World Heritage: Archaeological Sites

Click here for the background on my World Heritage Sites roundup.

Archaeological Site

 13 sites

10

Angkor 

Last visited: December 19, 2011

We often think of Angkor as a dead city similar to the Mayan ruins, but the Khmer empire’s former glory remains very much a source of national pride. Heck, look what’s at the centre of the Cambodian flag.

Southeast Asia is mostly about beaches, resorts, trekking, diving and food. No matter what you do, save at least a few days for Angkor — its scale and artistic ingenuity  is unlike anywhere else on Earth. There is obviously Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, but there are also dozens of lesser-known sites where you can easily escape from the crowd.

Ancient Thebes

Last visited: October 2, 2012

The Pyramids might garner all the hype, but in my opinion Luxor is the place to be for an in depth look at Ancient Egypt. The city formerly known as Thebes puts most other historic sites to shame. Remember, the temple of Karnak was constructed almost two thousand years before Christ — that’s basically the same amount of time between Jesus’ Crucifixion and the first moon landing.

Machu Picchu

Last visited: April 22, 2003

No traveling experience has yet to top this — arriving as the first visitors in the morning when the ruins were covered by a thick layer of fog, I sat near the agricultural terraces. Gradually the sky cleared up and all of a sudden the majestic Lost City was right in front of me.

Unlike Angkor where the Khmers’ thirst for expansion led to environmental degradation, the Inca’s approach was more sustainable. Most impressive are the terraces, an engineering feat that manage to lay the foundation for the city while allowing rainwater to flow freely along the slopes.

Petra

Last visited: October 6, 2012

When I think of great Middle Eastern civilizations, I think of Assyria, Babylon or Persia, but the relatively unknown Nabatean had beaten the long odds and left the world with the most extraordinary surviving monument in the region (excluding Egypt). This is truly a dead city — the Bedouins who live at the site have no link with the Nabataeans.

I particularly enjoyed my hike to the Monastery and watching sunset from across the royal tombs. The colours of  the red sandstone continuously evolves throughout the day.

8

Ollantaytambo, Qhapaq Ñan (Andean Road System)

Last visited: April 21, 2003

Getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco is half of the fun. I didn’t hike the Inca Trail, but I thoroughly enjoyed rambling through the Sacred Valley and sites like Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, Ollantaytambo. These are a part of Qhapaq Ñan, an extensive Inca communication, trade and defense network of roads covering 30,000 km, spanning across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru from Cusco.

Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur

Last visited: September 30, 2012

Those who say Egyptian pyramids are overrated probably have never seen the ones in Dahshur and Saqqara. Anyone who ventures out to see the Bent, Red and Step Pyramids can often enjoy the sites all to themselves.

Climbing down the claustrophobic tunnel into the centre of the Red Pyramid is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like our driver quipped, ,”Everyone should try once, but only a fool would do it again. “

6

Pompeii

Last visited: April 4, 2012

When people mention ancient wonders, names like Machu Picchu, Angkor, Petra, the Great Wall and the Pyramids always come up. Pompeii, even with its tragic but captivating backstory of being completely buried by volcanic ash almost two thousand years ago, doesn’t seem to as readily capture the general public’s imagination. The reason is rather simple; Pompeii doesn’t contain an iconic structure that is still intact after the devastation of Mount Etna’s eruption. It is more educational than awe-inspiring.

Even so, spending time in Pompeii offers an unrivaled insight into the daily life during the Pax Romana. While it is easy to assume Pompeii will stay around for another 2,000 years, the ancient city is suffering from perpetual negligence and mismanagement and it is best to pay it a visit as soon as possible.

Pont du Gard

Last visited: August 22, 2002

Roads and aqueducts are the lifelines of the Roman Empire. The best preserved Roman roads, the Appian Way, lay just outside of Rome. As for aqueduct? Your best bet is probably 1,000 km northwest in Pont du Gard, the most impressive Roman structure in southern France and is a must-see for anyone who is in the region.

4

Ayutthaya

Last visited: January 24, 2012

Ayutthaya, including the ruins of the former capital, was flooded a few months before I arrived. All traces of the flood was gone when I visited. Unlike Angkor, these ruins were very scattered, a temple here and a palace there. Most were in poor conditions; many statues of Buddha had their heads taken by looters.

Chichen Itza

Last visited: August 25, 2003

I didn’t enjoy my visit to Chichen Itza, mainly because it was one of the most crowded sites I have ever been to outside of China. It was impossible to get anywhere without bumping into others. The timing also didn’t help — I visited Machu Picchu a few months prior and I quickly lost interest in what I deemed to be an inferior site.

I should give this place another visit.

3

Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca

Last visited: April 22, 2003

I suffered from motion sickness on the plane ride over the Nazca Lines. The window was dirty and the pilot handled the small propeller plane like a fighter jet. Counter to my whole belief about traveling, I enjoyed watching this fascinating place on my television than in person.

Roman Theatre of Orange

Last visited: June 30, 2014

If not for the pursuit of chasing WHS, there is really very little reason to visit Orange, by far the least attractive town we visited in Provence. It differentiates from other Roman arenas/theatres in the area by having an intact scaenae frons (rear wall), but I don’t think it manages to justify the choice of allocating time away from the many other worthy places like Avignon or Luberon.

2

Umm ar-Rasas

Last visited: October 5, 2012

The strategically located Umm ar-Rasas was continuously settled by the Roman, Byzantine and the pre-Ottoman Islamic civilizations. What could possibly be a unique mix of architecture has been mercilessly eradicated by the elements over the past millennium. Besides piles of stones that suggested where buildings once stood in a bygone era, the only mildly interesting object remaining was the mosaic floor at the Church of St Stephen.

The mosaic floor, reputably the largest in Jordan, is unusually intact considering its surrounding. I thought the mosaics in nearby Madaba, although not a WHS, to be the more representative of early Byzantine Christian arts.

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