Ancient Cities | Ancient City Guide

In terms of historical sites, nothing quite beats exploring lost, abandoned and ruined ancient cities. From the remains of the ancient city of Babylon to lost Roman metropolises, Mayan centres and Egyptian mega-towns, the ancient cities of the world are as varied as they are numerous.

Our ancient cities guide will help you plan your very own ancient city tours and explore the world’s best ancient places. So whether you’re seeking ancient cities in Europe, South America or anywhere across the globe, our ancient city guide will help you get exploring.

Check out our ancient cities map above or the list of ancient cities below and click on each ancient city for more information.

Ancient Cities | Ancient City Guide: Editor's Picks

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1. Machu Picchu

One of the best known ancient cities of the world, and a staple of many tours of ancient cities, Machu Picchu is one of the best preserved Inca sites, located in modern Peru.

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Machu Picchu is an extraordinary ancient stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world.

Believed to have been constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people sometime during the mid-fifteenth century, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high atop a granite mountain. The high standard of engineering and construction employed by the Incas, such as the fact that each stone on the site fits together seamlessly, accounts for Machu Picchu’s incredible state of preservation.

Machu Picchu was actually only discovered in 1911 by an American historian and much of its history remains a mystery. Past speculation has included theories such as that Machu Picchu was a mostly female city and that it was built as a last attempt by the Incas to preserve their culture. The former of these theories was due to the fact that, of the hundred skeletons found in Machu Picchu’s fifty burial sites, 80% were initially believed to be female, although this has since been disproven.

Machu Picchu is thought to have had a population of at least five hundred thousand people and, with its incredibly ornate stonework and architecture, is widely considered to have been an important ceremonial site. Some of Machu Picchu’s most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the mausoleum and the upper cemetery.

Machu Picchu’s agricultural section, with its terraces and granaries, is also an important aspect of the site demonstrating the advanced agricultural methods employed by the Inca people. The main Machu Picchu city is surrounded by other sites forming the Inca Trail and some of which take some serious hiking, but are well worth it. It’s also a good idea to stop at the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón at the base of the mountain. This site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Peru.

Photo by Donna and Andrew (cc)

2. Ephesus

Containing some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the Mediterranean, Ephesus in Turkey is something that should be a must for those planning tours of ancient cities or any ancient cities list.

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Ephesus or "Efes" was a vibrant classical city, now bordering modern day Selçuk in Turkey and representing some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the Mediterranean. 

Thought to have been founded in the 10th century BC by an Athenian prince named Androklos, Ephesus grew into a thriving city until 650BC when it was attacked and damaged by the Cimmerians. However, the settlement was reconstituted and soon the city began to thrive once more, eventually being conquered by the vast Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great.

The city was involved in the Greco-Persian wars but then fell back under Persian rule until its liberation by Alexander the Great. Fought over continuously by Alexander’s successors and their descendents, Ephesus, like so much of the region, was eventually absorbed into the Roman Republic, in the late second century BC.

Sights at Ephesus

Today, Ephesus is a treasure trove for enthusiasts of Ancient Roman and Greek history, allowing them to walk through its streets and view its magnificent houses, community buildings, temples and stadiums.

Ephesus was once famous for its Temple of Artemis, built in around 650 BC. Sadly, this was destroyed and is now represented by just a solitary column.

Some of the most impressive sites at Ephesus include the Library of Celsus, the ruins of which stand two storeys high, the Temple of Hadrian which was built in 118 AD, the classical theatre where it is believed Saint Paul preached to the Pagans and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, so called because legend has it that the Romans locked seven Christian boys there in 250 AD, who only awoke in the 5th century.

The cross shaped Basilica of Saint John is also nearby, as is the fourteenth century Isabey Mosque, which is an impressive structure built from the remains of Ephesus.

A trip to Ephesus usually takes at least half a day - some tours include other local sites such as Priene and Miletus - but history enthusiasts will probably want to enjoy this site for a whole day. There is also a great Ephesus Museum displaying artifacts found in the old city. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

Photo by Darij & Ana (cc)

3. Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is a well preserved ancient Mesoamerican city near Mexico City.

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Teotihuacan was a holy Mesoamerican city built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico and forms one of the country’s oldest archeological sites.

Whilst the founders of Teotihuacan have never been definitively identified, it is thought that the city was inhabited by the Toltecs and was also an important Aztec site.

Literally translated as the place “where gods are created”, Teotihuacan was clearly a city of significant religious importance to its inhabitants, as illustrated by the wealth of monuments at the site.

Characterised by looming stepped pyramids, indeed one of the most impressive aspects of Teotihuacan is the sheer size of these monuments, including the Pyramid of the Sun, which measures 225 by 222 metres at its base, rising 75 metres high.

Incredibly well-preserved, despite a fire which tore through Teotihuacan in the 7th century, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, it is not just Teotihuacan’s religious monuments which make it such an important and popular site. In fact, it is estimated that these make up a mere 10% of the total excavated site and the rest includes castles, such as the Palace of Quetzalcoatl and the Palace of the Citadel, residential buildings and communal buildings.

Visitors to Teotihuacan can maneuver their way through the city via its original streets, such as Avenue of the Dead, which divided the city into quarters, although take note that the site is absolutely enormous.

Today, Teotihuacan is one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico and includes numerous museums, including the Museo del Sitio, just south of the Pyramid of the Sun where visitors can see various artefacts from the site. It also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by Fede Ranghino (cc)

4. Palmyra

One of the best preserved Roman cities, Palmyra was an independent trading state which eventually fell to the Roman Empire. Its impressive ruins are located in Syria.

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Along with many other historical sites in the region, the ancient site of Palmyra is reported to have been heavily damaged in the current conflicts. This page remains as it was originally created in 2011 and will stand as a live-archived article until it is again possible to assess the state of the Palmyra ruins.


Palmyra was a thriving city of the ancient world whose impressive, UNESCO-listed ruins are located in Syria. Originally known by the Semitic name of Tadmor – which is now the name of the neighbouring modern town – Palmyra was once a commercial hub along a busy trade route.

References to Palmyra appear in the Bible as well as in other historical writings, some dating as far back as the second millennium BC. However, it was from the first century BC that affluent caravan owners stopped there along the old Silk Road, contributing to its wealth.

Roman Palmyra
In addition to helping the city flourish, Palmyra’s central location also made it a target for invaders including the Assyrians, the Persians and then the Seleucids. It was under Rome however that Palmyra experienced its peak. As the Roman Empire expanded in the first and second centuries BC, Palmyra became one of its provinces. The relationship between the city and Rome developed over time, with Palmyra managing to retain a high level of independence.

The city’s most infamous figure was Queen Zenobia. Following the assassination of her husband, King Odainat, Zenobia claimed control of the region on behalf of the couple’s young son, Vabalathus. After a mighty attempt to claim independence from Rome, in 272 AD, Zenobia’s rule ended when she was taken to Rome. Not long after this, Palmyra’s fortunes began to decline, especially after its people were massacred for rising up against Rome, resulting in the destruction of much of the city.

Successive emperors, such as Diocletian and Justinian, fortified its remains, turning Palmyra into a military outpost and Palmyra was later taken over by Muslim forces, but it never regained its original glory.

Ruins of Palmyra
Most of the extensive ruins of Palmyra today date back to its time under Roman rule, particularly the second and third centuries.

One of the most imposing and important ruins of Palmyra is the Temple of Bel, a stunningly well-preserved temple to a revered Babylonian deity. Other important sites at Palmyra include the Colonnade of the Decumanus, the Baths of Diocletian, the Tetrapylon, the theatre, the arched gates, the agora, the Senate House and its many funereal monuments and burial sites, some pre-Roman.

Photo by dalbera (cc)

5. Ostia Antica

One of the less well-known ancient cities in Italy, Ostia Antica contains the ruins of the port of ancient Rome and visitors can explore some amazingly well preserved remains of the settlement.

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Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that served as the gateway to Rome.

Just half an hour from central Rome by train, Ostia Antica has all the inspiration of Pompeii without the throngs of tourists. In fact, if you want to examine well preserved Roman ruins in peace and quiet with time to contemplate the ancient world, you’ll be hard pressed to find better.

Tracing its roots back to at least the 4th century BC, Ostia Antica served as Rome’s principle port for hundreds of years, a witness and monument to the rise of the ancient superpower, its dominance and eventual decline.

Ostia Antica's place in history is most notable for an attack by pirates in 68BC which led to unprecedented powers being handed to Pompey the Great, setting yet another precedent which damaged the foundations of the Republican system.

As the landscape changed over the centuries, Ostia Antica was slowly abandoned, and the site is now a couple of miles from the sea.

Today, visitors can view a great many ruins from the ancient town, including a well preserved Roman theatre, the Baths of Neptune, remains of the military camp, temples to ancient deities, the forum and even Ostia Synagogue, which is the oldest known synagogue site in Europe.

Yet Ostia Antica is so much more than these notable elements, for it contains a huge range of well-preserved more typical Roman dwellings, shops, flats and warehouses and even has a Roman public toilet. This combines to give visitors a great picture of an ancient Roman town and allows you to get a real feel for day-to-day life in ancient Rome.

There is a small museum on site which has a number of artefacts and further information on the history of Ostia Antica. At certain times during the year Ostia Antica is also the venue for concerts and other events. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.

Ancient Cities | Ancient City Guide: Site Index

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Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is an Ancient Egyptian site housing, amongst other ruins, the two impressive Temples of Ramesses II. It is one of many ancient cities listed by UNESCO.

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Abu Simbel is an archaeological site in Egypt housing a series of incredible Ancient Egyptian monuments, especially a number of rock temples. The most famous sites at Abu Simbel are the two Temples of Ramesses II. The site was rediscovered in 1813.

Known as Ramesses the Great (sometimes spelt Ramses), Ramesses II is one of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs and formed part of the Nineteenth Dynasty. From 1279 BC, he built the temples at Abu Simbel as a way to immortalise himself, a feat he certainly seems to have achieved with these two vast structures and the large statues of himself which guard it.

The temples were carved directly into the sandstone outcrops located on the west bank of the Nile River, south of Aswan in the land of Nubia. These sacred temples were each dedicated to the gods as well as to Ramesses and his wife, Nefertari. The larger one, known as the Great Temple, honoured Re-Horakhti, Amon Ra and Ptah and the smaller, Hathor.

One of the most startling sights at Abu Simbel is the main hall of the Great Temple. This was also cut into the sandstone and along the hand hewn length are two rows of Osirid statues of Ramses, each one 30 feet high. Those on the north side wear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the south side wear the double crown of Lower Egypt. This hall is precisely cut so that the early morning sun rays on 22nd of February and 22nd of October shine down the entire length to light up the back wall where the statues of four gods are seated.

Incredibly, the temples at Abu Simbel were once located elsewhere, but were moved – with the help of UNESCO – to their current location in order to protect them from flooding. The place they once stood is now under water.

Today, the Abu Simbel temples form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “Nubian Monuments”. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Egypt.

Photo by Argenberg (cc)

Abydos

A must for anyone planning ancient city tours, Abydos is an important Ancient Egyptian site which contains a wealth of tombs, temples and other archaeological remains.

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Abydos is an important Ancient Egyptian site located about 50 miles north-west of Luxor which contains a wealth of tombs, temples and other archaeological remains.

Covering a vast area, Abydos has offered up many historical sites and much of the area still remains uncovered. It is perhaps best known for the well preserved remains of the Temple of Seti I (also known as the Great Temple of Abydos), which was built by Seti and his son Ramesses II in the late 13th century BC. This is the principle tourist attraction of the Abydos site, and in fact much of Abydos is not open to the travelling public.

The settlement itself has a rich history dating back as far as 4000BC and pre-dynastic Egypt. During the Middle Kingdom (circa 2000BC – 1600BC) Abydos became an important religious centre revolving around the worship of Osiris. This led to Abydos becoming one of the most important cities in the region and it became the burial site of many of the ruling elite.

Abydos continued to be an important city and site of pilgrimage right up to the late Roman period and ruins have been found from throughout the long history of the site.

Other notable historic sites at Abydos include the Osireion, the symbolic tomb of Osiris, the necropolis of Umm el-Qa'ab and the Temple of Ramesses II.

Many visitors will visit Abydos - along with Dendera - either by train or organised tour from Luxor. This site also features as one of our top ten tourist attractions of Egypt.

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Aguateca

An important site of the Maya, Aguateca was once a capital city in Guatemala until it was dramatically destroyed. A lesser-known entry on the list of ancient cities of the world.

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Aguateca is an important and well-excavated ancient Maya ceremonial site in Guatemala’s Peten Region.

Thought to have been one of the two capitals of the Maya Dynasty in the region – together with Dos Pilas – from around 700 AD, Aguateca was a vital stronghold, especially given its elevated position. In fact, in the eighth century, Dos Pilas was abandoned and its people sheltered at Aguateca.

When found, many of the structures at Aguateca had been burnt down and it is believed that the city was abandoned in approximately 800 AD, probably following an enemy attack.

Photo by ozanhatipoglu (cc)

Aizanoi

One of many surviving ancient cities from Roman times, Aizanoi houses ancient ruins including a gymnasium, theatre, stadium, and the impressive Temple of Zeus.

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Aizanoi is a Turkish archaeological site housing mostly Roman remains from this ancient city’s peak in the second and third centuries AD.

Amongst its ruins, Aizanoi has five ancient and still used bridges, two Turkish-style baths, column-lined promenades, a stadium, a gymnasium, a theatre and its great Temple of Zeus.

Photo by BluEyedA73 (cc)

Akrotiri

Believed by some to be Atlantis, Akrotiri is a beautifully preserved Minoan site in Santorini, famed for its incredible frescos.

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Akrotiri is a beautifully preserved ancient site in Santorini, famed for its incredible frescos and its connection with the Minoans.

In fact, Akrotiri was inhabited as early as the 4th millennium BC - some say earlier - during the late Neolithic period. It would then thrive and grow into a larger settlement measuring up to 20 hectares in the next millennium, during the Bronze Age.

Increasingly frequent earthquakes in the area meant that Akrotiri was finally abandoned, some say in the 17th century BC, but it was a volcanic eruption that truly ended the tale of this magnificent place.

Today, the stunning ruins of Akrotiri now stand in testament of the sophisticated urban settlement which once existed there. The buildings are not only multi-storey, many of them contain vivid frescoes of various themes. This excellent state of preservation has drawn parallels with another famously volcanically preserved site, earning it the moniker of the "Minoan Pompeii".

Yet, Akrotiri has another claim to fame. It is generally considered that Akrotiri was linked with Knossos and would have been a Minoan site. However, some have gone further, claiming that it was the lost city of Atlantis. This site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.

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Alesia

The site where Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 52 BC, Alesia went on to become an important Roman settlement, the ruins of this being among the lesser-known ancient cities of the world.

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Alesia is an archaeological site on Mount Auxois in the Côte-d'Or and the place where Roman emperor Julius Caesar won his decisive victory over the Gauls in 52 BC. By this time, much of southern France was already within the Roman Empire, having been annexed in around the second century BC, but other regions were still holding out.

At Alesia, Caesar met and defeated one of his most formidable adversaries, the Gaulish Chieftain, Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls’ uprising against the Romans. Yet, whilst Caesar was successful, he only won after a long siege, known as the Siege of Alesia.

The remains which have been uncovered in Alesia show that it became a prosperous Gallo-Roman city by the first century AD. Visitors to the Alesia archaeological site can see the ruins of several houses as well as public buildings and areas such as a theatre, a Roman administrative centre (basilica) and shops, all centred on a forum.

Also part of the Alesia site is the statue of Vercingetorix erected under the orders of Napoleon III in 1865, showing how this leader perceived this historic figure.

An impressive interpretative centre and archaeological museum have also recently opened here.

It is worth noting that there have been debates as to whether Alesia is the true site of this battle, with some historians claiming it occurred elsewhere.

Photo by isawnyu (cc)

Amathus

Amathus is an archaeological site in Cyprus which includes the ruins of one of the island’s oldest ancient cities.

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Amathus is an archaeological site in Cyprus containing the remains of one of the island’s oldest ancient towns.

Known to have been inhabited since at least 1050BC, the origins of Amathus are unclear. It is believed to have been founded by the Eteocyprians and to have flourished and grown. Over time, it played host to the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Ptolemies and the Romans. The abandonment of Amathus appears to have occurred in the late seventh century.

Amathus is strongly connected with the cult of Aphrodite as well as having links to the legend of Ariadne. Today, the ruins of Amathus include several ancient sites, including several tombs, an acropolis with a first century AD Roman temple to Aphrodite, an agora with some public baths and the remains of the eighth century BC palace of Amathus.

Photo by Christian Haugen (cc)

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is an incredible, vast 12th century temple in Cambodia and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Angkor Wat is an enormous 12th century temple complex in Cambodia and the best preserved of its kind.

Incredibly grand and ornately decorated, Angkor Wat’s sand-coloured buildings rise up to form five towers, representing the home of the Hindu deities. Friezes and sculptures are found throughout, depicting both day-to-day life from the time it was built and religious events.

Whilst the complex in Angkor is believed to have been founded circa 980 AD by Yasovarman I, king of the Khmer Dynasty, Angkor Wat itself is thought to date back to the twelfth century.

It was the Khmer king Suryavarman II who built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150. He dedicated it to the Hindu deity Vishnu and there are images of Suryavarman as Vishnu throughout Angkor Wat in the form of sculptures. It is also thought that Angkor Wat was the site of Suryavarman’s tomb.

Invaded by Thai raiders in 1431, Angkor and its temple then laid undiscovered until the 19th century.

Today Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites. There is an incredible amount to see and it’s a good (although relatively expensive) idea to get a licensed tour guide.

Angkor Wat has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

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Anjar

Built by Caliph Walid I, the ancient trading settlement of Anjar is an excellent example of the 8th century architecture of the Umayyad dynasty.

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Anjar was a city of the Umayyad Islamic dynasty, founded in the early 8th century by Caliph Walid I. Over the course of this century, Anjar’s setting at the centre of two trading routes allowed it to flourish into a commercial hub. Yet, in 744AD, this prosperity came to an end when Walid’s son, Caliph Ibrahim, suffered a defeat.

Following this, Anjar was damaged and subsequently abandoned. Yet, it is this short history which makes Anjar such an important site. For, every aspect of what remains of this once great trading city - it’s carefully planned layout, the large arches and colonnades of the palaces which once stood there, the ruins of its 600 shops and its great fortifications - can all be dated precisely to the Umayyad period as this city rose and declined under its rule. In fact, Anjar was never actually completed.

Today, Anjar is an archaeological site listed by UNESCO, especially for being such an excellent example of Umayyad architecture.

 

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Apamea

One of the most visually impressive of the world’s ancient cities, Apamea in Syria which boasts a remarkable 1800 metres of dramatic Roman colonnades

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Apamea (Afamia) is an ancient site in Syria which boasts a remarkable 1800 metres of dramatic Roman colonnades together with a range of other ruins.

Said to have been one of the largest Seleucid cities and built in around the 4th century BC in what is now Syria, Apamea flourished and thrived as a commercial hub. Indeed, at its peak under the Romans it had a population of some 117,000 people.

Today, Apamea is an incredible site. Most of the remains are from the Roman period, but there are some fascinating finds from its time under the Seleucids including ruins of its defenses, much of which have been restored.

Photo by chad_k (cc)

Aquincum

A large ancient site in Budapest, Aquincum houses the remains of part of what was an important Roman military base and city. One of many Roman settlements on the list of ancient cities.

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Aquincum is a large Ancient Roman site in Budapest housing the remains of part of what was an important military base and city. Most of the sites at Aquincum date back to the second century AD, when the city reached its peak with up to 40,000 inhabitants and as the capital of the province of Pannonia, later Lower Pannonia.

Today, the site of Aquincum has much to offer sightseers and history enthusiasts alike, including the ruins of a city wall, an amphitheatre (one of two in Budapest), temples, homes and burial grounds.

There is also the modest Aquincum Museum housing some artifacts from the site, although the English translations could be improved.

Photo by *clairity* (cc)

Asklepieion

Asklepieion was an ancient centre of healing based on the teachings of Hippocrates. Today visitors can explore the ruins of this ancient city, which is said to be the birthplace of medicine.

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Asklepieion, also known as Asclepeion, in Kos was an ancient Greek and Roman sacred centre of healing based on the teachings of Hippocrates.

It seems that there has been a healing sanctuary at the site of Asklepieion since prehistory, but the main ruins today are those of later sanctuaries. The most significant was dedicated to Asklepios, who was a deity of health.

