8 Ancient Cities of the World to Add to Your Travel Wish List
As much as Jetsetters love cities with high design architecture, we also have a thing for ancient destinations where buildings have stood for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. From Pompeii to Angkor Wat, these ancient cities are worth adding to your travel wishlist.
Near Lake Titicaca in Western Bolivia, the Pre-Columbian adobe city of Tiwanaku built circa 500 AD still stands, though today the ancient city looks much more like an art installation than the bustling empire it once was. Hire a guide to explore its ancient temples, including the sandstone Pyramid of Akapana—which stands nearly 60 feet high.
Founded by twin sons Romulus and Remus in 753 BC, Rome tops everyone’s list of ancient cities because, well, all roads lead to the Italian capital. The city also combines the best of the old (the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum, to name just a few sites) and new (the forthcoming Fendi-backed Caravaggio Research Institute) with the exceedingly delicious (like the Gelateria del Teatro, which makes its lemon gelato with the fruits of the Amalfi Coast served in a freshly made olive oil cone).
High in the Andes, Choquequirao is a lost stone mountaintop city similar to Machu Picchu, yet largely undiscovered—in fact, archeologists have only unearthed 30% of it because the area is so remote. Go now, when visits rarely exceed 30 people a day (compared to 2,500 at Machu Picchu). Plans for a tourist cable car are in the works, which means the ancient city won’t remain unspoiled for long.
Our favorite thing about the volcano-stricken town of Pompeii? It combines eye-popping ancient sites like the ruins of Scavi di Pompei and Stabian Baths as well as the comparatively modern 1901 Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Rosary with pampering activities like wine-tasting jaunts through vineyards like the Castina del Vesuvio at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.
If the St. Louis area doesn’t sound like the most ancient of locales, think twice. Just across the Mississippi in Illinois stands the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico, Cahokia Mounds. Spread out across 2,200 acres, the landmark includes a prehistoric “earthwork” that towers nearly 100 feet high and once held a population upwards of 20,000. Keep your eye out for the reconstructed “Woodhenge,” a circle of wooden posts once used to track the stars.
Greek God Apollo supposedly lived on this mountaintop perch, which explains its heavenly appeal. Stop by the 4th century B.C. Delphi Ruins (it’s well worth the steep climb to the top) and the Delphi Archaeological Museum, where rooms display works that span from the Hellenistic period to the 5th century BC (look for the bronze incense burners and a 4th-century sculptural head from the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia).
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The 9th-Century capitol of the Khmer Empire is big—154 square miles big. Zero in on the most important sites, like the unmissable Temple of Angkor Wat, which took 30 years to build and is reportedly the largest religious building on earth, and Bayon Temple, which has 200 carved stone faces adorning its exterior. After taking in the site, we recommend signing up for a Cambodian Village Cooking Class; you’ll ride a tuk tuk to the rural site and learn to whip up Cambodian curry and coconut fish Amok.
The tombs and temples of Petra were carved into the salmon-hued sandstone of this former Nabatean Kingdom circa 300 BC. The Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is perhaps the most inspiring site here, but you’ll also want to make a point of seeing the Street of Facadese and Colonnaded Street, with towering columns built by Romans in 106 AD.
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