15 Architectural Sights of the Ancient World | Guide Club

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When archaeologists of the distant future begin to explore the architecture of our time, we will find something to surprise them with: multi-kilometer bridges, huge skyscrapers and statues. But also the architects of the ancient world created incredible structures that surprise us thousands of years later. Reveal the content1

In past eras, people built stunning temples and burial complexes, powerful walls to protect against enemies and amphitheaters capable of accommodating the population of a small modern city. In this article, we will look at 15 of the most impressive ancient sites that have been preserved at least partially. Familiarity with them gives an idea of the greatness of bygone civilizations, many of whose secrets still remain unsolved.

Великая Китайская стена

The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)

Few things can so clearly demonstrate the greatness and power of the Ancient Egyptian kingdom as the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, built about 4,500 years ago. No wonder these pyramids became the first of the 7 ancient wonders of the world and the only one that has survived to this day. Their construction required such a high level of engineering skill that in subsequent eras people could not understand how such a thing could even be built. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the pyramids were created in biblical times by Noah himself, and in the 20th century, theories about the alien origin of these structures were popular.

In fact, the appearance of this grandiose architectural monument was the result of the application of knowledge and skills accumulated over many centuries before the start of their construction, and later partially lost. Ancient Egypt was a powerful and prosperous kingdom where talented engineers, architects and sculptors could study and work. The Egyptian pharaohs, who cared about the afterlife, had the opportunity to attract many thousands of people to the construction. They were not slaves, as previously thought. Rather, the builders can be compared to the mobilized. They were paid for their work, provided with food, shelter and medical care.

The tour to the pyramids of Giza will be unforgettable. And the statue of the Great Sphinx is also unique in that it is the oldest preserved monumental sculpture in the world.

Сфинкс и Пирамиды Гизы

Temple of Hatshepsut (Egypt)

The masters of Ancient Egypt have left us not only the pyramids. A truly epic sight is the temple of Queen Hatshepsut in Luxor. Hatshepsut was one of the most successful ancient Egyptian pharaohs and the second famous woman to achieve this status. This happened because she was the only daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I and his wife and half-sister Yahmose Khent-temehu. The name Hatshepsut means “The first among noble women.”

If Thutmose I made military campaigns, increasing the territory of the kingdom, then Hatshepsut preferred peaceful rule. She also traveled to distant lands, but in order to expand trade relations. During her reign and immediately after, Egypt experienced a period of economic prosperity. And this made it possible to engage in construction and create structures that have become outstanding sights of the ancient world.

Вид на Хатшепсут

The temple in Deir el-Bahri, which contemporaries called Jeser Jeseru (“The holiest of the sacred”), is the most famous historical monument of that time. It consists of three extensive terraces with columns, built against the backdrop of a sheer cliff. The walls are decorated with painted reliefs depicting scenes of religious rituals, festivals, temple construction and Hatshepsut’s journey.

There was originally a garden with trees and a vineyard around, but now instead there is only a desert landscape in harmony with the cliffs of the canyon and the stone from which the temple was built. There were many more images and sculptures of Hatshepsut inside, but they were destroyed by her stepson, Thutmose III. Formally, he was the ruler with her, but in reality he was removed from power until the death of the queen and took revenge on her by destroying her statues.

For 3,500 years, the temple has been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes and landslides from the cliffs towering above it. In the 20th century, large-scale excavations and restoration work were carried out, after which the most famous temple in Egypt became what we can see it today. It takes about an hour to inspect the temple of Hatshepsut. Photos of this historical landmark with columns and hieroglyphs are very spectacular.

Сфинкс около храма Хатшепсут

Ramesseum (Egypt)

The tomb of Ramses II was once the most impressive temple complex on the west bank of the Nile. Ramses II was the greatest conqueror in the history of ancient Egypt, and the greatest of all monuments was supposed to testify to his strength and might. The statue of the Pharaoh alone stood 18 meters tall and weighed about 1,000 tons. It was probably the tallest free-standing sculpture in the history of Egypt. Equally impressive is the huge hypostyle hall, in which 29 of the 48 columns have survived.

Unfortunately, history has decreed that the temple complex of the great Pharaoh has been preserved worse than many other historical sites of Ancient Egypt. It suffered from natural disasters, was dismantled for construction needs by other pharaohs, and as a result, for the most part lies in ruins. But even the fragments of statues and the remains of columns are a sight worth seeing.