Over time, Asklepieion became increasingly popular and visitors would travels from far and wide to experience its healing properties. Thus, the sanctuary was expanded.

Today, the pretty and relatively well-preserved ruins of Asklepieion are set over three levels and include several temples, some Roman baths, gateways and a banqueting hall.

It is worth noting that this is not the most easily accessible site for people with mobility issues. The terrain is quite steep and there are many stairs to climb.

Photo by a-zehn-fr (cc)

Augusta Raurica

Augusta Raurica is an ancient Roman archaeological site near Basel in Switzerland. Relatively unknown, it makes for an interesting stop for those undertaking tours of ancient cities in Europe.

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Augusta Raurica is a well-preserved Ancient Roman site near Basel in Switzerland. Founded in 15 BC, Augusta Raurica grew into a thriving colonia by the mid-first century with a population of over 20,000 people.

Amongst its sites, Augusta Raurica has a fifty-row theatre, the remains of several public and private buildings and a maze of underground Roman sewers connected to a main pump room.

Augusta Raurica also has an archaeological museum housing finds from the site including a collection of silver objects.

Photo by 04deveni (cc)

Avdat

Avdat was an ancient Nabatean city located in modern Israel which once stood along a prosperous trade route.

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Avdat or “Ovdat” is an archaeological site in Israel which houses the pretty remains of an ancient Nabatean city later inhabited by the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs. It initially formed part of the trading route known as the Incense Route which ran from the Mediterranean to south Arabia and which peaked from the 3rd to the 2nd centuries BC. The main commodities along this route were frankincense, myrrh and spices.

Avdat prospered under the Nabateans from 30 BC to 9 BC, during the reign of King Aretas IV, but needed to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by Arab tribes in the late first century BC. This was carried out under Nabatean King Rabbel. However, in 106 AD, during Rabbel’s reign, Avdat was captured by the Romans. In the seventh century it was taken by the Arabs.

In addition to well-preserved fortifications, the ruins at Avdat include a caravanserai, homes, a Roman military camp, fourth century churches, a street and a bathhouse. Many of the ruins are Roman, but the Nabatean influence can still be seen, including the ruin of a temple.

Today, Avdat is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as one of four Desert Cities of the Incense Route.

Photo by T.M.O.F. (cc)

Aventicum

Aventicum is an ancient Roman site in Switzerland which was once the capital of the Helvetians. Among the ruins of this ancient city are parts of the original city walls and a surviving tower.

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Aventicum is an impressive ancient Roman site in Switzerland which was the thriving capital of the Helvetians.

It is unclear as to exactly when Aventicum was founded, but it reached its peak between the 1st century BC and 5th century AD, during its time as capital of the region under Roman rule. At this point, it was home to some 20,000 inhabitants. Aventicum also became a colony of Rome or "colonia", a prestigious accolade, in around 71AD.

The sites which can now be seen at the archaeological site of Aventicum are very well preserved and include a 2nd century amphitheatre which would have seated 16,000, some of the original city walls with a surviving tower (originally one of 73), a set of thermal baths and holy sites including a sanctuary and some temples.

Now located in the area known as Avenches, Aventicum offers visitors plenty of original sites to see. There is also a museum within the amphitheatre tower which explores the history of Aventicum and with finds from the site itself including daily tools, mosaics, sculptures and various items from the city’s time under the Romans.

Photo by isawnyu (cc)

Baalbek

One of the world’s most impressive ancient cities, and a UNESCO site, Baalbek is home to the largest Roman temple ever built as well as many other magnificent ancient structures.

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Baalbek is a hugely impressive Roman site in Lebanon which is home to the largest Roman temple ever built, as well as a range of other magnificent ancient structures.

Initially a Phoenician settlement dedicated to the worship of the deity of the sun, Baal, the city was known as Heliopolis (City of the Sun) by the Greeks in the 4th century BC.

However, it was during Roman times that Baalbek reached its peak, becoming a Roman colony in 47BC under Julius Caesar. Over the next two centuries, the Romans would imbue Baalbek with the empire’s largest holy temples. By 150AD, it would be home to the vast temples of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus.

Today, visitors to Baalbek can see the impressive ruins of these incredible structures including standing in the shadow of six of the original 54 columns of the Temple of Jupiter - the largest temple ever built by the Empire. Baalbek is also the place to see the extremely well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, the stairs of the Temple of Mercury and a ceremonial entryway known as the propylaea.

There is also evidence of Baalbek’s time beyond the Romans. For example, the ruins of the Roman Temple of Venus show how it was incorporated into a Byzantine church. This and other sites tell of the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, who destroyed many of the Roman holy sites in favour of churches and basilicas. Visitors can also see the remnants of a large 8th century mosque from the Arab conquest.

Baalbek is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by gustaf wallen (cc)

Babylon

Babylon is one of the most famous cities of the ancient world and today can be found near the town in modern-day Iraq. Often at the very centre of ancient civilisations, this city saw culture and conquest alike.

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The ancient metropolis of Babylon is one of the most famous cities of the ancient world and today can be found near the town of Al-Hillah in modern-day Iraq.

Founded almost five thousand years ago, the city on the Euphrates has seen empires rise and fall and has been the centre of the highest forms of culture and the most brutal wars and devastation.

It is likely that Babylon was founded in the third millennium BC and rose to prominence over the next thousand years. By the 18th century BC the city was the centre of the empire of Hammurabi. However, the changing political and military nature of the region saw Babylon fought over countless times over the following centuries, with one empire or dynasty after another securing Babylon as their home.

A resurgence of an independent Babylonian empire briefly flourished towards the end of the 7th century BC under king Nebuchadnezzar II – famous for building great wonders within the city, including the renowned Hanging Gardens of Babylon – yet even this dynasty failed to last, with Babylon falling to Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian Empire.

In 331 BC Alexander the Great captured Babylon, and it was here he died in 323 BC. After the fall of Alexander’s fledgling empire, Babylon was fought over by his surviving generals and was slowly abandoned over the following centuries.

The ruins of Babylon have suffered greatly due to looting and destructive policies, leaving little behind that captures the glory of the once-great city. Saddam Hussein also built a ‘new’ version of ancient Babylon over the site.

Of Babylon’s ancient ruins, it is still possible to see parts of Nebuchadnezzar's palace and some of the old city walls. It is also possible to see a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Although the site of Babylon is open to visitors, it is advisable to check with you government’s official travel advice policy before undertaking any trips to Babylon.

Photo by Photo Javi (cc)

Baelo Claudia

A well-preserved ancient city which sits on the Andalusian coast, the ruins of Baelo Claudia provide a picturesque setting from which to explore history.

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The Roman city of Baelo Claudia in Andalusia is one of the best surviving examples of an ancient Roman town in Spain. Sitting directly on the coast, Baelo Claudia is a beautiful site to visit, with both stunning views and ancient ruins.

The remains of Baelo Claudia, near the modern town of Tarifa, have been beautifully restored and preserved because of the good general conservation of the ruins, their easy interpretation and the beauty of their surroundings.

Although founded in the second century BC, Baelo Claudia began to expand as an important trading post in the first century BC and first century AD, particularly under the rule of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Baelo Claudia was expanded to include significant municipal areas, including a forum, theatre and market. It was particularly known for its trade in the Roman sauce called garum.

In latter centuries, it is believed that Baelo Claudia suffered due to an earthquake and the onset of raiders and pirates in the area and the site was abandoned towards the end of the Western Roman Empire period, probably in the 6th century.

Today, Baelo Claudia is a place where visitors can observe the fundamental characteristics of a classical Roman city and there are many aspects to the site that can still be viewed. These include the forum and the temples of the Capitolium as well as temples of eastern character such as that which is dedicated to Isis. Beyond these elements are a Basilica, administrative buildings or the municipal archive, market, theatre, baths, city walls & gates, streets, aqueducts and cisterns.

There are numerous Roman cities whose remains can still be seen in greater or lesser measure in the Andalusian territory and a visit to Baelo Claudia is certain to inspire further exploration.

Baelo Claudia has a visitor’s centre on site and has many facilities to make a trip there convenient for tourists, including a car park next door. This amazing ancient city features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions of Spain.

Photo by TyB (cc)

Baia

Baia was once the summer retreat of Ancient Rome’s elite and is now an archaeological park outside Naples.

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Baia, also known as Baiae, is an impressive archaeological complex in Campania in Italy housing the remains of a series of summer homes of the leaders of Ancient Rome.

Development began in Baia in the second century BC, during the republican era and continued into the imperial age, when the Emperor Augustus connected all the lavish villas in the area with a road. It was also under Augustus that Baia was furnished with its grand thermal baths.

Augustus’s successors, notably Nero, Hadrian, and Alexander Severus continued to expand and develop Baia, transforming it into a expansive mass of villas and leisure facilities. By now it was a true retreat for Rome’s elite.

Several pretty ruins remain at Baia, lying sprawled over the hills and near the coast. However, much of this almost-city, known by many as “little Rome” has since been swept into the sea.

Photo by davehighbury (cc)

Bulla Regia

Among the most fascinating ancient cities of the world, Bulla Regia was an Ancient Roman settlement in Tunisia, famous for its subterranean villas.

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Bulla Regia is a significant Ancient Roman archaeological site in Tunisia with a fascinating set of subterranean villas and other monuments.

Tunisia was annexed into the Roman Empire in approximately 46 BC, under Julius Caesar. Previously a Berber site, Bulla Regia flourished under the Romans, who built a series of monuments and public buildings in the area, such as its amphitheatre.

Amongst the remains at Bulla Regia, there are its famous two-storey villas, with the lower storey located underground to protect its inhabitants from the elements. A further characteristic of these villas is the fact that many of them contain original Roman mosaics, still in situ.

Bulla Regia features as one of our Top 10 Tunisian Visitor Attractions.

Photo by Pero Kvrzica (cc)

Butrint

Spanning the empires of the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing the ruins of this ancient city, now located in south west Albania.

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Butrint is an archaeological national park in Albania and a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its ancient ruins dating back as far as the 7th century BC. In fact, classic mythology says that exiles moved to Butrint to escape following the fall of Troy.

Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved Greek theatre, fortifications which have been changed by each civilisation which occupied it, Roman public baths inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica.

One of Butrint’s earliest sites is its sanctuary, which dates back to the fourth century and sits on its hill or “acropolis”. The sanctuary was named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, and was a centre of healing. Butrint was abandoned during the Ottoman era when marshes started to emerge around it, however, many of its historical treasures remain intact and attract tourist from around the globe.

The great thing about Butrint is the ability to trace the development of a succession of eras through its sites and structures, making it a microcosm of history. With so much to see, including an onsite museum exploring the site’s history, a visit to Butrint National Park usually lasts around three hours.

Byblos

One of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, as attested by the incredibly diverse ages of its ruins, Byblos is a must for those seeking tours of ancient cities.

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Byblos (Jbail) in Lebanon is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, as attested by the incredibly diverse ages of its ruins. Thought to have first inhabited sometime around the fifth millennium BC, Byblos began as a Neolithic village of fisherman.

Over time, Byblos would, amongst other things, become a Phoenician trading hub called Gublu, be taken by Alexander the Great in 333BC, be ruled by the Greeks (this as when it acquired its current name) and then fall to Pompey, becoming a Roman city in the 1st century BC. Byblos began to decline under the Byzantines, who took it in 399AD.

Today, Byblos bears the marks of all of these civilisations. Stone Age, Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age dwelling sit side by side with a royal Phoenician necropolis and Roman sites such as a theatre, a road and nympheum. There is also a 12th century Crusader Castle, a reminder of when Byblos was conquered in 1104.

In addition to its fascinating ruins, Byblos is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its contribution to modern language. In particular, Byblos is connected with the Phoenicians' development of the predecessor of our alphabet. There’s plenty to see at Byblos, some in its main archaeological site, other elements dotted around its medieval town centre.

Photo by Alun Salt (cc)

Caerwent Roman Town

Caerwent Roman Town in Wales contains the remains of the once thriving Roman settlement of Venta Silurum.

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Caerwent Roman Town is the name of the collection of Roman ruins which formed part of the once buzzing Roman settlement of Venta Silurum.

Probably founded in the first century AD, Venta Silurum reached its peak in the second century and was home to a range of buildings and facilities. From the remains of houses, a temple and an amphitheatre to its impressive 17-feet high defensive walls, Caerwent Roman Town has much to offer.

There are information panels along the way and pre-booked guided tours are available on certain days.

Photo by Historvius

Caesarea

A staple of any ancient city guide, Caesarea in Israel was a Roman city later conquered by the Crusaders and now containing remains from several periods and civilisations.

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Caesarea or “Keysarya” was an Ancient Roman city which is now a large archaeological site in Israel. It is believed that the city of Caesarea was initially founded atop the ruins of Straton's Tower, a third century BC Phoenician port city.

Conquered by King Alexander Jannaeus of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 90 BC, Caesarea’s population remained under local control until it was taken by the Romans in 63 BC. It was King Herod the Great who named the city Caesarea – after Augustus Caesar - and who endowed it with the majority of its great public buildings, infrastructure and monuments from 22 BC. Caesarea became a thriving commercial hub which hosted sporting events and which flourished further under the Byzantines. It was conquered by Crusaders in the eleventh century and its Crusader defences were erected in 1251 under French King Louis IX.

Today, Caesarea offers so much to see, including a large amphitheatre overlooking the ocean and an extensive labyrinth of ruins. Some of the most imposing remains at Caesarea are its Crusader fortifications.

Nearby, visitors can also explore the stunning remains of the Caesarea Aqueduct. Unless willing to hike for quite a while, it’s best to drive to this site. Overall, a trip to Caesarea can last anywhere from one to three hours and makes for a truly excellent day out. This site also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Israel.

Photo by Václav Synáček (cc)

Cahuachi

Believed to have been a pilgrimage site, Cahuachi is an ancient city of the Nazca civilization in Peru.

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Cahuachi is believed to have been a pilgrimage site of the Nazca people. Still an active archeological site, Cahuachi is dominated by several adobe pyramids made of sand and clay as well as having a graveyard.

Little is known about Cahuachi, but as it overlooked the Nazca Lines, it is thought to have been a ceremonial site. Another site at Cahuachi is known as Estaquería, which archeologists believed was used for mummification purposes. A general Nazca tour which includes Cahuachi and other sites takes approximately 3 hours.

Photo by liberalmind1012 (cc)

Calixtlahuaca

Calixtlahuaca contains the ruins of an Aztec city located near Toluca in Mexico. It has a series of fascinating and impressive structures including ancient pyramids.

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Calixtlahuaca near Toluca in Mexico is a well-preserved Aztec archaeological site which was once a thriving city originally home to the Matlatzinca people – the people of the Toluca Valley. The Calixtlahuaca site has a series of fascinating and impressive structures, not least of which are its vast pyramid-like temples.

Photo by Alaskan Dude (cc)

Cappadocia Underground Cities

Among the more unusual of the ancient cities of the world, the Cappadocia Underground Cities are Christian subterranean fortified settlements in Turkey.

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The Cappadocia Underground Cities, found mostly in the Nevsehir region in central Turkey, are a series of magnificent subterranean cities built by the Troglodytes or ‘cave goers’. Of the almost forty known Cappadocia underground cities, some in Nevshir are open to the public, including Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu, Özkonak, Mazi and Ürgüp.

These Cappadocia underground cities were built by early Christians persecuted for their faith. It is unclear as to when the Cappadocia underground cities were constructed, but the earliest Christians were believed to have settled in the area in the fourth century.

The most incredible aspects of the Cappadocia underground cities are their sheer scale and complexity. Some of these cities delve eight levels underground, with comprehensive living quarters and facilities for making grape juice, cooking, drainage and plumbing and even stables for horses. Of course, these underground cities were also vital forts, protecting their citizens, and the Cappadocia made provisions for this, including sturdy doors and even holes in the ceilings through which to pour hot oil over any intruders.

Visiting the Cappadocia underground cities is an exciting, authentic and fascinating journey. The Cappadocia underground cities have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

Photo by Isaacus (cc)

Carranque Archaeological Park

An ancient city in Spain, Carranque Archaeological Park contains a series of Roman ruins built in the 4th century AD.

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Carranque Archaeological Park (Parque Arqueologico de Carranque) contains a series of Ancient Roman ruins built in the fourth century AD. The site is believed to have a connection with Emperor Theodosius I the Great.

Carranque Archaeological Park is mainly comprised of a well preserved villa - known as the Materno Villa - as well as a nymphaeum (temple) and a basilica. There is also a small ancient burial ground.

A good place to either start or end your trip is at the visitor centre, which contains some of the objects found at the Carranque Archaeological Park as well as models of how it would once have looked.

 

Photo by aymen hs (cc)

Carthage

One of the most famous ancient cities, Carthage was once the centre of a hugely powerful civilisation. Today, the ruins of Carthage can be found on the outskirts of Tunis and are a must for those seeking cities of the ancient world.

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Carthage was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world and spawned the powerful Carthaginian Empire which dominated much of the western Mediterranean. The ruins of this famed city can be found on the outskirts of modern day Tunis.

Carthage itself was central to the history of the ancient world. Legend states that the city was founded by the Phoenician Queen Dido in the 9th Century BC and the ancient metropolis certainly rose to prominence over the next 500 years.

However, three long and brutal wars with Rome, known as the Punic Wars, eventually led to the downfall and destruction of Carthage in 146BC. It is said the Romans salted the earth so nothing more could live on the site of the once-dominant city.

Having destroyed the Carthaginian Empire however, the Romans later realised the potential in the strategic location of the site. In the 1st Century AD they re-founded Carthage and it grew to become one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire.

As Rome’s power waned, Carthage was briefly captured by the Vandals in the 5th Century AD before Byzantine forces re-took the city. In 698AD, after many years of hard fighting, the city was finally captured by the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate who founded the new city of Tunis nearby, leaving the ancient metropolis to fade away.

Time has significantly taken its toll on the site and little remains of ancient Carthage today and much of what remains is spread over quite a broad area. The best way to begin exploring these ruins is probably by visiting Byrsa Hill and the Carthage Museum. The museum hosts a collection of Carthaginian (Punic) and Roman artifacts including marble sarcophagi and a model of Punic Carthage.

Other key points of interest include the impressive Antonine Baths, the Roman Amphitheater, Roman villas and reconstructed Roman theatre of Carthage. Among the best preserved Punic remains are the Magon Quarter, Punic Port and unnerving Sanctuary of Tophet.

You can explore all the sites of Carthage on our Carthage Sites Map feature and Carthage also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Tunisia.

Photo by Chixoy (cc)

Ceibal

A Maya settlement site in northern Guatemala, Ceibal is a lesser-known ancient city that nonetheless contains many interesting remains, including an impressive round temple.

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Ceibal or “El Seibal” in El Peten in Guatemala was an ancient Maya settlement probably mostly constructed and inhabited in the Preclassic Period and which is now represented by a set of ruins. Most archaeologists think it was abandoned in the late classic period and then inhabited again at a later date.

Amongst the things to see at Ceibal are a ball court, several stelae (carved stones) which are renowned for being dated fairly late for the Maya civilisation and a few remaining structures such as an impressive round temple. It is quite a large site, although it has comparatively fewer attractions than others in the area.

Cerro Patapo

Not mentioned in many ancient city guides, and only recently discovered in 2008, Cerro Patapo was an ancient city of the Wari civilisation found in modern Peru.

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Cerro Patapo is an archaeological site near Chiclayo in Peru which houses the remains of a city of the Wari Empire. This empire, which ruled much of the Andes, had a presence in Peru from approximately 600 AD to 1100 AD.

Only discovered in 2008, Cerro Patapo was a vitally important find, creating a chronological connection between the Wari and the preceding Moche Empire, which existed from 100 AD to 600 AD.

The Wari city at Cerro Patapo stretches for approximately three miles and is believed to have been the site of human sacrifices. Amongst the finds at Cerro Patapo, archaeologists found the remains of a woman as well as ceramic pieces and clothing.

Photo by roger4336 (cc)

Chacchoben

An interesting part of any ancient city tours, Chacchoben is a Mexican Maya site which contains some impressive pyramid temples.

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Chacchoben is a Maya site in Mexico housing some impressive pyramid temples.

The exact history of Chacchoben is unclear. Most sources date its pyramids to around 700AD (some say 300AD), although the Mayas are said to have been present at Chacchoben long before this, perhaps as early as 200BC.

Chacchoben is quite a popular tourist site, with several tour companies operating here.

Photo by Bruno Girin (cc)

Chan Chan

Chan Chan in Peru was the capital of the Chimu civilisation and is the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas as well as a UNESCO listed site. A fascinating ancient city to explore.

