5 Must-See Places for History Lovers

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton

For history lovers, there is no better way to rediscover the passage of time since civilization began than to travel to the places where it all happened, to marvel at the monuments, to wonder at the artifacts. Here are 5 must-visit destinations for those seeking a glimpse of the past –

Egypt

Egypt, the cradle of civilization, where history first emerged, with Hieroglyphic records dating back to about 3200 BC and fascinating tales of the time of Pharaohs, pyramids and the Sphinx is an amazing place to visit and learn about an ancient civilization along the Nile. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, inscribed in both Greek and Egyptian, rekindled interest in Ancient Egypt in the West that remains undiminished to this day.

For the pyramid trail, moving your way south from the capital city of Cairo, you can stop at Giza where the famous Great Pyramid stands. Built by Pharaoh Khufu in the year 2550 BC, this 147m high pyramid was the largest and most ambitious structure built in ancient Egypt requiring 2.3 million stone blocks to construct. Also at Giza, you can see the Pyramid of Khefre, home of the Sphinx, built 30 years after the Great Pyramid. The third pyramid located at Giza is the Pyramid of Menkaure. Further south, Saqqara is home to the Step Pyramid of Djoser built in 2630 BC. Pyramid of Pepi II, also located at Saqqara was the last pyramid built by ancient Egyptians. In Dahshur, the Bent and the Red Pyramids are located. And down south at Maidum, the Maidum Pyramid can be found.

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Egypt has temples, mummies, tombs, hieroglyphics, and Valley of the Kings and the Queens which can keep you occupied and amazed for months. A cruise along the Nile is a pleasant and relaxing way to get close to the attractions of antiquity, and also get a glimpse of rural Egypt. Try one here.

Peru

Historically, Peru was the location of the dominant early cultures in South America. As the hub of the Inca civilization, Peru is a great destination for discovering the continent’s past. Peru has a strong Inca and pre-Inca heritage, which includes the famous Lake Titicaca area, the Nazca Lines, Caral and the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, with its Inca Trail to the lost city of Machu Picchu.

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Lima, founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro to became the “City of Kings”, has everything from 17th century colonial architecture to glass-faced skyscrapers. In the centre (or ‘Old Lima’ as it is often known) you can find some of the best colonial and neo-colonial architecture Peru has to offer. Hundreds of stunning colonial buildings line streets bustling with every type of person and business. As well some superb churches, museums and other public buildings, the busy streets lead to some tranquil squares where you can relax. About 31km from Lima, Pachacámac is a huge temple/palace area originally devoted to the namesake God. The site includes a partially-restored Temple of the Sun in a huge complex originally dating to 1350.

The city of Caral has pyramid remains dated to between 2000 and 2600 BC, which may make it the oldest city in the world. Peru is also the home to the Nazca Lines, football field size drawings in the ground that are only apparent from the air.

Machu Picchu, the Lost city of the Incas, is a mystical, sacred place, with one of the most enigmatic and beautiful ancient ruins in the world. Rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu (meaning ‘Old Peak’ in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas) was thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for the Inca nobility. The dramatic setting in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes enhances the shroud of mystery even more. The Inca life can be retraced in the exciting Inca Trail. Walk to the Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, Machu Picchu, and Pisac.

In many areas along the Andes, you can still hear Quechua – the language of the Incas – spoken as a first language and the spiritual ideals of Inca culture remain strong. Today cities like Cusco combine stunning Inca and colonial architecture with thoroughly modern services but just a short distance away from the major urban areas, life carries on in a way which would be instantly recognisable to the Incas.

Greece

Greece has a lot more to offer than its stunning beaches. Greece is a land of mysteries, mythologies, tales of man’s ancient past and the immense developments it has garnered over the last three millenniums. Walk practically anywhere in Greece and you are walking in the footsteps of antiquity. Home to such historical figures, as Plato and Homer and considered as the center of modern civilization, Greece is the abode of art, philosophy and many other aspects of culture. The historical sites in the country are impressive. Still, Greece also has modern touches making it a good travel destination.

As the center of knowledge, government, and system in the ancient world, you would be amazed at how the ancient city of Athens grew and evolved. You can visit Acropolis, Agora, Library of Hadrian, Kerameikos, Olympieion & Southeast Athens, Pnyx, Roman Agora & Tower of the Winds, Arch of Hadrian, City Eleusinion and other ancient sites in this ancient city of Athens.

