The Long History of the Hedge Maze

maze-primaryIf you thought the hedge maze, or the more American version, especially in the fall, the corn maze, was an English tradition, you’d be sadly mistaken. The first such maze was invented more than 2000 years ago, in ancient Greece. It was a labyrinth and was created for Grecians to use when embarking on a spiritual journey. There was only one circuitous route to follow, so it was serene and enlightening. In Germany, the labyrinth was even used as a rite of passage for young men as they passed from childhood to adult. Nordic fishermen walked through labyrinths before setting sail to ensure a bountiful outing and a safe return.

A maze is different, since it branches in all directions, with many dead-ends and routes that lead one back to the same point. The hedges used in the creation of the maze are taller than most visitors who dare enter, making sight cues impossible. The word “maze” itself dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the word “delirium.” Webster defines the word as such: “A confusing, intricate network of winding pathways; specifically with one or more blind alleys.” Mazes were constructed in Europe in the 16th century to entertain royalty. One such hedge maze, on the grounds at Hampton Court Palace in England, occupies a quarter acre of space and was used as the design of the first maze assembled to study the movement of rats and to judge their ability to learn and remember. England’s long fascination with hedge mazes has ensured them as a fixture in the countryside. Today, there are over 125 mazes open to the public.hampton court maze


King Louis XIV had an extensive labyrinth created at the gardens of Versailles. As part of the layout, there were 39 topiaries formed in the shape of the fables of Aesop, with water dripping from the mouths of each to represent speech.


The maze at Versailles

In the 1970s and 1980s, mazes found their way into every person’s realm, first as puzzle books and then as video games. No longer was it necessary to devote acres of land and a horde of workers to maintain a hedge of boxwoods for the entertainment of the wealthy. But such mazes do still exist, to the delight of those who have a sense of adventure. The longest maze is now in Wahiawa, Hawaii, on the grounds of the Dole Pineapple Company, and is comprised of more than 14,000 tropical plants and has 2.5 miles of paths. It is one of only a few permanent botanical mazes in America and has eight secret stations that offer clues to a mystery for the hardy souls who venture in to solve.


The Dole Pineapple Maze

The largest corn maze on record was in Dixon, CA and spanned sixty acres. It made the Guinness book of records in 2014. Several people had to call for help after being lost in the maze for hours.

Since most simple mazes have walls connecting to the outer boundary, if you trail your right hand along this hedge and follow it, you’ll find your way out again. If you have an idea to build your own maze, the rules are quite simple. You need at least one path between the entrance and the exit. If you build in blind alleys and dead ends, make certain they’re long enough to not be easily discernable. And it might be a good idea to equip your participants with a cell phone, just in case.


Longleat Maze in Wiltshire, England

Becky Lower writes mostly American and Regency romances. In addition to History Imagined, she has a weekly blog at

While doing research for a new Regency series, she investigated the history of the maze and weaved it into her story line. Winning Violet will be released December 25. Becky only entered a maze one time and spent hours trying to find her way out before vowing to never again set foot in them.

Click here to find out more about Becky’s books: