Labyrinths are ancient symbols found all over the world, linked to legend, religion or myth. Lose yourself in the path to the center and still your racing mind.
What the Math says
Although the word Labyrinth is often used synonymously with Maze – their mathematical roots are quite different.
Whilst a maze is multicursal – a complex branching puzzle with several paths and direction choices, a labyrinth is unicursal with just one non-branching path to the center.
A labyrinth, in contrast to a maze, is intended to be simple to follow.
Classical Seven Circuit Labyrinth found on Ancient Greek coins and tablets. Image by JamesJen.
The symbolic meaning of labyrinths has changed over the course of history.
Pre-historic labyrinths were intended as traps for evil spirits whilst medieval versions represented the path to God.
Modern labyrinths are used to help reach a contemplative state and quiet the mind.
Labyrinths have recently found resurgence in popular culture, many of which are built in public gardens. Labyrinth at George Square Gardens, Edinburgh. Photo by Di Williams.
Whilst the labyrinth of Knossos is the stuff of legends, here is a list of real-like labyrinths that you can visit all over the world.
1) Karnak Temple Labyrinth Columns, Luxor, Egypt
One of the largest religion-based complexes ever built, this massive temple was built over a thirteen hundred year period beginning with Pharaoh Ramses II (1391-1351 BCE).
The labyrinths on the columns are from Egyptian mythology.
Part of a hall of pillars at the Karnak Temple. Photo by Blue_Sun
2) Labyrinth at Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebidu, India
This labyrinth is found within the Hoysaleswara Temple to Shiva completed in 1121 CE.
The labyrinth is laid out in the Chakra-vyuha style, which is common for Indian labyrinths.
This style uniquely features a spiral at the center and is named after a magical troop formation in the Mahabharata epic story.
The petroglyph shows the warrior Abhimanyu entering the labyrinth. Photo by Bilby.
3) Stone Labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia
Found in the White Sea, the Solovetsky Islands are covered with 35 ancient labyrinths (vavilons in the local dialect).
Dating back 2,000-3,000 years ago, the spiral labyrinths are made of local boulders and measure between six and 25.4 meters in diameter.
The presence of these labyrinths in a maritime setting suggests that they could have served as a model for complex fishing equipment.
Other theories include using the labyrinths for rituals to guide the dead to the underworld, substantiated by the excavations of bones at the site.
The Bolshoi Zayatsky Island contains a group of 13-14 stone labyrinths. Wikipedia.
4) Stone Labyrinth on Blå Jungfrun (Blue Virgin) Island, Sweden
This labyrinth is the biggest in Sweden and a popular tourist attraction.
It is unknown when this labyrinth was built, however its origins are most likely connected to the island’s importance to the fishing trade.
The island is a central part of Swedish folklore, seen as a magical and evil place. Photo by Mingusrude.
5) Labyrinth Rock Petroglyphs, Val Camonica, Italy
Dating back to the Iron Age (1st millennium BCE); this labyrinth is a part of a collection of 200,000-300,000 petroglyphs ranging from the Bronze age all the way to modern times.
Created by the Camunni people, most symbols here are representations of masculinity and superiority.
One of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the world, these stone carvings are a Unesco World Heritage Site.Wikimedia.
6) Great Labyrinth of Egypt, Hawara, Egypt
In 1889 an artificial slab of granite was excavated 90 kilometers south of Cairo, in the area where this labyrinth historically stood 2000 years ago.
New technologies in 2008 have allowed archaeologists to determine that this is in fact the labyrinth’s roof.
Scanning devices have proven that there is a vast array of chambers and walls underneath the initial granite slab, which means the Great Labyrinth of Egypt remains intact underground.
Artist’s interpretation of the Great Labyrinth of Egypt, buried under ground.
The spiritual labyrinth inside this Gothic cathedral, nicknamed The Road to Jerusalem, is what has drawn thousands of pilgrims and tourists alike for 800 years.
Completed in 1200, the labyrinth was created according to the geometry of the Holy circle.
A view of the interior of the Chartres Cathedral. Photo by jimforest
8) Labyrinth at Ulmekӓrr, Grebbestad, Sweden
This 1,500 year-old labyrinth at Ulmekӓrr is the best preserved in Sweden.
Swedish labyrinths are always close to the coastline which has led experts to believe that they have strong ties to the ancient fishing trade, perhaps to encourage a prosperous catch.
Enjoying the Labyrinth at Ulmekӓrr featured on many nature walks in the area. Photo by vastsverige.
Have you ever experienced the living history of visiting an ancient labyrinth? Post up your comments and let me know!
If you like this, you might also like: 9 Most Mathematically Interesting Buildings in the World.
Main image: Minotaur in Labyrinth in a Roman mosaic at Conímbriga, Portugal. Photo by Manuel Anastácio.