15 Amazing Must-See Ancient Wonders

the ancient wonder of beautiful petra

Planet Earth (earth just means dirt), by human standards, is an ancient, and although it’s been made significantly smaller thanks to rapid advances in technology, it’s still actually quite big. It may not seem like it to people who only experience anything farther than one-hundred miles from where they live through pictures and videos, but once you get out and start exploring it in person, you do realize it’s not that small at all.

To illustrate how not small our planet is, let’s examine how long it would take to walk just a small portion of it, from the East coast of the United States to the West Coast, along the American Discovery Trail. Feel free to walk from west to east if you prefer; it should take (as close to as makes no difference at all) the same amount of time.

Based on a fairly realistic estimate, the trip would last about six months, considering a route of about 3000 miles (or 4828 kilometers), at about 16.6 miles per day (or 26.6 kilometers).

That may seem like quite a stroll, but it’s really just a little jaunt across the US of A.

If one were to walk around the entire earth at the equator, which is about 24,900 miles (40, 075 kilometers), your trek would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4.2 years-ish. And that’s if it were possible to follow a straight line along the equator, which it clearly isn’t.

Walking longitudinally (north to south) through the poles would take about 4.5 days less (as the planet is slightly warped due to the fact that it spins on a vertical axis, which makes it bulge out a bit in the middle). Based on this hypothetical situation, in which it was possible to walk a straight line around Earth longitudinally, which it also isn’t, it would take well over four years too.

So, to walk two completely hypothetical straight lines around the planet (one vertically, and the other horizontally) would take somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8.4 years. No detours. Just straight lines. And that’s not taking into account any probable factors like injury or death. (Death would add an eternity to the voyage), weather, food, and water, or anything else. Just straight walking for almost eight-and-a-half years.

It’s bigger than it looks.

The point I’m making is that the earth is big. Really big.

Now let’s consider the fact that humans have been roaming around the place for at least 1.8 million years (yes, that’s right, 1.8 million years, and likely longer), and “the world”, as we are capable of understanding it, seems to get even bigger.

1.8 million years seems like a long time, and what I find very interesting is that during almost all of that time, people really don’t seem to have accomplished very much at all. Unless one considers staying alive for millennia on a planet that wants to kill everything all the time to be an accomplishment.

Stayin’ Alive!

I’m assuming that simply surviving presented enough challenges for the limited intellect of early man. Their extra-curricular activities most likely didn’t consist of pondering the meaning of it all, engineering grand cities, or even fixing things around the cave before their dinner guests arrived.

But then, as far as we can tell, that all very abruptly changed.

Roughly 12,000 years ago (according to our most recent discoveries, but this information will likely change in time), after almost an entire existence of creating nothing worth mentioning, humans began building cities and temples and statues, and all sorts of things that seem to make no sense at all considering our long history of not doing any of those things previously (aliens, anyone?).

And we haven’t taken our collective foot off of the gas pedal ever since.

In the relatively short time since people decided to get off their asses, get out of the cave, move on up to the east side (to get a piece of the pie), and make something of their lives, they’ve redeemed 1.8 million years (give or take) of doing jack shit.

And that’s what this post, in a very roundabout way, has been leading up to; appreciating some of the most impressive accomplishments of the last 12,000 years.

I’ve had the privilege of bouncing around the planet a bit, and I’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing things. A few very memorable highlights from my travels immediately spring to mind. Places like the Acropolis of Athens in Greece, Apollonia, Albania, and almost everywhere along the sea in Montenegro. I love these places because they’re ancient and full of history, and ancient history is kind of my thing.

“I travel to feel the ancient intangibles and hear the whispers of history”

~ Elise Abeth
A few ancient places I’ve already seen.

I clearly have a fascination with dedicated sites of antiquity, but I also love and appreciate beautiful and interesting cities, like Porto and Lisbon in Portugal, or Madrid, Spain, or Novi Sad in Serbia, and I even love the very odd, but wonderful and interesting city of Skopje, Macedonia. Guadalajara, in Mexico, is another interesting and fun city of the world, and is not without its share of beauty and historical charm.

But as much as I like cities and towns, what I want to focus on now is ancient sites of major historical importance. And even more to the point, ancient sites that I haven’t visited yet but feel a deep need to experience in person. So, yeah, this is going to be my “bucket list” of epic historical and archaeological attractions. Places I MUST see before I die.

