The wonder of travel lies equally with adventure and misadventure—there is nothing like getting thoroughly lost in a riddling country or culture that is not your own. But it is hard these days, with our ultra-planned excursions, fixers and 4G service, to get properly disoriented. Labyrinths, however, can remind us how it's done.
These mazes have appeared in various corners of the world throughout history. One can be found in a petroglyph on a river shore in Goa, India; cut into the stones of Ireland's many medieval churches; and arranged in a contemporary land-art installation at Lands End in San Francisco. Traditionally, they kept evil in and invaders out. They have been used as pleasure walks, meditative journeys and symbolic life-into-death pilgrimages.
Classical thinkers Herodotus, Pliny and Strabo each praised the Egyptian maze of Middle Kingdom that Pharaoh Amenemhat III constructed in the 19th century B.C. to protect his Hawara tomb. (Strabo called it a wonder of the world.) Before taking to the high seas, Scandinavian sailors built stone labyrinths to trap sinister winds that might follow them. Daedalus famously used one to trap a minotaur.
Literary figures also embraced the labyrinth. Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges's peculiar love of them is well known—he wrote once of gods who lived in them, encircled by forking paths. Lesser known is Jane Austen's affinity, particularly for the large rambling hedge maze at Sydney Garden in Bath, England (since gone), where she wished to walk every day.
Proust once wrote, "The only true voyage of discovery...would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another." That heightened sense isn't developed so much by traveling the world as by remembering to focus on where we stand. And the wonder of unexpected encounters, the anticipation of what might lie around the next corner, is a charm of labyrinths of all kinds, from the underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia, Turkey, to the overhanging gardens of Marqueyssac in Périgord, France.