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Chan Chan is an impressive site in Peru and the world’s largest adobe city as well as the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas. As the capital of the ancient Chimu civilisation, Chan Chan was developed in around 1300 AD and would have reached its peak in the fifteenth century, after which the Chimu were overtaken by the Incas and the city was abandoned.

Still a vast site today, it is thought that Chan Chan was home to a population of tens of thousands, perhaps up to 100,000 people. Partly due to erosion, but also to mass looting, what remains is a shadow of the grandeur of the former city and yet is still an incredible sight.

Chan Chan is a labyrinth of dwellings, palaces, fortifications, streets, storehouses and temples, all organised into a well-planned city structure spanning approximately 20 square kilometres.

The buildings at Chan Chan were ornately decorated, adorned with elaborate friezes, some of which can still be seen today and which depict animals, mythical creatures and abstract shapes. Sadly, what cannot be seen now is any gold or silver which probably decorated many of these sites, as this has all been stolen.

Divided into four sections, one of the main areas of Chan Chan is Palacio Tschudi (the Tchudi Palace), which has been thoroughly – and some say overly – restored.

Many people who visit Chan Chan would choose to only see parts of the site, while enthusiasts may want to see it all – this requires either a guided tour or taking taxis to each part of the site. There is also a small Chan Chan Museum - Museo de Sitio - housing some finds from the site.

Today, Chan Chan is a World Heritage site listed by UNESCO on its “sites in danger” list. This site features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Peru.

Photo by Historvius

Chichen Itza

Ranked among the most famous of the world’s ancient cities, Chichen Itza is one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico and a vital part of any ancient city tours.

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Stunningly well-preserved and imposingly beautiful, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most impressive historical sites.

A UNESCO World Heritage site based in the forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is actually made up of two cities built by two peoples, the Mayas and the Toltecs.

The site is made up of several surviving buildings including a circular observatory known as El Caracol, the Warriors’ Temple and El Castillo. Accounts vary as to the date of the first settlement at Chichen Itza, placing it between the 6th and 9th century AD when the Mayas built the original city including “The Building of the Nuns” and a church.

Chichen Itza was conquered by the Toltec King of Tula in the 10th century AD, accounting for the fusion in Maya and Toltec influences.

Chichen Itza also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by Miradas.com.br (cc)

Choquequirao

Choquequirao is a little known ancient city of the Inca in Peru which is similar to the far more famous Machu Picchu. A lesser-known entry on the ancient cities list.

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Choquequirao is a little known Incan city in the south of Peru which may well have served as the final stronghold of the Incan civilisation.

Similar in design and architechture to the far better known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is almost devoid of tourist due to its isolated position.

Built in the late 15th century and expanded over the next century Choquequirao is believed to have served as an administrative hub for the region, as well as providing a local military centre.

In the 16th century, as the Incan Empire was gripped by civil war and then rocked by the arrival of the Conquistadors, Choquequirao - in the Vilcabamaba region - was used as a refuge by Inca forces fleeing the siege of Cuzco.

After the eventual defeat of the last of the Incan forces in 1572 the city was lost from record until European explorers came across Choquequirao in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, the ruins of Choquequirao still contain impressive sites but its isolated position means it is a difficult spot to access. A two-day hike from the nearest village has ensured that only the most committed of travellers explore these remains.

However, for better or worse, facilities in the area are improving and the Peruvian government are considering ways to improve access to the site. Choquequirao features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions of Peru.

Photo by jlrsousa (cc)

Citania de Briteiros

Among many ancient cities in Portugal, Citania de Briteiros contains the ruins of an ancient Iron Age settlement.

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Citania de Briteiros is a Portuguese archaeological site containing the ruins of an ancient settlement. In fact, dating back to the second century BC, Citania de Briteiros was home to a people known as part of the castro culture, named as such because the high areas on which they settled where known as "castros".

Today, visitors can see the remains of Citania de Briteiros Iron Age hillfort, circular homes and a cremation furnace. There’s also a small exhibition of excavated finds.

Photo by joyosity (cc)

Cobá

A vast Maya archaeological site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region, Cobá is an important ancient city which contains the 138-ft tall Great Pyramid.

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Cobá in Quintana Roo in Mexico houses the remains of a once vast city that developed in around 632 AD and peaked between 800 and 1100 AD. Whilst it is thought that Cobá originally spanned a massive 60 square kilometres, the current archaeological site has yet to uncover all its remains. What can be viewed is spread into four sections, named Grupo Cobá, Chumuc Mul, Macanxoc and Nohoch Mul.

Grupo Cobá contains a large holy pyramid called the Temple of the Church, translated as “La Iglesia”. Nearby, along a worn path is a playing field used to play ball games, signposted as “juego de pelota”.

The most impressive site at Cobá is its Great Pyramid, also known as the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Rising to a height of 138 feet, the Great Pyramid is the second tallest of all Maya pyramids in the region after Estructura II at Calakmul. Climbing the steep stairs of this pyramid can be daunting, but the views are great.

Conimbriga

Probably Portugal’s best-preserved ancient city, Conimbriga contains a wealth of Roman ruins.

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Conimbriga is probably Portugal’s best-preserved Ancient Roman archaeological site, although it has a history stretching back to the Iron Age. In fact, while the Romans arrived at Conimbriga in the late first century BC, the settlement had been inhabited since the ninth century BC.

Whilst almost certainly not the biggest of Portugal’s Roman cities (although it is yet to all be excavated), Conimbriga thrived under the Romans, the results of which can be seen in its ruins. It was only when Conimbriga was attacked in the fifth century that the Romans abandoned the area.

Things to see at Conimbriga include the remains of houses and public buildings, some quite impressive walls, a road, public baths including their heating systems and some mosaics. There’s also a small museum of finds.

For a sneak peek, the Conimbriga website has a fun virtual tour of the site. Conimbriga also features as one of our best visitor attractions in Portugal.

Photo by Adalberto.H.Vega (cc)

Copan

Copan in Honduras was an important Maya city, the impressive ruins of which are UNESCO listed.

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Copan (spelt Copán), near the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a major Maya settlement which was probably the most influential city in the south eastern area occupied by this civilisation.

Copan is thought to have been inhabited as early as 2000 BC, despite the fact that there is sparse evidence to this effect. It was certainly at its peak between 300 AD and 900 AD.

In the eighth century AD, Copan experienced a significant military defeat when its leader was beheaded by the rulers of the city of Quirigua in what is now Guatemala. It was abandoned in the tenth century, probably due to the land becoming unsuitable for crop growing.

The cultural, social and ceremonial significance of Copan has been confirmed by UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site in 1980. Amongst other things, UNESCO cites the fact that Copan was the site of great advances in astronomy and mathematics.

Today, visitors to Copan can see its many incredible structures, which also rank highly amongst the reasons for its UNESCO status. Containing five main plazas, an acropolis, numerous temples, terraces, pyramids and dwellings, one cannot fail to be impressed by Copan. Incredible glyphs adorn its staircases, structures, temples and altars, with depictions of animals and human faces.

There is a nearby sculpture museum which explores the Maya culture and artwork.

Photo by Alun Salt (cc)

Corinth

Corinth is a popular tourist destination and famous ancient city which was a major centre to both the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans.

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Ancient Corinth, the ruins of which can be found in the modern town of Korinthos, was a city of major importance in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome. Located in between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, Corinth was a vital port and a thriving city-state as well as being of religious significance.

Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Corinth grew from the eight century BC under the Ancient Greeks, developing into a centre of trade and a city of great riches. Much of this wealth was accumulated from the seventh century BC under the rule of Periander, who exploited Corinth’s location in the Isthmus of Corinth. By travelling through Corinth, ships could cross quickly between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf, avoiding the need to sail around the coast. Corinth had the diolkos, a ship hauling device which allowed them to do just that. Ship owners were charged for using this device, providing Corinth with an ongoing flow of income.

Corinth became such a powerful city-state that it even established various colonies such as Syracuse and Epidamnus. In 338 BC, following the Peloponnesian War and the subsequent Corinthian War, Corinth was conquered by Philip II of Macedon. Throughout the classical era, Corinth had held regular sporting tournaments known as the Isthmian Games. These were continued under the Macedonians and, in fact, it was at the 336 BC Isthmus Games that Alexander the Great was selected to lead the Macedonians in the war against Persia.

In 146 BC, Corinth suffered partial destruction from the invasion of Roman general Mummius, although it was later rebuilt under Julius Caesar, eventually growing into an even more prosperous Roman city. Corinth’s decline began in 267 AD following the invasion of the Herulians. Over the subsequent years, it would fall into the hands of the Turks, the Knights of Malta, the Venetians and finally the Greeks, each of these conflicts, together with numerous natural disasters, depleting but never entirely destroying the city’s once magnificent sites.

Another interesting aspect of Corinth is its diverse religious history. Dedicated to the Greek deities of Apollo, Octavia and Aphrodite, during Roman times it was also the home of a large Jewish community as well as being visited by the Apostle Paul.

Today, visitors to Corinth can see its many ancient sites, including the fairly well-preserved ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which was built in 550 BC and the remaining columns of the Temple of Octavia. By contrast, only few remnants remain of the former Temple of Aphrodite, once a home of Corinth’s sacred prostitutes. Perhaps what makes Corinth such a fascinating site is that, due to its extensive wealth over the years, this ancient city’s Doric architecture was exceptionally ornate.

Beyond these sacred sites, much of Corinth’s original infrastructure is visible along with many remains from the Roman-era city, including the Theatre and the Peirene Fountain.

Those wanting to learn more about Corinth and see many of the artefacts from its excavation can also visit the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth.

Photo by filologanoga (cc)

Cumae Archaeological Park

Once a famous ancient city, Cumae Archaeological Park contains a series of ancient ruins and artefacts and is thought to have been inhabited as far back as the Iron Age.

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Cumae Archaeological Park in Pozzuoli houses a series of ancient ruins and artefacts and is thought to have been inhabited as far back as the Iron Age.

Cumae itself was a settlement established by Greek colonists in the eighth century BC. Sacked by the Oscans in the fifth century BC and incorporated into the Roman Empire in the fourth century BC, Cumae’s sites are mostly Roman, but there are several Greek ones as well.

The most celebrated site at Cumae Archaeological Park is Sybil’s Cave or ‘Antro della Sibilla’. This atmospheric cave was built in two phases, the first in the fourth century BC, the second in the late first century BC or early AD.

Named after the Cumaean priestess who, according to Virgil's Aeneid, is said to have prophesized to the Trojan Aeneas prior to his entry into the underworld, the exact purpose of Sybil’s Cave is yet to be decided upon, but it was most likely a defensive structure. It also served as a Christian burial site. Whatever its original use, this atmospheric trapezoidal tunnel is fascinating.

Other sites at Cumae Archaeological Park include the fifth century acropolis walls, a second century BC amphitheatre, a forum, several temples, such as the Temples of Jupiter and Apollo, and a second century AD public baths complex.

Photo by davehighbury (cc)

Cyrene

Boasting some impressive ancient ruins, Cyrene in Lybia is considered to be one of the most impressive Greco-Roman cities in the world.

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Cyrene in Libya is considered to be one of the most impressive Greco-Roman sites in the world and one of the best Classical Greek sites beyond Greece itself.

Traditionally said to have been founded by the Greeks of Thera in 631BC, Cyrene was a trading hub first inhabited by the Battiadae dynasty and which became one of the most important centres of the Greek world.

Over time, Cyrene was conquered several times yielding to, amongst others, Alexander the Great, before being Romanised in 74BC. Cyrene’s status and importance further flourished under Roman rule and was rebuilt under Hadrian. In fact, it was only after the great earthquake of 365AD and the region’s changing climate which eventually caused its decline.

Amongst its fantastic remains, Cyrene is home to the ruins of the great sanctuary of Apollo which has sites ranging from the Temples of Artemis and Apollo which date back as early as the 7th century BC to the 2nd century Trajan Baths. Also found at Cyrene is the impressive Temple of Zeus.

One of its most impressive sites is Cyrene Amphitheatre, which the Greeks built in the 6th century BC, was used as a Roman amphitheatre and is now the largest Greek site in Africa.

There’s lots more to see at Cyrene including its acropolis, agora, forum and necropolis. Part of what makes Cyrene so incredible is not just its monuments but its overall planning - a mix of Greek and Roman, which is evident throughout.

Listed by UNESCO and protected by the Global Heritage Fund, sadly Cyrene is considered to be badly neglected.

Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya.

Photo by isawnyu (cc)

Delos

Delos is an impressive UNESCO listed ancient Greek city and the island on which Apollo was said to have been born.

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Delos is an island and archaeological site which was held sacred by the ancient Greeks as the birthplace of the deity Apollo. It is unclear as to whether his twin sister Artemis was also believed to have been born there. There were temples built in honour of Artemis at Delos, but the legend seems focused on Apollo.

Evidence shows that Delos was inhabited as early as the third millennium BC and, from around the tenth century BC, when it was taken by the Ionian Greeks, it developed into a religious centre as well as a thriving port. A site of pilgrimage for many civilisations, Delos was later ruled by the Athenians, under which the native Delians suffered greatly, being exiled on several occasions.

Delos was considered such a sacred site that it was forbidden to die or to give birth there. Athenian leader Peisistratus is said to have even rid the island of all of its existing graves in the sixth century BC. Later, severely ill people and pregnant women would be removed from the island and taken to nearby Rheneia.

Over the centuries, activity at Delos centred around shrines and temples to Apollo in an area known as the Sanctuary of Apollo. Few of the once many temples in the Sanctuary of Apollo remain intact today, but what there is has been beautifully preserved and reconstructed. Mosaics and statues are dotted around Delos as are the facades of former temples, such as that of Isis.

Some of its most famous statues are those of the Terrace of the Lions. The originals of these are now held at the Delos Archaeological Museum, but the on-site replicas do give an idea of how it once looked. There is also an ancient theatre.

Unfortunately there are few if any English explanatory panels, so it’s a good idea to get a guide to go with you unless you speak French or Greek. Delos has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.

Photo by Historvius

Delphi

One of the most famous ancient cities in the world, Delphi is an Ancient Greek site once considered to have been the centre of the Earth.

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Delphi is an archaeological site in mainland Greece comprised of the well-preserved ruins of one of the most important cities in Ancient Greece. Archaeologists have found evidence that Delphi was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period and sites dating back to the Mycenaean Civilisation, but it was the Ancient Greek city which developed in Delphi which has left the biggest mark on the area.

Many of the sites at Delphi date back to the fifth century BC, although many have been reconstructed and some altered by the Romans. Many of the buildings also suffered from damage and destruction caused by fires and earthquakes. Nevertheless, walking through Delphi offers a fascinating insight into the lives of its former inhabitants.

Part of what made Delphi such an important city was its mythological and religious status. Ancient Greek mythology states that when the deity Zeus released two eagles to find the centre of the world, they met in Delphi. The name “Delphi” derives from the word “dolphin” as it was believed that this was where Apollo arrived on the back of a dolphin.

Today, Delphi reveals much of its past through incredible ruins, demonstrating a balance between religion, politics and leisure activities, particularly sports. Amongst these are the Temple of Apollo, believed to date back to the fourth century BC and once a central ceremonial site. This temple is believed to have been one of several that were built on the site, the previous ones having been destroyed by fires and earthquakes. This stood next to the Archive of the winners of the Pythian Games which were held at Delphi, burnt down in 373 BC, also known as the Chresmographeion. Other sporting sites, such as the Delphi gymnasium and the stadium are also visible and are very well preserved.

Possibly the best preserved site in Delphi is the fifth century Doric building of the Treasury of the Athenians, which is located along The Sacred Way, a central road of the religious area of the city. The Treasury of the Athenians held the trophies of sporting victories, although its exact purpose is still the subject of debate.

Perhaps Delphi’s most iconic site is the Tholos. Constructed in around 380 BC, this once circular building had six Doric columns, three of which stand today. The Tholos is actually located away from the rest of the main Delphi sites and, again, its exact purpose is unknown. The nearby Delphi Museum explores the history of the archeological site and houses many finds from its excavation. This famous site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.

Photo by Argenberg (cc)

Dendera

Dendera, near Luxor, contains the stunning Temple of Hathor and is a real gem amongst Ancient Egyptian ruins. Day-trips to the site run from many Luxor hotels.

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The Dendera complex lies approximately 50 miles north of Luxor and contains some of the best preserved and most accessible ancient Egyptian ruins to be found in Egypt, including temples, tombs and even a Christian chapel.

The most prominent site in the Dendera complex is the Ptolemaic-era Temple of Hathor. Dating back to the first century BC, Dendera’s Temple of Hathor was continually developed throughout the Ptolemaic and Roman eras and contains references to both Egyptian rulers and Roman Emperors – including Nero, Domitian & Trajan.

However, although the Temple of Hathor is a relatively late construction by Ancient Egyptian standards, the Dendera complex as a whole dates back much further and the current temple was built upon the remains of older strutures.

As well as the Temple of Hathor, other notable areas at Dendera include both Egyptian- and Roman-era birth houses, a chapel dedicated to the Egyptian deity Isis, the gateways of Domitian and Trajan and a late-Roman Empire period Christian basilica.

Many tourists will visit Dendera on a day trip from Luxor and, given that a number of tour companies offer this option from many Luxor hotels, this can be the most practical way to explore the Dendera complex and Temple of Hathor. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Egypt.

Photo by Sapphira (cc)

Djemila

The site of extensive Roman ruins of a former ancient military base, Djemila in Algeria is one of several ancient cities to have survived in North Africa.

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Djemila in Algeria is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a UNESCO-inscribed Ancient Roman settlement. Founded under the name Cuicil, it is thought that Djemila was first established between 96 and 98 AD under the Emperor Nerva and occupied until the fifth or sixth century.

Constructed amidst mountainous terrain, Djemila was built to fit in with its surroundings and, as it expanded in the second century, amassed an impressive set of buildings. Like Timgad, Djemila was probably the home of a military base.

Today, Djemila houses a wealth of Ancient Roman ruins such as those of the Arch of Caracalla, a well-preserved bath complex, temples such as the Temple of Venus Genitrix and the theatre built by Emperor Antoninus Pius. Djemila has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.

Photo by vaticanus (cc)

Dos Pilas

An ancient city of the Maya, Dos Pilas was a major centre which eventually succumbed to the ravages of warfare.

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Dos Pilas in northern Guatemala was an ancient capital city of the Maya civilisation. Twinned with nearby Aguateca, its powerful dynasty is thought to have derived from that of Tikal and to have thrived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. However, it was famously abandoned in the late eighth century amidst savage warfare and its important citizens are believed to have fled to Aguateca.

Today, Dos Pilas contains a reasonable set of ruins including a staircase which has carvings chronicling important historical events of the time, several pyramids, temples and a central plaza.

Photo by EvanManphis (cc)

Dougga

Once the thriving Numidian capital, Dougga is an impressive and well-preserved UNESCO-listed ancient city in Tunisia.

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Dougga (Thugga) in Tunisia is the location of the extremely well-preserved ruins of an ancient site inhabited by a series of cultures, notably the Numidians, the Punics, the ancient Greeks and the Romans.

Dougga boasts a series of impressive ruins amidst its seventy hectares, including a 3,500-seater theatre, an amphitheatre, temples such as those of Juno Caelestis and Saturn, public baths, a forum, a trifolium villa, two triumphal arches and the remains of a market.

Dougga has a variety of cultural influences, having been a thriving Numidian capital first established in the fifth century BC and later being incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC, as part of Julius Caesar’s annexation of eastern Numidia.

Therefore, whilst most of its existing remains date back to the second and third centuries AD, there are several sites that predate this period. In fact, even the layout of Dougga can be traced as having remained the same as it had been under the Numidian civilisation.

However, one of the oldest ruins at Dougga are those of a six-tiered Punic-Libyan Mausoleum thought to date back to the second or even third century BC.

The incredible state of preservation of Dougga combined with its mix of cultural influences led UNESCO to list it as a World Heritage site in 1997. Grand and full of fascinating sites, Dougga is one of Tunisia’s most interesting archaeological sites and features as one of our Top Tunisian Tourist Attractions.

Photo by David Holt London (cc)

Dura Europos

An important ancient city in Eastern Syria, Dura Europos was occupied by a series of civilisations, now represented by a series of well-preserved ruins.

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Dura Europos was a thriving ancient city in Eastern Syria occupied by a series of civilisations, now represented by well preserved ruins.

It was one of the successor states that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid Greeks, who founded Dura Europos in 300BC, locating it at the mid-point between their two capitals and overlooking the Euphrates River.

