By Laura Tait
Whilst you can learn a lot about a country’s past from history books, nothing brings it to life more than walking around the ghost towns that represent once real and prosperous sites and cities. Here are some of the most fascinating ruins on the planet.
Made by the Khmer kings in a process taking almost four centuries, Angkor was abandoned and hidden by the forest before being rediscovered by a Frenchman about 150 years ago, and restored into one of the most visited archaeological and artistic sites in the world. It’s a breathtaking complex consisting of hundreds of temples, covering 500 acres. You won’t get around them all, but don’t miss the main Temple of Angkor Wat, which has five main towers reaching 215 feet into the air from its mile-long base, and Angkor Tom – with its imposing statues of 54 gods and 54 demons leading up to the temple.
The best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, Ephesus is as close a taste you’ll find as to what life was like in Roman times – it was both a great trading city back in its day and a centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. The impressive Magnesia Gate provides the main entrance to the ancient city, where you’ll walk along marble streets grooved by chariot wheels and see beautiful temples, porticoes, fountains and frescoes as well as the three-storey Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, the Odeum, the Fountain of Trajan and the Great Theatre.
[See also: 8 spooky ghost towns]
Arguably Italy’s most popular tourist attraction, this city was buried beneath 66 feet of pumice and ash during a long disastrous outbreak of the volcano Mount Vesuvius that continued for almost two days in the year 79 AD. It was then lost for almost 1,600 years before being randomly rediscovered in 1592. Walking the streets of this former city gives you a glimpse of the lives of the people that once inhabited it, complete with homes, theatres, shops and temples.
Great Pyramids & Memphis, Egypt
Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the Great Pyramid of Giza remains, and 4,000 years since they were built, it is still being debated by experts how the builders managed to place more than two million stone blocks so perfectly. Since 1979 they’ve been classed as a World Heritage Site along with Memphis - the capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Its ruins live on as an open-air museum, with extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, temples and pyramids.
The best-preserved group of Buddhist monuments in India sits on a flat-topped sandstone hill, 90 metres above the countryside, near the Betwa River. Its major attractions include a number of Buddhist stupas - mound-like structures containing Buddhist relics (including the aptly named Great Stupa) - monasteries, temples and pillars. The structures date back to somewhere between 3rd century BC and 12th century AD. The artistic imagery carved on the pillars and stupas tell stories of Buddha’s life.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Built in the 1400s at the height of the Inca Empire, this complex was abandoned in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. But after being rediscovered in 1911 by an American archaeologist, it is considered today as one of the world’s most spectacular and fascinating marvels. Its 200 buildings surrounded by tropical jungle are nestled a staggering 2430 meters high in the Andes Mountains of Peru and it’s a wonder how the Incas managed to build such an incredible complex so high on the side of a cliff.
Founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1350, Ayutthaya was once the country’s capital and an internationally renowned bustling metropolis, whose progress is said to have rivalled that of European capitals at the time. That was until the Burmese army burned down the city in 1767. In 1969 the Fine Arts Department began renovating the ruins, and today the debris of the empire's glory forming part of what is now known as the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Translating to ‘The Sacred Rock, the high city’, the Acropolis in Athens has retained its splendour; despite its once-pristine temples and gates being battered with thousands of years of wear and destruction. Its prominent architectural landmarks include its monumental entrance the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike, which is the earliest Ionic temple on the Acropolis, the Erechtheum (an unusually designed temple located on the north side) and most famously, the Parthenon, considered to be the most significant structure of Classical Greece and one of Europe’s most recognisable landmarks.