History of Mazes and Labyrinths

Historical mazes and labyrinths across the world

This area of TheMetagrobologist is devoted to a wide range of puzzle related articles, including recreational mathematics, magic, sudoku, and apps. Article update – April 2018.

Everyone across the world is familiar with mazes. They have puzzled audiences for thousands of years and most of us are familiar with those found in children’s colouring/puzzle books or those built of hedges, that are designed from a complex pattern of garden pathways, intended to confuse the visitor for the purpose of entertainment. But where did mazes come from? When did they first appear and why use them? In this article, we will explore the development of Hedge mazes that were first built in the 13th century medieval Europe. We will also explore a category of mazes, more commonly called labyrinths and concentric circles and patterns that may have formed the basis for the labyrinth dating back to 20,000 BC. We will also explore the use of mazes in mechanical puzzles.

Many Metagrobologists enjoy Mazes and Labyrinth puzzles. James Dalgety & Edward Hordern defined maze puzzles in the classification ‘ROUTEFINDING PUZZLES’ or (RTF) which require the solver to find either any path or a specific path as defined by certain rules. Jerry Slocum classified them as 6.3 Maze dexterity puzzles. Whatever your preference, have you ever wanted to know why maze puzzles are popular? Why are we obsessed with them? What’s is a maze and how is it different from a Labyrinth?

What is a maze?

Historically a maze is simply a puzzle that needs to be solved, described in various dictionaries as a “confusing, intricate network of winding pathways, with one or more blind alleys”.

What is a labyrinth?

So what’s a labyrinth? A labyrinth, just like a maze, is a confusing, complex network of winding pathways. But here’s the difference – there are no blind alleys with labyrinths. But generally, mazes and labyrinths are the same for most purposes.

Maze and Labyrinths

Image ©

Mazes and Labyrinths have a lot of history behind them, and their exact origin is unknown. Meandering concentric circles and patterns may have formed the basis for the labyrinth dating back to 20,000 BC. This article goes back in history and investigates how mazes and labyrinths were developed through different eras and civilizations. We begin with the earlier the mazes and labyrinths developed by the Egyptian civilization.

Mazes and Labyrinths have a lot of history behind them!

Egyptian Mazes and Labyrinths

It is believed that the earliest labyrinths were developed by the Egyptians overArchaeologistsgo. Archaeologists have discovered Egyptian seals of the Eighth Dynasty showing labyrinthine patterns and the ruins of a vast labyrinth built in the form of a palace complex by the 1900 BC Pharaoh, Amenemhet III. This labyrinth has thousands of rooms and a dozen vast maze-like courtyards that were built for the security of the Pharaoh, to ward off potential assassins from reaching him. In fact, Amenenhet III even had a maze built close to his pyramid to prevent anyone from raiding the tomb. Egyptian labyrinths, according to several historical accounts, were massive. Pity none of them remains today.

4 Steps Visible Lock
4 Steps Visible Lock by Robrecht Louage.

The Cretan Mazes and Labyrinths

Cretan is a Mediterranean island, which was home to an ancient civilization, which built extremely complex mazes around 4000 years ago, at the same time as when the Egyptian labyrinths were built. These mazes, built at the Minoan palace at Knossos, consisted of an intricate network of corridors, staircases, and courts, and included over 1300 rooms in them, spread over a large plot of three acres. The ruins of the Cretan mazes have been found and they are quite astonishing for the clarity of their wall paintings and well-defined stone sculptures.

Apparently, these mazes were inspired by the Greek legend of the half-man, half-bull Minotaur, who was trapped in a maze and fed on the young men who entered it. Various Cretan coins have also been discovered that bare the Classical seven-ring labyrinth design, both in a square and circular forms.

Two Keys Lock Two Keys Puzzle by Jean Claude Constantin

Rumours of an underground maze in Italy have been hinted at by Pliny, a historian of an ancient era, under the tomb of a legendary Etruscan general Lars Porsena. The descriptions of this maze – real or not – are quite fascinating.

