Every summer in cities across the world construction projects begin that cause detours and traffic jams and seem to take weeks or even months. They can be noisy and frustrating and an eyesore until they’re done. And they’re also just barely a splash in the pan compared to some of these projects which took decades. Or longer.
10. The Corinth Canal was Proposed Over 2,000 Years Ago
The Corinth Canal holds an unusual place in the history of construction projects. It’s one of the oldest in theory though in practice it doesn’t quite get so long as some others. Not that it was fast, the entire project took 11 years to complete from its start in 1882 until its completion in 1893. That’s a hefty length of time to build anything. But when you learn that the canal was even proposed by Emperor Nero you get to appreciate how long this thing had been in the works.
The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf and is just under 6.4 km or 4 miles long. The width is 25 meters or 82 feet. Prior to its construction the path from Point A to Point B that it connects would take ships another 185 nautical miles to get around the Peloponnese.
The idea of a canal was conceived by Periander, known as the Tyrant of Corinth, in 602 BC. Others had the idea as well, including Julius Caesar and Caligula, but were warned that the Adriatic would drain into the Aegean if they followed through so they abandoned it. It wasn’t until 67 AD that Nero gave it a shot, rounding up 6,000 slaves and drawing up plans to make it happen. Unfortunately for him he was murdered before the project was started. About 1,800 years had to pass before construction got under way for real.
9. It Took 20,000 to 100,000 People 20 Years to Build the Great Pyramid
The pyramids of Egypt have fascinated people all over the world for literally centuries. There are still people who think they must have been built by, or at least under the supervision of, aliens. Why? Because the idea of ancient people doing things on their own is apparently mystifying. Go figure. But we do have some pretty solid evidence that it was actual earth people who built them and also how long it took to get it done.
Now there’s no definitive record of the construction of the pyramids, but the current belief is that the Great Pyramid took about 20 years in a period from 2560 BC to 2540 BC, give or take a bit. Herodotus, the Greek historian, claimed it took 100,000 men 20 years to complete, but he was known to be a little flowery with his histories and made claims that weren’t really backed by any evidence. More modern guesses suggest the 20 years was correct, but it was closer to 20,000 people. Which is, you know, still a lot. For what it’s worth, it’s also believed paid laborers rather than slaves made the pyramids as well.
The Sphinx is estimated to have been something of a faster job, taking 100 workers about three years.
8. A German Airport was Under Construction for 14 Years
Airports grow increasingly more complex in large cities around the world and the construction on them can take months or even years. Construction of New York’s JFK airport, one of the nation’s largest and busiest, began in 1943 and didn’t end until 1948, though that included a three-year delay.
Germany’s Berlin Brandenburg Airport may take the cake for the longest lived airport construction project after 14 years. That was the total time between groundbreaking and when they finally had to go ahead to start operations. This was also 30 years after the initial proposal for the airport and 9 years after it was supposed to be finished.
The planning process took years and years to go through and after construction began, more problems loomed. The company in charge of construction planning filed for bankruptcy. Safety issues postponed the opening after that. They continued past the next opening date so it was postponed again. The airport’s technical director was then accused of taking bribes and other board members quit. Then they found out the guy in charge of all those malfunctioning safety features had faked his credentials. His explanation? “Everyone thought I was an engineer. I just didn’t contradict them.”
This circus of misfortune continued when the next CEO was fired after the previous one quit. More bribery and corruption charges went around and finally, in 2020, it got a permit to open.
7. Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea Has Been Under Construction Since 1987
What’s the hottest hotel in all of North Korea? If you said the Ryugyong Hotel, you’re right! Sort of. Obviously North Korea is hardly a vacation hot spot, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t do things like spend 35 years building a luxury hotel.
Construction on the massive glass pyramid-looking structure began all the way back in 1987. It was planned to rise up over 1,000 feet or 300 meters, have 3,000 rooms and not one but 5 revolving restaurants so you’d never have to not spin during any meal. It was planned to open by 1989. They missed that goal by a little.
They finally reached that 1,000 feet in 1992. It just had no windows yet. It stayed that way for the next 16 years. People started calling it the Hotel of Doom because why not? By 2019 it had windows and even LED lights and was renowned for being the world’s tallest unoccupied building. At some point it was estimated to have taken up 2% of the entire country’s GDP, or about $750 million US.
