The Treasury Building, Petra, Jordan
Remember seeing this glorious building in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Who among us has not dreamed of stepping in the footsteps of famous archaeologists and visiting sites that may still have secrets to offer up? If that fictional character played by Harrison Ford had ever had a wish list of places to see, it might have resembled the one assembled here. The Rose Red City of Petra, pictured above, is one of the most memorable ancient sites in the Middle East. Built during the fifth and sixth centuries BC, this once thriving city was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, but only came to be a true tourist spot after its appearance in the 1989 Indiana Jones film. Petra’s most striking feature is the 2,000-year-old treasury building, which in the early morning sun glows a wonderful shade of red.
The Theatre Buildings, Palmyra, Syria
Palmyra was in ancient times an important city of central Syria. Though the old site fell into disrepair after the 16th century, it is still known by the name Tadmor and there is a small newer settlement next to the ruins of the same name. Palmyra – a wealthy and elegant city located along the caravan routes linking Persia with the Mediterranean ports of Roman Syria and Phoenicia – came under Roman control. Tadmor is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a desert city built by King Solomon of Judea, the son of David. Palmyra was made part of the Roman province of Syria during the reign of Tiberius (14–37). It was later taken by the Muslim Arabs under Khalid ibn Walid in 636. After the year 800, people started abandoning the city.
Vijayanagar, Hampi, India
Vijayanagar is Sanskrit for ‘city of victory’. This ruined city in South India was the capital, from the 14th through to the 16th centuries, of the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire, founded by Sangama dynasty princes Harihara and Bukka in 1336. The empire embraced all of India south of the Kistna River and protected it from the Muslim kingdoms of the north. Between 1510 and 1530, Krishna Deva Raya ruled and the empire had dealings with many Asian and European countries. The city, then some 60 miles across, flourished as a prosperous trade centre, noted for its artists, writers and temples. After a crushing defeat of the Hindus at Talikota (1565) Muslim forces utterly demolished the city and, except for a brief revival, the empire was destroyed.
Frontage of Celsus Library, Ephesus, Greece
Ephesus was an Ionian Greek city in ancient Anatolia, founded by colonists from Athens in the 10th century BC. The city was located in Ionia, where the Cayster River flows into the Aegean Sea. Ephesus hosted one of the seven churches of Asia, addressed in the Book of Revelations, and is also the site of a large gladiator graveyard. The city was important in early Christianity. Paul used it as a base. He became embroiled in a dispute with artisans, whose livelihood depended on the Temple of Artemis there (Acts 19:23–41), and wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus.
Ruins of the city of Palenque, Mexico
The site of Palenque had been abandoned by the Mayans for several centuries when the Spanish explorers arrived in Chiapas in the 16th century. This city state in southern Mexico flourished in the 7th century. Abandoned more than a millennium ago, this once great city rose to prominence under Pakal, a club-footed king who reigned from 615AD to 683AD. Today the tallest and most notable structure is Pakal’s pyramid crypt: the elaborate Temple of Inscriptions. The jungle took over after the city fell into disuse, but in modern times it has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors. The first European to visit the ruins and publish an account was Priest Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567.
The Tower Compound of Great Zimbabwe
Today spread across nearly 1,800 acres of south-eastern Zimbabwe, this huge settlement was begun in the eleventh century AD by Bantu-speaking ancestors of the Shona tribe. Great Zimbabwe was built up over the following three centuries and is set apart from similar sites in the area by the massive scale of the building there. Its most memorable feature, called by many the Great Enclosure, has walls up to 36 feet high and over 800 feet long, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. During the 19th century, European and English visitors, stunned by the workmanship of Great Zimbabwe, refused to believe that native Africans could have built it. Archaeological investigations during the first decades of the twentieth century confirmed both the antiquity of the site and its African origins, putting paid to those ridiculous suppositions.
Ruins around the Ubar Oasis
Ubar was mentioned in ancient records and was spoken of in folk tales as a desert trading center in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Founded on the frankincense trade route around 3000BC, the ancient city of Ubar, in the south-west of Oman, is believed to have been a fantastically wealthy place of ornate buildings adorned with spectacular golden pillars. The city, which fell into ruin sometime between 300AD and 500AD, was only rediscovered in 1992 by a team using Nasa satellite technology. According to the Qur’an, God destroyed Ubar as punishment for its inhabitants’ immoral lifestyles. All of the places mentioned above are fascinating leftovers of a history we can never fully comprehend but nonetheless long to understand.
We cannot all be adventurers or archaeologists, but we can still enjoy the brooding atmosphere of ancient sites and the feeling that just maybe we too can make some wonderful discovery whilst there. If you want to tread in the footsteps of history, like Indiana, you know what you need to do.