Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia’s Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Ruins Recall Rich Histories
There is something deeply alluring about visiting the crumbling remains of ancient civilizations. As we walk among broken pillars, cracked walls, and faded paintings, it feels like we've traveled back in time. We are reminded that mighty empires and grand cities can be reduced to rubble given enough time. Yet their architectural and artistic achievements still inspire awe centuries later.
Asia is home to many such ruins that recall rich histories spanning millennia. In Thailand, the former capital of Ayutthaya founded in 1350 was once one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities before being sacked by Burmese invaders in 1767. Its ruins, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, give a glimpse into its past glory as a center of global trade and diplomacy. Giant stone Buddha heads peek out from bushes, while crumbling temple spires reach towards the sky.
Meanwhile, the intricately carved Hindu and Buddhist sandstone temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia stand as remnants of the vast Khmer empire that dominated Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries. Rising out of the jungle, Angkor Wat is considered the largest religious monument in the world. Yet it represents merely one temple complex within the sprawling 100-square mile Angkor Archaeological Park. Marveling at the sheer scale of these ruins, it's hard to imagine the effort, resources and manpower required to construct such elaborate stone cities.
In Indonesia, similarly epic Hindu and Buddhist ruins can be explored on the island of Java. The Dieng Plateau is home to eight small Hindu temples dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Nestled in the misty highlands, these squat, brick sanctuaries with carved facades were among the earliest built in Java. More awe-inspiring in scale are the 9th century Shivaite temples of Prambanan, reputedly the biggest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia. With almost 250 individually decorated temples, its sheer size and intricate stonework reflect the wealth and imperial ambitions of the mighty Mataram kingdom that built it.
What else is in this post?
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Ruins Recall Rich Histories
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Temples Transport Travelers Through Time
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Palaces Preserve Bygone Eras
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Tombs Tell Tales of Days Gone By
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Lost Cities Lay Undiscovered
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Forgotten Fortresses Await Adventurers
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Deserted Citadels Beckon Backpackers
- Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Majestic Mosques Magnify Mystique
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Temples Transport Travelers Through Time
Dotting Asia's landscapes, temple ruins offer portals to peer into the past. As we wander through their weathered halls and crumbling corridors, it's easy to imagine the priests, pilgrims, nobles, musicians and artisans who once animated these sacred spaces. We can envision ceremonial processions gliding down long stone causeways, chanting monks assembled in silent prayer, and devout civilians gathered to make offerings at elaborately carved shrines. Built to honor gods and resist eternity, the engineering ingenuity behind sprawling temple complexes reminds us of past civilizations’ spiritual motivations and material capabilities.
Ayutthaya’s Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the holiest temple in the old Siamese capital, used for royal ceremonies only. Today, the three linked chedis (stupas) rising above the site are the only structures that remain intact. But they stand as testaments to the wealth that once filled the temple complex – containing the ashes of several kings, these chedis were originally covered in gold. Wandering this site lets us glimpse the pomp and circumstance of Ayutthaya’s dynastic heyday.
Prambanan’s soaring central temple spire devoted to Shiva stands over five stories tall – no mean feat considering it was built over 1,000 years ago. Gazing up at the carved panels featuring Hindu lore that adorn the outer wall, one appreciates the architectural accomplishment as much as the artistic one. The temple compounds spatial logic also reflects key religious philosophies, with concentric squares representing cosmic order. This complex remains one of the largest Hindu sanctuaries ever built, underscoring the religious and material might of the Mataram Kingdom that constructed it.
Surveying Angkor Wat’s sprawling façade – boasting thousands of intricate apsara (celestial dancing figure) bas-reliefs – it’s incredible to grasp the level of artistic mastery and engineering prowess required to build such an extravagant stone temple city. Angkor Wat exemplifies the grandeur, extensive geographic reach and divine ambitions of the Khmer Empire. The cosmological symbolism designed into its layout mirrors the Hindu view of the universe at the time. Wandering this legendary site, it’s easy to slip into a reverie about the dynastic dramas, spiritual ceremonies and communal gatherings that once animated its storied halls.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Palaces Preserve Bygone Eras
Like temples, the ruined remnants of royal palaces across Asia allow us to envision the intrigues and luxuries of royal court life centuries ago. While temples gave us insight into spiritual ambitions, palaces provide a window into the wealth, powers and personalities behind mighty empires now long gone.
In Ayutthaya, the haunting ruins of the Royal Palace speak of the rise and fall of kingdoms. Constructed in the 14th century, the palace was the opulent seat of the Ayutthaya Kingdom until it was ransacked by Burmese invaders in 1767, forcing inhabitants to abandon the city. Today, its crumbling walls and partial reconstructions suggest past grandeur. Climbing to the top of the prang (stupa) of Wat Phra Si Sanphet allows us to survey the palace's sprawling scale along the Chao Phraya River.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, two legendary palace complexes transport us to the apex of dynastic Imperial China. The mammoth Forbidden City served as the political center of Chinese government and residence of emperors for almost 500 years until 1924. Walking across its 980 surviving buildings gives you a sense of the concentration of power and wealth here. Ornate golden roofs, lavish halls for ceremonial rites, and elaborate imperial gardens insist we imagine the machinations behind running an empire.
