Looking at an advertisement for a French language learning program, I realized the exclusive club to which France belongs: countries that have a picture of a building that is identified with that country worldwide. That list includes the following:
The United States – the Statue of Liberty
England – Big Ben
France – the Eiffel Tower
Russian – the Kremlin
Egypt – the Pyramids
Israel – the Western Wall
Greece – the Acropolis
It should be noted that many important and/or ancient countries lack any true internationally recognized symbol, including Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Ethiopia, Japan, and Austria, to name just a few.
This exclusivity brings up the question of the requirements of a dominant national construction symbol.
Clearly, the edifice must be large, but not too large for the eye to frame. As any visitor to Paris knows, it is possible to take a quite presentable picture of the Eiffel Tower from half of Paris. Thus, that steel monstrosity is large enough to appreciate without requiring a helicopter to do so. By contrast, the Great Wall of China is only distinguishable from countless other defense walls by its sheer length, best distinguished from space, not practical for the average tourist.
In addition, the building itself must be unique in purpose, not just a finer version of a relatively common building. The Statue of Liberty is completely unique as are the Pyramids. By contrast, the Reichstag building in Berlin, the Sydney opera, or the Canadian CNN tower, clearly distinguishable from their lesser peers, are still not unique enough to make a universally clear link to its country.
Finally, the building must have some national, as compared to local, symbolic meaning. The Western Wall represents for Israelis and Jews a reminder and a call. The Kremlin symbolizes Russian power and independence. Contrast those meanings with a Venetian gondolier on his boat. The image is clearly linked with Venice, which in turn is clearly linked with Italy. Yet, it would be hard to say that this boat scene represents Italy.
A universally recognized national building is a major undertaking, taking its toll in blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention a huge amount of money. Still, in this case, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.