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Where to See the World’s Most Beautiful Ruins

Ancient ruins give us a glimpse into yesterday’s world. Being able to see what was once there, what was once the heart of the community, and having to imagine the former glory is a humbling experience.

With care and respect, visiting ruins is a great way to see the world and how things change. Unfortunately, as readers of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu will know, many of the ancient Australian buildings have long gone (through natural or malicious causes), although there was once plenty.

Archaeologists are still finding evidence of more settlements, however. In 2016, foundations of a stone village were found on Rosemary Island in Western Australia. Estimates date these structures back 8,000 or 9,000 years. In comparison, the Egyptian pyramids are 4,500 years old and Stonehenge 5,000.

The rest of the world has its fair share of relics too. If you want to travel to see some incredible ruins, here are a few options.

Cambodia

The Angkor Wat temple complex is stunning, to say the least, and takes a few days to fully tour. The complex is set over more than 400 acres and the Hindu-turned-Buddhist creation is the world’s largest religious monument.

Angkor Wat is the most famous of the temples (there are 72 in total, as well as many, many more minor buildings throughout the park). It’s still in fairly good condition and has been maintained well – partly because of its national significance; it’s on the flag, after all. 

This is where tourists congregate for the sunrise shot but it’s the other temples that stick in the mind. Most notable is Ta Prohm, a temple finished in 1186 AD and abandoned in the 15th century. Since then, nature has taken over and trees, branches and roots spread out over the complex, making them as much as part of the temple as the bricks.

Mexico

Although we tend to think of Egypt when it comes to pyramids, Mexico is another country that’s fond of this shape.

Across the country, from Teotihuacan (near Mexico City) to Chichen Itza (near Cancun), there are plenty of pyramids to admire in many states of disrepair.

In Palenque, nature lovers can walk through jungle to see ancient Mayan structures as they’re uncovered (so far it’s estimated that only 10% of the ancient city has been unearthed) while in Cholula you can see a church built on top of what the Spanish thought was a large hill, but was later found to be the world’s largest pyramid.

Other nearby countries – especially Guatemala – have their fair share of Mayan ruins too.

Greece

Ancient Greece is famed for many things and its architecture is a stand out feature.

When many of us think of ruins, the first image that pops to mind is the Acropolis in Athens. But it’s not just Athens that is home to the past.

In Olympia, you can walk around the ruins of former villages most famous for hosting the original Olympic Games (from 776 BC onwards). The starting line for the old competitions is still in place, so don’t forget to pack your running shoes.

Other ruins in Greece to visit include the Palace of Knossos, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the city of Epidaurus.

The UK

The UK is full of ancient ruins but luckily it’s a tiny country to it’s fairly easy to see most of the key sites in one trip.

The big name is Stonehenge, thought to be about 5000 years old, but this isn’t the oldest. For this, head north to the Scottish island of Orkney where you can see the Knap of Howar (3700 BC), Midhowe Cairn (3500 BC), the Tomb of Eagles (3150 BC), Skara Brae (3100 BC), Maeshowe (2700 BC) and more.

Elsewhere in the country, you have the more recent ruins of St Peter’s (Glasgow), the stone circle of Avebury (Wiltshire) and the Orford Ness pagodas (Suffolk).

Up and down the country you also have countless castles to admire and WWII relics, such as pillboxes on the beaches.

Peru

Peru is home to many things, but none so famous as Machu Picchu.

This world heritage site dates back to 1450 and was home to the Incas for a little over a century.

Today, it’s home to marauding llamas and visited by determined trekkers. However, be warned that there’s a limit on the number of tickets available. This has recently been halved from 5,000 visitors a day to 2,500, and this number may come down even more in the future. From June to September, these are in high demand so it’s advised to get tickets online rather than wait until you get to Cusco.

As well as Machu Picchu, Peru is home to the former town of Pisac, the elliptical terracing of Moray and the red fort of Puca Pucara.

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are plenty of ruins to see elsewhere — including Egypt, Jordan and Thailand — but hopefully it’s given fuel for thought.

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