5 Cities with the Richest Ancient History

Ancient cities are sprinkled across the globe and evoke the fascination of tourists and historians alike. Some, like Cairo, contain ancient monuments and architecture spread amongst otherwise modern cities. Others, like Tikal were hidden for a period of time and have been unearthed, excavated, or otherwise discovered for modern audiences to explore.  

Some ancient cities were constructed during our more modern era, though many were erected between 3000 Before the Common Era (BCE) and 500 Common Era (CE) on the Gregorian Calendar. Several are home to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.

All of the cities on this list fit the bill of cultural significance and outstanding universal value and are popular tourist haunts for the inquisitive at heart,  whether for archival purposes or simply to satisfy curiosity!

Ellora, India

The Kailasa temple, cave 16 in Ellora complex
The Kailasa Temple, Cave 16 in Ellora, India

Carved out of mountains in Maharashtra in India are over one hundred stone caves, thirty four of which can viewed by the public.

Historians date the caves’ artwork from around 600-1000 CE, and the art and architecture contain a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain temples and monasteries. These different religions had caves in close proximity to one another’s indicating harmony between cultures. Each religion is featured in carvings and statues and temples of deities and gods, though many day-to-day activities are represented as well. In addition to spiritual pilgrimages and workers, historians also believe that the caves of Ellora represented an important commercial centre where trade regularly took place.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A skyline of the ancient city Angkor Wat, Cambodia, at sunset
A Skyline of the Ancient City of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Built as a religious “mega-city” in the twelfth century by the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat in Cambodia covers approximately 500 acres within Angkor Archeological Park.

Temples and towers are covered in scenes of life from the 9th to the 12th century and though the encroaching jungle kept tourists at bay for the early part of the 20th century, when UNESCO declared Angkor Wat a World Heritage Site in 1992, Cambodia was able to benefit from increased tourism to the site.

Rome, Italy

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Metropolitan City of Rome is densely populated with nearly four and a half million residents and is the capital city of Italy, making it a perhaps surprising addition to our list. What originated as a small trade town, founded in 783 BCE grew into an empire with sites set on globalization. Whether the empire stretched itself too thin from a military and fiscal standpoint until Roman culture and theology was simply subsumed by Christianity is a matter of some debate among historians.

What is undeniable however, is the enduring cultural significance of the city of Rome’s ancient architecture, mixed as it is amongst the new and cosmopolitan.

The Colosseum is perhaps the most recognizable historial monument in Rome, and was constructed around 2,000 years ago, where gladiators fought to the death for the pleasure of Emperors. The Roman Forum was a marketplace and meeting hub where the day-to-day business of Roman life transpired and remains a popular tourist and archeological site to this day. For adventure-seekers more inclined towards the macabre, the Roman Catacombs contain ancient burial grounds under the city in Christian and Jewish sections as well as Roman pagan burials.

Beijing, China

Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China
Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China

Beijing is another example of the modern mixed with the ancient. Like Rome, Beijing boasts capital city-status of The People’s Republic of China and hosts a whopping population of twenty one million residents.

In spite of its modern amenities, Beijing was established in 1045 BCE and is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace

The first sections of The Great Wall of China were constructed in the seventh century BCE, and the most recent and recognizable were built during the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644). It is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of The World.

Other World Heritage Sites in Beijing are The Zhoukoudian Site Museum, The Ming Dynasty Tombs, Chengde Mountain Resort, Peking Man, Imperial Tombs of Ming and Qing Dynasties, Mukden Palace, and Chengde.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, an ancient stone city, with blue sky and clouds overhead
Machu Picchu, an Ancient Stone City, with Clouds Overhead

8,000 feet into the Andes lies an Incan citadel completely hidden from the outside world until the year 1911. Machu Picchu was believed to have been constructed around 1450 CE but was abandoned in 1572 to protect it from the invading Spanish.

Incan people seem not to have used written language so much of what we now know about Machu Picchu has been gleaned by archeologists and historians based on artifacts that they have found on site. Despite all we do not understand about this ancient city, Machu Picchu remains a point of fascination for both tourists and historians.

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