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12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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By Noreen Kompanik, TravelPulse

Even if you’ve never visited all these famous ancient ruins, they’re probably not unfamiliar to you.

There’s something surreal and mystical about wandering the haunting ruins of an ancient place. Especially those that once were homes to great empires and fascinating cultures. Those that flourished, and in many cases, just suddenly faded away.

The world is filled with awe-inspiring ancient ruins, some dating back thousands of years. There are crumbling cities and others that have miraculously withstood the test of time and nature. But each of these provides some profound insight into the very lives of these ancient civilizations.

All designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, these are among the most spectacular ancient ruins that absolutely boggle the mind and leave us with even greater curiosity, wondering about the many more mysteries these ruins hold in their silent embrace.

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Angkor, Cambodia

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Often called ‘the mother of all ruins,’ Angkor Wat is a majestic complex consisting of hundreds of vine-covered temples hidden in the depths of the Cambodian jungle. Over 1,000 of these temples lie scattered throughout the tropical forest, rice fields and farmlands of Angkor.

The largest religious monument in the world is the Main Temple of Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century, it was founded as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. The temple is beautifully well-preserved providing an incredibly breathtaking sight. Its striking five towers, reminiscent of lotus blossoms tower 215 feet into the air from its over one-mile base.

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Chichén Itzá, Mexico

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Many Mayan ruins dot the jungles of Mexico and Central America. But none are more spectacular than Chichén Itzá. This ancient metropolis on the Yucatan Peninsula dates back to the 6th century AD.

A brilliant work of architecture and astronomy, the massive temple Pyramid of Kukulkán is so precisely engineered that on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts shadows that create the illusion of a slithering serpent descending the massive steps of the pyramid.

The Chichén Itzá ball court is the largest archeologists have discovered to date. The ruins of this Mayan city are located about 2 ½ hours from Cancun and are absolutely worth the trip

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Bagan, Myanmar

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Steeped in history and one of the most remarkable sights in southeast Asia, the Bagan Myanmar Temples have inspired pilgrims to journey here for a thousand years.

Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th century. At its peak, the city contained over 10,000 Buddhist temples. Over the years, many religious temples, pagodas, and monasteries were either vandalized or destroyed by natural calamities, especially earthquakes. Despite the destruction, over 2,200 temples and pagodas remain today on this breathtakingly picturesque and haunting 40-square-mile site in Burma.

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Stonehenge, England

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Sitting mysteriously upon the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is easily one of the most recognized ancient ruins in the world and one of the world’s greatest puzzles. Dating back over 5,000 years, these curious 40-ton stone rings are some of the oldest stone structures on the planet.

Who built these fascinating sandstone structures is largely unknown. And the how and why remain unanswered, for they pre-date written European history. Many who have visited this monument at sunrise and sunset proclaim they can still feel its mystical presence.

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Pompeii, Italy

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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The eerie ruins of Pompeii are located near the Italian city of Naples. This once stunning, vibrant and wealthy Roman port city was destroyed in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted explosively burying the town in volcanic ash and killing over 2,000 of its residents.

The ancient ‘lost city’ was accidentally re-discovered beneath the volcanic rock in the 1950s. Excavations two decades later revealed a remarkably well-preserved town with villas, temples, perfectly intact pottery and artifacts, and even bodies frozen in time. The ruins are extensive and there’s still much to learn from this ancient city as excavation efforts continue. But this is a must-do on any trip to Southern Italy.

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Petra, Jordan

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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For anyone who has visited Petra, they will understand why this awe-inspiring ‘Rose City’ is a siren call to history lovers.

The ancient desert town was carved out of pink sandstone cliffs by nomads thousands of years ago. Situated between the Red and Dead Seas, it’s hard to imagine this now dead city was once filled with palatial houses, picturesque verdant gardens, and bustling marketplaces.

Exploring the ruins of Petra reveals abandoned caves, fascinating temples, and tombs hidden within the city walls. The two-story Treasury carved into the rock face is one of the most beautiful and iconic landmarks in this ancient abode. It’s no wonder these spectacular ruins were featured in the 1981 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’

Ephesus, Turkey

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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One of the best-preserved ancient cities in the Mediterranean, Ephesus is Turkey's showpiece of an ancient city that blended Aegean and Roman civilizations with its culture and architecture.

