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Wonders of Illinois

Chicago City
Chicago City./ Mack Male, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  Highlights

Even if there are some fine natural and archaeological landmarks in Illinois, the architectural heritage dominates here by a wide margin. This is the state where much of the contemporary modernity in design and construction technologies were invented.

Today we can admire the creative courage and futuristic thinking of such engineers and architects as Henry Hobson Richardson, Louis Sullivan, William Le Baron Jenney, or the much better known Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe… even if their ideas and approaches were conflicting and cause much discussion up to this day.

A vast majority of Illinois architectural heritage is in Chicago and its suburbs. This giant city boomed in the late 19th – early 20th century and created its own style in almost everything. Here the people invented the modern urban working place and modern suburban family life, the modern street network and public transport, and then – the modern renaissance of the city center. The first highrises here were shy of their height and hid it behind diverse visual tricks including very ornate facades of the first floors so that the eye of the onlooker stays at this level.

But then came the real giants and the initial shyness was forgotten: Chicago has been the home of the tallest buildings in the world.

Map with the described wonders

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WorldViolet Top 25 wonders of Illinois

Geological wonders

Little Grand Canyon in Shawnee National Forest

A system of small canyons that have been cut in the sandstone by perennial streams. Here are several perennial waterfalls.

Entrance in Little Grand Canyon
Entrance in Little Grand Canyon./ Bill Rand, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Archaeological wonders


Enormous, shallow cave in the limestone bluff at Ohio River. For millennia it has served as a shelter for local people. The cave with its 17 meters wide entrance is well visible from the river and has been inhabited also by local gangs – river pirates in the late 18th century and later.

Cave-In-Rock. / David Wilson, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Architecture wonders

Field Museum of Natural History

One of the world’s largest natural history museums. It was established in 1893 and has a permanent collection of more than 24 million specimens. Museum represents an educational and scientific institution of global importance.

Field Museum of Natural History, the main hall
Field Museum of Natural History, the main hall./ Allison Meier, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Chicago Loop

The central business district of Chicago with the headquarters of many large companies. Here are located numerous monuments of architecture – some of the earliest skyscrapers in the world, many skyscrapers in several historical styles of the 20th century, opulent movie theatres, and other buildings.

Chicago Loop
Chicago Loop./ Paul, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Shedd Aquarium

One of the world’s largest and most exciting aquariums. It was opened in 1930 and hosts some 32 thousand animals of some 1500 species. The façade of aquarium has a Neo-Classicist façade that is characteristic of many American museums.

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago./ Sea Cow, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Marina City

A complex of buildings that is dominated by two round towers – 179 m tall apartment buildings, each with 65 floors. Constructed in 1968. The construction of this “city in the city” started the reversal in the development of American cities from the suburbs back to the center.

Marina City (in the centre)
Marina City (in the centre). / Michael Mayer, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Chicago Board of Trade Building

Historical skyscraper in Art Deco style. The massive building is 184 m tall and has 44 floors. It is topped with an enormous statue of Ceres – the goddess of agriculture. The building was constructed in 1930 and has many beautiful architectural details and artworks.

Chicago Board of Trade Building
Chicago Board of Trade Building./ Ken Lund, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet

Gorgeous movie theatre building in Neo-Baroque style, constructed in 1926. Now it is used for musicals and standup comedies. The theatre is considered to be a haunted place.

Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet
Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet./ artistmac, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Uptown Theatre

A beautiful movie theatre that was built in 1925. This ornate structure has been built in a mix of architectural styles and has the largest interior volume of all movie palaces in the United States. The interior of the main hall is breathtaking.

Uptown Theatre, Chicago
Uptown Theatre, Chicago./ Paul R. Burley, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Illinois State Capitol

One of the most prominent state capital buildings in the United States. This ornate house was constructed in 1868 and is 110 m tall – taller than the U.S. Capitol. The building was designed in the French Renaissance style.

Illinois State Capitol
Illinois State Capitol./ AmosDoyle, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Pleasant Home

Large family house in Prairie School style. It was constructed in 1897 and designed by George Washington Maher.

Pleasant Home
Pleasant Home. / Teemu008, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Unity Temple in Oak Park

This church is considered to be the first modern building in the world, with immense influence on the development of architecture in the 20th century. It was built from reinforced concrete in 1908 and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the Unitarian Universalist church in the congregation that was attended by Wright.

