It’s only natural that the world's most memorable landmarks should inspire some affectionate nicknames. Some of these monikers can teach us about the history, politics, and culture of the region the landmarks are found in, while other names are inspired purely by wild imaginations or public reaction to a bold new piece of architecture. Here are seven nicknames of famous landmarks you may not have heard before.
The Iron Lady: Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)
Originally known as the “300-Meter Iron Tower,” Paris’ (and possibly the world’s) best-known landmark was the masterpiece of civil engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the wrought iron tower for the 1889 world’s fair. However, its characterization as a woman came in the century to follow. By the 1930s, the media had begun coining nicknames for the Eiffel Tower, including the “Tall Lady,” the “Tall Beautiful Lady,” the “Tall Iron Lady,” and even the “Old Iron Lady.”
Today, Parisiennes affectionately know the tower as La Dame de Fer, which translates to “The Iron Lady.” It’s not hard to imagine that the tower’s base, where the four pillars begin, is covered with an intricate mesh skirt, and it certainly helps that tour, meaning “tower,” is a feminine word in the French language.
The Mother Road: Route 66 (Illinois to California)
When it opened in 1926, U.S. Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, passing through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri (and a tiny corner of Kansas) along the way. This made it an ideal travel route for those escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and migrating west in search of agricultural work in the fields of California. It makes sense, then, that, in his 1939 book The Grapes of Wrath, American author John Steinbeck called Route 66 the “Mother Road,” describing it as the main path the migrants followed out of the Midwest.
The name stuck, and it’s the highway’s most prevailing nickname today. But there have been other attempts at nicknaming this historic highway. Soon after Route 66 was commissioned, it was christened the “Great Diagonal Way” thanks to the northeast-to-southwest stretch between Illinois and Oklahoma. In 1952, Route 66 was unofficially named the “Will Rogers Highway" by the U.S. Highway 66 Association, perhaps because of the route’s significant stretch through the actor’s home state of Oklahoma. Some also know it as the “Main Street of America.”
The Niagara of the West: Shoshone Falls (Idaho)
Before it was the backdrop for Evel Knievel’s famous 1974 stunt to cross the Snake River by rocket-powered Skycycle, southern Idaho’s Shoshone Falls already had its own claim to fame. At a height of 212 feet, it’s 45 feet taller than the show-stealing Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canada border. (However, Shoshone is only about 1,000 feet wide, compared to Niagara’s 3,950-foot span.)
As such, folks started calling Shoshone Falls the “Niagara of the West” in the mid-19th century, when travelers along the Oregon Trail often detoured to see it, and the nickname stuck. In an 1866 article for a Salt Lake City newspaper, the author described Shoshone Falls as being in league with Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe and Staubbach Falls in the Swiss Alps — truly deserving of its nickname.
Nuns in a Scrum: Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia)
Another of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sydney Opera House is considered a masterwork of modern architecture. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and opened in 1973 to great fanfare, the project took 15 years to complete, thanks to many delays relating to cost, significant changes from Utzon’s original design, and Utzon’s eventual withdrawal as chief architect.
Today, it’s a symbol of Sydney and, as such, has received an affectionate nickname from the rugby-loving Sydneysiders. Although the architect’s design was meant to evoke the sails of a boat, locals often call the Sydney Opera House “Nuns in a Scrum.” This nickname refers to the huddle that rugby players assume, also called a scrummage — and the white coiffes (or perhaps cornettes) that Catholic nuns wear, which some see in the building’s distinctive “sails.”
The Quarry: Casa Milà (Barcelona, Spain)
Today, it’s revered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but when architect Antoni Gaudí finished building Casa Milà, it was ridiculed. Gaudi already had a reputation around Barcelona for his unusual building designs, most notably his grand basilica, La Sagrada Familia, which was controversial from day one for its eye-catching architectural style that clerics and civic leaders criticized alike.
Casa Milà, an apartment building commissioned by Roser Segimón and her husband Pere Milà, flaunted Gaudí’s same earthy, unconventional flair. When the building was completed in 1906, adversaries called it La Pedrera (“The Quarry”), a name that initially meant to describe the building’s alleged ugliness. It is now used lovingly to describe what’s regarded as a Gaudí masterpiece.
The Chaps: Delicate Arch (Utah)
You may not know the official name of this natural sandstone formation in Utah’s Arches National Park, but you’ve probably seen it before. Named by Frank Beckwith, the leader of the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition, which explored the area in the winter of 1933 to 1934, Delicate Arch is considered the de facto symbol of the park and possibly the whole state. It’s even featured on Utah’s license plates.
But before 1934, when Beckwith deemed it "the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area," some Utahns had a rougher name for it. Due to its shape, the arch was known as the “Chaps,” as some thought it looked like the leather coverings that cowboys wear over their pants to protect their legs. Another similar but less-popular nickname that the locals used prior to Beckwith’s expedition was the “Schoolmarm’s Bloomers.”
The Cheesegrater: Leadenhall Building (London, England)
Opened in July 2014, the 50-story skyscraper at 122 Leadenhall Street in London’s financial district was built to replace the old P&O (Peninsular & Oriental) Steam Navigation building from 1969, which had been extensively damaged from an IRA bomb in the ‘90s and had fallen into disrepair. The demolition of the old building took over two years to complete. Construction started in 2007 on the new building, designed by famed architect Richard Rogers, whose other work includes the Lloyd’s of London building just across the street, as well as the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
It didn’t take long after its unveiling for the Leadenhall Building to pick up a quirky nickname. Londoners started calling it the “Cheesegrater,” thanks to the wedge shape of the building when viewed along Fleet Street. Angled at 10 degrees on one side, the building appears to lean away from the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral from this viewpoint, allowing the old church more room to breathe in the busy London skyline. Happily, the building staff has embraced the nickname name in its official Instagram username.