Ancient Places for the New Year
Cradles of Civilization: Egypt, Greece, Italy, & Turkey
To see where civilizations began is truly humbling. Within some of the most ancient sites lie treasures of the past, interlaced with elements of fast-growing urban locales. Witnessing the great works of archaeologists in historic cities such as Athens and Cairo, you cannot help but be moved as you feel the spirit of the people who created them. The bold, the powerful, and the committed designed and constructed flourishing settlements, setting humankind’s future in motion. Along the way, they often had to battle with other civilizations, and the ensuing clashes and takeovers led to a merging of styles. Mostly, we see cultures that have thrived and survived and bounced back.
It often takes an amazing guide to bring stories of the past alive and link them with the present. A local expert’s personal childhood frames what we see and understand, while their knowledge provides unparalleled insight. Sometimes, we may feel inadequate that we didn’t know more about such momentous events in history.
But to be walking through a city and to turn a corner, only to come face to face with yesterday? It’s a thrill like nothing else. The pharaohs and customs of Ancient Egypt have long enthralled us, whether from literature or the movies.
Seeing the iconic monuments of this civilization is an unforgettable experience, from the great Pyramids of Giza and the enigmatic Sphinx to the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, which unwillingly revealed their secrets to archaeologists of the past. Cruising down the ancient waters of the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, the gateway of Nubia, is a romantic odyssey past farmlands and feluccas (traditional sailboats), truly one of the world’s ultimate journeys.
Greece is also dominated by its time-honored past, as any visitor to Athens will testify. Witness the unmatched majesty of the Parthenon, towering over the city just as it did 2,500 years ago. It’s worth rising early to view its elegant column up close without the crowds, before stopping by the excellent Acropolis Museum to admire its many ancient antiquities.
Outside of Athens, the Peloponnese peninsula hosts many significant sites revealing different aspects of Ancient Greece including: Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games; the ancient city of Mycenae, ruled over by the hero Agamemnon; and the magnificently preserved theater of Epidaurus complete with its perfect acoustics. Meanwhile, Greek island vacations can also offer the chance to continue your studies with two notable sites being Crete’s Knossos, believed to be the home of the Minotaur, and the Colossus of Rhodes, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Located where Europe and Asia meet geographically and culturally, Turkey is an equally important hub of significant sites. It’s still possible to trace the Roman Empire in the quintessential melting pot city of Istanbul through its myriad aqueducts, columns, and obelisks. Ephesus, a Greek settlement and one of the most prominent cities in the ancient world, lies near Selçuk in western Turkey, and is famed for its Temple of Artemis. Meanwhile, the ruins of legendary Troy, the city famously sacked in Homer’s Iliad, can be visited at Hisarlık on the Turkish Aegean coast.
Building on the Ancient Greeks’ progress, the Roman Empire made great strides in art, architecture, science, and technology that can still be evidenced across Continental Europe, Italy, and other parts of the world today.
Wander through Rome itself and you’ll be greeted by remnants of its glorious past at every turn. No need to enter a museum here — you cannot help but encounter history around every corner, from the Roman Forum to Palatine Hill. Enter the Colosseum, and you can almost hear the roar of the crowds, cheering for their favorite gladiator. Recent renovations have restored the amphitheater’s hypogea to its former glory — sitting below the arena, this is the backstage area where the gladiators and wild animals would wait for their performances. Walking these ancient spaces is a living, breathing history lesson that cannot help but intoxicate young and old alike.
Where to Stay to Explore & Experience the Ancient World
Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet
Serry Beach Resort
A version of this article originally appeared in Preferred Travel Magazine, volume 20.