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25 Most Powerful Photos

Lilliputian figures -- firefighters stark against the grayish white dust that blanketed so much of lower Manhattan -- walk a path cleared of rubble near the base of the destroyed south tower in the days after the attacks. Aside from the still-staggering scale of the destruction, however, what truly astonishes in Peter Morgan's picture is the suggestion -- as one senses amid Roman ruins, for example, or in ash-entombed figures from Pompey -- of an entire civilization's wreckage. There is an ancient feel to the photograph that sparks a lingering question: Is this the literal end of the figurative "American Century"?

(Photo: PETER MORGAN/Reuters /Landov )

For the full photo collection, go to LIFE.com

9/11: The 25 Most Powerful Photos

One decade after 9/11, an unsettling number of images from Ground Zero and its environs remain seared in our collective memory -- unsurprising, perhaps, given the scope and scale of the destruction. But the fact that the deadliest, most visually arresting attacks occurred in New York City also meant that many of the world's best photographers were, in effect, already on the scene when the terrorists struck. Here, to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and in hopes of lending coherence to our shared, turbulent recollections, LIFE.com presents the 25 most stirring, visceral photographs from that day, featuring pictures from the likes of James Nachtwey, Joe Raedle, Spencer Platt, Mario Tama, and other celebrated photojournalists (and one intrepid amateur). These are the pictures we remember: wrenching, indelible photographs that tell the tale of a still-resonant late summer day that changed everything.