Historic sites can be found in practically every country in the world. While sites such as Angkor Wat and Stonehenge are well known, there are thousands more which are equally as impressive. This list will not include globally popular sites like Petra, the Pyramids or Machu Picchu as there are many articles dedicated to them. Instead, we will go through some of the most amazing historical sites that deserve more attention than they currently receive.
Thailand’s Historic Site of Ayutthaya
Founded in 1350 by Ramathibodi I, this city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya was the capital of the Thai state of Siam until its destruction in the 18th century. It can be found 89 kilometres north of Bangkok, in central Thailand. Three rivers surround the city, making it an island like no other. Temples stretch into the sky and Buddha statues keep watch day and night. Lotus flowers lie on altars, symbolising the ever-lasting life of the great city. Although largely destroyed, Ayutthaya will never be abandoned.
Due to the vast nature of this site, there are many options for guides and tours. The train from Bangkok city takes two hours but visiting the site by boat remains popular. Entrance to the site itself is free but there are temples on the complex that ask for admittance fee. These fees range from 20 to 50 THB and are well worth the small price.
There are many options to choose from if you wish to explore Ayutthaya. You can pay for group tours with other tourists or even private tours. Additionally, you can have a tour on a boat, bike or various other methods such as a minibus or tuk-tuk. Do your research before booking tours. Many tours advertised do not include admittance fees to temples or have hidden fees. Additionally, depending on your preferences, you may wish to book for smaller groups or larger travel options. Overcrowded busses in the south-Asian heat may be something you wish to avoid.
Visit Aksum, Ethiopia
Aksum, or Axum, can be found in Ethiopia, north Africa. It was founded in the 1st century CE and survived up until the 8th century. For a time, this city was powerful and highly important in the trading circuit. The history of this site has made it a holy city for the Ethiopian Orthodox church. While Aksum may easily be passed by, there are many things to draw you in. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and holds the record for the largest erected obelisk. This granite obelisk, when still standing, reached 34 metres high. Dotted around the city are many more original obelisks, though these only reach little more than 3 metres tall.
Reaching Aksum may pose a challenge for many as no direct flights to the city from the capital exist. Driving from Addis Ababa to Aksum takes close to 17 hours so booking indirect flights may be the most time-friend option. However, there are many sights to see on the road from the capital to Aksum.
To get the full experience, it may be beneficial to hire tour guides or book tours. Tours in and around the city will teach you the incredible history and allow you to appreciate the city more. Here, you will see the obelisks, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion and the wondrous inscriptions.
The Pagan Kingdom’s Historic City of Bagan, Myanmar
Located 290 kilometres southwest of Mandalay, Bagan was the Pagan Kingdom’s capital city. This city began its construction in the 1st century CE and, over 250 years, grew immensely. At the height of the Pagan Dynasty there were thought to have been over 10,000 Buddhist temples. Now, however, roughly 2,500 stand. This site holds the largest number of Buddhist monuments in the world, including monasteries, stupas and temples. Surprisingly, this city only became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. Bagan was the capital of the first Burmese kingdom from the year 1044 up until 1297. Ultimately, however, the great city fell due to recurring invasions by the Mongol Empire.
The temples of Bagan hold many mysteries and unusual history. Dhammayangyi Pahto, the largest temple in the complex, extends almost 80 metres in each of its sides. Legend states that this temple was built by King Narathu as a means of atoning for his sins. Those allegedly include executing his wife for practising Hindu and smother his brother and father. Other fascinating spots in Bagan include Shwesandaw Paya, Shwezigon Paya and Abeyadana Pahto.
Here, you will have the option of taking tours on e-bicycles and various private or public tours. You even have the option of viewing the site while enjoying a cruise on the river. Prices vary but can cost as little as 57,000 MMR, or £25. With the unimaginable scenery and views, it would truly be a shame to miss out on this location on your next visit to Myanmar.
See the Largest Historic Buddhist Temple in Borobudur, Indonesia
Borobudur takes the cake for being the single largest Buddhist temple in the world. This monumental site sits on the island of Java, surrounded by picturesque scenery. It was built between 780-840 CE under the rule of King Samaratungga, head of the Sailendra Dynasty. This historical temple became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991 and underwent extensive restoration. Repairs on the structure took eight years in the 1970s and unveiled the way in which the site was constructed. Rather than using mortar, rocks fit together perfectly to create the temple. Originally 594 Buddha statues decorated the building, along with 2,672 reliefs.
Due to its location, Borobudur is best explored on foot. There are various tours available at differing prices. While some tours are private and offer lunch and a good history lesson, others may not. Because of this, ensure that thorough research and planning gets carried out before booking tours or hiring guides.
Explore the Ellora Caves, India
Primarily constructed in the years between 600-1000 CE, there are over 100 caves in the Ellora network. This site sits in the state of Maharashtra, west India and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city of Aurangabad lies about 40 kilometres southeast from the site, or a 50 minute drive. The caves span a distance of 2 kilometres in the basaltic rock and include spectacular walls and facades.
Of the 100 existing temples, only 34 are open to the public. There are 12 distinctive Buddhist temples, 17 Hindu temples and five Jain temples. The Buddhist temples lie in the south of the site and date back to roughly 200 BCE to 600 CE. In the centre are the Hindu temples which date back to 500-900 CE and in the north are the Jain temples, constructed from 800-1000 CE. While each one of the temples in the caves are extraordinary, the Hindu designs are by far the most decorated. This network was used as a network of viharas and caityas, or monasteries and temples. Many of the structures have areas that acted as rooms or sleeping cells for the monks who lived there.
