Most of us are so busy taking advantage of all those high-tech devices in our modern world that we forget about its early beginnings. While we take a lot of what’s available today for granted, from the wheel and electricity to airplanes and Wi-Fi, it took thousands of years to get to where we are today. Exploring ancient ruins like these offer a fascinating look at just how far we’ve come while allowing us to imagine centuries past.
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One of the most visited tourist destinations in Italy, Pompeii is the famous city that was destroyed in 79 AD by a massive Mount Vesuvius eruption that buried it under several feet of volcanic ash for it sat for nearly 1,700 years before being rediscovered. Located near the modern city of Naples, take a tour to witness ruins of a meat and fish market, bakery, baths, brothels, an amphitheater, the Temple of Jupiter, Basilica law courts and a number of villas. As you stroll the centuries-old streets you can even see the ancient chariot tracks, which were used by Romans for transport.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is the most visited, most photographed, and one of the most captivating lost cities in the world, rediscovered in 1911. One of the most popular things to do in Peru, Machu Picchu’s rocks and former terraces, combined with the high elevation create an especially awe-inspiring scene in this mountainous region. Visit on a train trip following the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley with dramatic canyon walls on either side. Or, if you’re seeking a life-affirming journey, hike the Inca Trail to reach it. The four-day journey brings the opportunity to pass through the Sun Gate at sunrise, after following in the footsteps of the Incas.
Rome is home to many of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, like the Roman Forum which is spread through the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. It was the center of the Roman Empire from around the 6th-century B.C. to 5th-century AD, with all aspects of public life taking here. There were public speeches and processions, elections, criminal trials, funerals and most famously, gladiatorial matches. Step into this vast archaeological site and wander through the ruins, where it’s easy to imagine the ancient Romans walking the cobbled streets. Small group tours are available that will bring you into areas usually closed off to the public.
The capital of Greece is widely considered to be the birthplace of modern civilization. It’s legendary for its long history and incredible attractions, including the Acropolis and iconic Parthenon, which rises above the city overlooking the Agora, the commercial and civic heart of ancient Athens. By exploring the historic attractions in Athens you can walk in the steps of Socrates and Plato, view the Temple of Athena Nike and one of the most valuable collections of ancient Greek art in the world at the Acropolis Museum. In the Agora, discover temples, a concert hall, and long, colonnaded arcades, part of this important meeting and trading place during Biblical times.
The ancient Nabataeans carved the remarkable city of Petra into the sandstone cliffs between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea back in the 1st century BC. It was lost to time until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it. This was where many ancient trade routes converged, making its residents quite wealthy. There are hundreds of tombs, houses, a theater that could fit more than 3000 people, temples, obelisks and altars where animals were sacrificed to calm angry gods or ask for favors. The highlights are the theater and monastery, though the most recognizable is the Al Khazneh, also known as The Treasury. Just 15% of the city has yet been uncovered, with the other 85% still a mystery, remaining untouched underground.
Considered one of the world’s great mysteries, the ancient stone circle known as Stonehenge is made up of giant standing stones built more than 5,000 years ago. There are many theories as to how and why the 40-ton rocks were dragged across the barren plain and placed here on Salisbury Hill. Some believe it was a religious temple or ancient healing center, while other experts say it was an astronomical clock. The monument is especially moving at sunrise and sunset when you can feel its mystical presence. To get up close you’ll need to join a Special Access tour, otherwise you’ll be relegated to viewing behind a fence. This option provides access to the inner circle and the opportunity for photos without the crowds.
Only 45 minutes north-west of Dublin, Newgrange is one of the most fascinating ancient sites on the planet. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza, it was constructed around 3200 BC, best known for the illumination of its passageway and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Like Stonehenge, no one knows for certain what its purpose was, but it’s believed to have been a passage tomb, a temple for ancient people that worshiped the sun and a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance.
Tulum not only boasts stunning beaches framed by turquoise but remarkable Mayan ruins. These magical ruins are walled into the east, facing the Caribbean to the west, and are the remains of one of the most powerful city-states from the 13th and 14th centuries though the site was inhabited as early as the mid-6th century. The old stone structures that make up the archaeological site are surrounded by palm trees, delicate cactus flowers, and steep rocky cliffs dotted with the resident iguanas soaking up the sun.
Rapa Nui, Easter Island
Easter Island is a strange, mysterious and remote place, famous for its isolated Rapa Nui who developed a distinct artistic and architectural culture that’s managed to weather the centuries. One of the most alluring sacred sites on the planet, the monolithic statues were carved from a single piece of stone that is numbered around 1,000 and scattered throughout the island.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Located near the four corners area in southwest Colorado, visitors can retrace the ancient footsteps of ancestral Puebloans who once lived in the national park’s magnificent cliff dwellings. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the most-well-preserved archaeological sites in the country, with over 4,500 found within its boundaries, including Cliff Palace with its 150 rooms and 23 kivas.