The most mysterious monuments on Earth wow visitors and continue to befuddle seasoned researchers. These monuments are some of the most spectacular destinations on earth, providing a glimpse into the past of civilizations that rivaled the greatest in history.
However, these societies which were the modern equivalent of New York and Tokyo, created ceremonial burial grounds and temples that defy what was common at the time. Great stone creations that weigh dozens of tons, aligned perfectly with the stars.
How could they have done this? Who built these mysterious monuments? Many questions lay unanswered with the best way to gain understanding being to visit these stunning portals to the past.
25. Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt
Built during the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the Pyramid of Djoser, is the oldest structure of its kind in the world. It’s the original Egyptian pyramid that represented a thorough advance in the possibilities of engineering and architecture.
Within the pyramid, which is the resting place of Pharaoh Djoser is an expansive system of passageways. You can still explore these today, some 4,000 years after it was originally constructed.
What you see today, however, is a rejuvenation of the original. The Pyramid of Djoser lay ravaged by wind and time for centuries.
24. Persepolis, Iran
Once the capital during the Archaemenian dynasty of Iran, once known as Persia, Persepolis is now what is left of the once thriving city. Persepolis thrived for centuries up until 330 BC when Alexander the Great sacked the city.
Today, the sprawling terrace complex tells a story over 2,000 years old. Once home to the King of Kings, visitors can wander by a series of royal palaces that stood upon an elevated terrace.
At its height, there was never the need for fortified walls as 10,000 guards stood watch at any given time.
23. Hvalsey, Greenland
Built around the turn of the 14th century, Hvalsey’s ruins stand on the southern coast of Greenland. Centuries before Columbus made his famous journey west, Norse Vikings had completed a similar trip building one of the original Christian churches on the North American continent.
The church is at the center of the Norse movement that saw many migrate from Iceland to the fertile soils that existed steps from the stunning Greenlandic fjords.
Hvalsey, however, shows the spread of Christianity beyond Europe and the Middle East to the New World. The church boasts walls as high as 6 meters and was a prominent gathering spot for the Norse people.
22. Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
At its height, the Derinkuyu Underground City in Turkey had a population in excess of 20,000 people. This thriving ancient subterranean city existed some 85 meters beneath the spectacular fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.
Understandably hidden for centuries, Derinkuyu, once known as Elengubu features 18 levels of tunnels that could hold a substantial number of people. It’s the largest city of its kind and was in consistent use for thousands of years up until the 1920s.
More spellbinding are the separate tunnels that have since been discovered. These link Derinkuyu to a number of smaller underground cities in the region.
21. Hegra, Saudi Arabia
As the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia, Hegra akak Mada’in Saleh holds high esteem. The archaeological site is the largest of its kind that once belonged to the Nabataean people outside of Petra.
Like Petra, the civilization was cut into rock, this time sandstone. Discoveries included well-preserved monuments and tombs that unveil an ancient society at its zenith.
Hegra displays a range of architectural values etched deep into the sandstone from Phoenician to Hellenistic. In addition, petroglyphs showcase a variety of languages, including Greek and Latin.
18. Newgrange, Ireland
According to Irish traditions, Newgrange is the home of The Dagda, a group of supernatural beings that once called ancient Ireland home. There is some truth to this, with Newgrange being linked to some of the country’s earliest inhabitants.
Yet the true builders of the awe-inspiring structure, which is the home of a spectacular light show each December, remains unknown. What is for certain, is that the tomb is so ancient that it predates the Egyptian pyramids by some six centuries.
Newgrange for over 5,000 years is a long-lasting testament to the time’s engineers and artists.
19. Banteay Srei, Cambodia
Dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, Banteay Srei is a 10th-century temple not far from the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Banteay Srei is around 25 kilometers away from the main core of Angkor temples and because of its diminutive size has created fascination among archaeologists.
Compared to other regional temples, Banteay Srei was made much smaller, almost like a miniature version. Interestingly, it was the only major Angkor temple not to be commissioned by the reigning monarch.
As the legend goes, it was instead constructed by female artisans with exquisite carvings being the proof.
18. Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan
Constructed around 2500 BC, Mohenjo-Daro was once the largest city in the historic Indus Valley. Once a major worldwide city, Mohenjo-Daro flourished until 1700 BC.
The former metropolis remained undiscovered until the 1920s, more than 3,500 years later. Major excavation began in earnest, uncovering a marvelous Buddhist stupa, while a seemingly insignificant flint scraper gave researchers an idea of how old the city was.