Over the centuries, Dura Europos developed from a caravan settlement into more of a commercial hub. In addition, time would also see this city taken over by a succession of peoples, first the Arsacid Parthians, then the Romans in around 160AD. Dura Europos was finally destroyed in 256AD, attacked by the Sasanid Persian Empire. In a remarkable discovery during the excavations the remains of Roman soldiers were found inside the underground siege tunnels which had been dug by Persian forces intent on undermining the walls.

Part of what made the archaeological discoveries at Dura Europos so impressive was not just their good state of preservation, but their intricate and ornate decorations including frescos and wall paintings. In fact, the site was so well conserved, some have taken to calling it the Syrian Desert’s answer to Pompeii. The majority of these fascinating finds are now on show in museums including the Louvre and the National Museum of Damascus.

Today, the impressive remains of Dura Europos illustrate its cultural and historical diversity. In addition to Greco-Roman ruins including temples, the site is home to the ruins of one of the world’s oldest known synagogues and what has been described as the earliest known church.

Visitors can explore the towering defensive walls and fortifications as well as evidence of the seigeworks which brought down the city. There are also great views to be had from the high cliffs above the Euphrates.

Photo by Jim Linwood (cc)

Durnovaria

Now the English town of Dorchester, Durnovaria contains the ruins of the ancient Roman city

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Durnovaria is the original Roman name for what is now the English town of Dorchester.

Though Dorchester is best known for its Thomas Hardy connections, it remains an interesting town in its own right, having a number of museums dealing with such diverse topics as dinosaurs, Tutenkhamun and military history.

The best Roman ruins in the town are the remains of a Roman townhouse dating from the 1st century CE located on Northernhay behind the Town Hall.

Photo by GOC53 (cc)

Dzibilchaltun

Dzibilchaltun in Mexico is an archaeological site housing the ruins of an ancient Maya settlement.

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Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan, Mexico is one of the earliest of the series of Maya settlements along the Puuc Route - a trail of the Maya sites in the Puuc region in Yucatan.

Thought to have been inhabited from around 500 BC, Dzibilchaltun – which is translated as “the site of stone writing” - is not as big as its counterpart, Uxmal, but does house several interesting buildings. In fact, in its heyday, Dzibilchaltun may have been vast and have even rivalled Uxmal in terms of its size, although comparatively little is left now.

One of the main sites at Dzibilchaltun is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. This holy building is also known as the Temple of the Sun, as it is perfectly located for viewing the equinox – this was almost certainly purposefully achieved by design and demonstrates the advanced nature of the Maya understanding of astronomy.

One great aspect which Dzibilchaltun has and which other Maya sites do not is its natural pool or “Cenote”. Excavations of this pool have uncovered many archaeological finds, but today it is most well-known for being a popular swimming venue.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) (cc)

Ek Balam

One of many ancient cities in Mexico, Ek Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula which contains some impressive ruins including a 100ft pyramid.

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Ek Balam or Ek’ Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins. Translated either as Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar, Ek Balam is surrounded by a low, stone wall, an unusual feature in Mayan cities. Within this area are several restored pyramids and large temples as well as a ball court.

Ek Balam also features five sacbe, white roads or causeways, leading from the central area. El Torre, the tower, is one of the largest of Mayan buildings. The site’s vast main pyramid rises to a height of almost 100 feet, making it a remarkable example of Maya engineering.

Photo by Veronique Debord (cc)

El Brujo

A Moche settlement inhabited between 100 and 700 AD, El Brujo is a lesser-known ancient city in Peru.

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El Brujo in Peru was a Moche (early Chimu) settlement inhabited between 100 and 700 AD. Now an archaeological site, the main features of El Brjuo are its three “huacas” or sacred pyramid temples.

The best preserved of El Brujo’s trio of temples, thought to have been sites of ceremonial significance, is Huaca Cao Viejo (also known as Huaca Blanca) . It is adorned with dramatic, colourful friezes showing various scenes ranging from everyday activities such as fishing to depictions of violence and particularly of human sacrifice. These friezes have led archaeologists to believe that El Brjuo was probably the site of the torture and execution of prisoners.

In 2004, archaeologists found the mummified hand of a woman thought to have been a leader of the Moche, a particularly interesting find given that the Moche were a male-dominated society. The advantage of El Brujo is that it is quieter than other, more popular archaeological sites in Peru.

Photo by Ixtla (cc)

El Tajin

El Tajin in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which was once a city of the Totonac people and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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El Tajin in the state of Veracruz in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which originally formed the capital city of the Totonac state. In fact, the name “Tajin” refers to the Totonac deity of thunder, lighting and rain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public, although much of it is yet to be excavated.

El Tajin was founded following the abandonment of the city of Teotihuacan. Built and inhabited from 800AD to 1200 AD, El Tajin was a thriving city of major ceremonial importance, a fact illustrated by the numerous Mesoamerican pyramids and other ceremonial structures still seen there today.

Despite the fact that it is thought to have been greatly damaged and subsequently abandoned following an attack by the Chichimecs in the thirteenth century, much of El Tajin is extremely well-preserved offering a great many things to see. Amongst the most famous attractions at El Tajin is the Pyramid of the Niches, an incredibly impressive six-stepped pyramid which would once have been crowned with a temple. Stone reliefs and friezes around the site offer an insight into the lives of those who lived in El Tajin.

A particular pastime for which the city was renowned in its time was ball games, as depicted in numerous reliefs. In an ominous twist, the reliefs also seem to show that these ball games were related to human sacrifices which took place at El Tajin.

El Tajin has an interesting, albeit small museum with explanations in English, Spanish and also – fittingly – in the Totonac language. A visit to the whole site lasts around 2 hours.

Photo by thebaldwin (cc)

Epidaurus

With a wealth of incredible ruins, Epidaurus is one of the best ancient cities of the world. Located on the Greek mainland it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Epidaurus was a major city in Ancient Greece famed as a centre for healing. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Epidaurus thrived as a sanctuary devoted to the healing deities including Apollo, Asklepios and Hygeia and contained hundreds of spas, the remains of many of which can be seen today.

The main sanctuary area, called the Asklepieion, contains two such spas where a variety of healing rituals took place, including hypnosis. This was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. There is also a shrine to Asklepios and the remains of rooms for patients. 

Probably the most impressive of the sites at Epidaurus is the fourth century BC theatre, which was built to accommodate approximately 15,000 people and still extremely well preserved.

Whilst most of the sites at Epidaurus were constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, when the city was at its peak, some of them date back as far as the Mycenaean period and others were also adapted later by the Romans. The theatre is one example of such refurbishments.

Overall, Epidaurus is an absolutely vast, fascinating site set over three levels and offering an insight into Ancient Greek life. There is also a nearby Epidaurus Museum, exhibiting artefacts from its excavation. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions in Greece.

Photo by Fabrice Terrasson (cc)

Glanum

An extensive archaeological site, Glanum is of a former Roman city near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Most of the site dates back to between the first and second centuries AD.

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Glanum was a thriving Ancient Roman settlement, the impressive remains of which can now be seen in an archaeological site near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Whilst there is some evidence to show that this site has been occupied since the first millennium BC, most of the sites at Glanum date back to between 20 BC and the second century AD, when it was under Roman rule.

The oldest main structure at Glanum is a sanctuary and fortification probably built in the sixth century BC. Found at the southern edge of the site, this would have predated the Roman settlement and is thought to have been dedicated to a deity known as Glanis.

The archaeological site at Glanum has both residential and monumental sections. Public baths and dwellings can be seen in the north of site with several ancient columns dotted around the area. However, it is two of its ancient monuments which form the star attractions at Glanum, namely its archway and its mausoleum known together as “Les Antiques”.

The arch is a well-preserved triumphal arch thought by some to have been constructed during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). It depicts the Roman victory over Gaul. Meanwhile the Mausoleum of Glanus, known as Mausolée des Jules and thought to date back to as early as 30 BC, is a remarkable 18 metre-high private family memorial resplendent with friezes and columns.

Photo by skuds (cc)

Gortyna

An interesting ancient city in Crete, Gortyna was the capital of Crete and Cyrene during the Roman era.

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Gortyna or “Gortyn” in Crete was an ancient settlement originally founded in approximately 3000 BC, during the Neolithic era. However, it was during the Roman era, from around the first to the fifth centuries AD, that Gortyna flourished, with a population of up to 100,000 people.

During the Roman period, Gortyna was the capital city of Crete and a number of important temples and buildings were built here, the remains of which can still be seen today. The Temple of Pythian Apollo is a particularly notable ruin, whose outline is identifiable as is its stepped altar.

Gortyna’s former prosperity is evident throughout this site, especially in the inscription of its Gortyn Law Code on the Odeon building, dating back to the sixth century BC and which is the longest of its kind.

Gortyna was also an important Christian site. The ruin of the seventh century Basilica of St Titus marks it as such and is a reminder of the rich history of this site. Destroyed by the Saracens in 824 AD, Gortyna is now an archaeological site.

Photo by Maarten Dirkse (cc)

Hattusha

A UNESCO heritage site, Hattusha holds the ruins of one of the capitals of the Hittite Empire and is one of many such ancient cities in the region.

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Hattusha (also known as Hattusa or Hattuşa) is one of Turkey’s great ruins of capitals of the Hittite Empire and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Hittite Empire reached its peak in the second millennium BC, most prominently in the thirteenth century BC, at which time much of Asia Minor was under their control. Existing at the same time as the Ancient Egyptian civillisation, evidence from Hattusha has shown a peace treaty having been signed between Hittite leader Hattushili III and Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (the Great).

Hattusha was founded in around 1600 BC and, despite the fact that it was conquered and mostly destroyed after 1200 BC, the remains of this great imperial capital are well preserved. From ornate gateways such as the Lion’s Gate, and temples to royal homes and ancient fortifications complete with underground passageways, there is much to see at Hattusha.

Much of the site was excavated by German archaeologists in 1906, a subject of some controversy in more recent times due to the non-return of a sphinx from the site (this can now be seen at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin).

The city is split into an upper and lower level, the latter containing the site of the Great Temple, one of the highlights of Hattusha and believed to have been dedicated to the deities of storms and the sun. Another highlight is the Yerkapi ramparts, a vast stone structure.

Not far from Hattusha, around 2km away, one can see the incredible Yazillkaya Sanctuary, a rock temple which still contains evidence of the artistry for which the city was renowned, including depictions of various deities and reliefs of humans and animals.

Photo by Historvius

Heraklea Linkestis

Heraklea Linkestis was an ancient Macedonian city, conquered by the Romans in the second century BC which then became an important Roman settlement.

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Heraklea Linkestis, also known as just Heraklea, is believed to have been founded by King Philip II of Macedon in around the fourth century BC, before being conquered by the Romans in approximately the second century BC.

Located along the important trade route of Via Egnatia, Heraklea Linkestis thrived as a commercial hub. Well-preserved remains of this once thriving settlement can now be seen at the site, including a theatre and baths as well as a Jewish temple and a church. One of the most celebrated aspects of Heraklea Linkestis is its series of vivid mosaics.

Photo by S J Pinkney (cc)

Herculaneum

An important stop on any Ancient city tours of Italy, Herculaneum was a Roman town which was destroyed along with Pompeii following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

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Herculaneum was a port town established by the ancient Romans in what is now modern Ercolano, Italy. At its peak, Herculaneum would have had around 4,000 citizens and served as a holiday town for wealthy Campanians and Romans.

Like nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum was engulfed by the lava and mud which spewed from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and, as a result, much of the town was preserved throughout the centuries. In fact, Herculaneum arguably withstood the natural disaster better than Pompeii with many of its upper floors still being intact. This, combined with the fact that Herculaneum is less crowded and easier to walk through makes it a great site to visit.

Even the streets of Herculaneum are fascinating, displaying the high degree of planning employed by the Romans. Some of the most stunning sites at Herculaneum include the thermal spas and baths, the gymnasium, the House with the Mosaic Atrium and the House of Neptune. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.

Photo by Chris. P (cc)

Hierapolis

One of many ancient cities in Turkey, Hierapolis was once a thriving, multicultural city and spa, the remains of which are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Hierapolis was once a thriving, multicultural ancient city and spa, the remains of which can now be seen in modern day Turkey.

It is said to have been founded by the rulers of Pergamum, the Attalid Dynasty, and is usually attributed to their King Eumenes II (197BC-159BC). However, it is thought by many that Hierapolis was actually in existence a couple of centuries earlier.

Whatever the case, part of what made - and still makes - Hierapolis such an attractive site were its hot springs, once thought to have had miraculous healing properties. Visitors would travel to Hierapolis to dip in them, something which visitors still do today.

Most of the ruins at Hierapolis date from the Roman period. The Romans occupied Hierapolis in 129AD and the city grew into something of a multicultural haven, with Romans, Jews, Greco-Macedonians and others living there side by side. Of course, Hierapolis was not a complete utopia. In fact, it is said that Philip the Apostle was crucified there and the city suffered from earthquakes, particularly in the first century AD.

There’s plenty to see at Hierapolis today, including its theatre, Hellenistic layout and streets, many standing columns, the nymphaeum and a large necropolis to name a few sites. As mentioned above, visitors can also take a dip in the hot springs, a unique experience.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Hierapolis is paired with the stunning natural site of Pamukkale, known as the Cotton Palace, which is nearby.

Photo by amiinsidemyself (cc)

Histria

Thought to be the oldest settlement in Romania, Histria was occupied by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines and is a relatively quiet ancient city to explore.

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Histria, close to the city of Constanta in Romania is an archaeological park housing ruins which date throughout Romania’s history. Histra was once a harbour, first occupied by the Ancient Greeks in 675 BC. Under the Greeks, it flourished into a centre of trade, specialising in ceramics, glass and metals. The earliest Romanian currency, the 8g silver Drachma, was first issued in Histria in circa 480 BC.

Over the centuries, Histria was invaded numerous times, including twice by the Romans and it served as both a Roman and Byzantine settlement. Only in the seventh century was Histria destroyed by enemy forces.

This rich yet turbulent history has endowed Histria with a wealth of sites and monuments such as temples to Aphrodite and Zeus as well as Roman baths. Visitors can walk around the site with relative freedom, looking at its fascinating collection of remaining walls, columns and structures.

Histria has an archaeological museum, housing a display of finds from the site ranging from jewellery and coins to tools and weapons.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) (cc)

Jerash

Containing some of the world’s best preserved Roman ruins, Jerash in Jordan was once a thriving Roman city and is one of the most fascinating ancient cities in the world. Definitely ranks highly on the list of ancient cities of the world.

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Jerash or Jarash, is one of the world’s best preserved ancient Roman sites. Once known as Gerasa, Jerash is believed to have been inhabited since the Neolithic Era. However, it is the impressive Roman city built in Jerash which has left its greatest mark on the area, becoming Jordan’s second most popular tourist site after Petra.

Jerash formed part of the Roman province of Syria following General Pompey’s conquest of the region in 64 BC. It later became one of the ten cities of the Decapolis league, flourishing and growing wealthier over two centuries of Roman rule. During this time, Jerash underwent several rounds of reconstruction, much of it occurring in the first century AD. One such occasion was in 129 AD, following a visit by the Emperor Hadrian. It was after this visit that Hadrian's Arch or the ‘Triumphal Arch’ was built, the ruins of which can still be seen in the southern part of Jerash outside the archeological park itself.

By the third century AD, Jerash had reached its peak as a thriving centre of trade with a population of up to 20,000 people. In fact, Jerash was even awarded the status of being a colony. However, this success was soon followed by Jerash’s slow downfall.

Several events over the next centuries, including the destruction of Palmyra in 273 AD, pillaging of its temples to build Christian churches under the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and the Muslim conquest of the region in the seventh century all contributed to the decline of Jerash. This was further exacerbated by an earthquake in 747 AD. In fact, notwithstanding a brief twelfth century occupation by Crusaders, Jerash had fallen and lay deserted by the thirteenth century.

Today, tourists flock to see Jerash’s extensive and impressive ruins, including the Temple of Artemis and the Forum with its large ionic columns. Jerash’s original main street, the Cardo, runs through the centre of the site and, with its visible chariot marks and underground drainage system, is fascinating in its own right.

Other must-see aspects of Jerash include its still-functioning 3,000 seat South Theatre built between 90-92AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian, its second century AD North Theatre and its Nymphaeum fountain. Visitors can also see many of the artifacts found during the excavation of this site at the Jerash Archeological Museum.

Photo by robertoliebig (cc)

Kabah

Inhabited from the 3rd century BC and abandoned circa 1200 AD, the ruins of the ancient city of Kabah are those of a Maya settlement in Yucatan, Mexico.

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Kabah was a Maya settlement and is now an archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan state. Inhabited from the third century BC and, like nearby Uxmal, abandoned in circa 1200 AD, Kabah was mostly constructed from the seventh century and added to in the ninth century.

It is thought that Kabah was linked to the site of Uxmal – indeed the two are connected by a road - and, whilst it does not boast the grandeur of this larger settlement, Kabah’s ruins are interesting in their own right.

One of Kabah’s most impressive sites is its Temple of the Masks, so called for its many depictions of the rain g-d, Chaac, who is also a central figure in Uxmal. Note that it is best to ask before considering climbing any of the monuments as many of the sites may not be walked on.

Photo by Shadowgate (cc)

Kamiros

Kamiros was an ancient city on the island of Rhodes, the ruins of which include an acropolis.

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Kamiros (Kameiros) was an ancient city on the island of Rhodes, the ruins of which include an acropolis. Excavations have revealed a long a diverse history at Kamiros including a temple to Athena dating to the 8th century BC.

Twice destroyed by earthquakes (in 226BC and 142BC), the main remains at Kamiros date to the Hellenistic period, although some Classical elements are also visible. The Hellenistic city was built on three levels with various buildings and monuments including an agora, a Doric fountain house, a reservoir and a stoa.

Located on Rhodes's north-western coast, the other side of the island from the more popular beaches, Kamiros is well worth a visit. It is easily accessible by car and less crowded than the better-known acropolis of Lindos. Unlike Lindos, the ancient city of Kamiros has not been overlaid by a modern town, so its geography remains visible to the visitor.

The acropolis commands fabulous views across the sea to the coast of Turkey, and below it is, reasonably well preserved, the remains of a town with all its ancient conveniences. If you have a car, and are prepared to explore the less touristy side of the island, you will see stunning countryside, including Rhodes's highest mountain, looming at over 1000m, and the Island's own wine producing region, Embonas.

Photo by Tanya.K. (cc)

Karnak Temple

Forming part of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, the Karnak Temple is a vast sacred Ancient Egyptian complex in Luxor.

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The Karnak Temple, or rather the complex of temples of Karnak, in Luxor, Egypt is one of the most impressive of Ancient Egyptian sites and once formed part of the city of Thebes.

Sprawling over two square kilometres, the site known as the Karnak Temple was built and expanded by a succession of pharaohs, from those of the Middle Kingdom (1965-1920 BC) to the Ptolemaic dynasty (305 BC to 30 BC). The result is an incredible maze of temples, sanctuaries, sphinxes, columns and pylons amidst other ancient buildings.

One of the most important and impressive sites at the Karnak Temple complex is the Temple of Amun-Ra, with its world famous Great Hypostyle Hall. Debate still continues as to whether this looming structure with its 69 foot columns was created by Amenhotep III or Seti I, although it was completed by Ramses II.

Vast and full of fascinating sites, Karnak Temple is one of Egypt’s most visited sites. Most people take a couple of hours at the Karnak Temple, but this is only really enough to scratch the surface of this ancient complex.

Together with the Luxor Temple and the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Egypt.

Photo by iambarr (cc)

Kasserine

Kasserine was an ancient Roman city known as Cillium, the remains of which can be seen today near the modern town of the same name.

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Kasserine, also known as Cillium, is a city in central Tunisia with several Ancient Roman monuments and ruins.

Founded in approximately the second century AD, Kasserine became a Roman colonia known as Colonia Cillilana or just Cillium.

Just west of the main city of Kasserine, visitors can see the remains of this city, including a large ancient theatre which is carved out of the hillside, a triumphal arch and several fallen columns.

Set slightly further away from the rest of the ancient ruins, and just off the main road, is the impressive Mausoleum of the Flavii, a huge looming three-story tower-mausoleum.

Cillium is a quiet site with few people making the effort to visit the remains, particularly given the proximity of better-preserved Roman sites, such as Sbeïtla, nearby.

Photo by karmadude (cc)

Khajuraho

Home of a number of stunning temples, famous for their erotic sculptures, Khajuraho was the ancient capital of the Chandela Dynasty.

