You’ve heard of Machu Picchu and Stonehenge. You’ve seen pictures of them your entire life. If you ever made it to Easter Island, you’d see the famous Moai, and you’d say, “Yeah, that’s basically what they looked like in the pictures.” But the world has more ruins than just the popular tourist attractions. The world is littered with scraps of its own history, and some of the lesser-known scraps are still truly spectacular.

They’re found in Central American jungles, Middle Eastern deserts, European cityscapes, Southeast Asian volcanic valleys, and on North American mesas. Here are some of the most impressive ruins that you’ve (probably) never heard of before.

An earlier version of this article was originally posted on September 17, 2009.


Palmyra, Syria

This ancient desert oasis of a metropolis, 200km from Damascus, is at least 4,000 years old and can still be visited by camel caravan. Photo:


Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur was an active Buddhist temple from the 9th to 14th centuries and is located rather precariously between two Javanese volcanoes. Photo: ctsnow


Teotihuacan, Mexico

Sitting less than an hour outside Mexico City, this pre-Aztec pyramid city may have been the most populous in the world during its heyday between A.D. 150 and 450. Photo: Juls Barrett


Cappadocia, Turkey

The unique stone formations of this region in central Turkey were made even more picturesque when homes and monasteries (and today hotels) were carved into them beginning around A.D. 300. Photo: Nir Nussbaum


Khara-Khoto, Inner Mongolia

Marco Polo is said to have passed through this Mongol trading outpost before it was sacked by a Ming Dynasty army. Since then, the Gobi has slowly been taking up residence. Photo: Ed_Stannard


Wat Phu, Laos

The lazy riverside town of Champasak is the gateway to these Khmer temple ruins, granted Unesco World Heritage status in 2001. Photo: Adam Jones, Ph.D.


Tikal, Guatemala

Though only questionably qualifying as "lesser-known," this stop on the Maya Trail did lose out on becoming a "New 7 Wonder of the World" to its cousin farther north, Chichen Itza. Photo: mtsrs


Volubilis, Morocco

The Romans sure got around, leaving behind their characteristic triumphal arches and columned temples in unlikely places -- such as a few dozen kilometers outside of Meknes, Morocco. Photo: ollografik


Bagan, Myanmar

This ancient Burmese capital and its 2,217 peaked-dome temples should be better known, but its location within a "rogue state" is holding it back. Photo: jmhullot


Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco) is still being excavated, as funds become available, but has already revealed countless secrets about a pre-Inca empire that ruled the Altiplano until A.D. 1000. Photo: victorsounds


Mesa Verde National Park, USA

Photo: ..lauren..


El Djem, Tunisia

More evidence of the Roman presence in North Africa comes in the form of this ruined amphitheater -- the ancient empire's third largest. Photo: skuds


Guachimontones, Mexico

The Guachimontones archaeological site was the "place of the Gods" for the Teuchitlan people, who existed before Westerners ever made it to the New World. It is in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Photo by Esteban Tucci


Saint Hilarion Castle, Cyprus

Originally just a monastery, Saint Hilarion was built 1000 years ago by monks. It was eventually converted into a fort by the Byzantines, who used it to fight raiding pirates. Photo by bassnroll


Ganghwa Island Dolmen, South Korea

Dolmen are "portal tombs" dating from back in the Neolithic era. They can be found throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, but their highest concentration is on the Korean Peninsula. Photo by Jeong Woo Nam