The Stone City of Petra (Jordan)

Petra was once the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The city was conveniently located at the crossroads of two busy trade routes: from the Red Sea to Damascus and from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Numerous caravans crossing the harsh Arabian desert found rest in Petra and could replenish supplies. So the city grew rich and knew no shortage of Arabian perfumes, Chinese silk and Indian spices.

To provide the population and guests with water, a complex system of pipes, canals, reservoirs and dams was built. This system collected water from rains and all sources within a radius of 25 kilometers. It is still partially working. And the rocks have protected the Nabataeans from conquest and plunder for centuries. But the ancient Romans still managed to conquer this city, so in its architecture, ancient Eastern traditions coexist with Hellenistic ones.

Over time, overland trade routes were gradually replaced by sea routes, and the importance of Petra declined. As a result, after a series of devastating earthquakes, it was completely abandoned and forgotten. But now the sights of the ancient city, rediscovered in the XIX century, attract about half a million tourists annually. Archaeologists believe that only 15% of the original city has been discovered. But even in this small part you can see stunning structures: a treasury, royal tombs, a monastery, an amphitheater. All of them are made of carved stone of a pinkish hue, which is why Petra is called the “Pink City”.

Каменный город Петра

The amphitheater in Amman (Jordan)

One of the largest historical attractions in Jordan and the most important in Amman is the restored amphitheater of ancient Rome. It was built in the II century and is designed for 6,000 people. The building is located in the center of the city and is inscribed in the northern part of the hill. The orientation to the north protected the audience from the sun. The seats were divided into three sections: the rulers and nobles were located closer to the center, the military — in the middle part, and the commoners on the highest and farthest steps.

Although the amphitheater is almost two millennia old, you can’t tell that from it, it’s so well preserved. Films and commercials are often shot here. From the top of the amphitheater there is a beautiful view of the city, you can take extraordinary photos. The views are especially good in the morning and before sunset.

After the restoration, the amphitheater is again used for its intended purpose: concerts and festivals are held here. The Romans were masters of acoustics, so the sound spreads well and reaches every place. There are small museums dedicated to folklore and folk traditions on both sides of the amphitheater. There are other ancient sites in the immediate vicinity, such as the Temple of Hercules.

Амфитеатр в Аммане

The Great Wall of China (China)

The Great Wall in China is the largest man—made structure in the world. It stretches for 21,000 km, and all its countless sections will not be possible to walk even in a year. The Great Wall of China is not stretched out in a straight line. In fact, it is a whole defensive system with fortresses, garrisons, barracks and lighthouse towers. Sections of the wall branch out like a large river with tributaries, and at times are interrupted due to natural obstacles. Researchers believe that some parts of it have not yet been discovered.

There is a myth that the wall is visible from space, but it is not so. It was built from easily accessible materials: stone, bricks, wood and packed earth. At some distance, the structure simply merges with the terrain.

The grandiose fortification was built over the course of 18 centuries and all this time protected the country from invaders from the north. However, the effectiveness of the defensive line was not so high and barbarian raids still happened. But the Great Wall of China has become a truly outstanding historical and architectural landmark.

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Terracotta Army (China)

In 1974, workers were digging a well near the Chinese metropolis of Xi’an and accidentally discovered one of the amazing wonders of the ancient world. It was a life-size clay soldier figure. It aroused interest in itself, but later archaeologists unearthed thousands of such soldiers. Each of them had unique facial features, and their clothes were once painted in bright shades. This is evidenced by the paint spots that have already lost their color.

There are more than 8,000 soldiers in total, all placed in huge trenches according to rank. The creators also took care of the equipment: swords, arrows, clay horses, bronze and wooden chariots were found nearby.

The terracotta army was created during the time of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who united several disparate kingdoms and became the ruler of the first centralized Chinese state. He also began the construction of the Great Wall of China. During Qin Shi Huang’s lifetime, a grandiose burial complex was built, and a full-sized army of clay became part of it. The entire complex was built for almost 40 years by the efforts of 700,000 workers. The excavation of the structure has not been completed, and the treasures of the mound, where the emperor is supposedly buried, are still waiting to be discovered.

