The world is filled with cities rich in intriguing history. Cities like Athens, Rome, and Paris are known for their fascinating ancient ruins that provide a captivating gateway into their past. You might know of quite a few popular cities around the world having magnificent ancient ruins, like the Pompeii in Italy, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Colosseum in Rome.
However, there are quite a few lesser-known places you might not be aware of that have equally fascinating ancient ruins. Here we present some ancient cities that aren’t as widely known from 6 different corners of the world.
1. Persepolis, Iran
Before its collapse in 330 BCE, Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The city was founded by King Darius I in 518 BCE and grew in splendor in the years to follow.
A gigantic terrace of 125,000 square feet is one of its most striking features. Several rulers built grand palaces, temples, and halls around the terrace. The city was located in a remote mountainous region, which made it difficult to travel there during the rainy season and was thus concealed from the outside world for a long time. Persepolis was the safest city in the Persian Empire for storing art, artifacts, and archives, along with keeping the royal treasury safe.
Alexander the Great sacked and plundered Persepolis in 330 BCE. He burned the entire city down and left with its great treasures. The ruins of the city stayed buried for centuries and were discovered only in the 17th century. Professional excavations in Persepolis began in 1931 and work on the mysteries of this captivating ancient city is still underway.
2. Bagan, Myanmar
The ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar, was once one of the greatest cities in Southeast Asia. This 11th-century temple city was wrecked by earthquakes and pillaged by Kublai Khan's invaders. Historians believe that it was around the 13th century when the majority of the inhabitants left the city. The temples, palaces, and other grand architectural marvels of the city were left behind only to be discovered by people years later.
It is also believed that after the builders of Bagan left, large swathes of the city were left relatively untouched for about four centuries. Over 2,000 Buddhist structures are dotted along the Irrawaddy River in Bagan, making for a splendid sight. The beautiful ruins of Bagan have great historical importance, and the city should be crawling with tourists. Unfortunately, most of the glorious temples, stupas, and pagodas lie empty throughout the year.
3.Longmen Grottoes, China
The Longmen Grottoes, also known as the Longmen Caves, are located between Mount Xiang and Mount Longmen, south of Luoyang in China. The site has more than 2,300 grottoes and niches, along with 100,000 Buddhist statues. The statues vary in size – some are only an inch tall while the longest one is a Buddha statue of 57 feet. The place has some of the most exquisite depictions of ancient Chinese stone art.
The Longmen Grottoes were constructed over the course of about five centuries beginning in 493 CE. Along with the grottoes, you will also find statues and inscriptions engraved within, giving us a glimpse of the political, cultural, and artistic situation of the late Northern Wei and Tang periods.
Thankfully, the Chinese government has ensured that the Longmen Grottoes will be well preserved, which is essential because of the ancient site's historical significance.
4. Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Situated in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, Great Zimbabwe is a spectacular ancient city that has almost been forgotten by the modern world. Historians believe that the city was built between the 11th and 15th centuries and was home to a cattle-herding people initially. From c. 1100 to c. 1550 CE, the city was continuously inhabited, mostly by the Bantu people of the Iron Age.
It was during this time that some impressively sculpted walls and towering stone towers were built here. Unfortunately, overpopulation and deforestation led to the collapse of the kingdom around 1450. Soon after that, Europeans colonists arrived. It isn’t known for certain what led to the decline of Great Zimbabwe, but it was largely abandoned by the second half of the 15th century CE.
The city was ‘rediscovered’ in the 19th century, and since then, it has been modernized. However, the Great Zimbabwe ruins continue to fascinate many historians and researchers, as the city has the biggest collection of ruins in Africa south of the Sahara.
Borobudur is a massive temple complex which dates way back to the 9th-century. Also called "Barabudur", this Mahayana Buddhist temple is located on the island of Java in Indonesia. It was built during the rule of the Sailendra Dynasty and is still regarded as the world's largest Buddhist temple.
While its structure is relatively intact at present, Borobudur has been ravaged by natural disasters plenty of times over the centuries and was abandoned for a long time before it was rediscovered in the 1800s. The temple has been largely restored over the years, but the origins of its initial structure remain shrouded in mystery.
There are also no known records related to its actual construction or purpose, which makes Borobudur a captivating ancient wonder.
Often called the 'Camelot of Africa', the city of Gondar or Gonder is located in northern Ethiopia and was founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635. The city stands at 7,500 feet (2,300 meters) and was the capital of Ethiopia from 1632 to 1855.
Repeated invasions from the mid-1800s led to the downfall of this beautiful city. However, the ruins of the several magnificent castles, palaces, and churches still remain. This makes Gondar one of the rare medieval African cities still alive today. Tourism hasn’t flourished here yet. So you can roam about the ancient sites in Gondar freely and get soaked in its history.