If I had a do-over at life, or, to be honest, even an opportunity to dedicate the rest of my life to one thing, it would undoubtedly be archaeology. I would do it for free. I’d gladly be the gopher down in some hole in a forgotten desert, or up a mountain in terrible weather, or anywhere, doing whatever needed doing, just to get the chance to discover something nobody’s seen in ages and ages.

As a close second to that pipe-dream, however, I’ll settle for visiting amazing places that other people have already uncovered.

What follows is my personal list of awe-inspiring, ancient (or at least quite old) locations around the planet. Traces of civilizations that were here and gone so long ago that, to them, our current reality would have seemed like an impossible and terrifying fantasy, which it’s kind of become.

ancient - doric columns in a line

I’ve put together a list of fifteen places I’d really love to see while I’m still able to enjoy them, in descending order. From last to first.

Before I get started in earnest, I must state right off the line that, of course, I would love to see Egypt and all of the wonders that still grace the landscape of that storied nation, but it probably won’t happen. It was once a destination high up on my list, but now it’s fallen near to the bottom.

After doing a lot of research following the Best Ever Food Review Show’s mini documentary of Egypt, I came across too many sources of negative information to disregard. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the risk isn’t worth the reward.

For once in my life, I’ll take the advice of many others and I’ll heed the information I’ve found that suggests this isn’t the country for me. There are too many other places I really want to see, and I don’t need to gamble on somewhere that could very likely be a disappointment. I did that once, in Colombia, and, other than Medellin, I hated Colombia.

With that out of the way, is it time to get started with the list?

Well… yes, and no.

The last place on my list (first as you’re reading), which I would actually love to see, is in China, but I refuse to travel to a country that’s governed by such blatantly evil monsters (I prefer my monsters a bit more devious and dishonest). I would like to see many things in China, but if I did that, I might as well openly condone their social credit system, forced vaccinations, genocide, and unknowable other human and animal rights abuses, as well as their wanton disregard for the environment and whatever else they do that they’ve managed to effectively hide.

The prime minister of Canada might respect their dictatorship, and clearly has ambitions to create his own, but I don’t. So number fifteen on my list is clearly a very unlikely dream for me.

#15 – The Terracotta Army, China

Whew! With all that finally being said, at number fifteen on my list is the ancient Terracotta Army, located near Lishan in Shaanxi Province, central China.

The Terracotta Army refers to the thousands of life-size clay models of soldiers, horses, and chariots which were deposited around the grand mausoleum of Shi Huangdi, first emperor of China and founder of the Qin dynasty.

– Cartwright, M. (2017, November 06). Terracotta Army. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Terracotta_Army/

The detail of this vast army is unparalleled (all the soldiers have unique faces even), and much of what historians know of the area during the period comes from what’s been found at this amazing place. The sheer manpower that would have been involved in such an undertaking, and the time that would have been necessary to construct it, is staggering. But unfortunately, barring a complete governmental restructuring of modern China from the ground up, I’ll almost certainly never get to see it.

Now the list of places I’ll probably get to visit begins.

#14 – Teotihuacan, Mexico

Coming in at number fourteen on the list is Teotihuacan, near Mexico city. I happen to be in Mexico at the time of this writing, so it’s a very real possibility that I’ll get to go there very soon.

Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city located 30 miles (50 km) northeast of modern-day Mexico City. The city, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, was settled as early as 400 B.C. and became the most powerful and influential city in the region by 400 A.D. By the time the Aztecs found the city in the 1400s and named it Teotihuacan (meaning “the place where the gods were created”), the city had been abandoned for centuries. Teotihuacan’s origins, history, and culture largely remain a mystery.

– https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/teotihuacan. Accessed May 18, 2022

I need to see Teotihuacan because I’m utterly fascinated with the ancient lost civilizations of what is now called Latin America. They had significant and advanced technologies and clearly appeared to have had large, thriving cultures. But then they just disappeared. And we don’t know anything about many of them.

The mysteries of lost civilizations across the world definitely appeal to many of the alien intervention theories I like to entertain, and the vanished builders of Teotihuacan fit right into this category.

#13 – Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is among the most popular and well-known attractions of days gone by (in the Americas at any rate). Though maybe not quite as impressive as a few of the other Mesoamerican settlements, it was certainly of high importance and is located in a beautiful area of Mexico.

