Discover history’s lost and found. Join Jonathan Dias as he globe trots around the planet in search of civilisations that were once lost in oblivion, but fortunately rediscovered and named UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Some remarkably intact, others brought down by invaders or whisked away by the forces of nature, each of these cities and towns has a story to tell—of a life that is long gone but not forgotten. From the imposing temples of Angkor to the prehistoric ruins of Skara Brae, they give up knowledge of secrets that have been waiting patiently over centuries.
Deep within the city of Cambodia is the ancient city of Angkor. Home to more than a thousand temples of exceptional beauty and mind-tingling grandeur. Right from nondescript piles of stones to the humbling Angkor Wat, each will take your breath away. This UNESCO World Heritage Site needs more than a day to inhale all it has to offer. Don’t miss the three big ones. Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument. Ta Prohm, where nature has claimed part of the temple like an illegal squatter. And Bayon, with 216 cold, smiling faces that follow you around. Eerie and exciting at the same time.
Founded by an ancient Hindu king sometime around the 7th century BC, Taxila was an important Hindu and Buddhist centre. Takshashila as it was then known is said to have derived its name from Taksha, the son of Bharata, brother of Rama.
The Jataka Tales mention it as the capital of the Gandhara kingdom and monuments from the time of Alexander the Great and Emperor Ashoka still stand testament to the magnificence of the city. Today, Taxila consists of a Mesolithic cave, four settlement cities, Buddhist monasteries from various periods, and Medieval mosques and madrasas. Taxila now enjoys the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Pakistan.
The Mayans claimed the world will end by 2012. That gives you very little time to plan a visit to their master piece—Palenque. The ruins date back to 100 BC but were only rediscovered in the late 1700s. The uncovered area is around 2.5 km long—just 10% of the entire site, and scientists claim there are more than a 1000 structures still hidden by the jungle. The restored temples and palaces, have impressive paintings, and bas relief and hieroglyphs carved in stone and stucco. The hieroglyphs reveal names of monuments such as Temple of the Skull and Dead Moon. Kinda makes you wonder what the natives were smoking…
SKARA BRAE, SCOTLAND
The prehistoric ruins of Skara Brae are around 5000 years old. While the earth claimed the site as its own, one storm after another made archaeologists’ lives easier by revealing bits and pieces of the settlement. It is the best preserved Neolithic village in northern Europe and offers a unique insight into the lives of a farming community that was close knit, but still valued its privacy. Excavations have unearthed stone cottages, complete with beds, hearths, shelves and secret compartments. The cottages were big enough for a family, with a small doorway that was possibly barred for security. Though fishing equipment was not found, there were water-tight tanks in the floor of each house that probably held fish-bait. Various reasons, such as the reclaiming sea have been attributed to the settlement being abandoned. Four centuries of enshrouding sands did the rest.
Founded in 814 BC, Carthage was one of Phoenicia’s most powerful colonies. After the fall of the Phoenicians, Carthage passed into Etruscan (people of ancient Italy and Corsica) hands and almost brought Rome to her knees. But after three wars that lasted over a century, the Romans brought down Carthage and the city with it. They took most of the structures down, but rubble covered some that were excavated by modern archeologists. The city retains its grandeur. The Antonine Baths for example are impressive for their sheer size and location. The Roman Amphitheatre was one of the largest in the empire, but most of the stones were ‘borrowed’ for other building projects. They haven’t been returned to date. There’s also the disturbing Sanctuary of Trophet where children of Carthaginian nobles were burnt to appease ancient Phoenician gods.
If the residents of Herculaneum had watched the movie Dante’s Peak, they would have known that volcanoes are to be taken seriously. Around AD 79, Mt Vesuvius threw a mighty fit and took Herculaneum with it. Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered with molten lava and volcanic ash, which preserved most of the structures. What’s more fascinating and a little eerie, perhaps, is that for 1600 years, it also preserved the bodies of the people that didn’t escape. Amphitheatres, houses, wall paintings, mosaics, original street pavings, frescoes and hundreds of scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri, have survived into modern times.
MACHU PICCHU, PERU
It’s as much fun visiting Machu Picchu, as it is pronouncing the name. The ‘Lost city of the Incas’ is perched dramatically at a height of 2,350 metres, touched by clouds and surrounded by hills. Thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for Inca nobility, this enigmatic city is shrouded in mystery. The palaces, temples, terraces, baths and houses are in a remarkable state of preservation. Although Machu Picchu was known to a few peasants in the area, the outside world was quite oblivious to its existence. And like Chris Columbus, American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled on it by accident in 1911 while looking for another lost city. While thick forests had taken over the site at the time, today all of it has been cleared to reveal this sacred UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jonathan Dias is a copywriter, traveller and wannabe philosopher.
His dad wanted him to get into engineering. He wanted to taste beer from all over the world.
Now, when he's not trying to sell you a pressure cooker at 20% discount, he takes off to wherever he can. Purely for scientific beer research, of course.
He prefers travelling alone and has learned plenty of lessons through many mistakes. It's the fun way, he says.
Jonathan has written for Femina and Maxim as well.
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