In contrast, the ruined remains of the Old Summer Palace speak to China's vulnerabilities at the height of European colonialism in the 19th century. This once incomparable Imperial retreat built in the 18th century, encompassing hundreds of ornate pavilions, temples, gardens and fountains in a sprawling parkland, was designed to awe foreign dignitaries. However, it ended up symbolizing China's inability to protect itself, when British and French troops plundered and burnt the Old Summer Palace in 1860 after an Anglo-French dispute. The majestic ruins today feel like a memorial to both China's former sophistication, and its traumatic clash with aggressive European powers.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Tombs Tell Tales of Days Gone By
Dotting Asia’s landscapes, tombs and mausoleums allow us to recall the exploits of past kings, saints, and nobles. As we meander through funerary architecture and survey burial artifacts, tales emerge of powerful leaders, spiritual sages, and forgotten figures now long gone. We get glimpses into their life stories, princely pursuits, and preparations for the afterlife.
In Ayutthaya, the crypts of Wat Ratchaburana speak of tragic royal feuds. This temple was built in 1424 to house the remains of King Borommarachathirat II and his elder brothers, heirs who fought each other for the throne. However, the prang containing their relics collapsed centuries ago after looting. In 1957, excavations revealed a striking haul of royal gold treasures buried with them, including radiant Buddha statues, delicate jewelry and gilded ritual objects. Possessions interred to ease their passage into the next realm testify to their wealth and station.
In Java, the Mawang Tomb recalls the legend of a Hindu saint. According to tradition, the site is the burial place of an ascetic named Ki Ageng Mawang who achieved supernatural powers through yoga and meditation. Mystical tales recount how he could traverse Java in an instant and bestowed blessings on communities. The modest grave on this lonely hilltop seems at odds with such mystical exploits. Yet pilgrims still leave offerings here, hinting at enduring devotion.
China’s first Qin Emperor was entombed in style befitting his status as unifier of warring states. His massive mausoleum was discovered in 1974 containing thousands of expertly crafted terracotta warrior statues standing at attention, presumably to guard him in the afterlife. The imposing scale and realism sculpted into each figure reflects massive human effort and resources, showcasing the Emperor’s incomparable power. Yet the empty tomb chamber indicates grave robbers foiled his elaborate preparations for eternity.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Lost Cities Lay Undiscovered
Dotting Asia’s dense jungles and arid deserts, stories swirl of ancient cities that seemingly vanished into thin air. Tales thrive about thriving metropolises suddenly abandoned and swallowed by nature. Hidden deep in inaccessible mountains or buried under shifting seaside sands, these mystical lost ruins excite imaginations. We yearn to stumble upon crumbling walls and columns shrouded in greenery or glimpse glittering treasure nestled under coral reefs. Legends linger of complex cultures destroyed by natural disasters or war, leaving few traces. While often elusive, some lost ruins have been unearthed by intrepid explorers – discoveries that ignite further fantasies about what forgotten cities remain.
In Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park, the mighty Khmer city Angkor Thom was reclaimed from the jungle in the late 19th century by French naturalist Henri Mouhot when he stumbled across vine-choked temples. Anchored by the enigmatic Bayon temple with its 216 giant carved faces, this imperial capital astonished with epic infrastructure supporting astonishing temples and palaces. Yet Angkor Thom represents merely one faction of the sprawling Khmer Empire. How many monumental cities still lay cloaked under Cambodia’s steamy rainforests, awaiting the machete of an explorer who picks up the scent of a crumbling bas relief behind tendrils of hanging vines?
Meanwhile, tales endure of mysteriouslost cities submerged offshore after cataclysmic tsunamis. In India, oral traditions tell of the ancient port city Dwarka that Krishna ruled sinking beneath the waves. Some archaeological evidence supports this myth, with ruins and artifacts retrieved off the Gujarat coast. What other tales of thriving seaside civilizations drowned in deluges still await verification below the waves? Legends also recount prosperous cities abruptly deserted after being cursed – like the abandoned sandstone mansions of Kuldhara near Jaisalmer, purportedly cursed by a guru when the ruler levied extortionate taxes on villagers.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Forgotten Fortresses Await Adventurers
Dotting Asia’s landscapes, crumbling fortresses conjure up stirring tales of the ambitious rulers who built them centuries ago and the fabled conquerors who eventually overthrew them. While mainly ruined today, exploring their sturdy ramparts overrun by vegetation gives us a palpable sense of their strategic locations and formidable stature in eras past. Who knows what forgotten fortified cities still lay cloaked in dense jungle across the continent awaiting future intrepid explorers? Let’s take a look at a few that capture the imagination and can still be visited.
