Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang, China

                Seat of supreme power for over five centuries (1416-1911), the Forbidden City in Beijing, with its landscaped gardens and many buildings (whose nearly 10,000 rooms contain furniture and works of art), constitutes a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang consists of 114 buildings constructed between 1625–26 and 1783. It contains an important library and testifies to the foundation of the last dynasty that ruled China, before it expanded its power to the centre of the country and moved the capital to Beijing. This palace then became auxiliary to the Imperial Palace in Beijing. This remarkable architectural edifice offers important historical testimony to the history of the Qing Dynasty and to the cultural traditions of the Manchu and other tribes in the north of China.

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Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan

                Itchan Kala is the inner town (protected by brick walls some 10 m high) of the old Khiva oasis, which was the last resting-place of caravans before crossing the desert to Iran. Although few very old monuments still remain, it is a coherent and well-preserved example of the Muslim architecture of Central Asia. There are several outstanding structures such as the Djuma Mosque, the mausoleums and the madrasas and the two magnificent palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan.

Brasilia, Brazil

Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city’s overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.

La Grand-Place, Brussels, Belarus

            La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre. It is located on former marshland on the right bank of the River Senne, to the east of the castellum, a defensive outwork of the castle built around 977 by Charles of France, Duke of Lower Lotharingia. The marsh was drained in the 12th century. The present rectangular outline of the Grand’Place has developed over the centuries as a result of successive enlargements and other modifications, and did not take up its definitive form until after 1695. 

Historic Areas of Istanbul, Turkey

             With its strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque, all now under threat from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanization.

Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia

               The ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, situated on the Dalmatian coast, became an important Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards. Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration programme co-ordinated by UNESCO.

Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland

           Built in the second half of the 18th century by Sweden on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki’s harbour, this fortress is an especially interesting example of European military architecture of the time. n 1747, when Finland was part of the Swedish realm, the Diet in Stockholm decided to build a fortress to serve as the main base for the armed forces stationed in Finland. A group of islands close to Helsinki were chosen to be the site of the fortress, which was to be called Sveaborg, the ‘Fortress of Sweden’, and construction began in 1748. The purpose was to link and fortify several islands so that entry into the city’s harbour could be controlled.

City of Potosí, Bolivia

              In the 16th century, this area was regarded as the world’s largest industrial complex. The extraction of silver ore relied on a series of hydraulic mills. The site consists of the industrial monuments of the Cerro Rico, where water is provided by an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes; the colonial town with the Casa de la Moneda; the Church of San Lorenzo; several patrician houses; and the barrios mitayos, the areas where the workers lived.

The Great Wall, China

                      One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall is an impressive feat of engineering. The Wall is the product of 21 centuries of building and rebuilding that began in the 5th century BC, and was used to protect the Empire of China from Xiongnu attacks. Although sections of the current wall, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty, are in total disrepair, near tourist centers it has been well preserved and even reconstructed to give visitors a glimpse of its former glory.

European Castles, England

                  Dotted all throughout Europe there are thousands of Medieval and Baroque castles that conjure up images of fairytale princesses and chivalrous knights. They were not only built as protective fortresses but also as the homes of feudal lords and kings that showed their wealth and status. Some of the most impressive examples include Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, France’s Palace of Versailles, Ireland’s Blarney Castle, Sintra Palace in Portugal, Turkey’s Topkapi Palace, Prague Castle in the Czech Republic and Leeds Castle in England. 

Taj Mahal, India

                  Built in the 1600s, this building is a testament to undying love. Located in Agra, India, this white marble tomb built for Emperor Shah Jahan’s deceased wife is a must-see for everyone. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Taj sees between two and four million tourists annually. There have been recent restrictions on tourism in an effort to help protect the site. However, the greatest threat to the site is the air pollution that is destroying the white marble the building is constructed of. It too was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Easter Island, Chile

Located out in the Pacific Ocean and a special territory of Chile, Easter Island holds Moai statues that are the only thing left of a culture that once lived here. These gigantic and amazingly carved heads are just another reminder that primitive people are not really all that primitive. The stones that attract visitors to this island are made out of volcanic ash. Many still remain in the quarry, left by the settlers as diminishing resources on the island left their tribes doomed to war that finally killed them off.

