Temple ruins at Quirigua
Temple ruins at Quirigua

10 Bucket List Archaeological Sites To Visit In 2020

Can you believe we’re about to enter into a new decade? No, neither can we – time simply flies. With this in mind, we thought we’d help kickstart your travel plans for the new year by rounding up our must-visit archaeological sites, in the hopes they might inspire you to explore someplace new over the coming 12 months. From iconic ruins mentioned in legendary tales to lesser-known sites that you might never have come across, take a look at our 10 best sites for 2020 below.

The best thing? We can take you to visit all of them…

Timgad – Algeria

The text-book Roman town of Timgad is at the top of our archaeological wish list for 2020. Here, the entire town’s layout survives, retaining its playing-card shape and strict grid of streets. The UNESCO World Heritage list of sites describes it as “an excellent example of Roman town planning,” and Trajan ordered its construction in AD 100 for veterans of the Third Legion Augusta. Timgad is situated around 35km east of the city of Batna and it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1982. The ruins to be discovered at this phenomenal site range from Trajan’s arch, the Capitoline Temple, a basilica, a library, and a Corinthian colonnade. We can take you there in 2020 on our brand new tour of Algeria.

The Troitsky Excavation Site – Russia

A typical tour of Russia tends to be more cultural and historical than archaeological, but on our new tour there we can take you to the Troitsky Excavation Site, where items of significance have been uncovered over the years. The artefacts in question range from 20 mansion houses dated back to the 10th – 15th century to the oldest Slavic books made from waxed tablets. There is a viewing area from which to observe excavations and this site offers a chance to get acquainted with Russian history, from the 21st century back to the early Middle Ages.

Ancient ‘beehive’ tombs of Bat and Al-Ayn – Oman

Lined dramatically along a rocky ridge at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Bat and Al-Ayn in Oman are a number of Bronze Age beehive tombs. They are part of a major copper mining settlement of the Umm-an Nar culture of the 3rd millennium BC. These distinctive dry-stone tombs, which really are a sight to behold, form an enormous necropolis. The UNESCO page for these sites explains that they “form the most complete collection of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BC in the world”. Join us on our archaeological exploration of Oman in February or November to witness them first-hand.

Troy – Turkey

A familiar name to many, Troy is a much-discussed archaeological site and ancient city as well as the focus of a new exhibition at London’s fabulous British Museum. Embroiled in a 10-year war over the kidnapping of the world’s most beautiful woman – Helen – the story that surrounds this location is simply spellbinding. A tale revealed by Homer in his epic, The Iliad, Troy’s legacy has intrigued archaeologists and historians alike for years. Some argue that Troy itself was just a myth, while others have worked to prove its physical existence. In 1822, Hisarlik in Turkey was identified as the site of Homeric Troy by Charles Maclaren. Later, in 1870, Heinrich Schliemann undertook his own excavations and confirmed Maclaren’s beliefs. If you want to explore the site of ancient Troy, join us on our Bare Bones Troy tour or our Aegean Coast of Turkey tour.

Sumela Monastery, North Turkey

Not strictly an archaeological site, but one we would recommend you visit regardless, the Sumela Monastery is spectacularly built into a sheer cliff that peeps out from densely forested slopes plunging down to a tumbling brook. It was founded in AD 386 by Greek Orthodox monks and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and it fell into the hands of different emperors as time passed. The monastery church itself boasts incredible frescoes. The monastery was hastily abandoned in 1923 following the population exchange between Greece and the newly founded Republic of Turkey. The complex is located at a height of 1,200 metres and it can be accessed on foot, ascending a narrow and long stairway. Our North Turkey tour pays a visit to this remarkable historic site.

The prehistoric burial complex at Tiya – Ethiopia

Yes, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are what Ethiopia is primarily known for, but there’s a site we visit as part of our tour that’s filled with intrigue. The site of Tiya is marked by distinctive standing stones, most of which are engraved with mysterious symbols. The icons that can be seen on the remarkable stelae are difficult to decipher (and include knives and swords) and they still haven’t been interpreted. The site itself earned UNESCO World Heritage Status back in 1980.

Göbekli Tepe – South East Turkey

Inscribed by UNESCO as recently as 2018, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey’s south east is a monumental early Neolithic site. Here, you’ll find a series of ‘temples’, comprised of relief-carved megaliths up to five metres tall, which have challenged the conventional view that only settled societies could produce such monumental architecture. Situated on top of a rounded hill in the anti-Taurus mountains a few miles north of Sanliurfa and the flatlands of Mesopotamia to the south, it was closed to the public for several years, but we can take you there on our South East Turkey tour.

Gamzigrad – Serbia

A walled fortress villa built by Emperor Galerius in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, which was known as Felix Romuliana. Set in rolling countryside, a walled enclosure once contained this majestic country palace, but its modern-day remains are just as impressive. Accompanied by temples and public spaces, this luxurious imperial palace also consists of basilicas, hot baths and a memorial complex. The latter is where the mausoleums of Galerius and his mother are located. Book a place on our Serbia tour to experience this site for yourself.

The Theatre of Herculaneum – Italy

People fascinated by the preservation of Pompeii and Herculaneum following the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 will be interested to know that our 2020 Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania tours now include a private visit to the off-site and haunting Theatre of Herculaneum. One of the ancient town’s first monuments to be rediscovered, this underground site has been partly excavated and a visit here is truly unforgettable. The theatre could hold around 2,500 spectators and it measures 19.5 metres in height, and decorating the top of the cavea (the highest seating section of the theatre) were six bronze statues of horses. Amazingly, the structure survived the eruption very well, but the volcanic flow eventually poured in and filled the theatre. Despite this – and also thanks to on-site excavation – many parts of this theatre can still be visited today.

The ruined city of Copán – Honduras

The extensive ruined city of Copán, not far from the Guatemalan border, is well-worth a visit. Why? Well, initially discovered in 1570, the UNESCO-listed ruins here weren’t actually excavated until the 19th century. Here, you’ll find the legendary Hieroglyphic Stairway – upon which the longest inscribed Maya text can still be viewed – not to mention many incredible Maya sculptures. Occupied for over 2,000 years, Copán developed rapidly around AD 450 and is thought to have had a population of at least 20,000 at its peak. Wander the extensive stone ruins and view ancient tombs, the grand Monument Plaza, and also the magnificent ball court, where an early precursor to the modern game of basketball was played – a site of great cultural and spiritual significance.