Chichen Itza, located at the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula of modern Mexico, was a Maya city which was later significantly influenced by the Toltec civilization. Flourishing between c. 750 and 1200 CE, the site is rich in monumental architecture and sculpture which promote themes of militarism and displays imagery of jaguars, eagles, and feathered-serpents.

Probably a capital city ruling over a confederacy of neighbouring states, Chichen Itza was one of the great Mesoamerican cities and remains today one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico. Chichen Itza is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

– Cartwright, M. (2014, September 26). Chichen Itza. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Chichen_Itza/

I need to see Chichen Itza because it’s another very important, large, and ancient city of the Americas that sits alone in the jungle. That fact that it’s got two distinct styles of construction has been the source of an unending and heated debate as to why. I’d like to go and have a look at what all the fuss is about.

#12 – The Colosseum, Italy

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, well, a giant cliché actually, everyone and their dog has been there and they have the selfies to prove it, but I would like to see the Colosseum in Rome anyway.

Located just east of the Roman Forum, the massive stone amphitheater known as the Colosseum was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened the Colosseum–officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater–with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights.

After four centuries of active use, the magnificent arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was used as a source of building materials. Though two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time, the amphitheater remains a popular tourist destination, as well as an iconic symbol of Rome and its long, tumultuous history.

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/colosseum. Accessed May 18, 2022

Other than ancient Greece, The Roman Empire has had the greatest impact on western culture as we know it. There are traces of the empire’s former magnificence all over Europe and beyond, and you’ll find Roman ruins in Africa, Greece, Turkey, even England, and many more locations. But to see a semi-intact Roman ruin in Rome would be, to me, the bees knees. Plus, the Colosseum looks beautiful.

#11 – Masada, Israel

Although this next destination doesn’t exactly carry the same visual appeal as many others on my list, the rich history (and historical controversy) of the area has drawn me to this area of the world since the first time I heard of it. I’m drawn to the desert as well (which will be the topic of another blog post similar to this one, I think), and want to visit however much of the middle east as is safely possible. Even semi-safely will do.

Masada (“fortress” in Hebrew) is a mountain complex in Israel in the Judean desert that overlooks the Dead Sea. It is famous for the last stand of the Zealots (and Sicarii) in the Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE). Masada is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Israel.

– Denova, R. (2019, November 07). Masada World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Masada/

#10 – Butrint, Albania

While staying in Albania for two-and-a-half months in 2020/2021, my wife and I did actually drive to Butrint, hoping to spend the day there, as we did in Apollonia, but, to our dismay, it was closed. Seeing as we were on a road trip at the time and the weather was pretty terrible during the time we were in the area (other than the day Butrint was closed), we didn’t return to see if we would have better luck the next time. Instead, we drove over the mountain to Gjirokaster, Albania, a gorgeous and ancient little town to the east.

Seeing as we absolutely love Albania with all of our hearts, we’ll definitely be returning to that country soon, so a return trip to Butrint is certainly on our schedule.

Butrint (ancient name Buthrotum) is located on the fertile coast of Epirus in present-day Albania and was an important settlement in Hellenistic and Roman times due to its position on the route from Italy to mainland Greece down the Ionian Sea, its safe anchorage, inland access via Lake Butrint and its proximity to Corcyra (Corfu). Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

– Cartwright, M. (2012, August 23). Butrint. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Butrint/

Butrint, like so many places in the Balkans, is old, really old, with evidence of civilization dating back to the seventh century BCE. It’s a mix of cultures, from whoever was originally there before both the Greeks and the Romans, to everyone who has followed after.

I need to return for these reasons, and because my wife and I were at the gates once already and got turned away. The same thing happened to us at Heraclea Lyncestis, in Bitola, Macedonia, and we’ll be returning there again too, but that’s a different story.

#9 – Ellora Caves, India

I’ve never really had an urge to travel to India, even with it’s rich and diverse history, great food, and who knows what else I’ve probably been missing out on, but the pull just isn’t there. My dad used to go there regularly in the seventies (he loved it), but I guess it’s just not a hereditary calling.

Being a history nerd, however, I do feel some sort of magnetic attraction to the Ellora Caves, and, really, who wouldn’t?