It’s believed part of the reason for the fact it’s still not being used is that the structure is made entirely of concrete instead of steel, so outfitting it with all the wiring and plumbing is a much harder task. There are also rumors it may not have been constructed properly.
6. Fort Boyard Started Construction in 1804 But Didn’t Finish Until 1857
Head to France’s west coast and you’ll find Aix Island and Oléron Island. In between the two you’ll also find Fort Boyard, a onetime military installation and set for a game show much later in its history.
Louis XIV was the first to want to build a fort there. He was told it would be easier to catch the moon with his teeth than to build there. So it was up to Napoleon to take up construction many years later with plans in 1801 and then construction in 1804. And then the Battle of Aix Roads put it on hold for 30 whole years.
By 1842, plans were back on track, and by 1857 it was ready to go. The problem by then was that artillery had advanced so much that cannons could shoot across the whole distance between the two islands and ignore the fort entirely. It was useless by the time it was finished.
5. New York’s 2nd Avenue Subway Was Planned in 1920 But It’s Still Not Finished
New York’s subway system is pretty famous and even if you have never visited the city it’s been featured so heavily in films and movies that millions of people around the world have seen it to a greater or lesser degree. But what none of us have ever seen is the 2nd Avenue subway, a project that has been under proposal or construction since 1920 and just never seems to happen.
The idea for a 2nd Avenue subway was proposed back in 1920 by a city engineer. It was proposed again, by the transportation board, in 1929. By the ’40s they had removed the elevated train and, you guessed it, proposed a 2nd Avenue subway to replace it. The war put the plan on hold once more.
Real progress came in the 50s when a bond was issued so the city will have $500 million to spend on the line. But they just use the money on existing subway lines instead. In 1968 they planned to build it once more with new funds available. And then, in 1972, they actually broke ground, for real this time, on the 2nd Avenue line. But the city ran out of money and the project was halted. It wouldn’t start moving again until 2007.
By 2017, a section of the subway was actually finished and opened to the public. There are three more phases planned in the construction, but they’re still just plans. How long could it take?
4. Sagrada Familia Has Been Under Construction for Over 135 Years
Cathedrals, as we’re about to see, are not easy to build. They span generations and entire architectural movements and they are extremely expensive, not to mention prone to being paused for things like wars.
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia was designed in 1882 with the cornerstone being laid in March of that year. Construction continued in portions with things like the bell tower seeing completion in 1925. In 1936, vandalism caused a setback but things were soon back on track.
The finished church is anticipated to be enormous, plans were for it to have room for 13,000. But it’s not done yet and the original design was predicted to take at least 200 years. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site back in 1984.
3. The Milan Cathedral Was Under Continuous Construction for Nearly 600 Years
As near as we can figure, construction began on the Duomo Milan cathedral back in 1386. It was to be another of the imposing and stunning Gothic cathedrals at the height of the architectural style’s appeal.
By 1418, the Pope had come to consecrate the altar and by the end of that century even Leonardo da Vinci had lent a hand in the design. Construction of the interior continued steadily, albeit slowly, and during Napoleon’s reign much of the facade and spires were put into place on the exterior though it was still not finished. In fact, with additional renovations and glasswork and additional work on the facade, the cathedral wasn’t finished until 1965, a full 578 years after it began.
2. Cologne Cathedral Took 632 Years to Complete
As we’ve seen, cathedral building is serious business. The Cologne Cathedral clocks in at a whopping 632 years, with the cornerstone being laid back in 1248. The project hit a roadblock in the 16th century when the city ran out of money and, apparently, Gothic architecture had become passe, so they paused for 300 years.
By the 1800s, King Frederick William IV of Prussia decided finishing the cathedral would be a good idea, so it was funded by donations and finally completed in 1880.
1. It Took About 2,300 Years to Build the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is an engineering marvel that stretches 13,000 miles or about 21,000 km. Parts of the wall can be traced back to the 5th century BC and the Square Wall of Chu dates to the 7th century BC. Because it linked many pre-existing walls and fortifications it was never actually one single construction project but Qin Shin, the first emperor of China, began linking many of these walls together in the third century BC.
Much of those early wall segments don’t even exist anymore but construction continued for centuries. Much of the best known segments today were done during the Ming Dynasty, from the 14th through 17th centuries. All told, the wall has survived through nine Chinese dynasties and took about 2,300 years to complete.