10 of the World’s Most Historic Cities

by author David Jones
10 of the World’s Most Historic Cities

In an attempt to better understand the state of the world presently, or even what to expect in the future, mankind often turns to the past. You can learn a lot about where we’re going as a society by looking at the events that precede us because as it’s more commonly known, history tends to repeat itself.

With that theme in mind, we’ve identified some of the most beautiful historic cities in the world. Most of them house stunning man-made wonders that still puzzle historians and archaeologists today. These travel destinations hold a historic gravity, where just being in the presence of sites like the pyramids in Egypt or the ancient city of Machu Picchu will give you a heavy understanding and appreciation of past civilizations.

These places should be on everyone’s travel bucket list, history buff or not, and here’s why:

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

When visiting the ancient city of Petra, you may feel like you’re in something out of a movie – and you wouldn’t be wrong. Petra, a stunning structure found carved into a desert canyon in southern Jordan, was actually a filming site used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Though its origin isn’t fully uncovered yet, historians have identified that Petra had settlers there as far back as the 6th century BC but was abandoned in the late 4th century under Roman rule. It wasn’t until 1812 when the site was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer who came upon it after following local tribesmen.

Also known as “the Rose City” because of the color of the stone in which it’s carved, the ruins of the city include many different aspects such as Al Khazneh (the Treasury), en-Nejr (a massive theatre), and several other rock-cut architectures. Petra is now one of the most recognized historic sites in the world. In fact, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

It should be no surprise to find Rome on any list of top historical cities. You’ll see that present-day Rome is filled with modern vibrancy and advanced technology, but even through all of that, the weight of the city’s historical past and the significance it had as the imperial capital of the Roman Empire is blatantly evident around every corner.

As the birthplace of one of the world’s most influential civilizations, you’ll see an array of extremely impressive ancient ruins scattered across the city. The remnants of a civilization that once controlled the world, sites like the Colosseum or The Roman Forum will take your breath away. Other sites include Palatine Hill, the early Christian Catacombs of San Callisto, Villa dei Quintili, the Baths of Caracalla, San Pietro, and the Port of Ostia Antica.

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco is home to Machu Picchu, which is one of those places that you should make a point of visiting at least once, if not multiple times, and crossing off your travel bucket list. All that remains of a lost Incan civilization, Machu Picchu was once an important cultural center that was abandoned when the Spanish invaded the region. It wasn’t rediscovered again until 1911 by American academic and explorer Hiram Bingham III.

The citadel’s popularity grew immensely with local and international travelers, especially after it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. This is true even though it’s one of the more difficult sites to reach; because of its location in southern Peru, you’ll have to either undergo an extensive train ride or partake on a strenuous four-day trek through the Inca Trail. The journey is worth it as the final destination is fascinating and the experience will last a lifetime.

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Beijing has such an alluring history, having been such an important trading point and military center for over 2,000 years. The city is a melting pot of different Asian cultures and influences, most of which were introduced by past emperors who once ruled the extensive empire. You’ll get an opportunity to see all the important historical sites they’ve left behind such as the Ming Tombs and the Forbidden City – the former Chinese imperial palace and state residence of the Emperor of China.

One of the more well-known sites in Beijing is the Great Wall of China, and no trip to the country would be complete without a visit to this historically important structure that dates back to the Ming Dynasty in 221 BC. Despite its name, the Great Wall comprises several walls and fortifications, sometimes not always connecting. It was built as a form of defense to keep out the Mongols who were trying to invade the country. Just standing on the wall will amaze you as you realize its significant history, the role it played, and just how massive of an engineering feat it really is.

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

Athens continues to be one of the most paramount historic locations in the world. The ruins that remain of the ancient Greek city tell a story of its past and stands as a testament to Greek civilization. It is the premier site of Greek mythology, allowing visitors to relive the stories of the Greek immortals and trace their origins in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Start your journey at the Acropolis of Athens, one of the most iconic historical sites in the world, and venture toward the astounding Parthenon. Then, take in the panoramic view of Athens from the ancient temple dedicated to Athena or check out the seating at the Old Olympic Stadium. No matter what order you explore in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the rich history you’ll find yourself surrounded by; hire a knowledgeable guide to make the most of it.

