History lovers will appreciate the huge influence that ancient civilisations such as the Incas, Mayans, Romans and Ancient Greeks have had on the development of modern-day society. To stand on one of the preserved sites and drink in the atmosphere is a worthy purpose for any trip. Here are five off the beaten path destinations that have earned their place on every historian’s bucket list.
1) Ancient China’s Terracotta Army, Xi’an
China National Tourist Office
China is responsible for a number of remarkable historic attractions including the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the mind-blowing Terracotta Army at Xi’an.
Interred for over 2000 years, the estimated 8000 unique soldiers making up the Terracotta Army have been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. The 22,780 square-metre museum/mausoleum consists of three pits of these remarkable warriors, their bronze chariots and weapons.
They were buried in 210–209BC because apparently Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, wanted to have the same imperial status in the afterlife as he had enjoyed during his earthly lifetime.
How to Get There: Book flights from Malaysia to Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (XIY) with China Southern Airlines, then use the Airport Shuttle Line 2 to Xi’an Railway Station.
2) Incas at Ollantaytambo, Peru
The Incas flourished from the early 13th century AD until the Spanish conquest in 1572. It was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America, building fortresses and settlements across what is now Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Ollantaytambo is a significant Inca archaeological site situated 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of Cusco at an altitude of 2792 metres (9160 feet). It was once the estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and established Ollantaytambo as a ceremonial centre. After exploring the significant Inca ruins, energetic adventurers can take the four-day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu itself.
How to Get There: Book flights from Singapore to Cusco Alejandro Velasco (CUZ) Airport with KLM or LAN Airlines. Ollantaytambo is a 75–90 minute drive from Cusco by car, colectivo minibus or taxi.
3) Mayans at Cobá, Mexico
The ancient Mayans occupied much of Central America from 2600BC. This highly developed civilisation established its own solar calendar and unique method of writing. It had a population of around 19 million at its zenith. They built pyramids, observatories, a royal acropolis and ball courts decorated with fascinating stone carvings that can still be seen across Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.
Cobá in Quintana Roo is one of Mexico’s best Mayan sites to visit, with many excavated buildings and temple pyramids arranged around two lagoons. Between 200 and 600AD this Mayan settlement dominated the area. Later abandoned, the town was rediscovered in 1926 and excavation began in the 1970s. Unlike Chichen Itza’s Kukulkan Pyramid, today you can climb to the top of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid at Cobá, so you might want to prioritise your visit to this bucket-list destination.
How to Get There: Cheap flights to Cancun International (CUN) Airport are available with Malaysia Airlines and Air France, then drive 168 kilometres (104 miles) or take the bus to Cobá.
4) Romans at Jerash, Jordan
Ruling from the 6th century BC to 476AD, the Roman Empire brought order to Western Europe and beyond for over 1000 years. From Hadrian’s Wall to the Colosseum, the influences of Ancient Rome fill our history books with the names and deeds of some of the greatest emperors including Julius Caesar, Augustus and Trajan.
The largest and best-preserved Roman city in the Middle East is Jerash, formerly Gerasa. Less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Amman, this Jordanian city was one of the most famous Decapolitan cities, flourishing from 63BC when the Romans arrived, until the massive earthquake in 749AD. The best time to visit is for the Jerash Festival in late July. Look out for the triumphal arch built in 130AD to mark Emperor Hadrian’s visit.
How to Get There: Malaysia Airlines offer flights to Amman Queen Alia (AMM) International Airport. The best way to reach Jerash from Amman is by hiring a car and driver or to take a taxi for the 45-kilometre (28-mile) journey.
5) Ethiopians at Lalibela, Ethiopia
CC 2.0 / Bryan_T
Dating back to the 10th century BC, Ethiopia was home to one of the earliest civilisations. It became one of the first countries to adopt Christianity and in the late 12th/early 13th centuries a series of extraordinary rock churches were carved out of the ground. Lalibela is now a place of pilgrimage, but these remarkable churches will thrill any historian or fan of architecture.
The fact that these 11 semi-hidden churches were carved from the top downwards means they have remained remarkably well protected. They are a worthy World Heritage Site to put on your travel-bucket list, but one puzzle still baffles archaeologists – where did the builders put all the stone excavated during the creation of these extraordinary buildings?
How to Get There: Fly to Addis Ababa (ADD) Bole International Airport with Cathay Pacific/Ethiopian Airlines, then take a local flight to Lalibela (LLI) Airport.
Although the world has changed dramatically since the cradle of civilisation, we can still take time to respect these ancient places and civilisations which contributed new ideas, cultures, philosophies and inventions to make the world what it is today.