Rising from the slopes of an extinct volcano in Jaipur, magnificent Amber Fort presents an imposing façade with imposing walls and valley views. Constructed from yellow and pink sandstone, its construction began in 1592 under Raja Man Singh I. Its stern exterior shrouds lavish interior halls, temples, gardens and landscaping features. While never fully abandoned, it ceased to be the capital of Jaipur after 1727 and slowly fell into disrepair. Today, wandering its chambers adorned with intricate mirror-work, carvings and art offers insight into the courtly splendors of Rajput royalty.
Meanwhile, the medieval hilltop fortress of Kumbhalgarh crowns a remote peak of the majestic Aravalli Hills in Rajasthan. Encircled by massive perimeter walls stretching 36 kilometers – claimed to be the second longest continuous wall worldwide after China’s Great Wall – the fort is both a marvel of engineering and testament to the visionary rulers who constructed it in the 15th century. The prominent elevated fort, designed by architect Mandan, enabled rulers of the Mewar dynasty to consolidate their kingdom while repelling repeated invasions by Mughal armies.
Though now in evocative ruin, 16th century Golkonda Fort once enabled the Qutb Shahi dynasty to control the profitable diamond trade. Perched on a granite hill overlooking Hyderabad, its crumbling halls and ramparts whisk you back to an era of untold wealth generated from the mining and trading of gemstones. The fort features a remarkable acoustic effect: standing at certain points, you can clap your hands and hear the sound travel all around the complex. Its engineered acoustics were said to enable security to communicate alerts and warnings across its walls.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Deserted Citadels Beckon Backpackers
Dotting the expanses of Central Asia, evocative ruined citadels await intrepid backpackers willing to veer off the beaten path. While devoid of tour buses, these crumbling ancient cities whisper of rich histories spanning millennia. Wandering deserted streets flanked by mud brick walls and ornate arches, it's easy to envision bustling bazaars and caravansaries. Your footfalls echo in the absence of camel trains groaning under the weight of precious wares. Devoid of the merchants, artisans and nobles who once animated these spaces, Atmospheric abandoned citadels allow us to muse on the cyclic nature of city life—the rises and falls of dynasties, shifting trade routes that nourish then bypass prosperous oasis settlements.
Yangi Kala, situated in isolated far reaches of Uzbekistan's Kyzyl Kum desert, offers a portal into the past glory and faded grandeur of the ancient Khorezm civilization. Flourishing from the 6th century BC until it was sacked by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, Khorezm supported an advanced city-dwelling culture. Despite being situated in an arid landscape, ingenious irrigation canals enabled agricultural abundance. Strategically located on trade routes, Khorezm grew influential as a major commercial and cultural hub. Meandering through the compact remains of Yangi Kala, it's possible to discern the circular layout echoing ancient beliefs in cosmic order. Wander past remnants of Zoroastrian fire temples, dwellings, workshops and elaborate mausoleums. Listen for the echoes of perished lives whispering in the wind.
Unearth Forgotten Empires: Exploring Asia's Ancient Kingdoms Lost In Time But Still Welcoming Visitors - Majestic Mosques Magnify Mystique
Dotting Asia's landscapes, majestic mosque ruins magnify an alluring mystique for travelers eager to learn about Islamic architecture, scriptures and traditions now vanished. As we traverse abandoned prayer halls and survey exquisite tilework glazed in faded hues, it's possible to envision the ceremonies, scholastic pursuits and communal gatherings that once filled these hallowed halls with life.
In Northern Pakistan's remote Hunza Valley, sprawled across a rocky outcrop stands the incomplete remnants of the Amburiq Mosque. Originally intended to become the largest mosque in the world upon completion, this ambitious project was abruptly abandoned in the 17th century after the death of Mir Salim Khan. Nevertheless, the existing walls and foundations sprawling over two acres offer a glimpse into medieval mosque architecture and astonishing engineering capabilities using local stones and juniper beams. Visitors can contemplate the intent behind constructing such an elaborate house of worship in this isolated valley at the foot of Rakaposhi mountain.
Meanwhile in Uzbekistan, the 14th century mosque Hazrat-i Imam epitomizes the glories of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. Situated in a preserved medieval quarter of Bukhara, its pishtaq portal framed by turquoise mosaics signals impending wonders. Within, a peaceful courtyard centered around aablution pool leads to the columned prayer hall. Lofty arches, intricate arabesque patterns and stunning blue domes invoke the spiritual. This mosque accumulated centuries of embellishments by dynasties seeking blessing through beautification. Even as Bukhara faded from its glory days as an oasis crossroads, this monumental mosque endured as an anchor of the Muslim community.
Tucked within Damascus' walled Old City, the 8th century Great Mosque of the Umayyads also represents architectural achievements of the early Islamic empire. Claiming to preserve the head of John the Baptist within its shrine, this vast complex houses three minarets predating the adoption of minarets in mosques. The site's origins stretch back to a Christian basilica, with stonework still etched with frescoes of Jesus and Mary. While sections bear marks of being caught in the crossfires of recent conflicts, this magnificent mosque endures as a sanctuary that evolved with the city's changing rulers and demographics over fifteen centuries. Its continued endurance reminds us how places of worship often outlast warring factions.