Tikal, Machu Picchu, the Roman Forums … world history is told through the lasting legacies of our ancestors’ ruins. We have uncovered ancient relics, unearthed mysterious symbols and discovered secrets and traditions of long-forgotten rituals. But the world is a ruined place and there are more than famous coliseums and pyramids waiting to be visited, and I’ll prove it. Here are six of the least visited ruins in the world.
Located on the east bank of the Tigris River in Iraq, it is easy to understand why Samarra is one of the least visited archeological sites in the world. Through war and unrest, the remains of the city’s collapsed pisé de terre and brick walls are still visible, as are the 9th century Great Mosque, its Spiral Minaret and the Caliphal Palace.
At one point, the Great Mosque was the largest mosque in the world, whose minaret reached 170 feet high and 108 feet wide. The stucco carvings within the mosque, as well as the floral and geometric designs were influential in world architecture and influenced the design of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo.
>> Read our Iraq travel guide
Archaeological Ruins of Copan, Honduras
The ruins at Copan are spread across 40 acres on the far southern plains of the Mayan empire in western Honduras near the Guatemalan border. The Copan Valley Maya are thought to have occupied the valley from 1300-900 BC, but didn’t start building Copan until the 5th century where they flourished for over 200 years. Then, on May 26, 800 AD, in the peak of Copan’s reign-and for reasons unknown to historians-the last hieroglyphic was recorded.
Copan lay buried for centuries under the overgrowing vines of the Honduras rainforest until it was rediscovered in 1839. In 1989, excavations revealed what are thought to be the tombs of Copan’s founder, Sun-eyed Green Quetzal Macaw and his wife, along with other important Mayan monuments and artifacts. The Copan Archeological Park and Ruins are open year-round.
Armenian Monastic Ensembles, Iran
Located in northwest Iran, the Armenian Monasteries consist of three ensembles of the Armenian Christian faith-St. Thaddeus, St. Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor, all of which date back to the 7th century.
Built more than 1700 years ago, St. Thaddeus Church, or the “Black Church,” is considered to be one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and is believed to the tomb of St. Thaddeus who traveled to Armenia to preach the Christian faith. The church is open one day a year for the Feast Day of St. Thaddeus, on or around June 19, and is held in conjugation with the annual Armenian pilgrimage in Iran.
>> Find a flight to Tehran
Once thought to be the remains of an ancient Roman military camp, the ruins at Felix Romuliana in eastern Serbia date back to 289 AD, and are actually the remains of an imperial palace. Constructed in the city of Gamzigrad for the Emperor Galerius and named for his pagan cult priestess mother, the temples and palaces’ purposes were threefold: to serve as a place to worship Galerius’ mother, to serve as a monument to his work as Emperor and to serve as the villa where he would one day retire.
Portraits of rulers carved from the Egyptian stone, porphyry, and ancient Roman coins were discovered at the site, as well as fine mosaics, baths and gates. The ruins are open to visitors from May 1-November 1 each year.
>> Read our Serbia travel guide
Archaeological Ruins at Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan
Mohenjo-Daro, meaning “mound of the dead,” is a city in the Indus Valley Civilization 50 miles southwest of Sindh, Pakistan, that was constructed entirely of fired adobe brick. The area was settled in 2600 BC and grew to a size of 250 hectares until the city’s river changed course and everybody left town around 1700 BC.
In 1922, a Buddhist monk led an Indian archeologist to the mound that he believed contained valuable Buddhist relics – and Mohenjo-Daro was rediscovered. The city’s advanced drainage system, building construction and bathing areas-complete with tar lining and underground heating-are proof of an advanced city planning from the 3rd millennium BC. Organized or self-guided tours are available for visits to Mohenjo-Daro.
>> Read our Pakistan travel guide
The Tomb of Askia, Mali
Built at the end of the 15th century, the tomb of Askia at the Great Mosque of Gao in Mali, was built as the burial place for Askia Mohammed I, or Askia the Great, the first Askia emperor of Songhai. Askia made a pilgrimage to Mecca and returned in 1495, made Islam the official religion of the region and brought back all of the mud and wood used to construct his massive tomb.
The 45 by 60 foot square vault is made of mud-brick and at 32 feet high, is the largest pre-colonial architectural building in the region. The porcupine-like stakes that protrude from the tomb are characteristic of the Mading masons, whose skills Askia forcibly retained for his building. Recent renovations include re-plastering the monument, installing a protective wall and adding electricity and ceiling fans. One-hour guided tours can be arranged on-site.
Read more about ruins around the world:
- 10 Best Roman Ruins Outside or Rome
- The Best Ruins in Spain
- 9 Greek Archaeological Sites That Will Leave You Breathless
Read about author Cherrye Moore and check out her other BootsnAll articles