Parthenon, Athens

               Though currently getting a face-lift (and seemingly has been forever), the Parthenon is still amazing and breathtaking. The ancient temple to Athena stands as a symbol of the power of Athens and a testament to Greek civilization. Moreover, it provides a great view of Athens and nearby ruins. The surrounding ruins, temples, and buildings are equally as wondrous. Built in the 5th century B.C., the temple used to house the treasury. Over the centuries, much of it and the surrounding structures have been destroyed by war and thieves. Luckily, the structure still stands… at least for now. Note that there is scaffolding along the right side of the structure and considering it has been there for over 5 years, I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon. They do things slowly in Greece.

Colosseum/Forum, Rome

                 The Colosseum and the Forum are right next to each other in Rome, so I included them together. Remnants of a civilization that once controlled the “known” world, these sites are breathtaking not only for their beauty but also for their history and age. You’re standing in the spot Caesar walked and gazing into the arena where gladiators battled to the death. The Colosseum has slowly crumbled throughout the ages and much of it is restricted now, especially the floor and basement where everything was organized. The Forum is great to walk around and it’s free, though a ticket is required for Palatine Hill. I would definitely get a guided tour because the information presented by the authorities doesn’t go into much depth. 

Stonehenge, England

              Located near Salisbury, England, this megalithic structure is over 3,000 years old, and its stones come all the way from Wales. Scholars still are not sure how the builders got the stones from Wales, and have tried to replicate the feat with dismal results. Stonehenge is now fenced off, and you can no longer go into the circle. Visitors can only walk around the attraction. But it’s worth visiting for the mystery behind it and the really good audio tour.

Petra, Jordan

                 Carved into a canyon in Arabah, Jordan, Petra was made famous by the third Indiana Jones film when he went to find the Holy Grail. Since then, everyone goes to look for it. It was “discovered” in 1812 by a Swiss explorer who followed some local tribesmen there. Prior to that, it had been forgotten to the Western world. Though its founding is not known, it appears this place had settlers as early as the 6th century B.C. Under Roman rule, the site declined rapidly and was abandoned by the late 4th century. In 1985, Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is now one of the coolest and biggest attractions in the world.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

                    This ancient city in Cambodia was the center of the Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. This empire went extinct, but not before building amazing temples and buildings that were reclaimed by the jungle for hundreds of years. Though Angkor Wat is packed with tourists, it’s still breathtaking to see. And the temple regions to the north and south see far fewer tourists than the main temple group. (Though admittingly, some of them are simply piles of stone rubble now.) The best time to visit is early in the morning before the tour groups arrive and stay late. The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, and Angkor Thom and they always have crowds. In order to really experience the temples, you’ll need to purchase the three- or five-day pass. 

The Pyramids, Giza

                         Over 3,000 years old, and we still don’t have a good idea as to how they were built or how the Egyptians got them so precise. The Pyramids align to the stars and the solstices and contain vast chambers we still haven’t opened. I mean what do those little chambers where people can’t even crawl through mean? How did they even build them?! Aliens? They are truly a marvel of human engineering that was fit for kings. The largest one, called the Great Pyramid, was built by the Pharaoh Khufu and has limited access to it. You will also find the Sphinx in this area, another historical site that baffles researchers with its mysteries and is the subject of many conspiracy theories. Due to the Egypt revolution in 2011, tourism is drastically down though the revolution is over. If you ever wanted a time to have the pyramids to yourself, now is the time to visit.

Tikal, Guatemala

                   This Mayan city-state is one of the largest and best-preserved ruins of the civilization, and was a dominant force in the Mayan world. Located in Guatemala, this place lets you experience your inner-Indy early in the morning or late at night when the tourists go home and it’s just you and the jungle. It was very serene and one of the best travel memories I have. I particularly enjoyed seeing the sunrise from atop the temples. It’s a wonderful place to explore, deserves at least two days, and is easily accessible from neighboring Beliza. 

Machu Picchu, Peru

                   Located in southern Peru, this fascinating city lies on top of a mountain that’s only accessible by train or 4 day trek. It was an important cultural center for the Inca civilization, but was abandoned when the Spanish came. It is famously referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas.” The location was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Concerns over growing numbers of tourists have led to limitations on how many people can enter the site, though only by a fraction of what is necessary. Hopefully they will limit it even more so this site lasts for hundreds of years more.

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