The ancient sites that should be on your bucket list

1 June 20166 min read

A view of the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, surrounded by mountains

Wherever you travel, stories and reminders of past civilisations are there to be taken in and learnt from. Just this month, for example, archaeologists discovered a huge platform buried beneath the sands of the lost city of Petra.

The massive structure, which measures 184ft by 161ft, has been sitting hidden beneath the noses of archaeologists for years. It took satellite imagery to finally unearth the colossal platform, which is completely unlike anything previously found in the area.

While the experts keep on digging for the next big discovery, here are 10 awe-inspiring structures from the ancient world that you can visit now.

Get lost in Petra’s remarkable ruins

Where? Jordan

Carved meticulously into red sandstone cliffs, the lost city of Petra is one of the most impressive ancient structures still in existence today.

The site was once a thriving trade centre and capital city of the Nabataean empire, but for centuries it stood empty, untouched by civilisation. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts thousands of tourists annually and can be reached from Amman by bus.

Its major attractions include the Al Khazneht (the Treasury at Petra) and the many tombs that cover the area.

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Discover the plight of Pompeii

Where? Near Naples, Italy

Utter the name Pompeii, and most people will know of the ancient city submerged by volcanic ash in AD 79. But to see it in person and walk among its preserved streets is the only real way to truly understand what happened to this doomed Roman city.

Bath houses, amphitheatres and even brothels (look out for lewd signs that point the way) are in near-perfect condition, but it’s the bodies of the villagers that leave the strongest impression: plaster casts reveal the last moments of the villagers as the ash entombed them forever.

Easily accessible by train from either Naples or Sorrento, Pompeii can be combined with a trip to the top of Mount Vesuvius.

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Follow the Incas to Machu Picchu

Where? Near Cusco, Peru

High up in the Andes, shrouded by cloud, the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu stands as a reminder of the advanced Incan Empire.

To reach the ruins themselves, you must climb 2,000 steps – but you’ll be rewarded by temples, plazas and even farmland for crops.

These dramatic sandstone structures are made all the more impressive by the surrounding scenery of lush forest and imposing mountain peaks.

Today, the Inca Trail (around a four-day hike from nearby Cusco) is one of the most popular ways to reach the citadel, with thousands making the trip every year.

And yet, despite being one of the most high-profile ancient sites on earth, little is known about why Machu Picchu is where it is and the purpose it served.

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Marvel at Chichén Itzá’s shadow serpent

Where? Mexico

Chichén Itzá is a brilliant complex of ancient Mayan ruins dating back as far as AD 750, with the stand out piece being the stepped pyramid, the Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo).

The temple itself has a total of 365 steps, each one signifying a day of the year, on all sides. Twice a year, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts an incredible serpent shadow across the structure known as the shadow of El Castillo

Probably the most visited of all Mayan ruins, day trips are easy to arrange from nearby Cancun by bus (around two-and-a-half hours).

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Feel the spiritual power of Stonehenge

Where? Wiltshire, England

Stonehenge has stood solemnly in England for almost 5,000 years, its mysterious purpose keeping visitors guessing.

The Neolithic structure has long baffled archaeologists, but due to its proximity to human remains it is thought that the iconic stone circle may have had been some sort of monument to death.

Some of the stones were hauled to the site from around 150 miles away; an amazing feat, considering the monument is prehistoric.

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Pay tribute to Athena at the Acropolis

Where? Athens, Greece

Perched atop a rocky cliff above Athens, the Acropolis is a true masterpiece of Greek antiquity.

The monument is dedicated to the goddess Athena and had religious significance in ancient Greece, but it also stands as an important symbol of civilization due to its splendid design, architectural achievements and artistic sculptures.

Various walking tours are available to it from Athens, but you can just as easily visit the site yourself.

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Explore the symbolic Temples of Bagan

Where? Bagan, Myanmar

Unlike some of the big hitters on this list, Bagan’s temples are still somewhat undiscovered by the tourist masses, which makes them all the more appealing.

The largest concentration of Buddhist temples and pagodas in the world is spread out over a 26 square-mile area, with each structure standing for a different spiritual meaning to the faith.

This peaceful collection of temples is one of Myanmar’s star attractions due to its preservation and the unspoiled nature around them.

Learn about the ancient city of Persepolis

Where? Fars Province, Iran

Since the Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its advice on Iran, a whole new treasure trove of ancient wonders has been unlocked for would-be adventurers.

The pick of the bunch has to be the Persepolis, an immense network of ruins that once stood as the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. Founded in 518 BC, the city is built on an immense terrace and demonstrates some of the earliest examples of sophisticated urban planning and construction technology.

Highlights include the Throne Hall (the Hundred-Column Hall) and the Gate of All Nations (pictured above).

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Gaze upon the heads of Easter Island

Where? Easter Island, Chile

Sombre and bizarre, the moai heads of Easter Island have stood silently, watching over their far-removed isle since the 10th century.

The most intriguing thing about these monuments is that no one has any idea why they were built, why they are scattered around the island and why there are so many (around 900 in total) – although some believe that the statues were built to honour important Rapa Nui people, such as past ancestors or chiefs.

So remote is the island, it’s a wonder how it ever came to be populated in the first place, but you can reach it via flights from Santiago, Chilie or Tahiti in the South Pacific.

Head back to the time of the pharaohs at the Pyramids of Giza

Where? Cairo, Egypt

No adventure into the ancient world would be complete without the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt’s famous stone structures that have stood in the desert for thousands of years.

The three best known examples stand just outside Cairo as elaborate tombs to past pharaohs Khufu (known as the Great Pyramid and the largest of the three), Khafre and Menkaure, after whom each pyramid is named.

It is thought that the Great Pyramid took an incredible 20 years to build, which, considering it was almost entirely done through man power, is remarkable.

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