Nothing tells the tale of history better than the world’s ancient ruins. The remnants of former cities, villas, temples, and tombs are a testament to the sophistication of our ancestors and their ability to build the extraordinary. While the world’s most notable sites are certainty worth seeing, there are so many other uncommon, but equally astonishing ancient spots. Here are 10 of our favorite lesser known ancient wonders that will leave you in awe.
10. Volubilis, Morocco
First a Berber enclave in what was known as Mauretania, Volubilis became a Roman outpost in 40 AD, and expanded to a hundred-acre city ringed with 1.6 miles of walls. Berbers seized it back in the third century, leading to a succession of disparate identities; at one point, it was Christian in faith, and then Islamic. The Idrisid Dynasty made Volubilis its capital from the 8th to 11th centuries, before abandoning it for Fez. Most of the population moved away as well, and Volubilis was largely forgotten—at least, that is, by humans. Storks (which migrate to Morocco from Europe and back), long ago intuited that the remaining Roman columns made for perfect perches.
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Morocco Sahara Odyssey—16-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
9. Caesarea, Israel
Located about a mile south of the modern-day city of Caesarea, Israel, the ruins of the powerful ancient city with the same name are found. Also known as Caesarea Maritima or Caesarea Palestinae, this port was originally built as a Phoenician settlement, but its glory came when it was re-built and expanded as a Herodian city in 22-10 BC by Herod the Great. Named in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, it had a remarkable artificial harbor made from large stone blocks, an engineering marvel of its time. Today, it remains one of the most impressive ancient sites in Israel with an extensive collection of Roman ruins overlooking the Mediterranean, a restored amphitheater that is still used for concerts, and the world’s only underwater museum where divers can explore the remnants of the harbor.
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8. Dougga, Tunisia
Ancient Dougga is the best-preserved ancient Roman city in North Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here stand the remains of a complete town that once had 5,000 residents, including villas, temples, baths, a paved street, and a forum, making it easy to imagine life in this place in the second century AD. The temple known as "the Capitol" and the Caracalla Baths are particularly well-preserved, and the site's spectacular theater—which was designed to seat 3,500 spectators—is still used for performances of classic works today.
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New! Tunisia: From the Mediterranean to the Sahara—16-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
7. Copán, Honduras
Originally settled in the first century, the well-preserved plazas, complexes, and sports courts of Copán each have their own stories to tell about the life of the Maya. One of the greatest monuments at the site is the Hieroglyphic Stairway. The inscriptions on its 63 steps tell the story of the 16 warrior kings of Copán, from its founder Yax K’uk Moh to the mysteriously-named “16 Rabbits.” The more than 2,000 glyphs depict births, deaths, and a detailed history of each king’s rule.
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Route of the Maya—16-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
6. Perge, Turkey
Hittites first settled in the area we call Perge around 1500 B.C. to capitalize on its location with the Catarrhactes and Cestrus rivers. It changed hands over the next millennium, from Hittite rule to Greek, Persian, Athenian, and, with the arrival of Alexander the Great, Persian a second time. The New Testament said that the apostle Paul twice visited Perge during his first missionary journey, and the city became a Christian epicenter during the first five centuries of the Common Era. At the dawn of the 11th century, a terrible earthquake emptied the city, and it has remained abandoned ever since. Beginning in 1946, the Turkish government funded excavations and preservation work, revealing a theatre, a palace, two churches, the Temple of Artemis, a fountain, aqueducts, and more.
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5. Pisac, Peru
Constructed by the Incas, the mystical ruins in Pisac, Peru are considered one of the most spectacular remaining Incan sites in the country. Located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the ruins are positioned atop agricultural terraces that curve gracefully around the hillsides with gorges on either side. Some historians believe that the name Pisac comes from the word “Pisaca”, meaning partridge, and that the terraces that line the hills represent the wings of a partridge. At the top, ancient stone dwellings and temples face upstream and downstream from the Urubamba Valley. You’ll also find the largest known Incan cemetery and an exquisite temple carved from pink granite.
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Real Affordable Peru—11-day O.A.T Small Group Adventure
4. Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, one of Thailand’s most famous ancient cities, features spectacular Buddhist monasteries, temples, palaces, and statues. Home to 33 kings from many different dynasties, the city served as the capital of Siam from 1353 until 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese Army. Once a place of such fabulous wealth, early travelers even described it as “2,000 spires clad in gold.” In 1991, part of Ayutthaya Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site including the sites of Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Mahathat, and Wat Phra Sri Sanphet—the holiest and most notable temple in the former capital city.
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Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam—20-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
3. Pula, Croatia
Perched at the southern tip of Croatia's Istrian Peninsula, the seafront city of Pula is known for its beach-lined coast and idyllic harbor. Due to its strategic location tucked away from the mainland, the city has been occupied during battles, destroyed, and rebuilt numerous times. However, the city's Roman Amphitheater is known to be one of the oldest, best preserved Roman sites, offering a unique glimpse into the life of fierce gladiators who fought within its walls two millennia ago. While the city remains rooted in its historic and tumultuous past, today it is, above all, a busy commercial city sprinkled with seaside cafes and resorts that beckon to vacationers across the world.
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Allure of the Adriatic: Italy & Croatia—12-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
2. My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam
These red-brick ruins were originally built between the fourth and 13th centuries as the cultural center of the Champa Kingdom, who ruled from the second century to the 17th century. The detailed architectural wonders were built to honor Hinduism and serve as a political capital for the Champa. Each of the temples boast religious and mythological symbols, including Vishnu, Krishna, and Shiva, which are represented as relief sculptures. The ruin’s main structure is named after Mount Meru. Similar to Greek Mythology’s Mount Olympus, this sacred mountain is home to Hindu gods.
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Inside Vietnam—20-day O.A.T Small Group Adventure
1. Hagar Qim, Malta
Hagar Qim (HA-jar eem), whose name means "Worshiping Stones" or "Standing Stones," holds the distinction of being one of the best-preserved prehistoric megalithic temples on the island of Malta. Its main temple was built between 3600 and 3200 BC, but other areas of the fascinating site—such as the Northern Temple—are considered to be significantly older. The sophisticated layout includes a forecourt and façade, elongated oval chambers, semi-circular recesses, and a central passage connecting the chambers, which creates a trefoil—or clover-shaped—design.
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