The world's most beautiful ancient ruined cities



Slide 1 of 30: While big sprawling cities are certainly a modern phenomenon, urban centers have existed across the globe for at least 6,000 years. Whether as a result of human conflict or natural disasters many metropolises have faced tough times and yet their ruins stand today, offering a window into a vanished world. Click through these beautiful images to see the most celebrated ancient cities on Earth.
Slide 2 of 30: Built on an 8,200-foot (2,500m) ridge, the world’s most famous Inca site has a spectacular setting amid the Andean peaks of southern Peru. The stonemasons who constructed this city in the 15th century didn't use mortar with the 150 buildings made from fine dry stone walls. Mystery still surrounds the purpose of the citadel, but it's thought to have been both a residential and religious center. The name Machu Picchu is interpreted as Old Mountain.
Slide 3 of 30: The city was probably home to fewer than 1,00 people, who perhaps served a royal dynasty. The site was abandoned a mere hundred years after it was built, around the time of the Spanish invasion of Central America, although there is no evidence the Spaniards ever found the remote city. The myriad stone steps connecting temples, storehouses, palaces, baths and 700 agricultural terraces are testament to a lost but advanced civilization.
Slide 4 of 30: Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint in southern Albania has quite a story: it was a Greek colony, a Roman city, an episcopal center, a Byzantine outpost and briefly occupied by the Venetians. By the 4th century BC, the growing metropolis included a theater, acropolis and forum while in the 1st century AD the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar further expanded the city by building an aqueduct and bathhouse.

Slide 5 of 30: Thanks to its turbulent past Butrint is a hodgepodge of architectural styles that span three millennia of Mediterranean history. The stupendous mosaic on the floor of the 6th-century Baptistery, a homage to Christianity, is an amazing spectacle. The city is built on a peninsula in a marshy landscape amid lush greenery in what is today a national park.
Slide 6 of 30: In southern Mexico close to the border with Guatemala, this ancient Mayan city is famed for its impressive sculptured stone lintels above doorways and windows featuring hieroglyphic texts that describe the dynastic history of the area. The name Yaxchilán is said to mean Green Stones in one Mayan language.
Slide 7 of 30: Dating from the 4th century AD, the buildings are covered with elaborate decorations. Stone monoliths, known as stelae, carved with writing or decoration, stand imposingly outside major buildings. Shrouded in jungle, Yaxchilán’s strategic location on the banks of the Río Usumacinta made it one of the most important Mayan cities. A series of wars ended the city's occupation in the 9th century AD.
Slide 8 of 30: The largest Roman settlement ever built in North Africa, Timgad was founded in AD 100 by the emperor Trajan and constructed for retired military personnel. Standing high on a plateau, it is strewn with arches, columns and crumbling walls. Despite being far from Rome, Trajan built the city as a model Roman town with the original grid pattern of streets, including the Decumanus Maximus, the city's main east-west artery which is still visible.
Slide 9 of 30: The city’s enormous 3,500-seat amphitheater is largely intact. The library, which dates from the 3rd or 4th century AD, is thought to have once been stocked with around 3,000 papyrus rolls. In the 5th century, the city was sacked by the Vandals and went into decline and abandonment. The Scottish explorer James Bruce then came upon the ruins in late 1765, buried in the desert. Discover more of the world's lost cities that have been rediscovered.

Slide 10 of 30: Set on the western Turkish coast, Ephesus is the Mediterranean’s most complete Greco-Roman city. Founded in the 10th century BC, the city attracted merchants, sailors and pilgrims from the world over. In 133 BC, it became a Roman province and under Augustus Caesar became the first city of Roman Asia. Local legend says it was the last home of the Virgin Mary.
Slide 11 of 30: Ephesus is the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and although not much is visible today, the façade of the Library of Celsus, which dates from the time of Emperor Hadrian in the first half of the 2nd century AD, is still beautifully preserved. It was believed to have once contained 12,000 scrolls. The library was destroyed in AD 262 in an earthquake but the façade was rebuilt by archaeologists in the 1970s. See what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World would look like today
Slide 12 of 30: Leptis Magna, on the Mediterranean coast of Libya, was one of the Roman empire’s most beautiful cities. Founded in the 7th century BC, it was the birthplace, in AD 145, of Septimus Severus, who enlarged and embellished the city when he became emperor in AD 193. Much of its wealth was based on olive oil production exported to the rest of the empire via its port.
Slide 13 of 30: Having been buried under sand for centuries, the city is staggeringly well preserved. There are gorgeous baths featuring colorful paintings of hunting scenes, a decorated triumphal arch constructed by Septimus Severus and an amphitheater with views of the Mediterranean beyond. The city was devastated by a tsunami in AD 365 and went into decline until excavation work in the 20th century.
Slide 14 of 30: Deep in the rainforests of northern Guatemala lies Tikal, a Mayan citadel dating from the 4th century BC until the 9th century AD. It has wonderfully preserved stone temples, palaces and public squares. Tikal is one of the most important and largest archaeological sites of Central America dating from before the time of Columbus.

