Although the official tourism slogan of Nepal is “Naturally Nepal — Once is Not Enough,” it might as well be “Come For the Really Big Mountain, Stay for the Ancient Monuments.”

Instantly recognizable but not entirely iconic, the deliriously mish-mash-y architecture of this small, landlocked country in the heart of Himalayas appears to have been transported wholesale from the most strange and marvelous dream. Colorful, ornate, mysterious and swarming with humanity — and, in some cases, cows, monkeys and a disconcerting number of pigeons — Nepal’s historic temples, palaces and public squares are like nothing else on the planet. And these aren’t just buildings — they're multi-tasking hubs of worship, congregation, commerce, respite. In Nepal, these ancient buildings are life.

And those roofs … oh, those gorgeous roofs. Considering Nepal’s positioning on the “roof of the world,” many of Nepal’s architectural treasures — be it the imposing, multi-layered pagoda, the towering shikhara (“mountain peak”) or the dome-shaped all-seeing stupa — all positively soar toward the heavens against a finial-studded skyline.

The Kathmandu Valley, the most developed area of Nepal and home to the country’s largest capital and largest city, is home to a total of seven architectural monuments — ancient temple and palace complexes alike – deemed UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Most, but not all, of these seven sites sustained severe damage or were completely destroyed beyond repair during the catastrophic earthquake and that rattled Nepal to its core, claiming thousands of lives in the process, late last week.

Kathmandu Durbar Square following the recent earthquake

Scenes of destruction at Kathmandu Durbar Square following last week's devastating earthquake. (Photo: Omar Havana/Getty Images)

While Arch Daily has compiled an informative list detailing the severity of the damage inflicted on each of these seven World Heritage landmarks (to be clear, most aren’t just single buildings but entire complexes), UNESCO claims that Nepal's trio of World Heritage-listed Durbar Squares (a catchall term for the bustling public plazas found opposite Nepal’s ancient royal palaces) are “almost fully destroyed.” Durbar Squares are found in the cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu (Hanuman Dhoka).

The Kathmandu Valley's four other World Heritage Sites are sacred ones: two Buddhist stupas (Swayambhu and Bauddhanath) and two Hindu temples (Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan). As reported by Indian Express, the Pashupatinath Temple, located in Kathmandu, emerged from the earthquake “unharmed."

“As we are receiving more information from the ground, I am deeply aggrieved by the magnitude of human loss caused by the earthquake in Nepal. I am also shocked by its devastating impact on the unique cultural heritage in the country, in particular extensive and irreversible damage at the World Heritage site of Kathmandu Valley,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a news statement released earlier this week. “UNESCO is currently preparing to field an international expert mission to undertake an in-depth damage assessment and, based thereon to advise and provide support to the Nepalese authorities and local communities on its protection and conservation with a view to recovery.”

Deharahara tower in KathmanduWhile not attached to any of the aforementioned UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kathmandu’s most visible — and most visited — structure, the nine-story Dharahara tower (at right), was reduced to a pile of rubble during the magnitude-7.8 quake.

Built as a military watchtower in 1832, Dharahara was destroyed in a 1934 earthquake. Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher ordered that it promptly be rebuilt. The original minaret-style tower’s slightly-shorter replacement, the one that toppled late last week, had emerged as a popular paid tourist attraction in recent years due in part to the stunning city views enjoyed from the top of the tower. (No elevators here, just a semi-grueling ascent via 213-step spiral staircase to an observation balcony).

There were an estimated 200 visitors inside of the tower when it crumbled to the ground. A handful of visitors to Dharahara miraculously survived the collapse.

the rubble of Dharahara tower

The ruins of Kathmandu's iconic Dharahara Tower (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

Below, you’ll find photos of all seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley. In lieu of images of destruction, these are pre-earthquake images in which these centuries-old monuments at their most beautiful, radiant and alive. For more on the devastating impact of the tremor on Nepal’s architectural legacy, the BBC and the Guardian have both published solid pieces with plenty of before-and-after photography.

If you’ve had the fortune of visiting one or several of these monuments (or any other historic structure/complex in Nepal) please do share your thoughts and memories in the comments section. What struck you most about Nepalese architecture? What buildings do you think back on the most?

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Durbar Square Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo: xiquinh osilva/flickr

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Photo: Cheryl Marland/flickr

Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square, Nepal

Photo: Jean-Pierre Delbara/flickr

A temple at Patan Durbar Square, Nepal

Photo: Cheryl Marland/flickr

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Photo: sai karthik reddy/flickr

Architectural detail of a temple at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Photo: Greg Willis/flickr

Boudhanath stupa

Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo: Brandon/flickr

Boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo: Cheryl Marland/flickr

Changu Narayan temple

Changu Narayan, Nepal

Photo: Greg Willis/flickr

Architectural detail of Changu Narayan, a Hindu temple in Nepal

Photo: Adam Jones/flickr

Swayambhunath stupa

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo: xiquinhosilva/flickr

A monkey at Swayambunath, a Buddhist temple in Nepal

Photo: Adam Jones/flickr

Pashupatinath temple

Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple in Nepal

Photo: Cheryl Marland/flickr

Pashapatinath, a Hindu temple in Nepal

Photo: Cheryl Marland/flickr

Via [ArchDaily]

Related on MNN:

Dharahara tower photo: Geoff Stearns/flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Nepal's UNESCO-recognized architectural treasures shaken, destroyed by earthquake
A look at the Kathmandu Valley's World Heritage Site-listed monuments in better days.