Терракотовая армия

Troy (Turkey)

Of all the cities of the ancient world, Troy is the most famous, because Homer’s poem “Iliad” tells about it, translated into all major languages of the world. Until the second half of the 19th century, people did not know for sure exactly where Troy was or if it existed at all. But now it is known that the city, which flourished more than 4,000 years ago, was located in the north-west of modern Turkey. Now a national park has been formed in its place, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The ruins of Troy are among the most famous historical sites in the world. Its excavations glorified the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who found the cherished city in 1870. In the Bronze Age, Troy, located at the point of contact between Europe and Asia, was an important cultural center and had great influence.

After the Trojan War described by Homer, which took place in 1100 BC, the ruined city was abandoned for several centuries. Then the Greeks settled here, rebuilt the city and named it Ilium. During the time of Ancient Rome, the city was again captured and destroyed, and then partially rebuilt and named New Ilium. It was only during the Byzantine Empire that Troy lost its importance and fell into final decline.

Since Troy was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt in the same place, the national park has 9 levels of it — each corresponds to its historical period. Most tourists are interested in Troy VI, which dates back to about 1700-1180 BC. That’s what Homer described.

Руины древнего города Троя

Ephesus (Turkey)

It is possible that this architectural landmark is the oldest in the world, because the time of the foundation of the city of Ephesus is unknown. Settlements in this area arose in the Neolithic era, and after that the surroundings of Ephesus were never empty. But the city reached its greatest prosperity in the Ionian period, in the X century BC. Then it was located on the shores of the Aegean Sea and flourished due to trade, and the fertile land further contributed to its well-being. But over time, the sea became shallow and retreated further and further, which caused the decline of Ephesus. Then a large-scale earthquake hid his buildings, preserving them to the present day.

Archaeological research of Ephesus began in 1863 and continues to this day. So far, only 10% of the ancient city has been excavated. Its most famous landmark is the Temple of Artemis of Ephesus, which was called one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After the spread of Christianity, many of its 18-meter marble columns were taken to Constantinople and used for the construction of St. Sophia Cathedral. In addition to the temple dedicated to Artemis, there are many other interesting structures in Ephesus:

  • The Celsus Library, of which the two-tiered facade remains.
  • The ruins of the agora, where during the Roman Empire there were shopping malls and a slave market.
  • The well-preserved bolshoi theatre, which could accommodate 25,000 people.
  • The Temple of Hadrian is an elegant example of the Corinthian order.
  • “Houses on the hillside” are luxurious residences of wealthy citizens with preserved frescoes and mosaics.
  • The Basilica of St. John, where, according to legend, the apostle began to write his Gospel.
Библиотека Цельса в Эфесе

Carthage (Tunisia)

Another of the largest and most famous cities of the ancient world is Carthage, founded in the VII century BC. The Phoenician Princess Elissa is considered to be its founder. In ancient texts, she is called Dido, which means “Wanderer”. According to legends, in her homeland, Elissa married a priest of Hercules, who was very rich. And her own brother killed her husband, hoping to get this wealth through her. But Elissa escaped with her faithful people and after a long journey arrived in Libya.

According to legend, the princess bought as much land from the Libyan king as a cowhide could cover. Elissa cut the hide into thin straps and was able to wrap them around an entire hill. The Carthaginian citadel of Birsa was built on it.

Due to its convenient location, Carthage quickly became a thriving port, and its sailors skirted the shores of Africa and reached Great Britain. After many wars, Julius Caesar captured and destroyed this city. But relatively quickly it was repopulated now by the Romans. Under them, the city was waiting for a new heyday and new architectural masterpieces were built, second in grandeur only to the Roman ones. It was only after the Arab conquest at the end of the 7th century AD that Carthage sank into obscurity.

Now the Archaeological Park of Carthage is protected by UNESCO and is one of the main attractions of Tunisia. But geographically it is located in a wealthy suburb of the capital, so it has not been completely excavated. The most impressive architectural monuments are available to visit, but they are located at a considerable distance from each other, so it is convenient to visit them as part of an excursion or by car.

Римская Вилла в Карфагене

Gamsutl (Russia, Dagestan)

Not everyone knows what historical sights of the ancient world there are in Russia. They are mainly concentrated in the Caucasus, and the village of Gamsutl is one of such places. Its name means “at the foot of the Khan’s fortress”. It is assumed that one of the Avar khans decided to build an impregnable fortress in this place at least 2,000 years ago, although according to other sources Gamsutl is even older.

