Around 3,500 kilometres west of the mainland of Chile is the Pacific island of Rapa Nui, otherwise known as Easter Island. Three million years ago, volcanic activity created this small island of lava that covers an area of 160 square kilometres. Rapa Nui is one of the most remote places on Earth, and its closest neighbor is Pitcairn Island more than 2,000 kilometres west.
Since its discovery by Dutch sailor Jakob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday 1722, there has been a great deal of interest in the island. In spite of its growing tourist trade, the island has retained an air of tranquility and is ideal for nature lovers and those interested in its history. Theories abound as to who were the first settlers to arrive on this tiny island, but scientists believe that its first inhabitants originated from Eastern Polynesia.
But the islandís main focal points are its gigantic and mysterious stone monuments that date back to late pre-historic times. These mighty statues have always stimulated a certain amount of fantasy, as the island was thought to be part of a lost continent.
Nearly all the mighty figures, known as Moai, originated from the slopes of the Rano Raraku Volcano. Its Tuff stone was an ideal sculpting material and its soft texture made it possible for the islanders to create tall, massive statues out of the rock within only a few weeks. There are still almost 400 individually crafted Moai figures on the island.
During the 19th century, slave traders arrived and took with them thousands of the islandís inhabitants. Those that were left of the islandís religious leaders took their knowledge of the island and its culture to their graves. Thus the exact meaning of the intriguing, giant Megalithic sculptures will remain an unsolved mystery for the rest of time.
Global Treasures - History's Most Protected Monuments - Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa's Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world's heritage. Join us as we explore one of these protected monuments.