Impressively, Mohejno-Daro was designed with a grid layout, with public buildings such as public baths and assembly halls giving proof of a sophisticated society.
17. Machu Picchu, Peru
Set on a mountain ridge 2,430 meters above sea level, Machu Picchu is an iconic estate of the Inca Empire. The Lost City of the Incas was built in the 15th century high above the Sacred Valley.
Despite becoming such a famous destination, little is known about the founding years of the city. The Incas had no written language, with the city laying abandoned when discovered by the Western world in the 1800s.
The layout, use, and inhabitants of Machu Picchu are all educated guesses by archaeologists.
16. Baalbek, Lebanon
It’s likely the city of Baalbek has been inhabited since 9000 BC. This impressive ancient city has seen it all, from humble beginnings as an agricultural town to becoming one of the most important holy sites in the region.
From an architectural standpoint, it was the Romans who created a lasting impact. They constructed the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Jupiter, which are both staggering temples and among the largest in the Roman Empire.
The major mystery surrounds the creation and movement of the Baalbek stones which are thousands of years old.
15. Palenque, Mexico
One of the most iconic Mayan sites, Palenque harbors some of Mexico’s top archaeological treasures. Once the home of a powerful city-state, Palenque lies in ruins, yet continues to be an amazing source into the past.
While other Mayan sites may be larger or older, Palenque continues to intrigue visitors and researchers alike. The complex is as old as 800 years, but much of its known history is traced to the Classic Period.
The site features inventive architecture, a rather naturalistic sculpture, and most important, incredibly detailed epigraphy.
14. Prambanan Temple, Indonesia
Near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the 10th-century Prambanan Temple is a symbol of both grace and complexity. Arguably the most striking Hindu temple in the country, the Prambanan Temple is an ode to three Hindu gods.
The expansive complex features three main temples. The two smaller buildings are dedicated to Vishnu, the sustainer, and Brahma, the creator. But at its heart is the staggering Shive temple, which stands at 47 meters tall.
It’s a temple visible from a great distance and one that was overtaken by nature after the fall of ancient Java before being rediscovered in the 18th century.
13. Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, China
Sitting undiscovered until the 1970s, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is a still-evolving archaeological site. Qin was the first emperor to unite China around 200 BC. He is buried here, alongside hundreds of terracotta warriors.
Each warrior is unique, standing as a picture of realism beside their horses, chariots, and chosen weapons. They are all found within a sprawling complex that has been designed to mimic the capital Xianyan.
To have stood the test of time and remained in such visible excellence is a testament both to the art and also the prestige and culture of the Qin Dynasty.
12. Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
For six centuries, the Ancestral Pueblo people lived on the mesa tops in what’s now Colorado. But around the 12th century, they created pueblos within the mesa’s natural alcoves.
They created a cliff-dwelling community, with carved homes that varied from a single room to vast villages that featured 150 connected dwellings. All the while, the Ancestral Pueblos continued to farm above their homes.
This community existed for around a century when the local population began moving south into what’s now known as Arizona and New Mexico.
11. Petra, Jordan
Half-built and half-carved, Petra, Jordan is known as a ‘rose-red city, half as old as time’. The startling red rocks were carved to create Petra, which was the center of an Arab kingdom through the Hellenistic and Roman eras.
The city dates back thousands of years yet it was around 300 years BC that it began to flourish thanks to the spice trade. Four centuries later the Roman Empire spread into the region, claiming this vital capital and its fortune continued.
Today, having been lost to the world for centuries, Petra is a site that continues to wow visitors.
10. Stonehenge, England
The complex and bewildering Stonehenge is perhaps the most sophisticated and remarkable piece of stone circle architecture in the prehistoric world. Although smaller than Avebury, Stonehenge provides a glimpse into the ceremonial process of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies.
Yet, Stonehenge remains a great mystery. They were used for over 2000 years, but more than 3500 years have passed since that date. Unanswered questions include how the massive stones were transported as much as 250 kilometers and erected with interlocking joints. Regardless, this unsolved mystery is a must-see.
9. Tiwanaku, Bolivia
Dating back to before the Columbian era, Tiwanaku in Bolivia is an archaeological site that was at the center of the ancient Tiwanaku Empire. This era lasted between 200 and 1000 AD with Tiwanaku being both a spiritual and political epicenter of the broader Lake Titikaka region.
At the heart of this site is the Akapana Pyramid which boasts a rectangular interior known as Kalasasaya. Within is the Gateway of the Sun home to a number of carved stone figures.
