Climate change enthusiasts have always cited the damage to ancient historical sites, as one of the reasons why the world must take man-made pollution seriously. But even they did not imagine that ancient structures from the pages of history would become casualties to war and strife too. So what are you waiting for? Check out these UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are either natural geological wonders, or man-made feats. Plan your visits to the countries that host these sites, and include a trip to a World Heritage Site in your itinerary.
The list is a personal favourite, rated one to ten.
Grand Canyon National Park, USA
National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon National Park is one of earth’s spectacular geological sites, with a stunning vastness and natural beauty. The diverse topography and visually powerfully landscape, is a photographer’s dream come true. The central attraction is the Grand Canyon, a 1500 m deep gorge of the Colorado River. It is considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World for its plunging depths and extensive system of tributary canyons, exposing horizontal layers of colourful rocks dating back to millions of years ago, seen from the rims. There are many ways to experience the Grand Canyon – driving tours, hiking, guided walks, bicycle tours, mule rides, white water rafting to private canyon flyovers by helicopters and small airplanes. What’s more, you can pause along the trail anywhere to be transformed into a world untouched by humanity, dotted only with high plateaus, deserts, cinder cones, and streams.
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramid complex, Giza
If you wondered what the hype is all about the tombs, wait till you get to the Giza pyramid complex outside Egypt! The sheer grandeur and magnificence of these ancient man-made wonders will leave you speechless. The site showcases three ancient pyramids known as the Great Pyramids, and a massive Great Sphinx standing in guard. The oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to be preserved till date, these 4000 years-old Pyramids have never failed to inspire a visitor or architect. The unusually shaped tombs are architectural and logistic wonders, with an estimated 2.3 million blocks of massive blocks of limestone and granite reinforced with 500,000 tonnes of mortar. The pyramids are perfections personified – a precise horizontal base, aligned to the four cardinal compass points – while the Sphinx is carved out from the Giza plateau. The mystery of their construction remains unsolved; such is the grandeur and impeccable geometry of the Pyramids. These grand tombs took 20 years to construct; and are tributes to the Egyptian pharaohs. The Giza experience may leave you with many unanswered questions, but is nevertheless a must-visit in your life.
The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
If you are a history buff, then you must visit the Acropolis of Athens. Like many city-states in ancient Greece, the highest point or hill was the site of the Greek temples, or the “Acropolis”.
The most significant standing ‘acropolis’ is the one in Athens, site of the Parthenon. Constructed during the Golden Age of Athens (447 – 432 BC), Parthenon was in honour of the goddess Athena, the patron deity of the city of Athens. Acropolis is today the site of the ruins of architectural grandeur – the massive gateway, the Propylaia; the Temple of Athean, the Parthenon, the temple of Athena and Poseidon, Erechtheion; and the Temple of the Greek Goddess Athena Nike. Part of the site, contains the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus and Odeon of Herodus Atticus, relics of the ancient Greek theatre history.
The Great Wall, China
Section of the Great Wall of China
A throwback to the times when empires fortified their states from invasions, the Great Wall of China, is today considered the largest existing military structure in the world. Although more of a tourist attraction today, the myth that it is seen from the space is debunked! Totalling a length of 20,000 kms, this great structure was build under successive regimes from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD. The walls have a wide path with tens of thousands of steps. As it was constructed over a long time, a variety of materials were used – bricks, rammed earth, stones, limestone, and wood. So if you are ready for the hike of your lifetime, book yourself a trip to Beijing, and walk any of the eight sections of The Great Wall.
Vatican City, Vatican
The obelisk within an ellipse, St. Peter’s Square
Visit the holiest site in the smallest country in the world, The Vatican City, governed by none other than the Pope! This historic centre of the Roman Catholic Church is filled with more history and artwork than any city in the world. It houses some of the most magnificent and beautiful pieces of architecture – the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Apostolic Palace, Sistine Chapel Castle Sant’ Angelo, Palazzo di Giustizia. The largest religious building in the world, St Peter’s Basilica, remains the chief attraction. It is a combined feat of geniuses like Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderno. Other attractions are the colourful Swiss Guard in action, the Vatican Gardens and the amazing St. Peter’s Square. Although you cannot expect to stay overnight, you can certainly mail a postcard to your friends from here, stamped The Vatican City!
The stone circle
Who doesn’t like a mystery? Especially one, that dates back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age?
Stonehenge is the prehistoric megalith or rock site in Wiltshire, England. Considered to be the work of Celtic high priests, the Stonehenge was constructed in several stages between 3000 and 1500 B.C. It is certainly one the most mysterious sites in the world, with huge stone boulders standing erect over thousands of years in a strange circular arrangement. Laid out in concentric rings and horseshoe shapes in the backdrop of the green Salisbury Plain, it is a sight that remains etched in the mind. What may be the purpose of building the Stonehenge, you may wonder? Historians and archaeologists put it down to sacrificial ceremonies or astronomical observations. How to get to Stonehenge? You can access Stonehenge as a day trip from London, Bath or Salisbury.
Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal and its gardens
There is something essentially romantic about Taj Mahal that attracts lovers, Heads of State and Royalty from all over the world. Is it the story of a King so enamoured by His Queen that he build a magnificent monument in her memory? Or is it the visual appeal of the tomb itself encased in a lattice work of pure markana marble that has never been seen before? Whatever, the mystery behind its popularity as a tourist attraction, especially the couple visitor demography, the Taj Mahal is certainly a man-made wonder to behold!
The monument is essentially an ivory-white marble mausoleum, built on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra. It was commissioned by King Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite Queen, Mumtaz Mahal. So go and unravel the mystery behind this magnificent memorial that has the largest who’s who amongst its visitors. And make sure to get a picture clicked to immortalise your visit, as many of the rich and famous and the ordinary, have done!
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
What is so special about the Cambodia flag? It is the only flag in the world to feature a building! Angkor Wat, the national pride.
Four times the Vatican City, this 900 year old lost temple-city was discovered only in 1860. Spread over 402 acres in southern Cambodia, the Angkor Wat or “City of Temples”, was once the seat of the Khmer empire. It is build from sandstone blocks and laterite quarried down the river on rafts. The site is a complex of 76 Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The entire complex is a grand display of high classical architecture. The temple carvings and bas-reliefs resonate with stories from the past – tales from Hindu mythology and the role of 3000 apsaras (guardian angels). An ancient site that holds you in spiritual trance, Angkor Wat is a definite must-experience.
Venice lagoons, Italy
The streets, ahem, waterways of Venice!
An architectural marvel dating back to the 5th century, the lagoons of Venice is must-visit during the lifetime of every traveller. The mainstay of the floating city of Venice, are the marshlands and a cluster of 118 muddy islands that are today connected with bridges and canals. The first people escaping from the ravages of history build for themselves this unique refuge on the islands. The islets are impossible to reach by foot, and yet deep enough at places for navigation. Visit the floating city to understand how locally sourced material can be the best foundations of a city. Ditch your four wheel drives and move around in the speedboats and the romantic gondola. Visit museums for precious displays of art, and absorb the musky scents of Venice on-the- go.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef
Another Natural Wonder of the World to make it to the Heritage List. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia, houses the world’s largest collection of coral reef and marine life. Its vast biodiversity, and warm clear waters, have made this a popular diving destination. Although boat tours and cruises are common, the best way to experience is going down under. Diving from live tourist boats is pretty popular as the average depth is 35 metres in the inshore waters. This is a dream diving site for die-hard scuba divers. With over 2900 reefs home to the widest variety of marine life, this is the largest marine park in the world. So large that it is visible from space!