One of the most enchanting things about the original Wizard of Oz books is their endless inventiveness when it comes to new landscapes and cities. In the first novel, in addition to the Emerald City where everyone is required to wear emerald glasses, there’s a city of field mice and the town of Hammerheads, who punch people in the face with their heads. In the later books we meet a city of living utensils, a city of living dolls, a city of people who are baked goods, and a city of people who make long speeches.
The joy of a fantasy series like the Oz books that introduces bizarre cities is that it reflects something familiar about our world, where often people live in strange places where strange things happen. The following are some of the most distinctive currently existing towns and cities in the world.
10. Khevsureti, Georgia: Land of the Last Crusaders
Not many people remember him today, but during the 1920s and 1930s Richard Halliburton was an American celebrity, a globe-trotting explorer whose real-life exploits were often more incredible than those of Indiana Jones. Before his untimely death in a typhoon at the age of 39, on the eve of World War II, Halliburton leapt into a Mayan pyramid, swam the Panama Canal, interviewed one of the assassins who killed the Romanov family on his deathbed and learned the full story of their deaths, spent a night in the Taj Mahal, snuck into Mecca, and crossed the Alps on the back of an elephant.
But one of his strangest adventures occurred after he left Russia when he traveled to the country of Georgia at the onset of winter and stayed in the city of Khevsureti. The Khevsureti wear mediaeval armor and practice a religion that’s a combination of early Christianity mixed with other religions. According to their own stories, their forefathers were traveling on crusade to Jerusalem in the twelfth century when they got lost and wandered into the mountains of Georgia. There they’ve been ever since. Their most recent foray into the outside world occurred in 1915, when they showed up in a neighboring city volunteering to fight in the Great War. It had taken them an entire year to find out about it.
9. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: The City of Marble
The capital and largest city of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat is known as “The City of White Marble,” an honor which has earned it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. In fact, the city has 543 buildings with marble facades, the most of any building in the world. The president of Turkmenistan, who lives in the capital city, runs a cult of personality. Visitors to Ashgabat are struck by the silence in the city streets and the overwhelming presence of soldiers, who carefully monitor the taking of pictures. Strangest of all is the nearby Darvaze gas crater, also known as the “door to hell,” a huge crater 230 feet in diameter that’s been burning continuously, day and night, since 1971. (Not to be confused with a literal “door to hell” in Siberia, which has been exposed as a hoax).