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Once the capital city of the Chandela Dynasty, today Khajuraho is best known for its exceptional temples which are considered to be among the best examples of medieval Indian architecture.

The Khajuraho temples were largely constructed between 950AD and 1050AD and actually represent two separate religions, with some being Hindu temples while the others are Jain temples.

The temples are probably best known for their erotic art, however, this decoration is often shown out of context and in fact the decorative friezes depict all aspects of life both secular and spiritual.

The Chandela Dynasty ended with the coming of the Mughals; however, the relative isolation of Khajuraho meant that many of the temples escaped destruction.

Rediscovered in 1838 by British army captain TS Burt, he noted of the amorous decorations that: "The sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow a little warmer than there was any absolute necessity for his doing."

Of the 85 original Khajuraho temples, 22 survive today - these are split into three main groups. The western group of temples is best known and includes the famous Kandariya Mahadev temple as well as the granite Chaunsat Yogini temple. Other Khajuraho temples in the western group include Chitragupta, Vishwanath, Varaha, Matangeswara and Nandi.

An impressive and popular sound and light show takes place at the western temples in Hindi and English every night – the English show starts at 6.30pm while the Hindi show is at 7.40pm.

The remaining Khajuraho temples form the south and east groups and include important sites such as the temples of Parswanath, Adinatha, Vamana and Chaturbhuj.

The Khajuraho archaeological museum can be found near the western temples and contains artefacts, sculptures and friezes dating back to the 10th and 12th centuries.

Knossos

One of the most famous ancient cities in the world, Knossos is an archaeological site which was once the thriving heart of the Minoan civilisation.

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Knossos or ‘ko-no-so’ was an important ancient site found on the outskirts of the modern city of Heraklion in Crete. It is believed that Knossos was first established a place of settlement in Neolithic times in around 7000 BC and then continuously inhabited until the Ancient Roman period.

Knossos reached its peak in the period from the 19th to the 14th centuries BC, as the capital of the Minoan civillisation. It was at this time that the majority of its incredible buildings, the remains of which can be seen today, were constructed, although it suffered large-scale destruction sometime between 1500 and 450 BC. It was later populated by the Mycenaeans, experienced a resurgence in the Hellenistic period and was occupied by the Romans in 67 BC.

In addition to being a prosperous city, Knossos was also been the setting for many mythical stories, including those of the Minotaur, Ikaros and Daidalos.

Excavated and vastly reconstructed  in the nineteenth century by archaeologist Arthur Evans, Knossos has revealed a wealth of ancient treasures, not least of which are its many fascinating ruins. The most famous of these is the Knossos Palace, also known as the Labyrinth for its incredible maze of passageways and rooms.

Believed to date back to 2000 to 1350 BC, Knossos Palace is thought to have been the home of King Minos, an iconic monarch of the island of Crete who legend says was the son of the deities Europa and Zeus. The Palace of Knossos contains a myriad of rooms, including banqueting halls, religious shrines and even a throne room, all centred on a courtyard.

Other important buildings at Knossos include the 14th century BC Royal Villa with its pillar crypt, the Little Palace, believed to date back to the 17th century BC, the ornately decorated House of Frescos and the Villa of Dionysos, a 2nd century BC house from the Roman period.

The drainage system at Knossos is also fascinating in its own right, indicating an incredible level of sophistication.

The great thing about Knossos is that its reconstruction has meant that it's easy to identify the original use of each part of the site. However, it's best to take a guidebook, a map or even a guide if you want a better idea of the site as a whole, particularly as it is indeed a labyrinth. This site also features as one of our  top ten tourist attractions of Greece.

Photo by Historvius

Kourion

Kourion is an impressive ancient city in Cyprus containing mostly Roman and Byzantine ruins.

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Kourion, also known as Curium, is an impressive archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins.

In fact, it is believed that the site of Kourion was first inhabited during Neolithic times, with the earliest evidence dating back to 4500-3900 BC, but that the town itself was founded in the thirteenth century BC by the Argives.

Over the centuries, Kourion has played important roles in many regional conflicts. During the Cypriot uprising against Persia (fifth century BC), its king – Stasanor – betrayed his country, lending his support and troops to the Persians. However, Kourion later supported Alexander the Great’s fight against the Persians (fourth century BC).

Kourion continued to be inhabited throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, with the establishment of buildings, monuments and other structures from these times still visible today. Perhaps the most memorable site to be seen today at Kourion is its ancient theatre. Still intact and able to seat up to 3,500 spectators, the theatre at Kourion dates back to the second or third century AD, although there would have been a theatre here from the second century BC.

However, the theatre is definitely not the only thing to see at Kourion. The site includes the remains of a third century AD Roman market which includes some public baths and a Nymphaeum.

Several additional ancient buildings remain, including part of the fourth century AD House of Achilles - thought to have been a reception centre - with its mosaic floors and the third century AD House of the Gladiators, so named because some of its mosaics depict gladiatorial battles. The complex of Eustolios is another fascinating site, this having been an affluent fourth to fifth century private residence in Kourion and including a bathing complex.

Kourion also possesses evidence of early Christianity, both at the complex of Eustolios and by way of its early Christian basilica, a fifth century AD church at the site. Other sites of Kourion include the remains of a stadium and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. However, it is worth noting that these latter two sites are slightly separate from the rest of the archaeological park.

Photo by Olivier Bruchez (cc)

Labna

Labna is a Maya city in Yucatan, Mexico and part of what is known as the Puuc Trail.

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Labna is one of a series of former Maya settlements in Mexico’s Yucatan region and part of what is known as the Puuc Trail.

Like the city of Uxmal, with which it is linked, Labna’s structures, such as its palace and its archway, are beautifully ornate. However, unlike its counterpart, Labna is quite small and most people visit it as part as an overall tour of the sites in the area.

Photo by Ian W Scott (cc)

Laodikeia

Laodikeia was an Ancient Greek then Roman city, which now contains a set of ruins including a stadium and gymnasium.

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Laodikeia, also known as Laodicea, was an Ancient Greek then Roman city, which is now represented by a set of interesting ancient ruins.

Said by some to have been founded by Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid Kingdom in the third century BC, many of the buildings and monuments at the Laodikeia site date from the first century BC onwards. Laodikeia later became an important Roman city, continuing to be inhabited even after it was damaged by an earthquake in 60AD.

Among the ruins of Laodikeia are the remains of the ancient theatre, which would originally have held up to 20,000 spectators. A few of the other ruins which can still be seen include the stadium and gymnasium (both 79AD), a baths complex and a Temple of Zeus.

Photo by NH53 (cc)

Leptis Magna

One of the most important ancient cities in North Africa, Leptis Magna is now an impressive archaeological site near Tripoli.

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Leptis Magna (Lepcis Magna) is an incredibly well preserved archaeological site in Tripoli, Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians as the port of Lpgy in the first millennium BC, Leptis Magna later became part of the Carthaginian Empire and was then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC.

Most of the remaining structures now found at the site of Leptis Magna are indeed Roman and originate from the reign of Septimius Severus. Emperor of Rome from 193 AD, Severus was born in Leptis Magna and, as such, he invested heavily in developing his home city, transforming it into one of the most important of Africa’s Roman cities. Leptis Magna became a beautiful place and a marvel of Severan planning.

Among the many remains found in Severus' home city, the marketplace, Severan Basilica, the Forum, the Amphitheatre and the Severan Arch represent some of the best preserved Roman sites in the Mediterranean. These sites remain visible at the site despite the various invasions that befell Leptis Magna from the fourth century onwards, finally falling to the Hilalians in the eleventh century. Today, Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya.

Leukaspis

Founded in the second century BC, Leukaspis was a thriving Greco-Roman port and city. Today, it has been excavated as the Marina el-Alamein Archaeological Site.

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Leukaspis (Locassis) was a thriving Greco-Roman port and city founded in the second century BC and which grew to a population of 15,000 residents at its peak. Also known as Antiphrae, Leukaspis was a commercial hub of the Mediterranean olive, wine and wheat industries, conducting trade both inland and overseas.

In 365AD, Leukaspis was utterly devastated by a tsunami, an after effect of an earthquake in Crete.

Unfortunately, extensive development of the area around Leukaspis has meant that much of the former port has been lost. However, parts of Leukaspis have been carefully excavated and form the Marina el-Alamein Archaeological Site. 

Amongst the ruins at the Marina el-Alamein Archaeological Site are the remains of villas, baths, a theatre, a necropolis (burial site) and an agora (town square/marketplace). One of the main buildings to be seen is a basilica, which began as a public hall and then became a church following the rise of Christianity.

Photo by astique (cc)

Luxor Temple

Part of the ancient city of Thebes, the Luxor Temple is a vast Ancient Egyptian site which is UNESCO listed.

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The Luxor Temple in the city of Luxor, Egypt was once a sacred temple built in honour of the deity Amun.

Constructed in the 14th century BC by Amenhotep III, the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Luxor Temple was part of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes.

Today, together with the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of “Thebes and its Necropolis”. It is incredibly well-preserved and, with its statues of Ramesses II, it is clear that several pharaohs and other leaders added to it at later stages, including Tutankhamun and later even Alexander the Great.

From its Avenue of the Sphinxes to its looming archways and giant statues, the enormous Luxor Temple is a breathtaking site, indeed it ranks among our top ten tourist attractions to visit in Egypt.

Photo by Ian W Scott (cc)

Mamshit

One of a number of ancient Nabatean cities, Mamshit in Israel is the site of one of four UNESCO listed settlements which prospered as part of the Incense trading route.

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Mamshit was an ancient Nabatean city which formed part of the Incense Road, a trading route of various spices in the Mediterranean and south Arabia.

In fact, it is one of four such cities in the Negev Desert in Israel which form the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Incense Route. It is arguably the best preserved out of the four.

Founded in approximately the first century BC, Mamshit was later occupied by the Romans, after which its prosperity began to decline. In addition to a caravanserai and several large homes, Mamshit’s remains include a bathhouse, a market and many intact frescoes and mosaics.

Photo by Ken Lund (cc)

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park holds an incredibly well preserved and stunning collection of archaeological sites of the Native American Pueblo people dating back to 600 AD.

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Mesa Verde National Park or “green table” national park is a breathtaking Native American site dotted with over 4,000 archaeological treasures, including 600 exceptionally well preserved cliff dwellings dating back to 600 AD.

Mesa Verde National Park was once the home of the Pueblos, a Native American people who lived there for over 700 years before migrating to New Mexico and Arizona. Made of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde sprawl across the beautiful landscape, some built on the mesa tops.

Some of the sites, such as the Cliff Palace and Balcony House with its over 150 rooms can only be viewed as part of a ranger tour, for which you can buy tickets at Far View Visitor Center before attending the sites. It’s also well worth viewing the large collection of artifacts on display.

At over 52,000 acres, it would be easy to spend days exploring Mesa Verde National Park and in fact it takes two hours alone to drive into and out of the park. You should plan to spend at least four hours here, during which you should start at the Far View Visitors Centre, perhaps moving onto the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Spruce Tree House or to the Mesa Top Loop Road.

The National Park Service website contains a variety of itinerary suggestions for different timescales. There are plans to replace the Far View Visitor Centre with a new centre and research facility in the entrance to the park. It is also well worth looking up opening times as many of the attractions are seasonal. This site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in the United States.

Photo by Miia Ranta (cc)

Miletus

Miletus was once an important ancient Greek then Roman city, which still has an impressive theatre, but relatively few other remains.

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Miletus was an important ancient Greek then Roman city, which still boasts an impressive ancient theatre among its ruins.

With a history thought to date back as far as the 16th, perhaps even the 17th, century BC, Miletus eventually became a thriving hub from the 8th to 7th centuries BC until suffering significant destruction during its capture by the Persians in the 5th century BC. It was rebuilt on a new site after this and once again became an important centre.

During Alexander the Great’s campaign against the Persian Empire, in 334 BC, the Macedonian conqueror undertook a short siege of the city before its capture. Another great leader, Julius Caesar, also visited this city when, upon his release after being kidnapped by pirates in 75 BC, he headed to Miletus to raise a fleet to pursue his former captors, whom he swiftly defeated and executed.

In its heyday, Miletus was a magnificent city, renowned for its great philosophers. The city’s success was due in large part to its port, which eventually silted up, contributing greatly to its decline. Sadly, today’s ruins of Miletus are barely a shadow of its former glory.

The 15,000-seater Roman theatre is definitely the star attraction. One fascinating aspect of this theatre, other than its excellent state of preservation are the inscriptions which are said to reserve seating for certain groups, including one for "Jews and G-d fearers". This is said by some to show Miletus to be a tolerant, multicultural society. Make sure you explore the covered walkways within the theatre, which are great fun to wander through.

Though the site has suffered greatly through the centuries, there are a handful of other highlights to be found at Miletus. These include the small remains of a colonnaded covered walkway, the Baths of Faustina and a reasonably well preserved temple to Apollo.

Photo by Bruce Tuten (cc)

Mirobriga

Dating back to around the first century AD, Mirobriga was once a thriving Roman city, the ruins of which contain Portugal’s only surviving Hippodrome.

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Mirobriga was once a thriving Roman town, the ruins of which can now be seen in Portugal.

Believed to date back to the first century AD, the remains of Mirobriga are quite extensive, well preserved and include a forum and the country’s only surviving Hippodrome - once the site of fierce chariot races.

Just some of the things to see at Mirobriga are its sewerage system, impressive baths complexes and Roman bridge. There’s also a small visitor centre.

Photo by eduardo.robles (cc)

Mitla

An interesting entry on our ancient cities list and one of many ancient cities in Mexico, Mitla was a Zapotec religious centre later taken over by the Mixtecs in Oaxaca.

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Mitla was a Zapotec and later a Mixtec settlement in what is now the modern town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla in Oaxaca in Mexico.

Thought to have first been inhabited by the Zapotecs in around 600 BC, Mitla evolved into an important ceremonial centre. It was later taken over by the Mixtecs in approximately 1000 AD and was still a thriving city at the time the Spanish arrived.

Mitla’s archaeological ruins are dotted around the modern town and divided into five units. The Church Group, which is the one pinpointed on the map, is near the main entrance to the site and close to the sixteenth century Church of San Pedro. This is one of the better excavated parts of Mitla.

Beyond this group of sites are four others, namely the Adobe Group, the Arroyo Group, the South Group and the Columns group. The Columns Group is often called the Palace group for its series of palace buildings.

One of the most impressive aspects of Mitla is the way in which its structures are decorated. Each adorned with elaborate carvings, these works of art distinguish Mitla from other Zapotec and Mixtec sites. It is also unusual that most of the carvings at Mitla are abstract rather than of people or animals.

There is a small museum at Mitla which exhibits several finds from the site.

Photo by RussBowling (cc)

Monte Alban

Containing numerous pyramids, ornate palaces and elaborate tombs, Monte Alban is a remarkable UNESCO listed ancient city in Mexico.

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Monte Alban in Oaxaca in Mexico is an impressive ancient site created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it.

Monte Alban was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession of civilisations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs and, at its peak, had a population of around 25,000 people.

The earliest inhabitants of Monte Alban were the Olmecs, who are credited with the over 140 carved stones known as the monument of Los Danzantes, depicting mutilated figures. There has been much debate over what these figures represent. ‘Los Danzantes’ means dancers, but it has since been posited that these were actually war prisoners.

However, whilst Olmec contributions remain, most of the structures found at Monte Alban today were built by the Zapotecs, who are thought to have arrived between 800 BC and 500 BC. Construction continued over the centuries and was later influenced by the culture of Teotihuacan.

Monte Alban is characterised by over 2,200 terraces as well as numerous pyramid structures, large staircases, ornate palaces, elaborate tombs and even a ball court known as Juego de Pelota, mostly arranged on its “Grand Plaza”. The ball court is very well-preserved, made up of two facing stepped platforms with the playing field in the centre. The ball games played were ritualistic and often ended in the death of the losers.

In approximately 800 AD, the Zapotecs were threatened by the Mixtecs and fortified Monte Alban before being driven out. The Mixtecs took over the site and, in around 1400 AD, started burying their leaders in the Zapotec tombs. Whilst many of these ornately decorated tombs were looted, vast riches were found in one particular tomb – Tomb 7 – which can now been seen at Museo Regional de Oaxaca. Some tombs are open to visitors, although this is sporadic.

Today, Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small on-site museum showing some of the finds from excavations of Monte Alban. Monte Alban features as one of our Top Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by *clairity* (cc)

Mycenae

Mycenae is a famous Ancient Greek archaeological site in the Peloponnese which formed the centre of the Mycenaean civilisation and was once ruled by the famous King Agamemnon.

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Mycenae is an important archaeological site in Greece which was once the city at the centre of the Mycenaean civilisation of between 1600BC and 1100BC.

Believed to have been inhabited since Neolithic times, Mycenae flourished into a fortified city and was ruled at one time by the famous King Agamemnon.

At its peak, Mycenae was one of the most important Ancient Greek cities and is linked to several works of cultural significance, including the Odyssey and the Iliad. Today, Mycenae contains several well-preserved sites, including the Lion’s Gate and the North Gate, which form parts of its fortified walls and which once stood 18 metres high and 6 to 8 metres thick.

A few other dwellings can also be seen at Mycenae, together with a granary and some guard rooms. Other important structures include Mycenae’s Terraced Palace, which was abandoned in the twelfth century, the religious structures which comprise several shrines and temples and the grave sites, which date back throughout Mycenae’s history.

The most impressive of the burial sites and arguably the most remarkable of Mycenae’s sites is the Tomb of Agamemnon, also known as the Treasury of Atreus. This once elaborate thirteenth century tomb is carved into Mycenae’s hills. This fascinating site also features as one of our top ten tourist attractions of Greece.

Nea Pafos

Nea Pafos is the site of an ancient city near Paphos which served as the capital of Cyprus from the 4th century BC.

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Nea Pafos is an archaeological site near Paphos Harbour in Cyprus housing the remains of what was once the capital of the island. Founded in the fourth century BC by Nikokles, the last king of nearby Palaipafos, Nea Pafos then went from strength to strength, particularly under the Ptolemaic kingdom from the third century BC.

One of the main remnants of the earliest stages of Nea Paphos – albeit with changes made to it over the centuries - is its ancient theatre, probably built around the time that the city was founded. This was in use until the fifth century AD.

However, the most famous sites at Nea Pafos are its Ancient Roman villas, mostly dating to the second century AD. Amongst them are the House of Dionysos, the House of Orpheus and the Villa of Theseus, all of which have impressive mosaics depicting mythological scenes. There are also the remaining foundations of an Agora.

The Byzantine and medieval stages of Nea Paphos are represented by other sites such as the initially fourth century AD Basilica of Chrysopolitissa, later altered and added to in the sixth, twelfth and sixteenth centuries.

Also of interest is the Castle of Forty Columns, a Byzantine fortification known locally as “Saranda Kolones”. Constructed in the seventh century AD, this castle is known – and named after - the many granite columns which still remain there today.

Nora Archaeological Site

One of the more obscure cities of the ancient world, the Nora Archaeological Site in Sardinia contains Phoenician and Roman ruins.

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The Nora Archaeological Site in Sardinia contains mostly Ancient Roman ruins, but was founded in at least the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians. Some Phoenician ruins can be seen, including a temple and some fortifications.

Prior to Phoenician settlement, Nora may have even previously been a nuraghi site (the people of Sardinia credited with building hundreds of defensive structures). Conquered at one time by the Carthaginians, Nora became a Roman settlement in the third century BC.

Amongst the finds at the Nora Archaeological Site are a Roman theatre, a series of mosaics, baths complexes and numerous other structures.

Novae

Once a Roman town and military camp, the ruins of Novae are found in modern day Bulgaria. One of the more obscure entries among the list of ancient cities of the world.

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Novae, also known as Nove, was a Roman town and military camp and the headquarters of the 8th Augustan Legion, the ruins of which are now found in Bulgaria .

Established in around 45AD, at its peak, Novae was of vital strategic importance for guarding from eastern attacks and grew to a size of around 27 hectares.

Sadly, relatively little remains of Novae today and the scant ruins of this settlement can be seen near Svishtov. There is a visitor centre at the site, housing excavated finds such as coins and statues and explaining the history of Roman Novae.

Photo by Erik Daniel Drost (cc)

Olympia

One of the most famous of all ancient cities, Olympia was the Ancient Greek centre from which the Olympic Games originate and is now an important archaeological site.

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Olympia was a vibrant Ancient Greek city. It is believed that the site of Olympia was inhabited from 3000 BC, however it was after the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation that the city began to flourish and, by 900 BC it was already considered an important religious site.