The island of Amorgos, one of the most visited islands in the Cyclades, has a very rich and interesting past, and therefore all those who enjoy historic spots would be able to have a great time while visiting it. Anciently called Minoa, the origins of this city and its population can be found strongly attached to the Cretans who are believed to be the first inhabitants in this island. Many centuries ago, Amorgos was used by the Ionians in order to go from their islands to mainland Greece. Many constructions and elements from such époque can be still observed nowadays since was important in shaping the island’s culture and traditions. Three of the main and most antique cities in Amorgos – Militos, Efessos, and Alikarnasos are strongly attached to the époque in which the Ionians used to go through this island in order to reach mainland Greece in such a way that each one of them can tell a bit of the history of those days. The city of Arkesini, one of the main spots in Amorgos, has several appealing and unique characteristics such as the antique walls that surround it and which were part of many important historical events.

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Chania is thought to be settled by the humans since the Neolithic times before being ruled by several known empires. It was the place where the Minoan settlement took place – remains of the Minoan city were excavated during the last hundred years beneath the ground where the district of Kasteli stands right now. The invasion and occupation of Chania by Hitler’s army during the Word War II is yet another significant aspect of its modern history. Since the 1970s, Cretan tourism began soaring and Chania was brought to the attention of the world for the very first time.

Italy

Italy, with its culture, food and Renaissance has had a long and colorful historical significance dating back to the times of the Roman Empire.

For 3,000 years Rome has stood at the forefront of civilisation. Rome presents the living timeline from the Roman Empire to the shift of the Middle Ages, to baroque and renaissance, to the dawn of the romantic period and enlightenment, with well-preserved temples, churches, arts, and invaluable paintings and murals. At the core of the once mighty Empire, The Roman Forum was the nucleus of government where aristocracy would socialise and decide the course of history during lavish banquets. The Colosseum, undoubtedly the most famous ancient Roman landmark, was built by Jewish slaves and has a marked place in the city’s history as the arena for gladiator fights. The Pantheon from 2nd century AD and the catacombs along Via Appia Antica all stand witness to the story of this city on seven hills.

Located roughly an hour outside of Florence, built as a fortified city in gothic medieval architectural style behind large, thick walls on a small mountain, Siena oozes history, with the centre of the city being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Piazza del Campo housing the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia is an architectural marvel considered as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. The Palazzo Pubblico has an art museum with Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s significant series of frescos on government. On the Piazza Salimbeni is the medieval headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks in continuous existence and a major player in the Sienese economy.

A rich city in history and life, Verona is well known from Shakespeare’s play. Verona hosts many events and shows, including the famous lyric festival every summer which has been on since 1913 when it was inaugurated with Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. Apart from the famous arena of Piazza Bra, you should certainly see Grasses’s Square and Piazza dei Messrs’s square to immerse yourself in the history of the city.

The town of Civita di Bagnoregio, with orthogonal alleys in Etruscan and later Roman style, has several structures from the medieval age. The San Donato square, on which the 7th century cathedral dome rises, is at the heart of the town and has a passage that leads to the building of medieval jails. The town was almost untouched by Renaissance and preserves its medieval soul.

China

Travel Far East and discover the history of the ancient eastern civilization. China is one of the oldest states in the world and the only, surviving till today. You can follow the traditional Silk route, sailing down the Yangtze River, or travel to just the few major historical places.

Beijing, the capital for over 800 years now, has been an important trading city from its earliest days. You still can see the traces of the Chinese history at the Forbidden City, the largest and best-preserved imperial palace complex, the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven, the largest sacrificial complex in the world.

The Chaotian Gong with a 4th century Confucian temple in Nanjing, the Giant Buddha of Leshan, the royal Behai Park, the 10th century Longhua temple in Shanghai, the Ming tombs are all examples of the richness and breadth of Chinese history and culture. The Terracotta Warriors in Lintong, a World Heritage Site with a collection of about 7000 amazing life size sculptures of soldiers, horses and infantry dating back to 210 BC is a must visit for all art and history lovers.

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There is no possible way to summarize all the places of historical interest in this vast country – there is so much diversity in the different regions, each with a different story, that you simply must go to this sprawling country to discover its Oriental past.

Cruising along the Nile

Egypt, the cradle of civilization, where history first emerged, with Hieroglyphic records dating back to about 3200 BC and fascinating tales of the time of Pharaohs, pyramids and the Sphinx is an amazing place to visit. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, inscribed in both Greek and Egyptian, rekindled interest in Ancient Egypt in the West that remains undiminished to this day.

