Back in school, history class was usually boring. Not because of the subject matter, but because of the setting. Listening to some lackluster professor go on and on about past civilizations inside a classroom is like reading a book about roller coasters. It’s just not the same. History, like roller coasters, can be exciting, gripping, and even exhilarating to all types of people.
The trick, according to travel agents, is that you have to be physically there at the world’s great historic sites, standing amid the rocks and the legends, exactly where kings and emperors stood thousands of years ago. Only then will history’s greatest scenes come to life, educating you and your family while enhancing your vacation experience.
When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do…Enjoy the City!
According to legend, Rome was built in 753 B.C. by Romulus after he killed his twin brother Remus. Ever since Rome has seen many rulers come and go, each leaving a distinct footprint not only upon the city but also upon history itself, from Julius Caesar to Octavius Augustus and even the Catholic Church, which commissioned many churches built and beautifully painted with frescoes by Renaissance artists such as Rafael and Michelangelo.
A mesmerizing array of historical sites illustrates Rome’s epic history. The most impressive monument was opened in A.D. 80, the celebrated Coliseum, the immense oval stadium which regularly held 70,000 spectators cheering sometimes for the gladiator, other times for the lion! The Roman Forum, a city within a city built in the 6th century B.C., quickly became the center of social and political life in Ancient Rome, with palaces, statues, temples, and courts added century after century.
The Pantheon, one of the best-preserved buildings that date back to ancient Rome, is now one of the world’s greatest spiritual buildings and the burial sites of many popes. When Michelangelo first saw the Pantheon in the early 1500s, more than 1350 years after its construction, he proclaimed “it was made from angelic and not human design.” The same could be said of all of Rome.
Walk Like an Egyptian
In the fifth century B.C. the great historian Herodotus wrote of Egypt that nowhere are there so many marvelous things…nor in the world besides are to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness. “Twenty-three centuries later during an invasion in 1798, Napoleon commanded, Soldiers! From the top of these Pyramids, 40 centuries are looking at us!”
The allure and magic of Egypt have changed little throughout the centuries. The Sphinx, the Nile, ancient Luxor, and the Pyramids of Giza are just a glimpse of Egypt’s glorious and historical scope. To witness these behemoths with your own eyes is a treat beyond compare.
Contrary to the popular belief, only the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops), not all three of Giza’s Great Pyramids, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Wanting to go out in style, the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu ordered the monument built around 2560 B.C. to serve as his tomb. When built, the Great Pyramid was 481 feet high, and even though it has lost nearly 30 feet from off its top over time, it still ranked as the tallest structure on Earth for more than 43 centuries, only to be surpassed in height in the nineteenth century.
Today the Great Pyramid is enclosed, together with the other pyramids and the Sphinx, in the Giza Plateau, along with the museum housing the mysterious Sun Boat, which was most likely used to carry the body of Khufu in his last journey on earth before being buried inside the pyramid. It may also serve him as a means of transportation in his afterlife journey, according to ancient Egyptian beliefs.
China – “Great” Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe this Wall
Like a giant dragon, the Great Wall roams throughout China’s history, stretching approximately 4,163 miles across deserts, grasslands, mountains, and plateaus. With a history of more than 2000 years, some of the sections of the Great Wall are now in ruins; however, it is still impossible not to be awe-struck, for this is one of the most appealing attractions in the world due to its architectural grandeur and historical significance.
The Great Wall was born in small sections built to protect a few states. The individual sections were connected by the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.), which forced peasants and prisoners to construct the wall under military guard. This lasted for centuries during several dynasties, with each adding to the height, breadth, length, and elaborate design. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), brick and granite work was enlarged and sophisticated designs were added. The Ming Emperors, after overthrowing the Huns and expelling the Mongol rulers, devoted a great number of materials and manpower to the Wall to make sure the enemy hordes did not return.
A structure with this much history is associated with many beautiful legends, like the story of Meng Jiangsu. After being separated for five years, Meng Jiangnu went to the wall to find her husband, a forced laborer, to bring him warm clothes. Once she learned that he had died, her bitter weeping made a section of the Wall collapse. Luckily Meng Jiangnu’s tears did not obliterate much of the Great Wall, for now, travelers may enjoy this epic structure and weep tears of joy.
Mayan Ruins—One Man’s Ruins is Another Man’s Treasure
The image of the great Maya civilization that has endured the strongest is that of the great ruins. Between the third and ninth century AD, Mayas built awe-inspiring temples, pyramids that sought the clouds, and cities that guarded rain forests and beaches. Of these structures, temple-pyramids were the most striking. Towering over the trees and surrounding structures, these stepped pyramids were manmade mountains they climbed to be closer to the gods.
The Yucatan Peninsula enjoys three major Mayan sites— Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Tulum.
Chichen Itza is the best known, best restored, and arguably most impressive Mayan ruin, and its star is the dramatic, 75-ft pyramid-shaped Temple of Kukulkan, known as El Castillo. Once you bravely summit El Castillo, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Temple of the Warriors, the Sacred Well, and the Platform of the Jaguars and Eagles.
Near the town of Merida the ruins of Uxmal rise from the jungle, rated by many archaeologists as the finest. You’ll be immediately greeted by the Pyramid of the Magician, a 117-foot high structure created from five superimposed temples that, as legends say, was built by a powerful dwarf magician. Uxmal will make your camera happy, but Tulum will make it explode with pictorial bliss, for it is exquisitely poised on 15-meter high cliffs above the Caribbean.
The beauty of Mayan temple-hunting on the Yucatan Peninsula is that you can stay at a sparkling resort along the Mayan Riviera—Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel—and visit the nearby ruins during exciting day trips. Beach, sun, and exceptional trekking around the fabled ruins—that’s a vacation of a lifetime your kids will never forget.
Travel Agents – The Best History Professors
History is all around, and travel agents will help you find it. A vacation experience can focus on a historical landmark like the ones above, enlightening all visitors and inspiring minds for centuries, or historical sites can be wondrous exclamation points to any trip. If ancient civilizations aren’t your cup of tea, then fast forward and explore Civil War battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, castles in Scotland, or architecture in London.