The Olympic Games
In 776 BC the first Olympic Games were held in the city in honour of the Greek deity, Zeus. The games at Olympia were a national event and attracted participants and spectators from around the country, raising Olympia’s status. They would continue until 394 AD when  Roman Emperor Theodosius I, seeing them as a "pagan cult", put them to an end.

Olympia’s Growth
Over time, the city began to develop and grow. Today the result of this gradual growth can be seen at Olympia through sites such as the Treasuries, the Temple of Hera, both of religious importance and contained in the sacred precinct known as the Altis and the Pelopion, the supposed tomb of the mythical Pelops. These were built in around 600BC.

Even the stadium in which the Olympic Games were played was upgraded, a purpose built area being built in around 560 BC and able to seat approximately 50,000 people. The remains of this impressive stadium are still visible today.

Classical Period
Olympia reached its peak during the classical period and it was at this time that many of the other sites which can be seen there now were built, most notably the Temple of Zeus. This was a vast religious structure the ruins of which were located in the Altis area.

The Temple of Zeus was later entirely destroyed, first by fire and then in an earthquake. Archaeologists were however able to excavate several sculptures and artefacts believed to have originated from the building, which are now on show at the nearby Olympia Archaeological Museum.

Hellenistic Period
Other impressive sites at Olympia were built later during the Hellenistic Period. These include the remains of the fourth century BC Philippeion memorial to the family of Alexander the Great and the Leonidaion. There are also several other impressive sites, many of them built during the Roman period.

Olympia is well signposted, making it easy to tour the site and understand how it might have looked in its heyday. If you want to know more about Olympia, you can visit the Olympia Archaeological Museum.

Photo by Historvius

Paestum

Containing the amazing remains of three ancient Greek temples, Paestum is a Greco-Roman site located south of Naples.

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Paestum is a Greco-Roman site located south of Naples which contains the stunning remains of three ancient Greek temples which still stand tall today.

Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC, Paestum was originally known as Poseidonia, named for the Greek god Poseidon. The city was captured by the Romans in 273BC after the Pyrrhic Wars and became the thriving Roman settlement of Paestum.

However, the changing climate and political upheavals of the later Roman Empire saw Paestum begin to decline in the early medieval period and by the turn of the millennium the site had been abandoned – it was not rediscovered until the 18th century.

Today, visitors to Paestum can still see the spectacular temples – the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Neptune and the Temple of Ceres (thought by some to be a temple of Athena).

The site also contains impressive defensive walls, a Roman forum, the basic remains of a Roman amphitheatre and a number of ancient tombs. Paestum also boasts an early Christian church and Paestum Museum, which has a wealth of information about the local sites. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.

Palaipafos

A must for any ancient city tour in Cyprus, Palaipafos contains ruins dating back as far as the Late Bronze Age as well as the famous Sanctuary of Aphrodite.

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Palaipafos, also known as Palaepaphos, is an archaeological site near Kouklia village, Paphos, in Cyprus linked to the ancient cult of the “Great Goddess” of fertility. The oldest and most revered site at Palaipafos is the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, built by the Mycenaeans in circa 1200BC, around the time at which they settled in Cyprus.

Palaipafos remained a centre of religion and culture until the 4th century BC, when its last king, Nikokles, moved the capital to nearby Nea Paphos. Under the Romans, Palaipafos again became a focal point for culture and religion, then known as “Koinon Kyprion”.

The sites at Palaipafos come from a mix of historic periods including from the Late Bronze Age and Ancient Rome. There are the ruins of the second century AD Roman House of Leda, so named because its mosaics (housed at the Kouklia Museum) depict a scene from the tale of Leda and the Swan, remains of the ancient fortifications of Palaipafos, which were originally built in the eighth century BC and some ruins of a fifth century BC building, probably the palace of the Persian governor of Palaipafos, Hadji Abdulla.

There are also remnants of the medieval period of the history of Palaipafos, including the Church of Panagia Katholiki (circa 12th-13th century AD) and the Lusignian Manor House, built as an administrative centre in the thirteenth century.

Photo by Historvius

Palenque

One of the most intriguing historic cities in Mexico, Palenque is a UNESCO listed Maya archaeological site which thrived between 500 and 700 AD.

DID YOU KNOW?

Palenque in Mexico is an important Maya archaeological site located just outside the modern city by the same name. It is thought that Palenque was first inhabited in around 100BC and excavations have uncovered writings about a king who ruled there in the fifth century AD, however the city was attacked several times by the inhabitants of neighbouring cities.

Pakal the Great
It was from the seventh century AD that Palenque began to develop once more under the rule of Pakal the Great (sometimes spelt “Pacal”). During his reign between 615 and 683 AD, Pakal built many of Palenque’s most impressive structures and they are often considered to be some of the most important pieces of Maya architecture. Pakal’s works were continued by his son, Kan B’alam.

Abandonment of Palenque
In approximately 711 AD, Palenque was attacked once more and, by 900 AD it was deserted. Having been discovered in the sixteenth century, Palenque is now a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small, but interesting museum, exhibiting finds from the excavation of Palenque and giving an overview of its history.

Sites
Some of the most fascinating sites in Palenque include Pakal’s tomb, known as the Temple of the Inscriptions or “Templo de las Inscripciones”, the Palace (El Palacio) and several other temples, such as the Temple of the Sun (Los Templo del Sol) and the Temple of the Cross (Los Templo de la Cruz). Many of these temples centre off Palenque’s central plaza, a marvel in its own right as it was built over the river, requiring advanced engineering mechanisms.

Each of the structures in Palenque is ornate and lavishly decorated, bearing inscriptions chronicling the history of the city, which was probably the capital of the region. In fact, Palenque has the honour of having one of the best Maya inscriptions ever found, located in the Temple of the Inscriptions and telling the story of Palenque.

Palenque  features as one of our Top Ten Mexican Tourist Attractions.

Pasargadae

Pasargadae was the first capital of the once mighty Persian Empire, the ruins of which are located in modern Iran and are UNESCO-listed.

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Pasargadae was the capital of the Persian Empire from the sixth century BC until it was conquered by the Macedonians led by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Now a town in Iran, Pasargadae was established by the first ruler of the Achaemenid Dynasty, Cyrus the Great.

Amongst the sites still visible at Pasargadae, which is a UNESCO World Heritage historical site, are several palaces – including the Presidential Palace - making up a royal complex and a fortress known as the Tall-e Takht.

Most of these structures were built in the sixth century BC under Cyrus the Great and expanded and renovated over the years. King Cyrus’ successor, Cambyses, carried out some of these works, as did Darius the Great.

The Tomb of Cyrus the Great can also still be seen nearby.

Pella

Famous as being the birthplace of Alexander the Great, Pella in Greece was the capital of ancient Macedonia.

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Pella, near a small town in Greece by the same name, is an archaeological site which was once the thriving capital of ancient Macedonia.

Established by King Amyntas III at the end of the fifth, beginning of the fourth century BC, Pella took over this role from the former capital, Aigai.

As well as being a cultural and commercial hub, Pella was also a place of great historical significance, it being the birthplace of Alexander the Great. By the time of its peak, from the late fourth to second century BC, Pella would have been brimming with public, religious and commercial buildings as well as monuments and homes all carefully organised according to Hippodamian urban planning principles.

The Romans captured Pella in around 168 to 167 BC and it was incorporated into the Empire’s third regio. Thus began the decline of Pella’s political importance, quickened by the selection of Thessaloniki as the new capital of Roman Macedonia in 148 BC and finalised by an earthquake which destroyed it in the first century BC.

Whilst excavations have uncovered an archaeological site of over four square kilometers, little of this is open to the public. Nevertheless, visitors can see several sites at Pella, including a series of remains of houses, mostly dating back to the Hellenistic period and the marketplace or "agora". There is also a museum housing artifacts from the site.

Pergamum

Pergamum was an important ancient Greek and Roman city, home to famous sites such as its Asclepion, theatre and library.

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Pergamum, which is also spelt Pergamon, is a famous archaeological site in Turkey which developed under the Attalid dynasty following the death of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander died, one of his generals, Lysimachus, took control of the region. When Lysimachus died in 281BC, Pergamum and the surrounding area fell into the hands of the man he had charged with protecting it, Philetarus.

Through a series of successions, Pergamum fell under the rule of Attalus I and then his son Eumenes II. Both of these kings were part of the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty and it was during this time that the majority of Pergamum’s most celebrated buildings and monuments were constructed, especially under Eumenes II (197-159 BC). Pergamum thrived, becoming the centre of the Pergamese kingdom.

In 129 BC, Pergamum became part of the Roman Empire, accounting for the presence of Roman artwork and temples, and later became part of the Byzantine Empire. It remained an important city (later a metropolis) throughout both of these periods. Indeed, Julius Caesar himself once visited the city and it was here that Caesar imprisoned and executed the very pirates who had kidnapped him in 75 BC, after he had hunted them down following his release.

The historic ruins of Pergamum are split into three main areas. In the Acropolis, one can find sites such as its library, gymnasium, very steep theatre and arsenal as well as the Roman Temple of Trajan. This was also once the site of the incredible Altar of Pergamum, now controversially located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Now only its base remains at Pergamum.

The other two areas of Pergamum are its lower city and its stunning health centre or Asclepion, where a variety of treatments were offered, such as mud baths.

Pergamum has a small archaeological museum, with some of the finds excavated from the site.

Photo by pavdw (cc)

Perge

Perge in Turkey is an archaeological site which contains mostly Roman ruins, but has a history dating back to Ancient Greece.

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The ancient city of Perge near Antalya in Turkey is now an impressive archaeological site containing a wealth of ancient ruins, mostly dating back to the Roman period, though the city itself has a history dating back well into antiquity.

The current city is said to have been founded in circa 1000BC, though settlements may well have existed here earlier; in fact Perge was mentioned in a Hittite tablet discovered in 1986. Though the early history of Perge is more obscure, it is known that the site was captured by the Persians and then later by the armies of Alexander the Great in around 333BC. It then became part of the Seleucid Kingdom.

The Romans arrived in Perge in approximately 188BC and built most of the sites seen there now, including its once 15,000-seat theatre, the agora, gymnasium, baths and necropolis.  During its time under Rome's control the city went on to become an important Roman city and later Byzantine centre. During this period Perge underwent what would probably be its golden age, with a wealth of new public and private buildings and monuments being constructed. Indeed, in the later Roman period Perge became an important Christian city and it is believed that Saint Paul spent time here. During and after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the city was subjected to a number of attacks and was abandoned during this time.

Today, though Perge may not be as well-known as many ancient Roman cities, there is plenty to see and it’s not far from the popular resort of Antalya. Among the ruins visitors can explore the wonderful colonnaded main streets, the ancient theatre and the 12,000 seat Roman stadium. Also found at the site are the remains of Roman baths, the city’s imposing gates and a number of other ruins, including the impressive 2nd century AD Nymphaeum.

In addition, many of the statues and other finds excavated at Perge can now be found in the Antalya Museum.

Perperikon

One of the lesser-known ancient cities in Europe, Perperikon in Bulgaria was an important Thracian sanctuary turned Roman town and medieval fortress.

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Perperikon was an important Thracian holy sanctuary which became a Roman town around the first century BC and was later the site of a medieval fortress.

Inhabited since 5000BC, Perperikon became home to the Temple of Dionysus, legendary for being the place of great prophecies. One of the most famous of these involved Alexander the Great, who was told that he would conquer the world in 334BC, prior to his invasion of Persia.

In a later continuation of the theme, Gaius Octavius - father of the Emperor Augustus - is also said to have consulted the oracle in 59BC, and was told his son would rule the world.

Whilst it was the Thracians who built the sanctuary, it was preserved and expanded under the Romans, who developed Perperikon into a larger settlement with an acropolis and even notable palaces. The remains of these structures have been excavated and can still be explored today.

Destroyed by the Goths in the fourth century AD, Perperikon experienced a resurgence in the sixth century under Emperor Justinian. At this time, the town's defensive elements were reinforced. Perperikon would continue to be an important site over the centuries, with further temples and Christian churches built there. It was also a medieval military stronghold, particularly in the thirteenth century.

Today, visitors can wander through historic Perperikon to see its fascinating ancient ruins including the remains of important public buildings, houses, stairways, altars, tombs and walls.

Perperikon features as one of our top ten Bulgarian Visitor Attractions.

Persepolis

One of the most famous cities of the ancient world, Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Empire and today contains the ruins of many ancient buildings and monuments.

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Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid era. Founded by Darius I around 515BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings.

Persepolis remained the centre of Persian power until the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great. The Macedonian conqueror captured Persepolis in 330BC and some months later his troops destroyed much of the city. Famously, the great palace of Xerxes was set alight with the subsequent fire burning vast swathes of the city.

Persepolis does not seem to have recovered from this devastation and the city gradually declined in prestige, never again becoming a major seat of power.

Today the imposing remains of Persepolis stand in modern-day Iran and the site is also known as Takht-e Jamshid. Located roughly 50 miles northeast of Shiraz, the ruins of Persepolis contain the remains of many ancient buildings and monuments. These include The Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace, The Throne Hall, Tachara palace, Hadish palace, The Council Hall, and The Tryplion Hall.

Persepolis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.

Photo by Historvius

Petra

One of the most recognisable of all ancient cities, Petra is a UNESCO-listed Nabataean city which later formed part of the Roman Empire. Lost to the ages, it was a secret to all but the Bedouins until 1812.

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Petra is an iconic ancient site in southern Jordan. A secret to all but the Bedouins until 1812, Petra’s incredible monuments are now considered to be one of the wonders of the world.

Petra was established by the once nomadic Kingdom of the Nabataeans. Carving a city out of the sandstone rocks and cliffs, the Nabataeans settled and made Petra into their capital. The Nabataeans chose this site carefully, selecting a place which was located along the paths of numerous strategic caravan trails.

It is unknown when Petra was first founded, but it was inhabited from prehistoric times and fully established by the fourth century BC, by which time it had achieved fame as an incredible feat of architecture. In 312 BC, Petra was attacked in by Antigonus I Monophthalmos, who had once been a general of Alexander the Great, although he failed to capture it.

Petra continued to thrive under the Nabataeans, growing into a centre of trade with around 300,000 citizens and becoming extremely prosperous. It managed to resist numerous invasions and conquests, including by the Hasmonean Jewish Commonwealth and by the Romans. However, in 106 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan, Petra lost its independence as it was absorbed into the Roman Arabian territory.

Petra maintained its status as an important trading centre throughout its time under the Roman Empire. It was only as the empire fell and following a series of earthquakes that Petra declined, at one point being a Crusader stronghold, but eventually forgotten.

Today, visitors to Petra cannot help but be inspired by its incredible remains. Intricate temples and tombs emerge from rocks and cliffs together with later additions from the Roman era and even a Byzantine church resplendent with mosaics. Other Roman remains include the tomb of the Roman governor Sextius Florentinus, the remains of a Roman palace and the remains of the main colonnaded road.

However, it is Petra’s most impressive and well-preserved monument, The Treasury, which is the first site to greet most visitors. Comprised of an elaborate façade hewn into the rock, The Treasury is thought to date back to the first century BC although its actual purpose is unknown (it may have been a temple, perhaps a tomb).

If the façade of Petra’s Treasury looks familiar, this might be because of its prominent appearance in the film ’Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. Sadly, the inside of this monument does not meet the expectations created by its exterior – it is in fact remarkably bare.

There are several other sites to see along the way including Petra’s theatre and an array of rock-carved tombs. Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is well served by the Jordanian tourist industry.

Pollentia

Pollentia is an Ancient Roman site in Alcudia in Majorca which includes the partial remains of the Forum and theatre.

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Pollentia is an archaeological site in Alcudia, Majorca housing the remains of an Ancient Roman city.

It is thought that the Romans established Pollentia in either the first or second century BC and that the city was thriving by the second century AD.

Sadly, Pollentia has been the subject of significant looting over the centuries, but there are still several monuments to see. The most significant of these is Pollentia’s first century AD Roman Theatre. This is Spain’s smallest surviving Ancient Roman theatre and would have held around 2,000 spectators. It is still used for shows today.

Visitors can also make out the foundations of the forum of Pollentia including some temples and shops.

Photo by Perrimoon (cc)

Pompeii

Perhaps the first name on any tour of ancient cities, Pompeii was famously destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, leaving incredibly well-preserved ruins which are now a hugely popular tourist destination.

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One of the best known ancient sites in the world, Pompeii was an ancient Roman city founded in the 6th to 7th century BC and famously destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The people of Pompeii were completely unprepared for this disaster and its impact, which covered Pompeii in 6-7 metres of ash.

Today, Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archeological sites. It is a ghost town filled with the bodies of its tragic citizens, many of whom died from asphyxiation and who were preserved by the ash and cinders which buried them.

The most intriguing aspect of Pompeii and what makes it such a popular site to visit is the extent to which its homes, buildings and artifacts have remained intact. Essentially, walking through Pompeii is treading in the footsteps of ancient Roman life, with its houses, shops, walkways, pedestrian stones and carriage tracks.

Amongst Pompeii’s most interesting sites are; the public marketplace or ’Forum’, a large home known as the House of the Vettii and the Basilica, which was a central building in the city. The artifacts found at the site are also fascinating, with many domestic objects and even the preserved bodies of people who perished in the eruption.

Pompeii Amphitheatre is also staggeringly impressive, it being a 20,000 seat structure and the first ever stone amphitheatre. In 59AD, the Emperor Nero banned games in this sports venue for a whole ten years, after a giant brawl between fans of Pompeii and those of neighbouring Nuceria.

Pompeii is quite a maze, so ensure you have a map, available for free at information desk at the entrance, where you can also buy audio guides. During the summer, the Pompeii Archeological Superintendence organises evening tours. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.

Priene

A picturesque ancient Greek city in Turkey, Priene boasts some amazing ancient remains without the crowds of other nearby sites.

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Priene is an ancient Greek city which lies between the popular holiday resorts of Kusadasi and Bodrum.

It is one of many important ancient sites in the area and is close to both Miletus and Ephesus. However, though smaller than other nearby historical attractions, the real charm of Priene lies in its quiet appeal and off-the-beaten-track atmosphere.

The original origins of Priene are unknown, though legend dates the city’s founding to Athenian settlers in the 11th or 10th centuries BC.

Although Priene itself may have never been a major power, it’s location in the heart of a region that constantly witnessed the clashes of empires ensured it saw an almost continual flow of conquerors, occupiers and ‘liberators’.

Originally an ally of Athens, Priene was conquered by the Lydians and then by the Persians in the 6th century BC. The city fought in the ill-feted Ionian Revolt against Darius (which would eventually lead to the Persian invasion of Greece and their defeat at Marathon) and, to punish the rebels, Priene was devastated. This destruction prompted one of many re-locations of the city that took place over the centuries, and the new Priene was founded in around 350 BC.

Built on a steep hillside to an innovative grid-pattern design, Priene was a more ordered construct than many contemporary ancient settlements. However, this new incarnation of Priene did not have to wait long for the next regime change, with Alexander the Great conquering the region in around 334 BC. In fact, Alexander himself dedicated a temple to Athena, the remains of which can still be seen at Priene today. A stone inscription recording this event can be found in the British Museum.

Further rule by the Seleucids and Pergamon followed, before Priene was incorporated into the Roman Republic and Empire. The city suffered during the invasions of King Mithridates of Pontus in the first century BC but recovered to prosper in the early Imperial period under the Emperor Augustus.

In the Byzantine era Priene became the seat of the local Bishop and an important local Christian centre. However, after the Muslim conquest, Priene began a gradual decline which, combined with the slow silting of the coast and harbour led to the eventual abandonment of the city.

Today the ruins of Priene are located next to the modern village of Güllübahçe near the town of Söke. The site remains relatively free of tourists, though several tour companies offer trips from local resorts.

Visitors to Priene can view the Temple of Athena, the ancient theatre and the well preserved council chamber (Bouleuterion). Also found at the site are the remains of Roman baths and gymnasiums, the ruins of an ancient Synagogue and the ‘House of Alexander the Great’ - where it is reported that the young conqueror stayed during his siege of Miletus in 334 BC.

As well as these historic sites, visitors to Priene can simply wander the side streets and houses of this Hellenistic city to explore the ruins in peace and quiet.
 

Qatna Archaeological Park

Qatna Archaeological Park houses the ruins of what was the thriving ancient Mesopotamian city of Qatna.

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Qatna Archaeological Park in Tell Mishrifeh in Syria houses the ruins of what was the thriving ancient Mesopotamian city of Qatna.