Slide 15 of 30: There were once thousands of structures in this great city. The Great Plaza lies at the center and is flanked by two enormous pyramids on the east and west and by an acropolis on the north and south. There are myriad temples, some rising to heights of over 130 feet (40m). The city isn't the only attraction here either as the surrounding area is abundant in exotic flora, wildlife and hundreds of species of birds.
Slide 16 of 30: The second capital of the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand), Ayutthaya, dating from the 14th century, was once one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities. For 400 years, it was a center of art, architecture and literature until its destruction by an invading Burmese army in the 18th century.
Slide 17 of 30: Set 55 miles (89 km) north of Bangkok, its mesmerizing ruins are testament to the city’s past architectural splendor: lofty reliquary towers sit by huge Buddhist monasteries, many partially restored and providing a glimpse into what was once one of Asia’s most important centers of commerce and diplomacy. Centuries of tree roots twisting their way through many architectural features give the city a mystical air.
Slide 18 of 30: Like its better-known neighbor Pompeii, Herculaneum on the south-west Italian coast, was also destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. However, although Pompeii is architecturally more impressive, it's thought the volcano’s flow of dust and ash helped preserve Herculaneum’s buildings to a higher degree. The regular streets, houses, shops and brothels provide a fascinating snapshot of everyday Roman life.  
Slide 19 of 30: The city’s wealthy elite lived in fine villas embellished with beautiful mosaics and multicolored marble. Life began as normal on that day in late summer AD 79 and ended with this urban center, along with most of its population, being tragically wiped out. So much of the city, including the remains of some inhabitants, are perfectly preserved in this haunting time capsule. Discover even more secrets of ancient wonders here.
Slide 20 of 30: The spectacular city of Sigiriya sits atop a 600-foot (182m) high granite peak rising from lush plains in central Sri Lanka. It takes a strenuous climb of 1,200 steps up the sheer cliff edge to reach the top. Meaning Lion Rock, the city was built by King Kashyapa around AD 477 as the center of his empire.
Slide 21 of 30: The complex includes a palace area surrounded by fortifications, ramparts, paved pathways, and landscaped gardens with ornamental pools. On a plateau about halfway up the rock, the original entrance was sculpted in the form of a lion with paws, head and shoulders carved into the stone. Sadly the head and shoulders are now missing.
Slide 22 of 30: The rock’s sheer walls are embellished with frescoes celebrating female beauty, while the so-called Mirror Wall with smooth glazed plaster has evidence of centuries-old graffiti. King Kashyapa was said to enjoy seeing himself in the wall's beautifully polished surface. After the king's death, the city declined and later became a Buddhist monastery until abandoned in the 14th century.
Slide 23 of 30: The beautifully preserved ruins of this ancient city in northern Morocco was once the capital of the Mauretanian kingdom in the 3rd century BC. It was incorporated into the Roman Empire by the emperor Claudius in AD 44 and grew in wealth and size. The city exported grain, olive oil and animals for gladiatorial contests. At one time there were 20,000 inhabitants but its position on the edge of the empire made it vulnerable to outside tribes.
Slide 24 of 30: Volubilis covered around 100 acres (42 hectares) and was graced by grand houses decorated with exquisite mosaics. An aqueduct constructed around AD 80, provided the city’s water and in AD 271, a grand arch to honor the emperor Caracalla was constructed. After the fall of Rome, the city was occupied for centuries by Muslim peoples but was deserted by the 14th century.
Slide 25 of 30: The oldest archaeological remains of this city date back to the 4th century BC when Ostia Antica became the commercial port for Rome just 10 miles (17 km) away. Julius Caesar developed the city as a major trade center to keep Rome supplied with grain. Recently, archaeologists discovered a huge canal that linked the port to the river Tiber so goods could more easily be taken by barge to Rome. The spectacular amphitheater pictured here was first constructed around 12 BC.
Slide 26 of 30: Ostia Antica grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century and 100,000 in the 3rd century. The city had a lighthouse, theater and baths and the earliest synagogue ever found plus residential buildings, taverns and communal toilets. The city was mentioned by St Augustine in the late 4th century but it was already going into decline as the port silted up. Repeated invasions by Arab pirates further weakened commerce and by the 9th century it had been completely abandoned.  See more amazing Roman ruins around the world here
Slide 27 of 30: Covering a vast area of over 10,000 acres (4,100 hectares), the magnificent ancient ruins of Hampi in Karnataka, southern India combine temples, pavilions and palaces with the impressive natural landscape of boulders, banana groves and rice paddies. This Hindu complex contains around 1,600 structures which contemporary 16th-century European travelers described as prosperous and grand. Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Slide 28 of 30: Dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was the capital of the powerful Vijayanagar empire. The intricately carved decorations, ornate palaces and sophisticated water irrigation system that directed water around the city attest to its former glory. These magnificent Elephant Stables consist of 11 domed chambers and are a wonderful example of Indo-Islamic architecture. 
Slide 29 of 30: Known as the Rose City, Petra in southern Jordan was carved into the pink sandstone cliff faces of desert canyons by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BC. The entrance to the city, flanked by 262-foot high (80m) cliffs, opens up onto the Al Khazna or Treasury (pictured). This 131-foot high (40m) building decorated with Corinthian columns and freezes, was probably built in the 1st century BC.
Slide 30 of 30: The huge 1st-century AD theater was carved out of solid rock and has three horizontal sections of seats separated by passageways and seven stairways. The Romans took control of the city in AD 106 and annexed the whole area. They ruled until the 4th century when an earthquake destroyed many buildings. The Byzantines then took over but the city was abandoned in the 8th century.  The amazing stories of the world's most ancient cities

