Forget Chichen Itza. These seven lesser-known wonders of the world have all the visual splendour and historic appeal of the world’s famous monuments.
If visiting ancient monuments inspires your inner Indiana Jones, just imagine what it would be like to explore world wonders few people have ever even heard of yet. Here, my selection of seven lesser-known wonders of the world.
The Remains of a Royal Empire in India
The austere and grandiose site of Hampi comprise mainly the remnants of the Capital City of Vijayanagara Empire, the last great Hindu Kingdom. The property encompasses an area of 265 square km to explore, speckled with mysterious-looking boulders. The Hindu temple of Virupaksha, dedicated to Shiva, is said to be one of the oldest structures in the empire (and possible in India), dating to the 7th century, while exquisitely preserved sites such as the Sule Bazaar, the Queen’s Bath, and the elephant stables offer a remarkable glimpse into old lifestyle.
The Lost City of Colombia
This 1.000-year-old ruin in the mountains of Sierra Nevada is 650 years older than Machu Picchu and has even more mysterious appeal. Built by the Tayrona people atop a mountain pass that’s dotted with palm trees, La Ciudad Perdida (literally, the Lost City) has an architecture based on terraces made with an enigmatic disposition and a unique design never seen before in any ancient city in America. The surrounding forest swallowed it up until the early 1970s, after a group of bird hunters turned tomb-raiders dug into the earth and found heaps of golden artefacts. But local tribes say the city was never ‘lost’ to them.
An ancient Roman and Greek city by the Mediterranean
In Catalonia, northern Spain, there is an ancient colony where history and nature come together in equal parts. Discover the ruins of Empúries, in the heart of the Costa Brava, and admire part of the legacy left behind on the Iberian Peninsula by the civilisations of Greece and Rome. The archaeological site, with more than 2,500 years of history, is an idyllic place surrounded by beaches and coves with spectacular views out to the Mediterranean sea.
Founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC, Empúries was later occupied by the Romans, who created their own town in the 1st century BC. This spot was a prosperous territory until the town was abandoned in the 3rd century AD and disappeared beneath the dunes. This unique archaeological park was hidden for centuries until, in 1908, the excavations began that continue to this day.
Nubian pyramids in Sudan
More than 200 km from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, the remains of the ancient city of Meroë stand on the east bank of the Nile. The Nubian pyramids in Meroë are narrower and taller than the more famous ones in Egypt but there are many more of them. These pyramids, which were built around 2,500 years ago, served as tombs for the Nubian royalty of Napata and Meroë and, even though all this region had a strong Ancient Egyptian influence.
Sudan is a vast country which has twice as many pyramids as Egypt. However, tourism infrastructure is still in its infancy because of a prolonged civil conflict that led South Sudan to split off in 2011, but it’s become an object of fascination practically overnight for luxury outfits.
A Lion-Shaped Fortress in Sri Lanka
When King Kassapa ruled over Ceylon in the late 400s, he decided to place his capital atop a 600-foot-high granite boulder smack in the center of modern-day Sri Lanka. Rising dramatically from the central plains, the mysterious rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most spectacular sight. The whole thing doubled as a massive piece of sculpture: Not only did workers carve stone staircases leading all the way to the top; they also added brick and plasterwork to create the illusion of a gigantic lion emerging from the forest.
Saudi Arabia’s silent desert city
Added in 2008 to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Madain Saleh is Nabateans’ second-largest city which played a crucial role in their enigmatic empire. This crossroads of ancient civilisations, pilgrims, explorers, armies and trade caravans finds its most remarkable expression in the elaborate stone-carved tombs of the Nabataeans. Although the tombs are less spectacular than the Treasury at better-known Petra in Jordan, the setting of sweeping sand and remarkable rock formations is unique and unsurpassed.
The Onetime Mayan Capital in Guatemala
The ancient ruins of Tikal are the big draw on Guatemala’s Maya Route. However, deep in the jungle and off the beaten track lies an even greater site. The Mayan pyramid of El Mirador is being resuscitated from a near-death experience following a thousand years of assault by the jungles of the Guatemalan highlands. This fantastic complex is now realised to contain the largest pyramid on the American continent, and probably the whole world (in terms of mass). Discovered in 1926, El Mirador is the largest Maya town ever detected.
Check out the map below to find these seven lesser-known wonders of the world.