10 Lesser-Known Ruins of the Ancient World

Ancient ruins tell the history of the world while showing the evolution of mankind—
a physical embodiment of where we came from and, sometimes, where we are headed. While most everyone is familiar with Angkor Wat, Petra or Rome's Colosseum, it is sometimes the overlooked cities—once megalopolises now in disrepair—that tell a more potent story.

Cliff Palace, Colorado

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Getty/Dane Cronin

Built in the 12th century by the Ancestral Puebloans, the Cliff Palace is a testament to climate change as the tribe moved into the cliff to secure defensive positions during drought, helping them avoid raids on decreasing food stores. The expansive 150-room dwelling was later abandoned due to infighting and food scarcity.

Chan Chan, Peru

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James Harrison

Home to the pre-Incan civilization, the Chimu, this vast adobe complex consists of citadels, temples, cemeteries and the partially restored Tschudi palace, and is an important look into ancient culture in South America. The fragile mud structures are in danger due to the ravages of erosion by weather changes.

Djenné-Djenno, Mali

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Werner Forman/Universal Images Group

An important link on the gold trade route established in 250 B.C., this is one of the oldest urbanized centers in sub-Saharan Africa and proves the existence of international trade there even in pre-Islamic times. Over 2,000 traditional mudbrick houses and structures survive today.

Ggantija, Malta

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Klaus Rose/ullstein bild/Getty

Older than the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge, this megalithic temple compound dedicated to fertility is over 5500 years old and one of the world's oldest surviving religious structures.

Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

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Christian Ender/Getty

Zimbabwe Founded in the 11th century and once part of a major trade route, the site—Queen of Sheba's capital, according to legend—was abandoned around 1450. An adaptation of bird figurines found here became the national symbol of Zimbabwe.

Hattusa, Turkey

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DEA/ARA GULER/De Agostini

This Bronze Age former capital of the Hittite Empire was founded in the 6th century B.C., and is guarded by famous sphinxes. Cuneiform-covered clay tablets replete with legal codes were discovered here, including what is considered to be the earliest known international peace treaty.

Ctesiphon, Iraq

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Paula Froelich

This 800-year-old capital of the Persian empire was finally felled by the Muslim invasion beginning in 636 A.D. The arch of Taq Kasra—one of the largest unreinforced single-span brick arches in the world—still stands today. It was the subject of a 2017 documentary after being in danger of destruction from ISIS attacks.

Shahr-e-Gholghola, Afghanistan

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SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty

Once a powerful city on the Silk Road, this site was one of the province's last defenses from the Mongol hordes. After Genghis Khan's favorite grandson was killed nearby, the warlord slaughtered everyone inside—giving it its nickname, the City of Screams.

Fatehpur Sikri, India

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Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

This elegant Mughal royal complex built by Emperor Akbar in 1571 is comprised of palaces, pavilions, a harem, courtyards, gardens and ornamental pools. Abandoned after just 14 years due to lack of water, its many buildings have miraculously survived intact over the years.

Yinxu, China

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Keren Su/Getty

Inscriptions on bones found at this ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty show the development of some of the oldest writing, ancient beliefs and social systems in the world.

10 Lesser-Known Ruins of the Ancient World | Culture