Many more labyrinth design, both in the square and circular forms can be found worldwide in the archaeology of Sweden, the British Isles, Middle East and the Far East.

Church Mazes and Labyrinths

Many ancient churches are known to have mazes and labyrinths within their structures. The Basilica of Reparatus in Algeria is known to be the oldest church to have a well-defined labyrinth. Many churches built in the 12th-century era Italy and France had complex mazes built within them as well. There are several cathedrals in Europe that have still maintained their ancient labyrinths in excellent condition. The Grace Cathedral labyrinths in San Francisco is a popular example as is the beautifully preserved pavement labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, France, that was constructed during the second decade of the 13th century.

Turf Labyrinths

Rather than Church Mazes, England had Turf Labyrinths. They were built in the medieval era around the English countryside. Many villages still have them. Many of these Turf Labyrinths are really quite small, no bigger than 80 feet in diameter. They have been given very interesting names by the villagers, such as “Troy Town”, “Saffron Walden” etc.

Medallion-Oskar van Deventer-Hanayama

Nasca Lines

Nasca Lines are very similar to the Turf Mazes of England but built in a much earlier era and in an isolated region which is today a part of Peru. They have vast, perfect geometric shapes and even pictures, which can only be appreciated when seen from a great height or from a plane passing by. Nobody really knows who built them. There are stories about the Nasca lines being landing spots for UFOs from an advanced extra-terrestrial civilization.

Hedge and Mazie Mages

Hedge mazes are full sized mazes that were first built in 13th century Belgium and became popular in England in the 16th century as a means of a pleasant walking in a path through the landscape. The most popular hedge maze of all times, which is in perfect condition even today, is the one at Hampton Court. Thousands of tourists visit this hedge maze every year and much more for amusement and aesthetic pleasure. Otherworld renown maze includes two hedge mazes in Schönbrunn Palace, Austria.

Scientific mazes are modern mazes that find several applications in research and laboratory work.

One of the world’s leading maze designers is Adrian Fisher who is internationally renowned. Over the past 35 years, he has created over 600 mazes in more than 30 countries that include fountains, waterfalls, towers, bridges, tunnels, and grottoes, setting six world records and winning two gold medals for garden design in the process.

Other popular maze attractions worldwide include the Stuart and Jan Landsborough’s Puzzling World now run by Stuart’s daughter Heidi and her husband Duncan Spear. Stuart took his ‘Super Maze’ concept global Stuart then designed twenty-five similar mazes for Japan, USA, Australia and Auckland between 1985 and 1988. Others include the Davis’ Mega Maze (voted the #1 Field Maze in the world by CNN) and the Amazing Maze n’ Maize in South Auckland at Kingseat.

Scientific mazes are modern mazes that find several applications in research and laboratory work. Scientific mazes used in laboratories may be used to study the behaviour of lab rats under various conditions, to test their memory, learning capacity and so on.

Today, modern mazes are used for decorative, as well as entertainment purposes and can come in all shapes and sizes. They have been used in psychological experiments and to study spatial navigation, are popular in mathematics, video-games, and mechanical puzzles. Mathematicians love mazes and enjoy both solving and creating them and computer programmers enjoy creating complex computer algorithms that generate some of the most intricate mazes. The editor of TheMetagrobologist himself is looking forward to sharing an octagonal maze that the incredible puzzle designer Simon Nightingale constructed in his garden to honour Martin Gardner at G4G8 and in memory of his late father Bill Nightingale, a keen metagrobologist in a future interview.

Mechanical Puzzles

With all of this history and inspiration, puzzle designers have exploited mazes and labyrinths to create a great many exciting Maze; Route Finding puzzles. Some great puzzles of note in no particular order are 1 € Labyrinth Puzzle by Robrecht Louage, the Blind Labyrinth, developed in 1983 by Lauri Kaira, the Dael ‘O Ring by Cor Vissers and Gert Santman, Marcus Allred’s Lunatic Maze’s, Revomaze, Oskar Van Deventer’s Oskar’s Disks and Moby Maze. Let us know what maze puzzles you have found and explored….

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