12 of the World's Most Fascinating Ruins
1Machu Picchu (Peru)
Machu Picchu was built in the mid 15th century, but since its existence was not recorded by the Spanish Conquistadors who ramsacked the region in the 1530s, we don't really know what its purpose was. Many of the ruins incorporate ceremonial features, so it could possibly have been a religious sanctuary. It's likely that the place was already deserted by the time of the Spanish invasion, as otherwise it would have been mentioned in their reports of the Inca civilization.
The Inca had no system of writing and left no written records, so archaeologists have been left to piece together bits of evidence as to why Machu Picchu was built, what purpose it served, and why it was so quickly vacated.
As a centre of culture and government, it flourished for about fifteen centuries, from the arrival of the Amorites ca. 1850 B.C. down to Alexander the Great, who died there in 322 B.C. One of the best known of the city's early rulers was the great law-giver, Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.).
Although analysis of pottery shards demonstrates that the area was occupied by 100 b.c., most of the buildings we see today were constructed between the 6th to 10th centuries a.d.
The greatest ruler of this city-state was Pacal, who took power in 603 a.d. and commenced a construction boom of architecturally innovative buildings that lasted through and beyond his 68-year reign. One of the most impressive projects was a complex called the Palace. The walls and roofs are covered with stucco carvings depicting the ceremonies and activities of rulers and gods, giving modern observers insight into the lives and beliefs of the Mayans. Another magnificent structure, the Temple of the Inscriptions, contains tablets of glyphs recounting the ancestral history of long ago rulers. The true reward of a trip to Palenque is to revel in the mystery of the unanswerable questions that arise as he meanders through the ruins in morning mists that swirl around the ancient structures. Only 34 of perhaps 500 buildings have been excavated.
4Ruins of Ayutthaya (Thailand)
In its heyday, Ayutthaya was a bustling metropolis of international repute, whose progress, according to historians, rivaled even Europe's capitals at the time. So prosperous was the kingdom that her neighbor Burma (now Myanmar) coveted her, so the Burmese army burned and sacked the city. Today, only the debris of the empire's glory remains, forming part of what is now known as the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
5The Colosseum (Italy)
Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. As well as the gladiatorial games, other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. About 500,000 people and over a million wild animals died in the Colosseum games.
Although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined due to damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and its breakthrough achievements in earthquake engineering. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession around the various levels of the amphitheatre.
6Tikal Ruins (Guatemala)
Tikal was one of the major cultural and population centers of the Maya civilization. Though monumental architecture at the site dates from the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca. 200 to 900 AD, during which time the site dominated the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica, such as central Mexican center of Teotihuacan. There is also evidence that Tikal was even conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century.
Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site's abandonment by the end of the 10th century.
7Chichén Itzá Ruin (Mexico)
It was a major regional focal point in the northern Mayan lowlands from the Late Classic through the Terminal Classic and into the early portion of the Early Postclassic period. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called “Mexicanized” and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Mayan styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.
8The Parthenon (Greece)
9Jesuitical Ruins of Trinidad (Paraguay)
Trinidad was founded by natives that came from the mission of San Carlos. Its main architects were fathers Juan Bautista Prímoli of Milan and the Catalan Jose Grimau. Uncompleted, this mission had one of the larges and prettiest churches of all missions, according to descriptions by travelers of that period.
After crossing the nave of the old church, you can see an impressive view of the frieze high on the altar wall, entirely decorated on the very stone, with a sequence of angels in baroque postures and their instruments. The two doors giving access to the sacristies are worth mentioning: the columns with disproportionate capitals and a triple row of leaves supporting the frieze with two lateral pillars and a sculptural motif in the center.
On the west side are the ruins of the tower and a long chapel. The tower, with a square base, reminds us of a fort tower and it is not known whether it was a belfry, an observation tower, or both at the same time. The chapel was probably used while the main church was being built. One of the sacristies also holds a small museum with local items (in original colors) and a scale model of the mission. It was declared Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO in 1993.
10Copan Ruins (Honduras)
11Palmyra Ruins (Syria)
Palmyra's strategic location and prosperity attracted the interest of the Romans, who took control of the city in the first century AD. The destiny of the great kingdom of Palmyra was no better than that of its queen: Zenobia was defeated and taken captive to Rome, fettered in chains of gold where she poisoned herself, while the city fell prey to looting and destruction. Archaeologists are still working on excavations there in order to uncover the queen's palace, which was destroyed by Romans and replaced by a military camp.
12Talisay City (Philippines)
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