It’s hard to imagine just how an entire city can become “lost,” but there are multiple cities around the world that were abandoned for a variety of reasons. Today, they offer fascinating insights into human history, and a whole lot more.

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Chichen Itza, Mexico Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza, Mexico (Nearby Hotels)

Other than the beaches, Chichen Itza is arguably the most popular attraction on the Yucatan Peninsula. This formerly wealthy Mayan city known for its culturally advanced civilization can be experienced simply by taking a stroll around the extensive ruins that have been restored and impeccably preserved. The highlight is “El Castillo,” which translates to “the castle.” The 90-foot-high structure features staircases on each side, with 365 steps that represent the number of days in a year. It was used for religious and astronomical observation purposes and is sometimes referred to as the Temple of Kukulkan, after the feathered serpent god. Mesoamerican cultures periodically built larger pyramids atop older ones, and this is one such example. By visiting on the vernal or autumnal equinox, you’ll get a fascinating view of the phenomenon between the sun’s light and the edges of the stepped terraces on the pyramid. This very brief shadow display appears on the sides of the northern stairway in a serrated line of seven interlocking triangles that gives the impression of a long tail leading downward to the stone head of the serpent Kukulka.

Pompeii, Italy Ruins of the antique Temple of Apollo with bronze Apollo statue in Pompeii
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Ruins of the antique Temple of Apollo with bronze Apollo statue in Pompeii

Pompeii, Italy (Nearby Hotels)

Undoubtedly one of the most famous lost cities in the world, Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which covered the city in ash. The ash was what helped it to remain perfectly preserved. Ash-encased mummies were created of the fleeing citizens, literally freezing them in position mid-escape. This is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Italy, as the famous Roman city that was buried under several feet of volcanic ash for nearly 1,700 years following the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Located near the modern city of Naples, taking a tour of this fascinating city frozen in time provides insight into how people lived from day-to-day back in 79 AD, some 1,935 years ago. Stroll ancient streets to see the remains of bakeries, an amphitheater, forum, baths and even brothels, where the walls were painted with various sexual positions from which customers made their preferred choice.

Machu Pichu, Peru Machu Picchu, Peru
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Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Pichu, Peru (Nearby Hotels)

Pretty much the poster child for lost cities, Machu Pichu is the most visited, the most photographed, and, arguably, the most picturesque. The rocks and former terraces, combined with the high elevations of Peru that make it so awe-inspiring on a partly cloudy day make it a must see for anyone visiting this spectacular mountainous region. The easiest way to get here from Cusco is to take the train to Aguas Caliente. It’s a scenic 3.5-hour trip each way along tracks that run right along the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, with dramatic canyon walls on either side. If you’re seeking a life-affirming journey, hike the Inca Trail to reach it. This amazing adventure is truly inspirational, with the groundwork for the Andes-hugging, high-altitude trek laid more than 500 years ago. While it’s no longer the overgrown, lost city that explorer Hiram Bingham discovered a century ago, the reward for your effort (a four-day, nearly 27-mile hike) is the chance to gaze upon this legendary “Lost City of the Incas,” passing through the Sun Gate (Intipunku) at sunrise, after following in the footsteps of the Incas, which were believed to have built the trail as a holy pilgrimage.

Petra, Jordan Petra, Jordan
Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan (Nearby Hotels)

The ancient City of Petra can be found in the region known as “Ma’an” in Jordan. This lost city that was believed to have been built in the first century BC, is a majestic place that still holds hidden secrets waiting to be unveiled. It was re-discovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who’d spent many years studying Arabic and the history of Islam. Archaeological excavations in the area have shown that the area was first occupied more than 9000 years ago. The city is made up of 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. To enter, you must pass through the narrow Siq Valley, with walls towering on each side and the massive pillars gradually rising into view. The first thing you’ll see is the carved Treasury, though some scholars believe that it’s actually a ceremonial tomb – to date, it’s believed that just 15 percent of the city has been uncovered, with the rest remaining untouched underground.

Sukhothai, Thailand Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand (Nearby Hotels)

This lost city is unique not only in its stunning works of art and statues left behind, but also in its claim to fame as one of the oldest cities of traceable history. Sukhothai Historical Park covers the ruins of this former city of Sukhothai which translates to “Dawn of Happiness,” located near the modern city of the same name. The city walls form a rectangle about one-and-a-quarter miles east-west by one mile north-south. There are nearly 200 ruins on 27 square miles of land. A gate stands at the center of each wall, and inside are the remains of the royal palace and 26 temples, the largest of which is Wat Mahathat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site welcomes thousands of visitors who come to marvel at the ancient Buddha figures, palace buildings and ruined temples that can be toured on foot of bicycle.

Persepolis, Iran Persepolis
Persepolis

Persepolis, Iran (Nearby Hotels)

Persepolis, or ‘the city of Persians,’ dates back to 518 BC when it was once the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. Lying at the foot of Kuh-i-Rahmat or Mercy Mountains near the city of Shiraz, it was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site. All that remains today is what managed to escape being burned by the Greeks in 330 BC, under the leadership of Alexander the Great. Ruins of a number of colossal buildings exist on the terrace, with 15 of their pillars still standing intact. Three more pillars have been re-erected since 1970 AD. Several of the buildings were never finished. F. Stolze has shown that some of the mason’s rubbish remains. Behind the compound at Persepolis, there are three sepulchers hewn out of the rock in the hillside. The facades, one of which is incomplete, are richly decorated with reliefs.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia (Nearby Hotels)

One of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat spans stretches over 150 square miles and features the remains of several different capitals of the Khmer Empire. All were constructed from between the 9th and 15th century, but the most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple. The impressive monuments, ancient urban plans and large water reservoirs, as well as evidence of centuries-old communication routes, are all located in the Siem Reap Province and are indicative of an exceptional civilization. When the morning light washes over the ruins and temples here, it looks like a magnificent painting come to life. A place that must be seen in person to truly understand its majesty, the ancient structures sit within one of the largest religious complexes on Earth, with the complex, and the 12th-century Angkor Thom royal city, considered an expression of true genius.

Dwarka AKA Lord Krishna, India Dwarka, India
Dwarka, India

Dwarka AKA Lord Krishna, India

The ancient city of Lord Krishna, was once thought to be simply a myth. But ruins discovered back in 2000 have been breathing life into the old Indian tale. Lord Krishna, as the tale goes, had a magnificent city, made up of 70,000 palaces made of gold, silver, and a number of other precious metals. It was prosperous until his death, when it reputedly sank into the sea. The ruins sit 131 feet beneath the water’s surface in the bay of modern-day Dwarka, one of India’s seven oldest cities. Acoustic studies have shown the ruins to be so incredibly geometric that they stunned the experts. Many artifacts have been recovered from the site, but perhaps none more important than one which dates to 7500 BC, supporting the theory that the ruins are likely to be the ancient Dwarka.