Known to have first been occupied in the third millennium BC, Qatna’s location on an important commercial and political crossroad connecting it to both the Mitanni empire and the ancient Egyptians allowed it to flourish. In fact, in the period between 1600BC and 1200BC, in the Late Bronze Age, it grew to become a local kingdom.

This period heralded a great deal of construction, including the building of Qatna’s acropolis. However, much of this is still being excavated so is inaccessible to tourists. One significant part of Qatna Archaeological Park which is now open is an area of the Royal Palace. Constructed from 1650BC to 1550BC and with over eighty rooms on one level alone, Qatna Royal Palace would have been an impressive sight, but was devastated during the Hittite conquest of Syria in 1340BC.

Quirigua Archaeological Park

Quirigua Archaeological Park is a former Maya settlement and is now a small, yet important UNESCO listed site in Guatemala.

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Quirigua Archaeological Park in Izabel, Guatemala is an historic site housing the remains of a Maya settlement.

Whilst thought to have been inhabited from 200 AD, most of the structures at Quirigua date back to the mid-sixth century AD and include numerous carved stone objects and structures, such as an acropolis and a pyramid temple, centred on three main plazas.

Quirigua was an initially relatively small city and certainly smaller than its counterpart Copan in what is now Honduras. However, in the eighth century the ruler of Quirigua, Cauac Sky (723–784 AD) was determined to be independent and achieved this when he captured the leader of Copan. Quirigua was thereby autonomous and the capital of its state and, with plentiful resources such as obsidian and jade, was a prosperous society.

One aspect for which Quirigua is famed is for its collection of stelae, each elaborately carved and one of which, at 36 feet high, is the tallest one of its kind in the world (although only two thirds of it protrudes above ground). Quirigua’s artwork also includes a series of pictures of human-animal hybrids known as “zoomorphs”.

The city was abandoned in around the tenth century, although the reason for this remains a mystery.

Quirigua Archaeological Park is smaller and arguably less flashy or tourist-appropriate than sites such as Copan or Tikal, but it is of great historical importance. In 1981, Quirigua achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.

Photo by Historvius

Sabratha

A picturesque ancient city on Libya’s coast, Sabratha contains some excellent Roman ruins.

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Once a thriving Roman city, the impressive ruins of Sabratha lie approximately fifty miles west of Triopli, alongside the modern town of the same name.

Remarkably picturesque, the ruins of Sabratha look out across the Mediterranean and give modern visitors an insight into why this location served the ancient trading routes so well.

Much like Leptis Magna, Sabratha itself was a Roman conquest rather than a Roman creation, starting life as a Phoenician city before becoming part of the Numidian Kingdom and eventually falling under Roman control. The city flourished throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries before a series of elements combined to cause its decline and eventual abandonment. A devastating earthquake struck Sabratha in the late 4th century (likely to have been around 365 AD) while the city suffered during the Vandal invasions and Byzantine Reconquest.

Much of what can be seen at Sabratha today was partially or wholly reconstructed by the Italians in the early 20th century – particularly under Mussolini who gave speeches from the ancient theatre.

Today, visitors can explore an impressive set of ruins, including the three-storey theatre, several temples and the remarkable remains of luxury Roman villas, which boast well preserved mosaics. Also found at Sabratha is the Byzantine-era Basilica of Justinian.

A good place to start your exploration is at the museum, which contains background information, exhibits and artefacts.

Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya.

Sagalassos

Sagalassos is an active archaeological site in southwest Turkey which contains mostly Hellenistic and Ancient Roman ruins, some of them very well preserved.

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Sagalassos is an active archaeological site in southwest Turkey which contains mostly Hellenistic and Ancient Roman historic ruins, some of them very well preserved.

In particular, the Fountain of Antoninler at Sagalassos still has its pretty facade. There are also the remains of a 9,000 seat theatre, a council hall (bouleuterion), a library, rock carved tombs, temples and baths.

Part of the Phrygian kingdom from the ninth century BC and then part of the Lydian kingdom, Sagalassos became more urbanized under the Persian Empire from 546BC, becoming a focal point in the region of Pisidia over the course of two centuries.

In 334BC, Alexander the Great arrived in the region and attacked Sagalassos, eventually succeeding in destroying it, although its citizens did put up a good fight. Over the coming centuries, the Pisidia region - including Sagalassos - changed hands several times, finally coming under Roman rule in 129BC.

The prosperity of Sagalassos fluctuated over the end of the first century BC, but slowly it became more successful, particularly because of the fertility of its land and the production of a material called Sagalassos Red Slip Ware, a type of tableware. Much of this affluence translated into the construction of buildings and monuments, especially during the second century AD, under Hadrian, and up to the third century.

Sagalassos began to fall into decline in around 500AD and this was accelerated by a devastating earthquake in 590AD. Although abandoned for a long period of time, the area was further inhabited from the tenth century AD.

Saqqara

Saqqara was the burial ground of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis and home to numerous pyramids and tombs.

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Saqqara was the burial place of the city of Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt founded in 3000 BC by Menes.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Saqqara is home to eleven major pyramids sprawled over six miles, including the first ever pyramid, known as the Step Pyramid and funerary complex of pharaoh Djoser (or Zoser), who reigned from c. 2630 to c. 2611 BC.

Saqqara’s pyramids and tombs were built across over three thousand years of Ancient Egyptian civilization, from the tombs of Fifth Dynasty kings such as Userkaf and the pyramid of Unas, with its walls filled with magical spells, to the incredibly well preserved Pyramid of Teti I, built by the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty. Some believe that Teti I, whose queen is also buried at Saqqara, was assassinated by his bodyguard.

Saqqara is filled with historical treasures, not least of which is the Serapeum where the Egyptians buried the sacred bulls of Apis. The Egyptians believed these bulls were reincarnations of the deity, Ptah. The bulls are perfectly mummified and contained in enormous granite coffins.

Saqqara is a massive historic site and, for those short on time the best places to see are in the north, including the Serapeum, Djoser’s funerary complex and, in between these two, the Mastaba of Akhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep, the son and grandson of official Ptah-Hotep.

There are numerous ways to tour Saqqara, including camel, horse and donkey tours available around the Step Pyramid.

Photo by Historvius

Sbeitla

Sbeitla in Tunisia flourished as a Roman city from the 1st century AD.

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Sbeitla in Tunisia was once a flourishing ancient city, the spectacular remains of which are among the best Roman ruins in the world.

This startling site, also at times known as Sufetula, thrived as a Roman settlement from the 1st century AD before becoming a Christian centre, a Byzantine city and - after a brief period under Prefect Gregory - being taken by the Muslims.

Today, Sbeitla’s ruins hint at the great city that once stood here. Most of the sites date back to the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD. The highlights include its Temples of Jupiter and Minerva, both located in the beautiful forum. There are arches dedicated to Diocletian and Antionius Pius, a bath vessel complete with colourful mosaics and evidence of street planning including dwellings and roads.

There is also a museum at the site which examines the history of the area and includes an array of finds from Sbeitla. This incredible site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions of Tunisia.

Segesta

Segesta contains the famous fifth century BC incomplete, but very well-preserved, Temple of Segesta.

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Segesta is an archaeological site in north western Sicily most famous for the Temple of Segesta.

This fifth century BC temple was started by the Elymian people (circa 426 BC-416BC) but never completed. Nevertheless, with its over thirty intact Doric columns and clear structure, the unfinished Temple of Segesta is so well-preserved that it is considered to be one of Sicily’s most important historic sites. Only the roof and interior are missing.

As for its builders, the Elymians were thought by some to have been former Trojans who fled and settled in Sicily. The reason that the Temple of Segesta is incomplete is often attributed to a possible war between the Elymians and a neighbouring city.

Most of Segesta remains unexcavated. There is also a nearby third century BC ancient Greek amphitheatre, which can be reached by bus from Segesta.

Selinunte

Selinunte is an Ancient Greek archaeological site in Sicily containing the ruins of an acropolis and five temples.

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Selinunte is an Ancient Greek archaeological site in southern Sicily containing the ruins of an acropolis surrounded by five historic temples, mostly dating to the sixth to fifth centuries BC.

The sites at Selinunte are relatively meagre when one considers that this would once have been one of the great cities of Magna Graecia founded in the mid-seventh century BC. However, much of Selinunte was destroyed by the Carthaginians in the fifth century BC.

Of the temples at Selinunte, only one has been substantially partially reconstructed, its standing Doric columns forming an impressive sight.

Sirmium Imperial Palace

The Sirmium Imperial Palace complex holds the remains of a Roman imperial palace which was home to several Roman Emperors in the middle and late empire.

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The Sirmium Imperial Palace complex in Serbia contains the remains of a Roman imperial palace which was home to several Roman Emperors, including Constantine I.

Built at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century AD, the complex has now been opened to the public as a museum.

The ancient Roman settlement of Sirmium was founded in the first century AD and grew to become one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire. Indeed, by the end of the third century Sirmium had become one of four designated capitals of the Empire. The city was a major centre of trade and home to many of the middle and latter Emperors. In fact, several Roman Emperors were born in Sirmium.

Discovered in the 1950s, the Sirmium Imperial Palace complex has been carefully excavated over the years, revealing a multitude of finds including remnants of the private rooms of the Emperors and even a Roman circus. The site also contains a number of well preserved mosaics, frescos and ornaments as well as the underground heating systems employed by the Romans.

Today the Sirmium Imperial Palace complex is one of the most important Roman sites in Serbia and is a testament to the central role this area played in the middle and late Roman Empire.

Photo by davehighbury (cc)

Sparta

The ancient Greek city of Sparta was one of the most famous city-states of the ancient world.

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Sparta was one of the most famous city-states of the ancient world and left not only a mark in our historic records, but its very culture at the heart of modern language – the English word 'Spartan' reflecting their very way of life – simple, basic, severe.

Rising to power in the late 7th Century BC, Sparta produced the most powerful land-army of the Hellenic world. Spartan soldiers led the Greek coalition during the Greco-Persian War, becoming legendary in their heroic last stand at Thermopylae and the eventual victory of the Greeks at Plataea.

Sparta’s star continued to rise in the following century, with victory over Athens in the long-running Peloponnesian War and a brief spell of hegemony over all Greece and even parts of Asia Minor.

However, it was their constant military involvements combined with their elitist, purist approach to citizenry which led to their downfall.

Sparta’s conflict with a resurgent Thebes, particularly their defeat at the Battle of Leuctra, crippled Spartan power, a blow from which they never recovered. Their own discriminatory nature left Sparta without the capacity to suffer losses, and therefore one or two severe defeats crippled Sparta’s military manpower.

Sparta did live on as an independent power for the next two centuries, but the city never wielded real power again. Sparta had no part in the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the city was eventually conquered, along with the rest of Greece, by the Romans in the mid-second century BC.

Today, the ruins of ancient Sparta exist on the outskirts of the modern city of Sparti – founded by King Otto of Greece in 1834. A good proportion of the remains you see today are actually from the Roman period and few are well preserved.

Unlike Athens, Spartan culture never led to grand building projects and consequently few historic structures remain. Visitors to Sparta can see the remains of the ancient theatre of Sparta, the nearby Roman shops, the partially-preserved sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, and the site that is said to be the tomb of Spartan King Leonidas.

The Sparta Archeological Museum is also worth a visit and contains artifacts from the various archeological digs.

Stabiae

Stabiae contains the ruins of both ancient Roman and Oscan civilizations, dating back as far as the 7th century BC.

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Stabiae, today contained in the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia, was an Ancient Roman town which, along with Pompeii and Herculaneum, was engulfed in lava and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. In fact, it was during this natural disaster that Pliny the Elder was killed in Stabiae.

Despite originally being discovered in 1749, Stabiae was only completed excavated in 1950, upon which archeologists found the remains of not one, but two ancient civilizations. The older of the two civillisations was that of the Oscan people, who lived there between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC. The main remains from this Italian tribe are contained in a necropolis which houses over 300 tombs.

However, the more famous ruins at Stabiae are the Roman villas which were constructed there in around 89 BC when the town became something of a Roman holiday resort. Amongst these are the 11,000 square foot Villa San Marco with its beautiful frescos and mosaics, Villa Arianna - so named for its magnificent fresco of Ariadne being saved by Dionysus - with its underground tunnel and Villa Del Pastore, which was most likely a bath house.

Stabiae is far less well-known than Pompeii, but offers visitors a great tour of authentic Roman ruins in a quieter environment.

Stobi

Stobi in Macedonia was an ancient settlement of Paeonia before becoming a Roman city.

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Stobi is one of Macedonia’s most famous archaeological sites. Once the capital of the kingdom of Paeonia, Stobi was located along a busy trade route and thrived as a commercial hub specialising in the trade of salt. Stobi reached its peak in the third or fourth century AD.

Whilst the first mention of Stobi dates back to the second century BC, it is thought to have been founded several centuries – perhaps three or four hundred years - prior to this.

In the second half of the second century BC, Stobi came under Roman rule and, in 69 AD, under the Emperor Vespasian, it became a municipium. It continued to flourish up to the sixth century AD, when it was an important Christian site.

Today, the archaeological site of Stobi houses a wealth of ancient ruins, including the remains of palaces, baths, streets, temples and a second century AD theatre. Most of the ruins date back to the third century AD, although some, like the theatre, were built earlier. There are also several well-preserved vivid mosaics throughout the site as well as remnants of early Christianity, such as numerous basilicas.

Syracuse Archaeological Site

The Syracuse Archaeological Site contains the impressive remains of an ancient city dating as far back as the eighth century BC.

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The Syracuse Archaeological Site (Siracusa) in Sicily contains the impressive remains of the ancient city of Syracuse dating as far back as the eighth century BC. The city of Syracuse was founded by Greek colonists - heralding from Corinth - in 734 BC.

At its height, Syracuse was the most powerful city in Sicily and, according to Cicero, was the “most beautiful” of all Greek cities. By the fifth to fourth century BC, Syracuse controlled Sicily, especially during the reign of Dionysus the Elder (405BC-367BC).

In the third century BC, the Romans laid siege to Syracuse and, after three bitter years, it came under Roman rule in 212 BC as a province. One of the most famous residents of Syracuse, the mathematician Archimedes, died during this attack.

Remaining a part of the Roman Empire, the city remained stable for hundreds of years until the fall of the Western Empire. Over the following centuries, Syracuse was invaded, conquered and occupied several times, leading to it being inhabited by several peoples including the Vandals and Byzantines (5th-6th centuries) as well as the Muslims (9th-10th centuries). It also came under Norman rule for thirty years from 1061.

From 1197 to 1250, Syracuse experienced resurgence under the rule of Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty.

Today, visitors to the Syracuse Archaeological Site can enjoy the spectacular remnants of its past, the most famous of which is its Ancient Greek theatre. There is also a Roman amphitheatre (pictured on the map), a sanctuary to Apollo, an altar to Sicilian King Hieron II (265-215BC), a set of ancient quarries and a fort known as the Castle of Euryalus (although the latter is located around 8km north of the main site).

Together with the Necropolis of Pantalica, the Syracuse Archaeological Site is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo is a beautiful thousand year old Native American settlement in New Mexico.

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Taos Pueblo is a Native American settlement in New Mexico’s Rio Grande, USA.

The Pueblo community in Taos Pueblo is known to date back to the fourteenth century, although some archeologists think it was established as far back as the 1st century AD. The Pueblo tribe is one of the most secretive and enigmatic of the Native American communities, meaning that little is known about their culture, however around 150 Pueblos still live in Taos Pueblo.

The architecture in Taos Pueblo is characterised by its sand coloured buildings and ceremonial sites, all made through a traditional process known as adobe which involves mixing earth with water and straw. Incredibly well preserved, these thousand year old buildings form a beautiful, oft-photographed site and, in 1987, Taos Pueblos was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its authentic architecture and original layout.

Visits can be somewhat restrictive, particularly as regards Taos Pueblo’s beautiful church, but tours are available offering an insight into the Pueblo culture.

Taxila

Taxila was the ancient Gandhāran capital city and its incredible ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Taxila, also known as the Ancient Gandhāran city of Takshashila, is an ancient site in the Punjab Province of Pakistan dating back as far as the sixth century BC.

One of the factors which make Taxila such a significant archeological site is the fact that, over its five century lifespan, it witnessed the evolution of numerous civilizations, including the Persians, Greeks and Hindus. It was also an important site in the development of the art of Gandhara.

Taxila itself is actually made up of a complex of ruins, including the Khanpur Mesolithic cave, several Buddhist monasteries, medieval mosques and four settlements called Bhir, Sirkap, Saraidala and Sirsukh. In particular, Bhir was probably the earliest settlement in Taxila and, in its excellent condition, boasts street structures, house foundations and stone walls. Alexander the Great conquered Bhir during his victorious route through Taxila.

Sirkap, which was probably founded by the Greeks in the second century BC and destroyed by the Kushanas in the first century AD, also offers a wealth of both religious and cultural archeological finds, particularly as relates to its Hellenistic structure.

Taxila is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great place to discover the roots of Buddhism, the art of Gandhara and the ancient culture of the subcontinent. If you’re only planning a day’s visit, the Taxlia Museum is probably the best place to get an overview and to see some of the relics as well as the artwork.

Photo by Historvius

Tchogha Zanbil

Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.

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Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.

Located between Anshan and Suse, the city of Tchogha Zanbil would have been founded in 1250BC by King Untash-Napirisha. It would finally be abandoned in 640BC, following a devastating attack by King Ashurbanipal of the Assyrians. It was never completed.

The undeniable focal point of the ruins of Tchogha Zanbil, also spelt Chogha Zanbil, is one of the greatest - if not in fact the greatest - ziggurats to have been built in Mesopotamia. Originally a temple dedicated to the deity Inshushinak, it developed to become the ornate pyramid-like structure - ziggurat - that stands today, although at 25 metres high it is now just a shadow of its former self having once risen to 60 metres.

Beyond its great ziggurat, visitors to Tchogha Zanbil can also view ancient temples and palaces, including its 13th century BC Untash-Gal Palace. Tchogha Zanbil is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tenochtitlan

Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital, established in 1325AD and destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century.

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Tenochtitlan in Mexico was established on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325 AD as the capital city of the Aztecs and, in its final and most prosperous days, was ruled by Motecuhzoma II, also known as Montezuma.

At its peak, Tenochtitlan was a thriving and imposing city with around 200,000 inhabitants. It was characterised by its enormous pyramids and clear street grids, dividing Tenochtitlan into four zones.

In 1519 AD, during Montezuma’s rule, Spanish invaders led by Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan and by 1521 the city was conquered. Much of Tenochtitlan was subsequently razed to the ground, leaving little behind.

Today, remnants of Tenochtitlan are hard to find as they have been consumed by the development of modern Mexico City. Those Tenochtitlan sites which have been excavated, including five temples of which Templo Mayor is one, are protected on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, however there is no single Aztec site to visit.

One of the most popular Tenochtitlan sites is Xochimilco. This is more of a beautiful park rather than an archaeological ruin, but features waterways that ran from the Aztec era as well as some Chinampas (flower gardens) from that time. Alternatively, see the Templo Mayor entry for a more traditional site.

Tharros

Tharros, in Sardinia, was founded by the Phoenicians and contains mostly Roman ruins.

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Tharros is an archaeological site in Sardinia brimming with centuries of history.

Founded in the eighth century BC by the Phoenicians, Tharros would be inhabited by the Carthaginians and the Romans, leaving behind a series of ancient structures, especially its two standing Corinthian columns.

Among the other highlights of the ruins at Tharros are the remains of the Carthaginian tophet – a sacred space sometimes used for burials – as well as the remains of the thermal baths and the foundations of temples, houses and shops.

Later abandoned due to Saracen raids, Tharros is one of Sardinia’s best ancient sites.

Thebes

Thebes was an ancient Mycenaean and Greek city eventually destroyed by Alexander the Great.

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Thebes was a powerful city in Ancient Greece, the few remains of which can now be seen in the modern Greek town of Thiva.

Whilst first occupied in Neolithic times and already thriving in the Helladic period, Thebes reached its peak during the Mycenaean period. The settlement continued to thrive, becoming an important city of Ancient Greece in the fourth century BC. Thebes is the site of numerous Ancient Greek events and myths, including being the birthplace of the Greek god Dionysus and demi-god Hercules. It was also the setting of Sophocles’s tragedy of Oedipus, the legendary King of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother.

The army of Thebes was at one time considered to be the best in Greece and demonstrated its prowess numerous times against that of Sparta. Thebes’s army was vitally important to its power and allowed it to become the ruling city of the Boeotia region.