Ellora (also known as Elura and, in ancient times, as Elapura) is a sacred site in Maharastra, central India. The Ellora Caves are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is celebrated for its Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples and monuments which were carved from the local cliff rock in the 6th to 8th century CE. The most spectacular example is the 8th century CE Kailasa temple which, at 32 metres high, is the largest rock-cut monument in the world.

– Cartwright, M. (2016, March 08). Ellora Caves. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/article/874/ellora-caves/

My guess it that I’ll go to India to see the caves and I’ll probably fall in love with the place. Sort of like how I ended up loving Mexico and Albania. I never even intended to visit Mexico, but since travelling there on an invite in 2016, I’ve spent about eight months in the country all together. More by the time anyone reads this. And before 2020, I didn’t know a thing about Albania but now it’s one of my favourite countries on earth, so the chances are good that India will turn out to more special than I expect.

#8 – Tikal, Guatemala

The next item on “The Site is Right” iiiiiizzz… Tikal!, another Latin American wonder. Though, unlike Teotihuacan in Mexico, much of the history of this Mayan city is well known.

Tikal is a complex of Mayan ruins deep in the rainforests of northern Guatemala. Historians believe that the more than 3,000 structures on the site are the remains of a Mayan city called Yax Mutal, which was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient empire. Some of the buildings at Tikal date to the fourth century B.C.

Tikal, or Yax Mutal, was an important city in the empire of the Maya from 200 to 900 A.D.

The Mayan ruins have been part of a national park in Guatemala since the 1960s, and in 1979 they were named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tourism has been credited with providing the funds to restore and maintain Tikal, and a museum has been open there since 1964.

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/tikal. Accessed May 18, 2022

What draws me to this site, other than the fact that it’s an ancient abandoned city in the middle of the jungle, is its size. It’s massive and has at least 3,000 buildings spread over a large area, with many big pyramids and temples.

I was in Guatemala many years ago, but was too young and naive to appreciate the importance of the place. Maybe that’s a good thing, though, because when I do get to visit at this stage of my life, the experience won’t be wasted on me.

#7 – Pompeii, Italy

As a complete opposite to the cliché of visiting the Colosseum in Rome for some sweet selfies to post on Instagram, Pompeii legitimately seems like a historians delight. It’s an incredibly well-preserved time capsule of a nearly 2,000 year-old city. Who wouldn’t want to see that? I know I do.

Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Bay of Naples in Italy, has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. The dust “poured across the land” like a flood, one witness wrote, and shrouded the city in “a darkness…like the black of closed and unlighted rooms.”

Two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned for almost as many years. When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that–underneath a thick layer of dust and debris–Pompeii was mostly intact. The buildings, artifacts and skeletons left behind in the buried city have taught us a great deal about everyday life in the ancient world.

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/pompeii. Accessed May 19, 2022

From all accounts, Pompeii seems more like a museum than an ancient ruin. I don’t know if there’s anywhere else like it on earth. And anyway, a little trip to the Italian coast always sounds appealing, even if it is to one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet.

#6 – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

There’s something to be said about a place with the distinction of being the largest religious monument in the world. It covers over 400 acres. No big deal. Although it’s not exactly “ancient”, it is something of such impressiveness that it’s quite high on my list. A friend once went there, I can’t remember which one, but his reaction to the place was memorable. And because of that, I’ve now done enough research on the place to know that I need to go.

Angkor Wat is an enormous Buddhist temple complex located in northern Cambodia. It was originally built in the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple. Spread across more than 400 acres, Angkor Wat is said to be the largest religious monument in the world. Its name, which translates to “temple city” in the Khmer language of the region, references the fact it was built by Emperor Suryavarman II, who ruled the region from 1113 to 1150, as the state temple and political center of his empire.

Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century.

Although it is no longer an active temple, it serves as an important tourist attraction in Cambodia, despite the fact it sustained significant damage during the autocratic rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and in earlier regional conflicts.

https://www.history.com/topics/landmarks/angkor-wat. Accessed May 19, 2022

The reason I need to experience Angkor Wat is because it looks and sounds like it’s an absolutely breathtaking marvel that needs to be seen in the flesh.

Sure, I’ve seen plenty of pictures, and although a picture is worth a thousand words, no amount of pictures are able to capture the true majesty of a thing like our own senses can. Just because a picture falls far short of the real thing, however, that doesn’t nullify their value completely, so I do plan on taking plenty of early morning photos as the sun rises. It’s supposed to be quite the spectacle.


