Eight impressive historical monuments around the world

Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib is a revered Sikh shrine. — Unsplash

The world is filled with many ancient monuments, landmarks and sites that still exist to this day, either in their entirety, partially or in remnants. They are reminders of our past, and they teach us about our history, traditions, cultural heritage and so much more.

In 1983, the first World Heritage Day was celebrated on April 18, an idea mooted a year prior by the International Council On Monuments And Site or Icomos, and accepted by Unesco. Today, it is more known as the International Day Of Monuments And Sites (IDMS), and is seen as an important event that highlights the significance of cultural heritage and how diverse it is across the world.

It also promotes the awareness of conservation and preservation work on World Heritage Sites, and the need to safeguard them for the generations to come.

World Heritage Sites are known for their exceptional cultural or natural significance, and are recognised by Unesco for their outstanding universal value. These sites include ancient ruins, historical monuments, natural landscapes, and cultural practices.

Themes for IDMS in the past few years focus on more current global issues such as climate change, sustainability and even diversity. Last year’s theme, for instance, was “Heritage Changes”, while in 2021 it was “Complex Pasts: Diverse Futures”; in 2020, “Shared Cultures, Shared Heritage, Shared Responsibility”; in 2018, “Heritage For Generations”; and in 2017, “Cultural Heritage & Sustainable Tourism”.

This year, according to the Icomos website, the theme is “Disasters & Conflicts Through The Lens Of The Venice Charter”. The charter (in full: the Venice Charter For The Conservation And Restoration Of Monuments And Sites) is basically guidelines set by a group of conservationists and experts in Venice, Italy in 1964, on how to conserve and restore ancient or historical buildings/landmarks.

In conjunction with IDMS, we feature eight Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The theatre at the Roman Ruins Of Merida in Spain. — FERNANDO SUAREZ/Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain/UnescoThe theatre at the Roman Ruins Of Merida in Spain. — FERNANDO SUAREZ/Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain/Unesco

Roman Ruins Of Merida, Spain

Listed on the official Unesco website as “archaeological ensemble of Merida”, this ancient site was founded by the Romans in 25 BCE, and is among the largest archaeological sites in Spain. The old city was originally called Emerita Augusta and comprises several archaeological remains that have been preserved well throughout many millennia, and are still standing today.

Merida, located in Extremadura, was said to have been modelled after Rome, becoming the capital of the Empire’s Lusitania and then later, as the capital of the Diocese of Hispania. After the fall of the Empire, Merida was one of the three border capitals of the Muslim kingdom Al-Andalus.

Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1993, Merida measures 31ha, with 22 historical components within the property. Some of these include a theatre, an amphitheatre, bridges, the Temple Of Diana, Temple Of Marte, La Casa Basilica, Casa Del Mitreo, thermal baths of Alange, Los Milagros Aqueduct, the Alcazaba fortress (from the Muslim era), and the Roman Circus, said to be one of the largest in existence today.

While Merida is a tourist attraction, it isn’t the easiest place to get to unless you go on private tours, but perhaps this is a good thing as overcrowding may cause the site to slowly deteriorate.

The Prambanan Archaeological Park houses over 500 Hindu and Buddhist temples. — UnsplashThe Prambanan Archaeological Park houses over 500 Hindu and Buddhist temples. — Unsplash

Prambanan Archaeological Park, Indonesia

Indonesia’s Central Java province is perhaps better known for the ancient Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur. But about 90 minutes away from this site lies another temple complex that is equally amazing – Prambanan Archaeological Park.

Located in the Yogyakarta province, Prambanan was believed to have been built between the 8th and 10th centuries during the heyday of the powerful Sailendra dynasty in ancient Java, and consists of four temple complexes. And within these complexes you can find over 500 temples!

The most well-known is the Hindu temple Prambanan or Lara Jonggrang (pronounced “loro”), while the others are the Buddhist temples Sewu (the second largest in Indonesia after Borobudur), Bubrah and Lumbung.

Research has shown that Lara Jonggrang was built by king Dhaksa in early 10th century, and is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Today, it is the largest Shiva temple in Indonesia.

The Prambanan temple complex is divided into a higher and lower terrace, where you can find the Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma temples and shrines. The temples are decorated with reliefs that depict the Java version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

The park was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Central Java.

Hohensalzburg Fortress is an 11th century castle in Salzburg. — UnsplashHohensalzburg Fortress is an 11th century castle in Salzburg. — Unsplash

Hohensalzburg Fortress, Austria

Among the many claims to fame that Salzburg boasts, such as being the birthplace of musical genius Mozart, this Austrian city is also home to Europe’s largest medieval fortress: Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Looming at an altitude of 506m atop the Festungsberg mountain, the 250m-long and 150m-wide 11th century castle is visible anywhere from the city and in turn offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding vista. Tickets are required for entry, and depending on the type purchased, certain areas – such as the Princely Chambers and Magic Theatre – may be off-limits. This famous landmark also takes advantage of its connection to Mozart to host concerts that showcase the composer’s greatest work.

Construction on the fortress begun in 1077 under archbishop Gebhard, to protect Salzburg – inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996 – against hostile attacks. Over six centuries, its façade continuously evolved as it was upgraded and renovated to remain contemporary. Its current look is attributed to the expansion work ordered by archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach in 1500.

After it was no longer used for military purposes, it was turned into a tourist attraction with the opening of the funicular in 1892.

Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib, India

Constructed with four open sides, the multiple entrances of this glittering gurdwara in Amritsar, India signify the openness to and acceptance of everyone.

An important religious site for the Sikhs, work on the architectural wonder was initiated by Guru Ram Das Ji in 1577. His successor, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, oversaw the construction until its completion in 1604.