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

At one point, the structures in Cairo such as the Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza were considered to be the tallest man-made structure in the world. To this day, its construction without the availability of modern machinery stuns historians. For example, how were they able to move the massive stone blocks across the desert, and build it to such heights without even a crane?

The remains of ancient Egypt in Cairo are filled with modern-day marvels that will leave you in awe of its magnificence. Historians believe that the construction of the Giza pyramids dates back to 2589 BC, and to this day, we don’t have a certain reply to how it was built so precisely. Furthermore, the pyramids align with the stars (a feat to marvel at considering the extent of their study of astrology back then) and have tons of chambers in them which mankind is still unable to open. It’s enough to pique your curiosity and make you fall in love with this historic city and its magnificent human engineering.

Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor is an ancient Cambodian city that was once the financial and cultural center of the Khmer Empire – a regime that ruled most of Southeast Asia at a certain point in history. Before the empire collapsed, they built a huge temple complex comprising an array of structures that over the years became shrouded by the surrounding jungle.

Today, the Angkor Wat Temple Complex is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the region, and rightfully so as it allows you to delve into Cambodia’s past through a collection of mystical ruins dating back to the early 12th century. Don’t be discouraged by the crowds, as the complex is so large you’ll be able to explore and reflect in solitude in most cases.

The sheer scale and striking symmetry of the towers will take your breath away; the most popular temples within the complex are Ta Prohm, Bayon, and its namesake Angkor Wat. Pay attention to the details of the unique bas-reliefs and the elaborate and stunning carvings of Hindu deities.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Home to people of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faith, it’s no surprise that the diverse and beautiful land of Jerusalem has a rich history. It is considered a holy land revered by people of numerous faiths, which has made it one of the most visited cities in the world; nearly four million tourists go explore the land and its many historical sites each year.

The sacred city is extremely diverse and offers an array of religious and cultural experiences that everyone is welcome to partake in and learn from. You can wander through the walled Old City and hear church bells chime alongside the Islamic call to prayer – it’s a magnificent thing to encounter in person. Walk the streets, visit the churches, mosques, and synagogues, learn about the culture, and feel the power behind one of the most historically and spiritually important cities in the world.

Agra, India

Agra, India

Agra, India

Home to one of the most recognized ancient structures in the world, Agra must be included in any compilation of historic cities. The Taj Mahal was built in the 1600s and has since then been a testament of love. The story goes that Emperor Shah Jahan built the white marble mausoleum for his wife as a display of his immense affection. Though it’s since been proven that that is far from the truth, the Taj Mahal continues to be a symbol of romance and immeasurable love.

Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a New Seven Wonders of the World, the structure itself is quite magnificent and an amazing show of historical architecture well beyond its time. Made of ivory-white marble, standing on stilts dug into the River Yamuna, and decorated with beautiful Arabic calligraphy, there’s so much history to unwrap in this magnificent mausoleum.

Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

And last but definitely not least on our list of the world’s most historic cities is Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico.  Though it isn’t technically a city, the entire state of Yucatan is filled with the remnants of magnificent Mayan ruins.

The most famous attraction is Chichén Itzá, which is recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. The site is home to highly significant, perfectly restored Mayan historical structures, and gives insight into the Mayan civilization in the Americas. You’ll see a massive pyramid, a ball court, and several stone temples.

Other Mayan sites in Yucatan include the Uxmal ceremonial grounds, which has intricately-carved facades, and Ek Balam, where the sculptures are extremely well preserved. Even the capital, Merida, has so many buildings like the 16th-century Merida Cathedral which reflect the region’s Spanish colonial history.

It is calculated that the earth was formed over 4.54 billion years ago. Using genetics, archaeology, anthropology, recorded history, and more, we’ve seen humanity rise and fall multiple times. From the Paleolithic Era, when we developed stone tools, to the current era of technology and smartphones, humankind has molded to make the most of our environment. As we continue to learn about, and from, our past, we realize that a lot of our future is based on the actions and developments of our ancestors.

 

Visiting the historic cities mentioned on this list, as well as others such as Budapest or Kyoto, will give us insight into what we can do for a better future. If you’ve already crossed them off your travel bucket list, share your experience with fellow adventurers in the comments below.