The location was chosen well: it is impossible to bring a large army to the rock at an altitude of 1,400 meters above sea level, and the landscape provides natural fortifications. On the other hand, the forest and a good spring provided the locals with food, water and wood. Legends say that this settlement has never been conquered in its entire history.

But over time, living in such a remote place has lost all benefits. In the second half of the 20th century, young people began to leave the village, and only the elderly remained to live out their lives. The last of them died in 2015. And a few years later, the abandoned mountain village became one of the attractions of Dagestan. You can get to it by car, but you need to walk part of the way. Climbing to a considerable height presents some difficulty, so it takes most of the day to visit Gamsutl.

Вид на Гамсутль

Kalemegdan Fortress (Serbia)

The Belgrade Fortress, surrounded by Kalemegdan Park, is one of the most famous and popular sights of the Serbian capital. Residents and visitors of Belgrade flock here at any time of the year. The Romans built this fortress for the first time in 279. Later, it was destroyed and rebuilt more than 40 times. The structure that we can see now is the result of Austro—Hungarian and Turkish reconstructions of the XVIII century.

The Belgrade Fortress offers a beautiful view of the city and the river. The spirit of history is felt in the shadow of its tall towers. Now Kalemegdan is the largest park in the capital, a must—visit if you happen to be in Belgrade. But in the past centuries, it was a battlefield where more than 100 battles took place. There are many historical sights to see in Kalemegdan. These are the 15th-century Ruzhitsa Church, a Military museum, a gate with towers and other monuments.

Крепость Калемегдан

Persepolis (Iran)

This ancient Persian city was founded in the VI century BC and became the capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Darius I the Great. Persepolis was a huge complex with magnificent palaces, mausoleums and halls for official ceremonies. It had a treasury where the riches that flocked to the capital from the conquered lands were stored. There was also an observatory for astronomical research and a ziggurat similar to the Mesopotamian one. Numerous bas-reliefs, sculptures and columns with capitals in the form of bulls have survived to this day.

The greatness of Persepolis did not last long by historical standards. The Achaemenid capital was sacked and burned by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. According to Plutarch, 5,000 camels and 20,000 mules were needed to take out the treasures of Persepolis. The city continued to exist for some time, but it no longer had the same importance and gradually declined until it ceased to exist.

In the XVII century, European researchers discovered records in three languages in Persepolis, which later helped to decipher Cuneiform. In 1979, when the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire was celebrated, the ruins of the city were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Древний Персеполь

Choga-Zanbil (Iran)

Iran has the largest and best preserved ziggurat outside of Mesopotamia. It was built in 1,250 BC, when the state of Elam with its center in Susa was located in the south-west of modern Iran. During the construction of this amazing structure, Elam experienced the peak of its power and was even able to prevail over Babylon. The ziggurat was an important religious center and attracted pilgrims for several centuries. This continued until 640 AD, when the city was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and forgotten for many centuries.

The huge pyramid was discovered in 1935 during aerial photography, which was needed for oil exploration. This was followed by many years of excavation. Scientists have found out that the city where the ziggurat was built was called Dur-Untash. It was located in the desert, but a 50-kilometer canal provided residents with river water, which also passed through a purification system. In addition to the stepped pyramid, a royal palace, a harem, smaller temple buildings and underground tombs were discovered in the city. In 1979, the entire complex was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Marib (Yemen)

In the distant past, there was a prosperous kingdom on the site of modern Yemen, referred to in the Bible as Sheba. Historians suggest that the ruins of Marib, 120 km from the capital Sanaa, may just be the remains of Sheba. The most ancient and famous is the throne of the god Balkis, of which five massive columns remain. It is dated to the VIII century BC. The dam, which turned the desert into a green oasis and the Marib temple, is also attributed to about the same period.

Marib has been rapidly getting richer since oil was found nearby in the late 1980s. But old clay houses with small windows, which were built in this area for centuries, are still common here. In addition to the unique architecture and historical monuments, tourists come here for the sake of the extraordinary natural landscapes — the endless desert, oases and red mountains.

Вид на Мариб

Even today, the influence of historical attractions continues to affect: in the center of any city you can find a theater, a museum or a courthouse with classical columns. And the glass pyramid is one of the symbols of the Louvre. To see with your own eyes the wonders of antiquity that have come down to us, book a suitable tour on the Guides Club website.


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