Religion is the common theme running through the attractions of ancient Egypt. The diversity of Gods found worthy of worship is astounding. There were over 2,000 of them of either sex and they supposedly manifested themselves to earthlings as animals. There were overlaps and the same Gods could be known with different names in various parts of the country. There was hardly any part of the life experience that was not assigned a deity- digestion, mummification, sexuality, feasting, childbirth, writing – you name it. Some Gods came and went out of fashion, but those connected with basic aspects of life endured. Such deities had cults and temples dedicated to them.

The afterlife was taken very seriously, and a lot of the monuments relate to preparation for that glorious time. Mortuary and burial preparation was so elaborate as to ensure a painless and enjoyable afterlife. The custom of mummification was seen as necessary, for the soul needed a physical body to occupy in the other world. The Pharaohs and other royals, nobles and key officials were mummified and accompanied by grave goods and great treasure. The common folk who could not afford the full treatment had to do with statuettes of mummies.

The main draw to Egypt is the legacy of the Pharaohs and the Greeks and Romans who ruled after them. Basically this legacy is associated with temples, tombs and burial places. People in Egypt from the earliest times to present have always lived along the River Nile and this is where you find the richest harvest of ancient monuments. Infact, the river is often referred to as the Lifeline of Egypt. One of the best ways to experience classical Egypt is on a Nile cruise.

The typical Nile cruiser is similar to an ocean liner in terms of facilities, but smaller. Amenities on board will include lounges, restaurants, bars, swimming pool, jacuzzis, sundeck, discotheque and shops. Generally, the quality and romance of Nile cruisers surpasses other riverboats anywhere else in the world.

The best time to take a Nile cruise is over the cooler months of November – March. These are also the peak months and to avoid crowds, always start out early each day. October, at the end the hot season is tolerable, especially when you factor in that it falls with off-season period: it is cheaper ad less crowded. When visiting the monuments, you are advised to hire a guide who will explain the historical context at each site. If you are on a Nile Cruise package, the services of a guide will usually be included.

Nile cruises normally take three, four or seven nights. You will be able to see the most important and interesting monuments on the shorter and more popular cruises that ply between Luxor and Aswan. The longer sail takes you up to Dendera. The boats sail both downstream and upstream and on the shorter cruises, you can embark at either Aswan or Luxor. The more adventurous travelers or those on a tight budget avoid the luxury cruisers in favour of fellucas- the traditional Nile sailboats. Though amenities onboard fellucas are very basic, those who can survive them, visit all the attractions along the Nile at a fraction of the cost of the cruisers.

At Aswan, the Nile is deep and placid. Aswan was for long Egypt’s southern frontier city and its gateway to Africa. This was the region known as Upper Egypt, being upstream of the Nile. After Aswan, the Nile passes through a section of hard rock, resulting in rapids or cataracts. Thus Aswan attained its strategic position by virtue of its location and has served as a garrison town for those who have ruled Egypt over the centuries. And for this reason, there are monuments here associated with the Pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Christian Copts and Islam.

At Aswan, make sure to visit the Philae Temple. Ptolemy II started the temple when the Greeks ruled, and the Romans completed it. It was dedicated to the goddess Isis, an important figure in Egyptian mythology that was worshipped across the Roman Empire. Even after Emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan temples to cease operations, Isis was still being glorified at Philae, until about AD 550 when Emperor Justinian finally shut down the temple. The early Christians converted the temple’s hypostyle hall into a chapel. For good measure, they defaced some of the pagan reliefs adorning its walls.

The temple forms an excellent backdrop for the nightly sound-and-light show. The temple was nearly lost after the Aswan High Dam was commissioned in the 1960’s. It took UNESCO and the Egyptian government ten years to move it, one stone at a time, to higher ground on Agilka Island. Most people also visit Elephantine Island, which has temples and a museum. The Island has been inhabited since about 3000 BC and was an important trading and cultural centre.

Aswan is home of the Nubians, a dark skinned people, related to the people of the north of the Sudan. You can see some Nubian villages at Elephantine Island. The Nubian museum celebrates Nubian culture right from prehistoric times. Aswan was once an important centre for Christian Copts. You can see the ruins of the once majestic Monastery of St Simeon, which was destroyed by the conqueror Saladin (Salah ad-Din) in 1173 AD.

Aswan was the source of the granite stone that the Pharaohs favoured for building temples and other monuments. The Northern Quarries are the site of the giant Unfinished Obelisk. Had the obelisk been successfully completed, it would be the single heaviest piece of monolithic stonework -reaching about 42 m and weiging over 1168 tonnes. It must have broken the hearts of the builders, who supposedly abandoned it, after coming across defects in the rock formation.

