Anyone who seeks it can find treasures from the past, no matter the location. Our shared history can be seen in ancient places of worship as well as culturally significant sites. Of course, we can turn to documentaries on the History Channel to learn about them. However, nothing compares to visiting these places ourselves. Below are the five cities all archaeology fans should visit at least once in their lifetime.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The ancient ruins of this once-bustling center lie high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. To preserve this incredible architectural and cultural achievement, UNESCO declared the site a Historic Sanctuary in 1983. Machu Picchu is also one of the seven wonders of the modern world; it shares the honor with other wonders such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, and the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro.
The sanctuary at Machu Picchu sits at a towering height of over 7,800 feet above sea level. Unlike other sites of great archaeological value in the world, Machu Picchu can only be reached by those willing to brave the journey on foot, at least part of the way. Millions of people make their way to Machu Picchu each year in one or two ways. They either join an Inca Trail hike tour or take the train to Aguas Calientes. The latter is the closest town to Machu Picchu. Many tourists take up to two hours to hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
So, what can you expect to find when you get there? The ruins of Machu Picchu highlight the story of Inca civilization and the ancient culture's sophisticated understanding of astronomy and agriculture. Certainly, many aspects of Machu Picchu remain a mystery to this day. However, it remains an important testament to human ingenuity. The best places to see among the sprawling ruins of this ancient urban center are the Temple of the Condor, the Temple of the Sun, the Sun Gate and the Intihuatana rock.
Pompeii may be an obvious favorite with history and archaeology buffs, but we still believe this spectacular choice should be on every traveler's must-see list. When the dormant Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the aftermath was devastating, as you're no doubt aware.
That said, Pompeii is an archaeologist's dream because of how well the volcanic eruption preserved the way of life in this ancient Roman civilization.
According to Italy's Tourism Agency, Pompeii is home to domestic dwellings, a public forum (replete with temples and shrines), public baths, ancient Roman theaters, and merchant homes. Be sure to check out the Basilica (a venue for commercial and legal interests in the Forum) and the Capitolium (the Temple of Jupiter). You'll also see unique frescos (murals and paintings) in this ancient city. The most curious of these frescos can be found in the Villa of Mysteries, with large images highlighting the initiation rituals of the Cult of Dionysus.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Do you enjoy visiting ancient places of worship? If so, prepare to be amazed by the majestic, towering temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. According to Live Science, these hallowed grounds have been standing since 1,150 Meanwhile, the main temple was initially built to honor Vishnu, one of the gods of the Hindu trinity.
In the centuries following, the temple was converted to a Buddhist place of worship. It later served as a military fortress and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, Angkor Wat isn't the only ancient city with an extensive collection of beautiful temples. These world-renowned Buddhist temples are worth a visit for anyone who appreciates learning more about our most ancient faiths.
Although Angkor Wat has remained a historical treasure for close to 1,000 years, experts warn that heavy structural damage is endangering its continued existence. Live Science reports that changes in groundwater levels and heavy tourism (roughly 3 million people a year) are causing the foundations of monuments to sink.
When you visit Angkor Wat, perhaps the most striking structure is the main temple itself. The large central tower reaches up to 213 feet and is flanked by four shorter towers. Meanwhile, smaller structures surround the main temple area, and a 650-foot wide moat separates the entire framework from the rest of the monuments on-site. If you're fortunate enough to visit, be sure to also check out Angkor Thom (the last capital of the Khmer empire), where you'll find the Bayon temple, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants.
Xi'an, China (Home of the Terracotta Warriors)
Imagine waking up and preparing for a busy day's work in the city of Xi'an. However, instead of just another day on the job, you stumble across one of the most important archaeological finds in the world! That's precisely what happened to a group of workers digging a well in Xi'an in 1974. According to National Geographic, these workers were instrumental in uncovering the first of thousands of clay soldiers buried beneath the ground.
According to historians, Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di commissioned the making of the terracotta warriors after he ascended the throne in 248 B.C. Scientists and archaeologists maintain there are more than 8,000 of these warriors buried in underground pits. The purpose of the warriors? To protect the Emperor in the afterlife. Perhaps, even more incredible than the sheer number of warriors is the unique facial expressions on each of the statues. Some historians believe the statues were actually modeled after living soldiers during the Emperor's reign.
Today, visitors can still see the terracotta warriors at Xi'an and also the emperor's mausoleum, which has yet to be excavated. Scientists using remote-sensing technology have discovered that the emperor's tomb is much larger than previously believed.
The ancient city of Petra is located about an hour's drive away from the capital of Jordan. If you're a fan of Indiana Jones, you may be familiar with the famous rock faces of the monastery and the treasury. These structures were carved into the Petra sandstone by the ancient Nabataeans and epitomize the best Hellenic architectural traditions.
History fans should take note of the fact that Petra is a culturally significant site: both Nabataean and Roman artifacts have been unearthed there. Petra's Nabataeans also drew on Greek, Egyptian and Indian architectural traditions to construct intricately carved buildings.
That said, the ancient city of Petra is over 100 square miles, or as National Geographic puts it, four times the size of Manhattan. Places you'll want to visit in Petra include the Petra Archaeological Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the modern world), the Al-Khazneh temples, the Great Temple, the Obelisk Tomb and the Monastery.