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World's most-visited ancient ruins

Lounging by the Mediterranean isn’t the main draw for travelers who come

through Kusadasi, Turkey. Many are here to explore the ruins of nearby

Ephesus, including an amphitheater that still hosts concerts—much as it

did 2,000 years ago.

“Ancient ruins give us a connection to the past that’s visceral,” says

Mary Jo Arnoldi, chair of the anthropology department at the Smithsonian

National Museum of Natural History. “This was a real place, and you can

walk through it.” Ruins like Ephesus bring history alive and inspire us

with their sheer size.

None looms larger than the Great Wall, which snakes for 5,500 miles

across China. The Badaling section, easily accessible from Beijing,

ranks No. 1 on our list. Find out which other ancient ruins attract the

most visitors—and tread lightly so that these sites will continue to

outlast us.

World's most-visited ancient ruins

Great Wall (Photo: Rad Danesh)

1) Great Wall, Badaling, China

Annual Visitors: 9–10 million

The Great Wall: a name so simple, yet so powerful. It stretches for

5,500 miles across China, and its most beautiful section happens to be

easily accessible—within 70 miles of Beijing. While much of what is

visible today was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644),

construction began on various sections as far back as 770 B.C. Credit

goes to the million slaves and prisoners of war who carried blocks of

granite, bricks, stones, and dirt on their backs up to the top of the


Source: China Odyssey Tours

Colosseum (Photo: Alexander Borais)

2) Colosseum, Rome

Annual Visitors: 6.9 million

When completed in A.D. 80, the arena held 50,000 spectators who watched

mythology-based dramas and reenactments of land and sea battles as well

as executions, fights-to-the-death among gladiators, and the ghastly

slaughter of wild animals. The underground pits where those gladiators

awaited their demise were opened to visitors in 2010 along with the

110-foot-high upper ring of seats, which offer panoramic views of the

Eternal City.

Source: Italian wire service ANSA

Roman Forum (Photo: Mr. Sathaporn Srichuwong)

3) Roman Forum, Rome

Annual Visitors: 5.1 million

The social center of Rome for 1,200 years beginning in the fifth century

B.C., this 700-yard-long piazza has been both marketplace and

government center. The ruins of sacred temples’ columns and friezes

(whether dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture, or to the emperors

Vespasian and Titus) hint at the level of grandeur on display here two

millennia ago.

Source: Roman newspaper Il Messaggero

Terracotta Army (Photo: Dean Waites)

4) Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China

Annual Visitors: 3.6–4.5 million

Discovered in 1974, these 700 life-size terracotta generals,

infantrymen, archers, chariot drivers, and other warriors—as well as 400

horses and 100 chariots—are each unique, with distinct facial features,

hairstyles, and clothing. Perhaps it’s the individuality of these clay

statues that makes them so compelling. They were arranged in rows in

covered pits as part of a necropolis for Emperor Qin Shi Huang. More are

believed to still be buried, but work on removing and restoring the

soldiers has been halted until a way can to found to keep their bright

paint from fading in the air.

Source: China Odyssey Tours

Pyramids of Giza (Photo: iStock)

5) Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Annual Visitors: 4 million

As one of the original Seven Wonders of the World and certainly the

symbol of Egypt, the Pyramids have venerability cred going back 4,500

years. Yet we still don’t know for sure how the ancient Egyptians built

them, which only adds to their intriguing appeal to travelers. The three

major tombs for pharaohs at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are now

surrounded on three sides by the pressures of Cairo, a city teeming with

nearly 11 million people.

Source: Egypt Tourism

Pompeii (Photo: Richard Boot / Alamy)

6) Pompeii, Italy

Annual Visitors: 2.5 million

Pompeii gives visitors who walk its excavated stone streets a firsthand

experience of first-century Roman life. The coastal town famously

disappeared completely under ash and pumice during the sudden eruption

of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Plaster casts made from “molds” created

when ash-covered bodies disintegrated under the consolidated ash are

moving reminders of the real people and animals that lived there.

Source: Current Archaeology

Acropolis (Photo: iStock)

7) Acropolis, Athens

Annual Visitors: 2 million

The Acropolis refers to the cliff-like hill used as a citadel above

Athens, and its most powerful monument is the hilltop Parthenon, a

seemingly intact temple to the goddess Athena that’s the symbol of both

Classical Greece and the origins of democracy. Built in the fifth

century B.C., the Parthenon has lost many of its friezes and marble

sculptures to plundering for European museums—with sporadic negotiations

to try to get them back.

Source: Greek National Tourist Board

Efes (Photo: Alice Stoecklin, Switzerland)

8) Efes (Ephesus), Turkey

Annual Visitors: 2 million

Thirty years ago Ephesus was a nearly forgotten Roman ruin in an area of

sparsely populated Turkish villages. Now much of the local economy is

driven by it. The library and other buildings have been restored to give

a sense of this large city 2,000 years ago, and concerts are still held

in the 25,000-seat theater. Carved into a block in the marble road is

what is believed to be an advertisement for a brothel.

Source: Turkish Ministry of Tourism & Culture

Teotihuacán (Photo: Ingmar Prada)

9) Teotihuacán, Mexico

Annual Visitors: 1.9 million

The terraced Pyramids of the Sun and Moon dominate the ancient plaza of

this sacred city built between the first and seventh centuries. At 250

yards on a side and 200 feet tall, the Pyramid of the Sun is the third

largest pyramid in the world. But the Temple of Quetzalcoatl is more

decorated—dedicated to the plumed serpent god that figures prominently

in its sculptures and reliefs.

Source: SIIMT Inteligencia de Mercados

Hierapolis (Photo: Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy)

10) Hierapolis, Turkey

Annual Visitors: 1.6 million

The brilliant-white, terraced pools of the Pamukkale “cotton palace” hot

springs have lured people to this area for well over two millennia and

are the reason the Greco-Roman town of Hierapolis exists. Built just

above the half-mile-wide, 65-foot-tall travertine wonder in 190 B.C.,

this ancient “spa town” has ruins of temples, a well-preserved theater,

and a Sacred Pool where visitors float above broken Roman columns.

Source: Turkish Ministry of Tourism & Culture

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