters. Though it was criticized when it first opened, the Chrysler Building is now seen as a paragon of art deco architecture, ranking ninth on the American Institute of Architects's list of America's favorite architecture. Today, the building's lobby is open to tourists who want to revel in all its glory.

The Empire State Building: New York, New York

empire state building tallest buildings

Height: 1,250 feet

Standing 1,250 feet tall, the Empire State Building became the tallest building in the world at the time it opened in 1931. For almost 40 years after its completion, it held on to that title, until it was outdone by yet another New York City skyscraper in 1971. In the years since it first opened, the Empire State Building has become one of the most iconic buildings in the Manhattan skyline.

The World Trade Center: New York, New York

world trade center twin towers new york tallest buildings

Height: 1,368 feet

From 1971 to 1973, 1 World Trade Center (AKA the North Tower of the Twin Towers) in Manhattan, was the tallest building in the world. Standing at 1,368 feet, just six feet higher than the South Tower, it barely eked out the title, according to the Skyscraper Museum. But just two years after it opened, another city became home to the tallest building in the world…

The Willis Tower: Chicago, Illinois

willis tower in chicago illinois at dusk

Height: 1,450 feet

Also known by its previous name, the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois, was the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1998, towering over the competition at an impressive 1,450 feet, with 110 stories. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Willis Tower is still the second-tallest building in both the United States and in the Western Hemisphere, after One World Trade Center.

The CN Tower: Toronto, Canada

CN Tower in Ontario Canada tallest buildings

Height: 1,815 feet

Located in downtown Toronto, the CN Tower opened as an observation deck, restaurant, tourist attraction, and TV and radio communication tower in 1976. For 32 years, the CN Tower was the tallest free-standing structure in the world, clocking in at a neck-craning 1,815.3 feet tall. But in 2007, it lost the title to the final building on this list.

The Petronas Towers: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

petronas towers kuala lumpur malaysia tallest buildings

Height: 1,483 feet

Opened in 1998, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, stand at an impressive 88 stories tall. According to the Guinness World Records, the Petronas Towers are still the tallest twin towers in the world.

The Taipei 101: Taipei, Taiwan

taipei 101 taipei taiwan

Height: 1,671 feet

The Taipei 101 building in Taipei, Taiwan, became the world's tallest building when it opened it 2004. Even more impressive, the building set a new record for the fastest elevator speeds, transporting passengers from the fifth floor to the 89th in a mere 37 seconds at around 37 miles per hour, according to the Toronto Star. Though it managed to maintain these impressive records for a few years, the Taipei 101 building was surpassed in height by the current tallest building in the world…

The Burj Khalifa: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

burj khalifa dubai tallest buildings

Height: 2,722 feet

The current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, has 163 floors and towers over the rest of the skyscrapers in the city at a dizzying 2,722 feet (which is more than half a mile tall)! Along with the Burj Khalifa's claim to fame as the tallest building on the planet, it's also home to the world's highest outdoor observation deck, the world's highest occupied floor, and an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world, according to its website. And for more on the most awe-inspiring architectural feats of all time, discover The Tallest Building in Your State.

Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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