A thorough and vibrant understanding of our history as a species is not only necessary it’s enjoyable. From Egypt’s pyramids to England’s Stonehenge, historic sites across the world mean something to everyone regardless of their national origin.
For example, Stonehenge isn’t an English accomplishment but rather a human achievement. Its existence is a testament to early man’s ability to create wondrous things and as such it is part of our common ancestry. When traveling, look to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as a guide to historic and cultural sites that transcend national boundaries in their importance. The list covers sites that are both internationally well known and obscure but regardless of their popularity, the sites are sure to be historically valuable and impressive.
Rather than regarding visits to these sites as something akin to a history lesson, remember that visiting Hadrian’s Wall or Machu Picchu is still part of a vacation. It’s a sightseeing trip not about the names of dead people or specific dates but about viewing and touring a human accomplishment. Take advantage of the guided tours that go through many of these sites. They give historical and human context to the site’s existence explaining when, by whom and why the site was built.
The nice thing about these guided tours is that they do the hard work for you and give you information tailored to vacationers. I use Viking River Cruises a lot when I am in Europe. They are a great way to see many historic sites. (Check out the Viking River Cruises reviews if you don’t believe me!) They won’t bog you down with unnecessary facts or figures and by doing the research for you they let you relax and take in the site. But if a guided tour isn’t for you, simply walk the site and take everything in visually. World historic sites like the Sphinx and the Parthenon are visually arresting and grand in a way that you don’t need a tour guide to understand or appreciate.
But even more important than the context that such historical sites give to a nation’s existence is the context such sites give to our common existence. They are testaments to the achievements of man. For example, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a magnificent temple structure constructed with great attention to detail and beauty. It’s creation is a testament to man’s capacity to create beautiful things in the service of religion; a capacity visible in every church, mosque, synagogue and temple the world over. These historical sites are aged proof of the constancy of man’s ability. They are solid evidence of man’s innate creativity.
Most importantly, by demonstrating our species’ talents and will, these historical sites emphasize what we have in common the world over. The building of the Egyptian pyramids required the same tenacity and intellect as the building of Stonehenge half way around the world. By demonstrating man’s similarities, these historic sites have the ability to bring people together across international boundaries. And this is exactly what we need to do in protecting historical sites today: Regardless of national boundary, we all must work to protect historic sites because their loss would be a blow to our understanding of man’s common history.
While many of the world’s historic sites are protected from destruction, others are destroyed out of spite or greed. We should all remember that back in 2001, the Taliban destroyed the 1500-year-old Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan. The Taliban destroyed these two monuments because they feared the religious, cultural and historic diversity they represented. But this diversity, represented by all historic monuments, is important in maintaining pluralistic societies.
Of course, many historic sites are destroyed not out of hate but out of expediency. The UNESCO World Heritage system was created to protect historic sites threatened by the creation of Egypt’s Aswan Dam. Such commercial projects often threaten historic sites and we should remember that while economic profit is important, the cultural heritage represented by historic sites is gone forever once it is destroyed.
For this reason, we should be careful to protect historic sites from destruction brought on by both extremism and economic development. The protection of these world historic sites guarantees that they will be around for decades to come to so that individuals can tour them and better understand our world heritage.
Visiting such historic sites is an enjoyable and important part of any vacation. They provide context to the history and development of the country they’re located in at the same time they inspire awe and excitement in anyone who visits them. And when you go to these sites, don’t forget to get worldwide travel insurance to protect yourself from any accidents.