#5 – Machu Pichu, Peru

Machu Pichu is possibly the most well-known site of antiquity in all of the Americas. It’s a name that’s recognized everywhere. It’s been referred to in movies, books, poems, and more. Hardly anything at all is actually known about the history of the site, which I always find intriguing, but it’s believed to have been some sort of special place for Inca leaders. There’s no definitive proof of this, however, so the true purpose of Machu Pichu remains a mystery.

a view of machu pichu from one of its highest vantage points
alpacas having a snack at machu pichu, peru
machu pichu is bigger than one might expect

Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, until the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911, the abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region.

The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Today, hundreds of thousands of people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders

https://www.history.com/topics/south-america/machu-picchu. Accessed May 19, 2022

Four of the fifteen items on this list are in the Americas, and the fact that Machu Pichu is highest on the list of those American destinations means that, to me, it’s really special. I love the mystery. I love the fact that it sat abandoned for ages, known only to a few locals before being “discovered” in 1911. And I just love the idea of a five-mile-long, man-made marvel built on the top of a mountain.

When I do go for a visit, I’ll be one of the people that does the four-day trek along the Inca Trail. I’ll leave space on the train for those who are pressed for time or those who might not be as utterly transfixed as I’m sure to be.

#4 – Jericho, Palestine

By A. Sobkowski – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2110423

Just the opposite of somewhere like Angkor Wat in almost every regard, Jericho calls to me in a more profound way. One of the oldest settlements in human history, and, as far as anyone knows, the oldest walled city on Earth, it’s nothing special to look at; a pile of rocks in the dirt, really, but its history leaves absolutely nothing to be desired.

Jericho is one of the earliest continuous settlements in the world, dating perhaps from about 9000 BC. Archaeological excavations have demonstrated Jericho’s lengthy history. The city’s site is of great archaeological importance; it provides evidence of the first development of permanent settlements and thus of the first steps toward civilization. Traces have been found of visits of Mesolithic hunters, carbon-dated to about 9000 BC, and of a long period of settlement by their descendants. By about 8000 BC the inhabitants had grown into an organized community capable of building a massive stone wall around the settlement, strengthened at one point at least by a massive stone tower.

The size of this settlement justifies the use of the term town and suggests a population of some 2,000–3,000 persons. Thus, this 1,000 years had seen movement from a hunting way of life to full settlement. The development of agriculture can be inferred from this, and grains of cultivated types of wheat and barley have been found. Jericho is thus one of the places providing evidence of very early agriculture. It is highly probable that, to provide enough land for cultivation, irrigation had been invented. This first Neolithic culture of Palestine was a purely indigenous development.

– Kathleen Mary Kenyon, for The Archaeologist. April 20, 2021. Accessed May 19, 2022

I’m not sure of what the situation is regarding foreigners who wish to visit the West Bank, or if I’d even want to, but I think that this is one of those instances where taking risks for the purpose of having such an experience would be worth it. If the opportunity for me to visit Jericho ever arises and it doesn’t seem like obvious suicide, I’m taking it.

#3 – Petra, Jordan

I’m not exactly sure why I absolutely must see Petra, and I don’t care. Often, when a person is inexplicably drawn to something for reasons they can’t articulate, the reasons are deeper than they can understand. That’s how I feel about Petra, so I plan on following my heart.

Petra is located about 150 miles south of both Jerusalem and Amman, the capital of Jordan, and about midway between Damascus, Syria, and the Red Sea, making it ideally suited as a hub of commerce in the area.

The site is considered significant by historians and archeologists alike because of its beautiful rock-cut architecture and innovative water management system, the latter of which made the region inhabitable, given that it is surrounded by desert and rugged, mountainous terrain.

Petra has also been referred to as the “Rose City” because of the color of the stones used in its buildings. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

– https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/petra. Accessed May 19, 2022

It’s another ancient gem in the desert, in one of the oldest known areas of continuous human habitation on Earth. And it’s carved into a beautiful, rose-coloured mountain. It seems quite obvious to me why I would want to go there. Add that to the inexplicable attraction my heart feels right to it’s core, and there’s no way I can resist.

#2 – The Cradle of Humankind, South Africa

This is where it all started?

This one might as well be tied for first, as far as I’m concerned. Part of the reason I have to see it is that it’s hard to actually find a whole lot of readily available information on, or photographs of, the place. The bigger part of the reason is because it’s “The Cradle of Humankind”. As far as the record of hominids goes, this might very well be where it all started. And that, to me, is pretty damn impressive.