Unity Temple in Oak Park
Unity Temple in Oak Park./ Brian Crawford, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Rookery Building

One of the oldest early high-rise buildings. This office building was constructed in 1888. This ornate building has numerous technological innovations, has 12 floors, and is 55 m high. The building is designed in an Eclectic style – the specific Chicago style.

Rookery Building, Chicago
Rookery Building, Chicago./ Luke H. Gordon, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Reliance Building

Early skyscraper, constructed in 1890-1895. It was the first highrise whose glass area takes most of its surface. The building is 61 m high and has 15 floors and is an excellent representative of the Chicago School in architecture.

Reliance Building in Chicago
Reliance Building in Chicago./ Mr. Granger, Wikimedia Commons / public domain
Auditorium Building

A prominent building in Chicago style, designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. This mixed-use building was built in 1890, it is 73 m high and has 17 floors. It was built as the world’s largest theater and now houses a university as well.

Auditorium Building in Chicago
Auditorium Building in Chicago./ AlbertHerring, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette

Gorgeous structure – the oldest of the existing Baháʼí temples. The enormous, round, white temple was built in 1912 – 1953.

Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette
Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette./ Joseph Gage, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Art Institute of Chicago

This large and important art museum was founded in 1879. The museum has evolved a cutting-edge educational and research program that involves hundreds of thousands of artworks in its collections.

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago./ Heather Paul, Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Dana Thomas House

This family house was built in 1904 in the Prairie School style. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The building is inspired by the Japanese aesthetic, searching the harmony between the interior of the building and its surroundings. The interior with its furniture, windows, and door panels is one of the best-preserved of all buildings of Wright.

Dana Thomas House
Dana Thomas House./ Patrick Emerson, Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Carbide & Carbon Building

Historical skyscraper – 153 m tall, dark-colored building in Art Deco style. It was built in 1929. The building has 37 floors and is covered with black granite, adorned with ornamentation in Art Deco style. The building is topped with a gold-covered tower.

Carbide & Carbon Building
Carbide & Carbon Building, top./ Ken Lund, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Jewelers Building

This gorgeous historical skyscraper was built in 1927. It is 159 m high, has 40 floors, and for some time period was the world’s tallest building outside New York City.

Jewelers Building
Jewelers Building in Chicago./ Joseph Kranak, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District

A residential district where some 25 properties have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – the greatest architect of the United States. In total, more than 80 properties here have been designed in the Prairie School style – the first indigenous architectural style of the United States. The largest concentration of early modern architecture in the world. Besides these buildings also many other structures here have architectural and artistic value.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio./ Frank Lloyd Wright Home And Studio, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Wrigley Building

This impressive historical skyscraper was constructed in 1924. The building has two towers. The tallest has 30 floors and is 130 m tall, it is topped by an enormous clock and designed to resemble the Giralda tower of Sevilla’s Cathedral in Spain.

Wrigley Building
Wrigley Building./ Jamie, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Chicago Building

One of the best examples of Chicago School in architecture – an early skyscraper. This office building was constructed in 1905. It is 49.5 m tall and has 14 floors.

Chicago Building
Chicago Building./ J. Crocker, Wikimedia Commons /
Chicago Theatre

One of the unofficial symbols of Chicago City – an ornate theatre building with its flashy outdoor marquee with the name “Chicago”. The theatre was built in 1921 for the demonstration of motion pictures. Currently, this is the oldest of the early grand movie theatres in America and one of the most beautiful ones. The building has been designed in a mix of styles with many features of the Neo-Baroque.

Chicago Theatre
Chicago Theatre./ Rob Young, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Tribune Tower

Beautiful historical skyscraper. It was constructed in 1925 and its architecture has many features of the Neo-Gothic style. The building was built to house the offices of the media business. The tower is 141 m tall and has 34 floors.

Tribune Tower, Chicago
Tribune Tower, Chicago./ R Boed, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

WorldYellow Recommended books

The Illinois Chronicles: The Story of the State of Illinois – From its Birth to the Present Day

In celebration of its official Bicentennial year, take a trip through the incredible history of Illinois with this fascinating timeline book that brings to life 200 years of the State’s history.

Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie State

Loaded with full-color photographs and evocative descriptions, Exploring Nature in Illinois provides a panorama of the state’s overlooked natural diversity. Naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post explore fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks, bringing an expert view to wildlife and landscapes and looking beyond the obvious to uncover the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s wild places.

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