Thebes began to decline in 338 BC, when it suffered defeat at the hands of the Macedonians in the Battle of Chaeronea. The final blow to the city occurred in 335 BC, when Thebes revolted against Alexander the Great, resulting in its absolute destruction. So great was the damage that Thebes never recovered and very little survives today.

Some ruins which can still be seen are the fortified Mycenaean palace of Kadmos, also known as Cadmea, and the Temple of Apollo Ismenios (found between the Electran Gates and the Aghios Loukas cemetery).

Photo by Historvius

Tikal

Tikal in Guatemala was a major Maya site of great ceremonial importance. Its well-preserved ruins are listed by UNESCO.

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Tikal National Park near Flores in Guatemala houses one of the world’s most famous and impressive Maya sites, known as Tikal. In fact, Tikal was a major ceremonial site in the Maya culture, with many temples and pyramids built there between 300 BC and 100BC and then further expansion taking place from 600 AD to 800 AD.

In addition to its ceremonial significance, Tikal was a thriving settlement, a political hub and almost certainly the capital of its region. Tikal has been linked with the Maya city of Teotihuacan in modern Mexico, with which it is believed that it interacted.

Today, visitors to Tikal are greeted with a wealth of well-preserved monuments, palaces, structures and temples. This UNESCO World Heritage site actually has a staggering 3,000 or so ancient structures mostly dating back to between 600 BC and 900 AD, six of which are fully uncovered. Amongst these are five magnificent pyramids, some of them being crowned with temples and the largest one being an impressive 213 feet tall.

Note the sacrificial altars, such as that at the Temple of the Masks, and also try out the acoustics, which were designed so that people could be heard from the tops of the temples down to the bottom of the pyramids.

Main image by Hector Garcia (cc).

Timgad

The ruins of Timgad are the extremely well-preserved remains of an Ancient Roman military encampment in Algeria.

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The ruins of Timgad in Algeria are an impressive set of ancient Roman remains and rank among the best such ruins in North Africa.

Founded by the Emperor Trajan in 100 AD, the settlement of Timgad, then known as Thamugas, was probably a base for the Third Augustan Legion.

Timgad was both a military colony and an incentive to the African people to serve in the Roman army, as anybody who did so for twenty-five years would have a home in the base. An interesting point to note about the ruins of Timgad is that all of the homes built there were similar in size, a sign of equality amongst Rome’s citizens. The original settlement was a perfect square, spanning an area measuring 355 square metres.

Timgad continued to grow throughout the second century and reached its zenith during the reign of Septimius Severus, from which most of the current buildings date.

Much of Timgad was damaged in the fifth century and, despite a brief Byzantine revival of the settlement under Justinian, it was finally destroyed during the seventh century Arab invasion and abandoned by the eighth century.

Today, the vast ruins of Timgad are a well preserved UNESCO World Heritage site. Amongst other things, visitors can view the remains of a stunning second century Trajan arch, a 3,500-capacity theatre, a forum and a series of fourteen bath complexes. There is even a library and the remains of temples and churches, the latter demonstrating the later prominent Christian presence in Timgad.

The ruins of Timgad have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.

Photo by mishmoshimoshi (cc)

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku in Bolivia was the capital of a powerful pre-Inca civilisation and is a UNESCO listed site.

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Tiwanaku in Bolivia is an impressive archaeological site housing the capital of pre-Inca empire. Much about Tiwanaku remains a mystery and the subject of ongoing academic debate.

Tiwanaku started out as a small farming village in approximately 1200 BC, possibly the first to ever cultivate potatoes. Over the course of the first century, Tiwanaku developed and, by 550 BC, it was a thriving capital of a vast empire with a presence throughout much of the Americas.

At its peak, Tiwanaku had around 20,000 inhabitants. The city remained prosperous over the coming centuries and satellite towns were built, altogether with a population of up to 175,000 people.

The people of Tiwanaku built a magnificent city spanning approximately 2.3 square kilometres with monuments, temples, homes and public buildings. Constructed using the adobe method, this feat was all the more impressive when one considers that Tiwanaku is located approximately 3.5 kilometres above sea level, requiring many of their materials to be transported over long distances.

Tiwanaku was still flourishing in 900 AD, however by the time it was discovered by the Incas in the mid-fifteenth century, it was entirely abandoned, probably having declined in the twelfth century. Yet, the legacy of the Tiwanaku Empire remains today, albeit in ruins.

That which remains is incredible and has resulted in much excited speculation over the years. For example, the many carved heads on the “Templete” or Small Semi-Subterranean Temple were probably meant to represent humans, but have been said to resemble aliens. This has led to some 'alternative' theories as to who – or what - built Tiwanaku.

One of Tiwanaku’s most famous structures is its Akapana temples, which would once have been a pyramid, but has since been significantly eroded, both by looters and by nature. However, its 16 square metre base does allude to the former grandeur of this structure.

Today, Tiwanaku is a popular tourist site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitor can view its many monuments, gates – such as the well-known Gateway of the Sun - and statues, all of which attest to the importance of this once ceremonial city.

Photo by Travelling Runes (cc)

Troy

Troy is a world-renowned archaeological site, inhabited since the 4th millennium BC and believed to the have been the location of the famous Trojan War.

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Troy or “Truva” is one of the most famous and historically significant sites in the world. Located in modern day Turkey, the site marks the meeting place of Anatolia, the Aegean and the Balkans, making it a vitally important source of information about the historic relationships between these regions.

Imbued with several millennia of history and the subject of legend, Troy’s fame mainly derives from being the fabled location of the Trojan War. There are several ancient accounts of this conflict, mainly fiction, the most famous of which was written by Homer in The Iliad. The story goes that the Greeks besieged Troy after Helen, wife of the Menelaus, the king of Sparta, was taken by Paris of Troy. Many historians now believe that the reason for the Trojan War was a bitter commercial rivalry between the people of Troy and the Mycenaeans.

It was also Troy which was the subject of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid, in which the Greeks laid the famous “Trojan Horse” trap for the people of Troy. The Greeks, pretending to have left Troy during the Trojan War, placed a wooden horse at the gates of the city as a purported trophy of the Trojans’ victory. In fact, Greek soldiers were hiding inside the horse and, once taken in by the Trojans, proceeded to destroy the city and claim victory. The archaeological site of Troy has an obligatory replica of a Trojan horse for visitors.

The vast ruins now found at Troy lay witness to thousands of years of history, with the oldest section dating back to the late fourth millennium BC. Over the millennia, Troy became a bustling commercial hub, particularly from 1700 BC. However, a combination of natural disasters, invasions and occupations led to the city being rebuilt numerous times. Each part of the site is numbered, correlating to a specific period of time. The famous walls of Troy, which played such an important role on the Trojan War, some of which remain, can be seen in the VII section.

It is said that Alexander the Great visited Troy in 334BC, at the start of his campaign against the Persians. The Macedonian leader is believed to have paid his respects at the Tomb of Achilles.

Troy continued to maintain its status under the Romans, especially after it was identified as the location of Homer’s Iliad in 188 BC and the city was exempt from taxes. The site has a mix of Greek and Roman monuments, many built by prominent figures such as Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Regardless of whether Troy was the actual site of the Trojan War, the archaeological site of Troy is a fascinating place for history enthusiasts and tourists alike. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

Tulum

Tulum is a cliff-top Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region with some interesting and quite well preserved ruins.

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Tulum is a Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region dating back to between the 13th and 16th centuries. At its peak, Tulum was quite a thriving walled city.

Whilst relatively modest in comparison to, say Chichen Itza, Tulum does feature some interesting and quite well preserved ruins, including its castle, city walls and temples. One of the highlights at Tulum is its Temple of the Frescoes, with some original frescoes inside it. However, the real beauty of Tulum is its shimmering beachside location.

Tulum features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by Historvius

Umm Qais

Umm Qais, also spelt Umm Qays, houses the remains of Gadara, one of the Decapolis cities.

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Present day Umm Qais has within it the remains of one of the ancient Decapolis cities, the Greco-Roman settlement of Gadara.

Probably established by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, Gadara was taken by the Seleucids and, in 63BC, by the Romans led by Pompey. It would later fall under the remit of King Herod. At its peak, Gadara was a creative and intellectual hub, home to famous poets, mathematicians, philosophers and poets.

For Christians, Gadara is also said to be the site where Jesus performed the Gadarene swine miracle.

Today, Umm Qais still has remnants of Gadara including a theater, churches, shops, a nymphaeum, baths, and paved roads. One interesting part of the sites in Umm Qais is that many of the structures, such as the theater, were made out of black basalt. There are also Byzantine-era elements built atop the original Roman ruins.

With the rolling hills of Jordan, Syria, and Israel and Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) enclosing the area, Umm Qais is also very picturesque.

Photo by Historvius

Uxmal

Uxmal was a Maya city in Yucatan, Mexico and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Uxmal is an archaeological site in Mexico which houses the ruins of a Maya town thought to have been inhabited as early as 800BC. Having said this, most of the buildings and structures seen at Uxmal today were constructed in between around 700AD to 1000AD.

A thriving city and a religious centre with great ceremonial significance, at its peak Uxmal had a population of around 25,000 people. Uxmal was abandoned in 1200AD and then inhabited by the Yiu, who would later join the Mayapan League with Chichen Itza.

The layout of the town of Uxmal is one of its most interesting aspects, having been carefully aligned to fit with concepts of astronomy, offering an insight into the beliefs and culture of the Mayas who lived there. Uxmal was also quite advanced in its use of hydraulic systems to gather water up to the hill or “Puuc” on which it was set. Like other ancient cities in Mexico, Uxmal has a series of ceremonial pyramids the most celebrated of which is the Pyramid of the Soothsayer.

Translated as ‘Pyramide el Adivino’ and sometimes known as the “House of the Magician”, the Pyramid of the Soothsayer is an impressive 100-foot high monument dating back to the Late Classic Period. It is flanked by several temples, which were built over time, although legend has it that this pyramid took just one night to complete. Sadly, the pyramid cannot be climbed by tourists.

Beyond this well-known monument, Uxmal has several other impressive structures. The Governor's Palace (Palacio del Gobernador) is one such example, it being completely symmetrical and ornately decorated with depictions of astronomy symbols as well as of the rain god, Chaac. This is near the Casa de las Tortugas or “The House of the Tortoises” which is a simple yet pretty building.

Also at Uxmal is the Quadrangle of the Nuns, also called The Nunnery or “Cuadrangulo de las Monjas” which is comprised of four stone buildings neatly surrounding a courtyard and, like the Governor's Palace, is resplendent with religious artwork. Built at a similar time to the Nunnery and like the one in the city of El Tajin, Uxmal has a ball court, where its citizens would have participated in games.

Uxmal is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and also has a small museum. Organised tours from Merida can last a whole day and include sites such as Kabah. Audio guides are available in several languages for an added fee.

Uxmal features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by Historvius

Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is a major royal Ancient Egyptian burial site in Luxor and part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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The Valley of the Kings in Luxor in Egypt was once part of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes.

From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the Twentieth, the pharaohs of Egypt were buried in the Valley of the Kings. Today, visitors flock to see the myriad of ancient tombs cut into the limestone of the Valley of the Kings, mostly contained in its eastern valley.

Eighteenth Dynasty tombs include those of Amenhotep III (in the west valley), Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and Thutmose IV. Some of the most famous figures of Ancient Egypt are buried at the Valley of the Kings, including the boy king Tutankhamun, Ramses the Great, Ramesses IV and Tuthmosis III.

The Valley of the Kings has almost thirty tombs in all and, together with the other remains of Thebes, forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. This site also features as one of our Top ten tourist attractions in Egypt.

Photo by hanjeanwat (cc)

Velia Archaeological Site

The Velia Archaeological Site contains Greek, Roman and medieval ruins of the city initially founded as Elea.

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The Velia Archaeological Site (Scavi di Velia) in Campania houses the remains of a Greek colony turned Roman municipality.

Velia was originally founded by a Greek community as the colony of “Elea” in 540 BC. With the help of prominent citizens and philosophers Zeno and Parmenides (the latter having founded the school of Eleatics, the former having been a member), Velia managed to overcome several attacks including from Poseidonia and the Lucanians.

During the Second Punic War, Velia provided ships to Rome for its fight against Hannibal and in 88 BC it became a municipality of the Roman Empire. The decline of Velia, which was dependent on naval commerce, coincided with the reduced need for its harbour.

Today, the Velia Archaeological Site contains an array of ancient ruins as well as medieval ones. Visitors can see a series of public buildings and monuments from the Greek and Roman eras including third century BC fortifications, a large fourth century BC arch known as the Pink Gate as well as second century AD Roman baths with mosaics and a theatre.

The Velia Archaeological Site also has medieval sites such as its eleventh/twelfth century castle, which is recognisable by its rounded towers and turrets.

Photo by Brron (cc)

Verulamium

Verulamium was a Roman settlement near modern day St Albans in England.

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Verulamium was a prominent Roman settlement near modern day St Albans in England. Formerly the tribal capital of the native Catuvellauni tribe, Verulamium was conquered by the Romans during their invasion of the island in 43 AD.

By 50 AD, Verulamium had become a major Roman town, and as such was a prime target during the revolt of Boudica in 61 AD, when the town was burnt to the ground. However, never ones to be perturbed, the Romans crushed the revolt and re-built Verulamium, and it remained a central Roman town for the next four hundred years.

The Roman remains at Verulamium consist of a variety of buildings - a basilica, bathhouse and part of the city walls to be found in Verulamium Park, but the most impressive are the remains of the roman theatre which lie across the road from Verulamium Park.

As well as the site itself, Verulamium Museum stands on St Michael’s St, with displays of Roman everyday life. There are some impressive murals and mosaics and a variety of interactive displays.

Photo by Historvius

Volubilis

Volubilis near Meknes in Morocco was an Ancient Roman city developed in the first century BC.

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Volubilis in Morocco is a UNESCO-listed ancient Roman site housing extensive ruins dating back to the first century BC.

Already a thriving town, the Romans developed Volubilis from approximately 25 BC, during the reign of Juba II, a Berber prince appointed as the ruler of the region by the Emperor Augustus. Juba II was married to the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra.

The residents of Volubilis were a diverse people and included Africans, Syrians, Spaniards and Jews, amongst others and would have numbered up to 20,000 at its peak.

Development continued to 40 AD, when Volubilis became a minicipium (a self-governing Roman city) of the Roman African region of Mauretania Tingitana. The fortifications of Volubilis were erected in approximately 168 AD, during the rule of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, known as Caracalla.

Amongst the ruins of Volubilis, visitors can see an array of public buildings, olive mills, houses, temples and defensive walls with many mosaics dotted throughout.

One of the most famous structures at Volubilis is the Triumphal Arch of Caracalla, built for the Roman Emperor upon his death in 217 AD. The Triumphal Arch of Caracalla is very well preserved, and although its top section is now gone, it is still an incredibly impressive structure and a treat for any history enthusiast.

Photo by fortes (cc)

Winaywayna

Winaywayna is an Inca site in Peru near Machu Picchu.

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Winaywayna or Winay Wayna, literally translated as “forever young”, is an Inca site along the Inca Trail close to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. Winaywayna is yet another great example of Inca civillisation and is made up of two levels containing a network of houses, fountains and agricultural terraces.

Whilst it forms part of the Inca Trail, tourists can also see Winaywayna as part of a standalone trip to Machu Picchu, the hike usually takes around three and half hours.

Photo by steve p2008 (cc)

Wroxeter Roman City

Wroxeter Roman City houses the remains of what was once Roman Britain’s fourth largest city.

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Wroxeter Roman City is an impressive Ancient Roman site in Shropshire. It houses the remains of what was once known as Viroconium, at one time Roman Britain’s fourth largest city. In fact, Viroconium was initially a first Century garrisoned fort which evolved into a city.

Around 5,000 people lived in Viroconium at its peak and those who visit Wroxeter Roman City can learn about their lives through an audio guided tour as well as through the artefacts exhibited in its museum. However, perhaps the most evocative elements of Wroxeter Roman City are its ruins.

From the exercise hall to the bathing complex and walls, visitors can view the buildings in which its population of mostly traders and ex-soldiers lived, worked and were entertained. Most of Viroconium – there were two hundred acres of it in its heyday – still lies unexcavated, but that which can be seen offers a glimpse into what this great city would have looked like.

A fascinating aspect of Wroxeter Roman City is actually its existence at the end of Roman Britain and beyond. Possibly inhabited up to the sixth century, the ruins include sites erected and rebuilt after the Romans had left, yet in typical Roman style. This has led archaeologists to believe that those who lived in Viroconium after the Romans had left wanted to carry on living in the same way.

Wroxeter Roman City is an English Heritage site.

Photo by By Veles (cc)

Xanten Archaeological Park

Xanten Archaeological Park houses the remains of the former Roman settlement of Colonia Ulpia Traiana.

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Xanten Archaeological Park (Archaologischer Park Xanten) houses the remains of the former Roman settlement of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The area of the park was first garrisoned by Roman legions in around 13 BC and soon flourished.

Roads and a harbour were built as was a vast military camp and, except for an interruption due to a Germanic Bataver revolt in 69-70 AD, it continued to thrive. In 88-89 AD this settlement was finally honoured with the status of being a "colonia" and thus Colonia Ulpia Traiana was born.

Most of the buildings in Xanten Archaeological Park date back to the second century AD, when great building projects were undertaken. By this time, the colonia had a population of around 10,000 people and was a great agricultural hub. However, it was utterly destroyed by the Germanic Franks in the third century and, despite final attempts to breathe life back into the settlement, including further fortification, it was abandoned by the fourth century.

At 73 hectares, Xanten Archaeological Park is now Germany’s largest outdoor museum and offers so much to see. It is a mixture of ruins and reconstructed sites including temples, homes, an amphitheatre, a city wall, a baths complex and an inn, to name but a few. There is also a museum housing finds from excavations.

Overall, Xanten Archaeological Park offers a fascinating insight into life in this Roman settlement and really lets you immerse yourself in its history. You can even dress up like a Roman.

Photo by Herr_Bert (cc)

Xcaret

Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.

DID YOU KNOW?

Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Located in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region, Xcaret was then known as Ppole and is said to have been of great ceremonial importance, as evidenced by its wealth of temples, homes and monuments.

The Xcaret ruins are actually part of a much larger eco and amusement park, with a range of activities.

Xochicalco

Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico and a World Heritage site.

DID YOU KNOW?

Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico, listed by UNESCO for its well-preserved ruins dating from an important period in Mesoamerican history.

At Xochicalco’s peak between 650AD and 900AD - during the Epiclassic period - the Mesoamerican world was in great flux, with places like Tikal, Teotihuacan and Palenque being broken up. As such, this city’s ruins are seen to represent the coming together of several cultures.

Xochicalco’s impressive hierarchy of ruins includes a ball court, a palace, temples, monuments and homes, all carefully arranged amid terraces, plazas and ramps to great effect.

Xochicalco features as one of our Top Ten Visitor Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by maximalideal (cc)

Yagul

Yagul was a fortified Zapotec settlement in Oaxaca in Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Yagul is an archaeological site in Mexico’s Oaxaca region inhabited by the Pre-Columbian civilisation of the Zapotecs, although the exact time of their first occupation of this area is unknown (sometime between 500 and 100 BC). Yagul was still in use at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Somewhat dwarfed by the grandeur of nearby Monte Alban, Yagul is smaller and has undergone less excavation than its famous counterpart yet it does have a series of interesting monuments. Amongst other things, Yagul has a ball court, similar to the one seen at Monte Alban and at other Zapotec sites and a large labyrinth of a palace, thought to have been built for its leaders.

It is clear from the remaining parts of its fortress wall that Yagul was heavily defended, helped by its position atop a hill. Lower down the hill, visitors can see what was once its central plaza, surrounded by several palaces and temples. Also in this section is a site known as the Triple Tomb or “Tumba Triple”, one of many tombs found in Yagul. Visitors can ask to view the Triple Tomb, as long as escorted by one of the guards.

Yagul is often overlooked by tourists, but is worth seeing if only for the peaceful nature of its setting which makes viewing its sites a calmer experience than many in the region.

Photo by Walter Rodriguez (cc)

Yaxha

Yaxha is an impressive ancient Maya site in Guatemala’s Peten region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Yaxha in Guatemala’s Peten region is an ancient Maya site containing several incredible pyramids as well as other structures such as ball courts and also carved stelae.

From its vast size – it’s not much smaller than Tikal – and its many monuments, it appears that Yaxha was an important settlement for the Maya people, although little is known about its origins.

Main image by Walter Rodriguez (cc).