The Sterkfontein Valley landscape is in both western Gauteng and the North West Province and is also called the Cradle of Humankind because it includes remains of hominids from about 2 to 3.3 million years ago. There is also proof of early stone-age, middle stone-age, later stone-age, early and late iron-age and modern people. Thousands of fossils that show human evolution over the past 3.5 million years have been found since 1936. These fossils are important because they show how these human ancestors lived, what they ate and what animals and plants existed with them.

Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 1999. It includes archaeological sites at Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Swartkrans cave, Coopers B, Wonder Cave, Drimolen, Gladysvale, Gondolin, Plover’s Lake, Haasgat, Bolt’s Farm and Minnaar’s caves. The Sterkfontein caves are the best known because Professor Raymond Dart found the skull of an adult Australopithecus africanus there in 1947. There are about 25 more sites in the area that can be excavated.

– The Cradle of Humankind. The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs, from South African History Online, www.sahistory.org.za

Although South Africa seems like it’s a million miles away from anywhere I’ve ever been, that fact just serves to make me want to pack my bags and hop on a plane even more (or board a sailboat and take the slow trip). Couple the exotic location with a history nerd’s fantasy trip, and it’s literally a win-win.

#1 – Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

Numero uno on this list is one of our most recent discoveries, and one that’s thrown yet another monkey-wrench into everything that many historians and archaeologists have desperately tried to cling to and pass off as undeniable truths.

I think a lot of historians and archaeologists are lazy and hyper ego-driven. Especially ones from the past who had a huge interest in preserving status quos like racial superiority and religious dogma. Others just didn’t want their life’s work to be all wrong. At least that’s kind of understandable. Incredibly selfish, but I get it.

Gobekli Tepe and The Cradle of Humankind take all that petty bullshit and throw it in the face of such pig-headed foolishness. And I like that.

Forget everything you thought you knew.

Göbekli Tepe is the world’s oldest example of monumental architecture; a ‘temple’ built at the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. It was discovered in 1995 CE when, just a short distance from the city of Şanliurfa in Southeast Turkey, a Kurdish shepherd noticed a number of large, embedded stones, stones which had clearly been worked – and which turned out to be the most astonishing discovery.

Anatolia is described variously as a melting pot of civilisations and cultures, a bridge between Asia and Europe, a fusion of East and West, and many other familiar and overused descriptions, all now rather pedestrian but accurate nonetheless. It is certainly a fact that Anatolia has the unnerving habit of turning up ‘Lost Civilisations’ and ‘Vanished Cultures.’

It is unnerving for two reasons: in the modern age we have covered so much ground, physically and intellectually, that we think we should know everything by now, and it is unnerving because, intrinsically, an entire civilisation is a hard thing to lose, especially in a place that is supposed to be a ‘bridge’ and has been tramped across by so many peoples since the very dawn of civilisation itself.

– Kropacek, N. (2020, December 08). Lost Civilisations of Anatolia: Göbekli Tepe. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1580/lost-civilisations-of-anatolia-gobekli-tepe/

(The link to the entire article above leads to an amazing read. It’s very definitely worth it, and for any serious history buffs, is essential.)

The Anatolia region is an unending gift of historical discovery, and, once again, it hasn’t disappointed. Gobekli Tepe and places like it are just what this world regularly needs to challenge everything we think we know about human civilization. Seeing as I plan to move fairly close to Turkey soon, I’ll undoubtedly be making trips to Gobekli Tepe whenever possible. I can hardly wait.

And there we have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my must-see list of ancient, and some not-so-ancient, but amazing all the same, places. Please let me know if it’s inspired you to get out and do some exploring of your own. Also, if I’ve overlooked or simply never heard of a place worthy of visiting, please feel free to educate me.

15 Must-See Ancient Wonders

  1. Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
  2. The Cradle of Humankind, South Africa
  3. Petra, Jordan
  4. Jericho, Palestine
  5. Machu Pichu, Peru
  6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  7. Pompeii, Italy
  8. Tikal, Guatemala
  9. Ellora Caves, India
  10. Butrint, Albania
  11. Masada, Israel
  12. The Colosseum, Italy
  13. Chichen Itza
  14. Teotihuacan
  15. The Terracotta Army, China

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