Much like many other incredible historical sites, there are a variety of tours you can book. Tours and guides for the Ellora caves can be day tours, or span several days. Often these tours will start in Aurangabad and take you to the nearby Ajanta caves as well. There are amazing deals which include flights from Mumbai and even month long trips across India where the caves are visited.
Maijishan Grottoes, China
One of the ‘Four Greatest Grottoes in China’, the Maijishan grottoes are not a site to be missed. This collection of caves began being built in 384 CE and were expanded upon until 907 CE. This means that grottoes were added throughout the Northern Zhou dynasty as well as the Tang dynasty. You can find this historical site in the Gansu Province, northwest China, in Maiji Mountain. Here, you will see 221 caves carved into the mountainside along with murals covering 1,300 metres squared. There are over 10,600 clay sculptures on the site, giving it the name of the Oriental Sculpture Art Exhibition Hall.
Day trips to the Maijishan Grottoes are popular, and for good reason. Prices are reasonable and there are plenty of things to see. There are various tours available, many of which include the Grottoes as a stop along many. Four day tours are the best way to see Maijishan and other great grottoes and attractions in the Tianshui area. Prices for these tours start at around £450 per person, but include accommodation for three nights.
The Historic Egyptian Revival of Meroë, Sudan
This city, once the capital of the Kush kingdom, was founded around 750 BC. The White Nile River lies to the west and the Blue Nile some distance to the east. Meroë developed an Egypto-Cushite culture over the years and survived invasions by the Romans as well as tribes. Nubian Pharaohs created a revival age of Egyptian culture, which led to the city looking as it does today. Art, religion and architecture from Egypt were adopted in the creation of this city. Because of this, this historical site has a unique architecture which includes pyramids and a temple of Amon. Discoveries were made in 1902 when the site began to be excavated. Streets, palaces and a large number of buildings pointed to the city having been high in population.
Since Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt, it comes as no surprise that many people wish to gaze upon them. Tours are popular for the area and allow visitors to see both the city, pyramids and pristine desert. Tented camps will give you the full Sudanese experience. Moreover, tours up to 17 days long will give you the chance to see the lost kingdoms of the Nile.
Visit the Immense Stepwell of Rani-ki-Vav, India
Rani-ki-Vav lies in the state of Gujarat, India. It began construction in 1063 under the Chaulukya Dynasty by Rani Udayamati to commemorate her husband. Records show that the site took 20 years to complete. Years of flooding from the Saraswati River led to the temple being lost under silt for many years after. This historical stepwell became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 after its restoration in the 1980s. As one of the oldest known stepwells in Gujarat, this site has remained a popular tourist destination. The structure, which takes the form of an inverted temple, has multiple levels. Carved pillars, geometric patterns and over 800 sculptures decorate the site. The architectural style has been recognised as Maru-Gujara and holds similarities to Mount Abu’s temple and Modhera’s Sun temple.
The temple sits in Patan, a city that was the capital of Gujarat’s Chalukya Dynasty. Travelling to Patan from the state capital of Ahmedabad can be challenging. Buses take three and a half hours but the nearest airport is 125 kilometres away. It is possible to hire shared vehicles from the state capital, but they may not be as comfortable. However, as Patan has a railway station, a train from Mehsana takes only one hour. Tours are available and are highly recommended. The history carved into every pillar is worth finding out about.
The Historic Lion Mountain of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Lion Mountain, or Sigiriya, can be found in central Sri Lanka. The palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Here, a stronghold that dates back to the 5th century CE sits atop the mountain. This monolithic rock rises 349 metres above sea level and close to 180 metres above the land around it. King Kashyapa I planned for the palace to be built in the shape of a lion on the mountain summit. This site was to be a safe site but he was defeated in 495, leading the palace to fall to ruin. To visit the site, you must walk through the open paws of the lion. Inside, the parts of the palace that are still standing offer plenty to see. There are 21 rock paintings of celestial singers and dancers, or apsaras, and gardens, alleys and fountains to see.
To reach this ancient historical site, you can embark on a hike. The nearest city to Sigiriya is Dambulla, but travelling from Colombo tends to be more popular. From Colombo you can hop on a train, bus, car or even plane. While travel options are more expensive than others, there are options to suit every budget. Busses and trains are good options if you are not in a rush. Travelling by car or plane, however, ensures comfort as well as incredible views. Once reaching Sigiriya, the climb to the summit can take up to three hours. This can depend on your level of fitness and the number of other visitors around.
Zimbabwe Ruins, Zimbabwe
The Zimbabwe Ruins, or Great Zimbabwe, sits in south-eastern Zimbabwe. This stone city was built during the Iron Age and spreads across 80 hectares. It lies 30 kilometres southeast of Fort Victoria, or modern day Masvingo. While little remains, at its peak researchers estimate that the area supported up to 20,000 Shona people. The tall walls and curved halls offer a new perspective when visiting them. If you choose to visit this great historical site, be sure to make the most of the surrounding area, too. Tours are available and offer a variety of choices, though it is possible to enjoy this site on your own.
Why Not Visit Some of these Historical Sites?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, or incredible historical sites around the world. In this article only a select few of those were mentioned from a very long list. Whether you are interested in the desert cultures like those of Sudan or the jungles of Indonesia, there is something for you. Chances are a historical site is closer to you than you think. Taking the opportunity to learn and truly appreciate the cultures and works of the past is a joy of life. What are you waiting for?