As it suffered numerous attacks throughout the centuries, the gurdwara underwent constant reconstruction and renovation efforts. Its current magnificent façade came about following a rebuilding in 1762 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh decided to coat the exterior with 162kg of 24K pure gold leaf. Further renovations in the 1990s and 2010s saw more of its surfaces receiving the golden treatment, utilising over 500kg worth of gold.

Due to this, many may fondly refer to the majestic building as the “Golden Temple”. However, in 2019, the then-acting jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, advised the public to refrain from using the widely popularised moniker and instead, call the shrine by its proper name of either Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sri Darbar Sahib or Sri Amritsar.

The site has been on the tentative list for World Heritage Site inscription since 2004.

The Treasury in Petra is 39m tall. — UnsplashThe Treasury in Petra is 39m tall. — Unsplash

Petra, Jordan

Shrouded in mystery, the ancient desert city of Petra in Jordan remains vastly untouched today. While its history traces back over 2,400 years to the Nabataean empire, this mysterious site was only uncovered in the early 1800s by traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. And it is said that only a mere 15% of the place has been discovered.

Home to more than 1,000 historical monuments that are chiselled into sandstone hills, one of the popular structures at this prehistoric locale is the Treasury (or Al Khazneh), which stands at a towering height of 39m.

Today, crowds of tourists flock to the desert to visit the magnificent Treasury, bearing Hellenistic architectural styles. As you traverse through the narrow canyon, also known as the Al Siq Trail, the Treasury will loom into sight.

Other ancient ruins residing in Petra are the Monastery (Al Dayr), High Place Of Sacrifice, the Royal Tombs and a Byzantine church.

During the Nabataean reign, Petra served as an important trading centre in the second century, but that interest waned when Rome took over the city in the year 106.Petra is an archaeological park, and it was recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985; in 2007 it was named one of the “New Seven Wonders Of The World” by a company called New7Wonders.

This was also the filming location of some popular movies including Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989), Aladdin (2019) and Dune (2021).

Colosseum was once used as a fighting arena. — PixabayColosseum was once used as a fighting arena. — Pixabay

Colosseum, Italy

Located in the heart of Rome in Italy, another so-called new seventh wonder is the 1,944-year-old Colosseum, formerly called the Flavian Amphitheatre. It was built as a gift to the people by the Roman emperor Vespasian.

This enormous structure, which measures four storeys high, was once an entertainment arena, hosting a variety of events including the gladiatorial games and dramas, as well as staged hunts. The Roman emperor Commodus also participated as a gladiator or fighter here.

Besides gladiatorial combats, public executions took place at the stadium as well. This was considered a form of entertainment for the spectators.

By the late 6th century, the once-famous fighting venue was used as a cemetery, living quarters and workshop after ceasing its initial function. In the 12th century, it was transformed into a fortified castle.

However, parts of the building were destroyed when Rome was struck by earthquakes in the 13th century. On top of the various restoration efforts made throughout the millennia to revive the historical site, the building underwent major reconstruction work in the 1990s.

The Colosseum is one of the most visited attractions in Italy today, witnessing millions of tourists every year. The historic city of Rome was inscribed into the World Heritage Site list in 1980.

The Temple of Kukulkan in the ancient city of Chichen Itza. — UnsplashThe Temple of Kukulkan in the ancient city of Chichen Itza. — Unsplash

Chichen-Itza, Mexico

The ruined city of Chichen Itza, located in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, traces its settlement to between 415 CE and 435 CE, though there are other research findings that cite the city was founded in the 6th century. It is said that “Itza” is the name of the Maya tribe that settled in the area, while “chi” (mouths) and “chen” (wells) were to denote the existence of cenotes there. In this 10sq km-sized archaeological site, there are many Mayan ruins to check out. One of the most prominent is the El Castillo – also known as the Temple Of Kukulkan – a four-sided pyramid with a temple at the top.

Other significant buildings include the Temple Of The Warriors where carvings depicting soldiers, eagles, and jaguars consuming human hearts have been found; and the El Caracol or observatory, where astronomical observations are thought to have been conducted from one of the rare round Maya constructions. The observatory was built as a large circular tower set on a platform with a central staircase.

At its heyday, Chichen Itza was said to have a population of 35,000. Chichen Itza appears not to have had any significant monuments built after the 13th century, and around 1440 CE, the city began to fall apart quickly. It wasn’t until 1841 that the ruins were rediscovered by an American explorer named John L. Stephens. In 1988, the city was designated as a World Heritage Site.

The Hwaseong Fortress is almost 6km long. — BERNARD GAGNON/Wikimedia CommonsThe Hwaseong Fortress is almost 6km long. — BERNARD GAGNON/Wikimedia Commons

Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Built in the 18th century by King Jeongjo, Hwaseong Fortress was meant to be used to defend the city and to house the remains of the king’s father, Crown Prince Sado. Designed by architect Jeong Yakyong, the fortress was constructed from 1794 to 1796. Jeong designed the fortress combining Chinese and Korean architecture, along with modern engineering.

There are several defensive elements in the walls, the majority of which are still in place today. These include secret gates, floodgates, observation towers, command posts, gun bastions, angle towers, multiple arrow launcher towers, firearms, beacon towers, bastions, and bunkers. At each of the cardinal points are four primary gates.

It is said that Korean architecture, urban planning, landscaping as well as other associated art fields have been greatly influenced by the Hwaseong Fortress. The fortress stood out from other architectural fortresses in China and Japan which were all built to serve some kind of economic, political and military purpose.

Located 30km south of Seoul, the fortress was also where you can find King Jeongjo’s palace, the Haenggung. In 1997, both the fortress and the palace were designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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