Beyond the pyramid is evidence of a civilization that used a raised-field farming method that featured canals and vast irrigation. Something that continues to befuddle researchers today.
8. Ancient Temples of Malta
Seeing the Ancient Temples of Malta is high on the list of those that arrive on the island. Yet these stunning megalithic temples continue to defy belief, all because we can’t work out who constructed them.
Built prior to 3000 BC, the temples are arguably the oldest standing on earth. They pre-date the famous Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt. Across Malta, there are dozens of these fascinating temples.
The most popular of the temples are the Haqar Qim and Mnajdra, however, the oldest of them all is Ggantija.
7. Moai of Easter Island
Often known as the Easter Island Heads the Moai of Easter Island are in fact complete bodies. You’ve seen the pictures, startling monoliths depicting important members of Rapa Nui society.
However, these heads are in fact just the top of a ten-meter megalith. There are around 1,000 statues that can weigh as much as 86 tons. They were carved using tuff, a rock found in Rano Raruku, a local volcano.
Constructed between 1400 and 1650 AD, the Moais were made simply with handheld chisels known as toki. The mystery remains, however, as to how that transported these statues across the island’s hilly terrain.
6. Pyramids of Meroë
In the third and last capital of the Kushite Kingdom in modern-day Sudan, more than 200 pyramids were constructed. Many remain standing today, sitting on the vast, barren deserts as stunning ornaments to the past.
The Kushite Kingdom ruled for over 3,000 years in the ancient lands of Nubia. These incredible pyramids offer inscribed stories that take you through an unheralded, yet powerful and significant culture and kingdom.
However, adding to the mystery, the Kushite script has yet to be deciphered with our knowledge of their history stemming from historic Roman scrolls.
5. Plain of Jars, Laos
In Central Laos, the Plain of Jars is a collection of over 2,000 megalithic stones shaped in the style of jars. They date back to the Iron Age and were used as a part of local funerals.
Like other great mysteries, it’s impressive to wonder how an Iron Age culture could produce these enormous jars before moving them from the quarry to a beautiful and lush plateau.
In addition to the jars, you can see historic grave markers, stone discs which are believed to have covered the jars plus and sprawling quarries.
4. Nazca Lines, Peru
The spellbinding Nazca Lines in Peru are one of the world’s great mysteries. These are lines drawn in straight or geometric patterns showcasing various animal shapes. Still unsolved, it remains a beautiful, head-scratching wonder.
You can find the 2000-year-old Nazca Lines around 400 kilometers south of the nation’s capital, Lima. They have been studied for over 80 years, with their creator known to be the ancient Nazca culture.
There are over 1100 lines in total, most straight yet 300 are geometric. At its most lengthy, some lines are almost 50 kilometers long. How and why remain a mystery, yet from the sky, it harbors one of the most incredible views you’ll experience.
3. Great Sphinx, Egypt
One of the world’s most famous sites, the Great Sphinx in Egypt has long been shrouded in mystery. It’s a part of the allure, bringing hundreds of thousands to the Land of the Pharaohs every year.
The sphinx is a mythical creature that boasts the body of a lion yet the head of a human, thought to be pharaoh Khafre. It faces west across the Giza Plateau with the iconic pyramids settled in the background.
The Great Sphinx is 20 meters high and older than any of the pyramids. Archaeologists believe this structure dates beyond 2500 BC, some 4500 years into the past.
2. Teotihuacan, Mexico
A short distance from one of the world’s most populous cities is the ancient metropolis of Teotihuacan, Mexico. Now an expansive archaeological site, the remaining pyramids live to tell the tale of a culture 2000 years old.
Those that called Teotihuacan home were a part of the world’s biggest city at its height in the 1st century. They were around before the famous Aztecs and constructed multiple incredible pyramids.
These structures are all that remain, yet they keep alive an ancient culture, its story, and religion. The Aztecs would embark on pilgrimages to visit what was known as the Birthplace of the Gods.
1. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
Just minutes away from contrasting plateaus, the Göbekli Tepe is anything but standard. In southeast Turkey, is one of the most remarkable modern archaeological discoveries. Here, lies 11,000 years of history and enormous carved stones.
At the heart of the discovery is the belief that this spectacular location is home to the world’s oldest temple. Travelers will find petroglyphs across giant stone rings and T-shaped pillars that weigh up to ten tons.
Impressively, the megaliths pre-date the development of agriculture and even the most basic ancient tools. It showcases a community that was far more advanced than any of its peers. To add to this notion, Göbekli Tepe is around 6,000 years older than Stonehenge.