Ancient urban enigmas

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Butrint, Albania

Butrint, Albania

Yaxchilán, Mexico

Yaxchilán, Mexico

Timgad, Algeria

Timgad, Algeria

The city’s enormous 3,500-seat amphitheater is largely intact. The library, which dates from the 3rd or 4th century AD, is thought to have once been stocked with around 3,000 papyrus rolls. In the 5th century, the city was sacked by the Vandals and went into decline and abandonment. The Scottish explorer James Bruce then came upon the ruins in late 1765, buried in the desert. Discover more of the world’s lost cities that have been rediscovered.

Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus is the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and although not much is visible today, the façade of the Library of Celsus, which dates from the time of Emperor Hadrian in the first half of the 2nd century AD, is still beautifully preserved. It was believed to have once contained 12,000 scrolls. The library was destroyed in AD 262 in an earthquake but the façade was rebuilt by archaeologists in the 1970s.

See what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World would look like today

Leptis Magna, Libya

Leptis Magna, Libya

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Herculaneum, Italy

Like its better-known neighbor Pompeii, Herculaneum on the south-west Italian coast, was also destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. However, although Pompeii is architecturally more impressive, it’s thought the volcano’s flow of dust and ash helped preserve Herculaneum’s buildings to a higher degree. The regular streets, houses, shops and brothels provide a fascinating snapshot of everyday Roman life.  

Herculaneum, Italy

The city’s wealthy elite lived in fine villas embellished with beautiful mosaics and multicolored marble. Life began as normal on that day in late summer AD 79 and ended with this urban center, along with most of its population, being tragically wiped out. So much of the city, including the remains of some inhabitants, are perfectly preserved in this haunting time capsule. Discover even more secrets of ancient wonders here.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Volubilis, Morocco

Volubilis, Morocco

Ostia Antica, Italy

Ostia Antica, Italy

Ostia Antica grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century and 100,000 in the 3rd century. The city had a lighthouse, theater and baths and the earliest synagogue ever found plus residential buildings, taverns and communal toilets. The city was mentioned by St Augustine in the late 4th century but it was already going into decline as the port silted up. Repeated invasions by Arab pirates further weakened commerce and by the 9th century it had been completely abandoned. 

See more amazing Roman ruins around the world here

Hampi, India

Hampi, India

Dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was the capital of the powerful Vijayanagar empire. The intricately carved decorations, ornate palaces and sophisticated water irrigation system that directed water around the city attest to its former glory. These magnificent Elephant Stables consist of 11 domed chambers and are a wonderful example of Indo-Islamic architecture. 

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

The huge 1st-century AD theater was carved out of solid rock and has three horizontal sections of seats separated by passageways and seven stairways. The Romans took control of the city in AD 106 and annexed the whole area. They ruled until the 4th century when an earthquake destroyed many buildings. The Byzantines then took over but the city was abandoned in the 8th century. 

The amazing stories of the world’s most ancient cities

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