When you hear Rome, you immediately think of the Colosseum. Similarly, it’s hard to think of Paris without the image of the Eiffel Tower being part of that picture. The world’s most famous landmarks have become inextricably linked with our visions of different cities and countries.

Pretty much anyone will be able to tell you at least one fact about the planet’s most recognised landmarks; like that Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are located in New York. However, what you’ll be surprised to learn is that this knowledge is often wrong. For example:

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are not in New York

The Statue of Liberty is arguably the most famous landmark in New York – and even in the US. It was the sight that first greeted immigrants as their ships arrived into the city’s harbour and it continues to be one of New York’s most popular tourist attractions.

However, it is not technically located in New York’s waters. Rather, the water surrounding both Liberty Island and Ellis Island is part of the State of New Jersey. Because of this, it should be a dead cert that both of the islands are also part of the state – but they’re not.

Instead, New York City has jurisdiction over Liberty Island and most of Ellis Island – although, crucially, not all of it. This is despite the fact both pieces of land geographically lie within New Jersey’s borders.

The unusual situation has been the subject of several legal battles in the past. However, in 1998 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the actual land of Liberty Island belonged to New York, despite being situated in New Jersey waters, as did 90 per cent of Ellis Island. The rest of the latter, along with any land reclaimed from the waters, is under New Jersey’s jurisdiction.

Big Ben is just a bell

When tourists visit London, one site they’re sure to want to see is Big Ben. However, it’s pretty hard to actually see Big Ben. But how can that be when you’ve seen photos before of the ornate clock tower at the Palace of Westminster?

The answer is that Big Ben is not the name of the clock tower, but the bell within it. In fact, Big Ben isn’t even its real name but a nickname. The official name is the Great Bell – and the clock tower it sits in is no longer called the Clock Tower, but Elizabeth Tower. The landmark was renamed to honour the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.

Another popular misconception about London landmarks is that ‘London Bridge’ is the name for Tower Bridge. However, ‘London Bridge’ is a name that’s been given to several Thames crossings over the years, the latest having opened in 1973.

The Great Pyramid is surrounded by acres of desert

When most people imagine the Pyramids at Giza, they picture the ancient structures poking out of endless, uninterrupted desert. As the sun sets and the stars come out overhead, there can be few more peaceful and majestic settings on the planet.

While there is no denying the Pyramids are majestic – they are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World after all – it has been some time since they were located in the middle of unspoilt desert. In reality, the monuments are just a stone’s throw from the borders of Cairo. As for peace and quiet, that’s difficult when every day the peace is shattered by the thousands of visitors clamouring to take a snap of the attraction.

The reason many people assume the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx are totally surrounded by desert is that most photographs are taken from one side only. Photographs from another angle reveal the sprawling metropolis of Cairo, which has gradually absorbed Giza, in the background. The Pyramids themselves sit on a desert plateau, but this is full of tourists and merchants looking to sell their wares to visitors.

Ancient Greek statues were all the colours of the rainbow

Go to Greece and you can bank on seeing plenty of marble statues. Indeed, the gleaming white figures are the landmarks most commonly associated with Ancient Greece.

Despite being thousands of years old, these sculptures look as pristine and white as they did when they were first carved all those centuries ago. Except back then they weren’t white. In fact, they were all the colours of the rainbow.

Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann used a combination of techniques, including light raking, ultraviolet light, infrared and X-ray spectroscopy, to not only discover that these statues were once covered in paint, but also what colour paint was used. Using this information he produced reconstructions of some of the statues housed at the Glyptothek museum in Munich and painted them to look as the sculptors intended.

The results could not be more different from the classic white statues we’re used to. Originally, their faces were painted to give them realistic features, so there was none of the pupil-less eyeballs we see today. Their skin was painted olive brown or pink and their hair brown. Most eye-catchingly of all, Brinkmann’s reconstructions revealed the figures were clothed in garments featuring intricate patterns and images.

Today we think of these statues as always being white, simply because that is what they looked like when they were discovered. Their original appearance has been lost to history, after centuries of wear, tear and battle with the natural elements led to the paint fading and chipping away. The question is, would we appreciate them as much if they were still so garish?

The Louvre contains a shopping mall

Aside from the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Louvre is probably the most famous landmark in Paris. It is certainly one of the most-visited. This sprawling former royal palace houses some of the most famous works of art the world has ever known, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Caravaggio’s Death of a Virgin. The building itself is also iconic, thanks to the giant glass pyramid that rises over its entrance, and the inverted pyramid that hangs from the ceiling inside it.

With tens of thousands of works of art on display, the Louvre would take several days to get around if you stopped to look at every piece. However, if you really wanted to cover the whole building you would have to add on a few more hours so you could hit the shops there too. And we’re not just talking about a gift shop either.

Head through the entrance of the museum and you arrive in the Carousel du Louvre; a shopping centre. It is home to an Apple store, a Starbucks and a branch of Herz car hire. It is in this mall that you will find La Pyramide Inversée skylight, which played such an integral part in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

So, if you believe the legend outlined by Brown in his novel, you can worship at the tomb of Mary Magdalene and pick up an iPad and a coffee on the same trip. You may never look at these iconic landmarks in the same way again.