Located only three miles from the sea and dating back over 2,000 years, Ephesus was at one time the wealthiest and leading seaport of the Greco-Roman era.

Though only the foundation remains, the Temple of Artemis (known to the Romans as Diana, Apollo’s twin) was four times larger than Athens’ Parthenon when it was built in 135 A.D. Two monumental masterpieces of ancient Ephesus are the 25,000-seat Great Theater and the two-story Celsus Library, one of the largest in the ancient world.

Ephesus was severely damaged by an earthquake in 614 AD. But what makes these ruins stand out is that unlike many other protected archaeological sites, you can still touch, stand on and walk through every part of this fascinating city.

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Machu Picchu, Peru

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Without a doubt, you will always find Machu Picchu at the top of any listing of the world’s most intriguing ancient ruins. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it literally entices visitors from all over the globe.

Set within the cloud forest of the misty Andean peaks, Machu Picchu is believed to have been built in the 15th century by Inca ruler Pachacute. Hundreds of palaces, temples and baths are located in the massive sprawling stone complex.

How it was constructed without the use of the wheel, metal tools, or mortar is an engineering marvel in itself. And the question continues to perplex historians as to why it was built and then later suddenly abandoned. The Inca Trail is the most iconic hike to Machu Picchu and the only option that permits entrance into the famous ruins on foot through the Sun Gate.

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Acropolis, Greece

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Although many Greek ruins can be found throughout the Mediterranean, none evoke the spirit of Greek culture like Athens’ Acropolis. This temple and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical culture and civilization showcasing the greatest architectural and artistic accomplishments of Greek Antiquity. From its dramatic lofty perch above the city of Athens, the famous Parthenon crowns the citadel of the Acropolis and can be seen from every corner of the city.

First built and inhabited by Pericles as early as 510 BC, the Acropolis was eventually transformed into a city of temples. An archaeological wonder and one of the world's most instantly recognizable landmarks, this stunning site is best seen and explored by guided tour.

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Ellora Caves, India

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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One of the largest rock-cut Hindu temple cave complexes in the world, Ellora Caves is carved into the side of a massive basalt cliff. This impressively intricate complex contains monasteries, temples and artwork dating from 600–1000 AD. The detailed undertaking within the caverns took Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks over five centuries to complete.

Though the site contains 100 caves, only 34 of these are currently open to the public. The highlight of the caves is the exquisitely carved Kailasa Temple, the largest monolithic sculpture in the world. The Ellora Caves illustrate the spirit of tolerance, characteristic of ancient India, which permitted three religions to establish their sanctuaries and their communities in a single place.

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Colosseum, Rome

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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Like the Greeks, Roman ruins can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. But the Colosseum located in the heart of Rome is perhaps the most iconic. The largest amphitheater in the ancient world, the Colosseum served as a gladiator arena. Here 50,000 spectators cheered wildly as its chosen gladiatorial competitors and wild animals would fight to the death.

Even by today’s architectural standards, the construction of the outdoor Colosseum is most impressive with its massive walls and three levels of archways adorned with impressive Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns.

There’s something so awe-inspiring walking through the underground and above ground levels of the Colosseum and imagining what life must have been like during the apex of perhaps the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

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Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
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I was in elementary school the first time I rode a camel to the unbelievable Egyptian pyramids, and it’s a memory I will never forget.

Built around 2600 BC during a time when Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world, the pyramids—especially the Great Pyramids of Giza—are some of the most magnificent man-made structures in history. Their immense scale defies imagination, reflecting the all-encompassing role the pharaoh played in ancient Egyptian society.

The question of how the pyramids were built has never really received a wholly satisfactory explanation. But that’s the mystery and allure of these magnificent ancient desert burial monuments.

New York Times Magazine writer William Langewiesche once said “So much of who we are is where we have been.”

Visiting these ancient ruins throughout the world teaches us so much about past civilizations. Whether they thrived or completely disappeared, there are many enlightenments yet to be discovered – about their life, beliefs, practices, and contributions to humankind.

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Travel Magazine: 12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
12 Most Spectacular Ancient Ruins to Travel Now
These ancient ruins are some of the most impressive in the entire world and are all recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
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