The next stop on the cruise is Kom Ombo, 48 km to the north of Aswan. The main attraction here is the Graeco-Roman temple. Work on the temple was started by Ptolemy VII in early second century BC and continued by some of his successors. The Romans Emperor Augustus built part of the temple at around 30 BC. The Temple of Kom Ombo actually consists of two separate temples, each with its own entrance, colonnades, hypostyle hall and sanctuary. The southern temple is dedicated to Sobek -the crocodile god, while the northern one honours Horus -the falcon God.

Though the two Gods shared the same grounds, in mythology, Sobek was associated with the god Seth, an enemy of Horus. At Kom Ombo, the gods took the liberty to bring along family – Sobek sneaked in his consort Hathor and son Khonsu, while Horus had his wife Tesentnefert and son, Panebtawy. If you have not seen mummies before, be sure to see the mummified crocodiles in the Sobek part of the temple.

At Edfu, you disembark to see the Temple of Horus. Edfu was the cult centre of Horus the falcon god. It is perhaps the best preserved of ancient temples of Egypt. The temple standing today was started by Ptolemy III at about 237 BC on the site of an earlier Pharaonic structure. Work continued under some of the Ptolemies that followed. Appropriately, the entrance adorned by two majestic granite falcons. The walls bear reliefs depicting Horus. One scene would please any tyrant -it shows Ptolemy XII dealing mercilessly with his enemies.

Your next stop and highlight of the cruise is Luxor. The range, magnificence and diversity of the monuments in the Luxor area is unsurpassed in all of Egypt. Known to the Greeks as Thebes, Luxor became the capital of Egypt at around 2040 BC. The city survived the sacking by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC, but steadily declined, and was finally destroyed by the Romans in the first century BC. Among the celebrated monuments dating from Luxor’s heydays are the necropolis complexes at the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Tombs of the Nobles. You will also come across some outstanding temples scattered in the region.

The Egyptians buried their dead in the direction of the setting sun and the west bank at Luxor was the final resting place of royalty and high officials. The Valley of Kings is where the rulers of the period historians refer to as the New Kingdom period (BC 1550-1070) awaited the afterlife. The Pharaoh normally picked the spot for his tomb and had it built in his lifetime. Tomb building for royalty and high officials was very serious business and it supported a battery of architects and craftsmen, who had a settlement in the valley. The valley contains over 60 tombs that have so far been excavated.

The tombs have suffered in recent years due to increased number of visitors, pollution and the rising ground water that has come with the Aswan High Dam. For this reason, not all of them are open to the public at any one time. Unless you are a scholar, visiting three or four tombs should be sufficient. Among the best tombs are those of Ramses I, Tuthmosis III and Ramses VI. Tutankhamun’s is today the most famous – though he is not considered a significant Pharaoh and he died at only nineteen.

Treasure hunters had over the years looted most tombs in the valley. But Howard Carter, the British archeologist, discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb almost intact in 1922. The treasure that was found here is truly amazing- statues, chests, chariots, beds, weapons, and many items he needed for the afterlife. The main item today at Tutankhamun’s tomb is his mummy. About 1700 items recovered at the tomb are now at display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The most outstanding of the collection is the 11 kg solid gold death mask. Imagine then, what the looters carried off from the bigger tombs of the more illustrious Pharaohs!

On the other side of the Valley of Kings is the Temple of Deir el-Bahri, built by Queen Hatshepsut. Hatseput. The temple is very impressive from a distance and is a great place to take photos. The name Valley of the Queens is misleading, as both male and female royals and some high officials were interred here. About 80 tombs have been identified, of which the most famous is that of Queen Nefertari. Take more photos at the Colossi of Memnon – two huge statues that are the sole legacy of the temple of Amenhotep III.

Amenhotep III also built the Temple of Luxor on the east bank. The temple was dedicated to the god Amon, though inside you also find a shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great. The temple’s entrance is lined with Sphinxes, and inside you find colonnades, courts, obelisks and wall murals. The mosque of Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built on top of part of the temple. You can also visit the Luxor Museum, which has interesting exhibits from the area.

The incredibly impressive Temple of Karnak is a huge complex that was dedicated to the god Amon. In the New Kingdom period, this was the most important temple is Egypt. It is probably the largest religious building ever and it can carry no less than 10 average Christian cathedrals. Some of the interesting structures within the complex are the gigantic hypostyle hall, the Kiosk of Tarhaka, statue of Ramses II, temple of Ramses III and the sacred lake.

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A cruise is a pleasant and relaxing way to get close to the attractions of antiquity, and also get a glimpse of rural Egypt. Book your cruise now!