• Weird History

Ancient Monuments That Are Somehow Still Standing Today

Some of the most popular tourist spots in the world are also the oldest. The Great Sphinx of Giza is one of Egypt's most photographed monuments, but did you know it was ancient even in Cleopatra's time? Depending on which Egyptologist you talk to, the massive statue might have been 2,000 or even 7,000 years old when she and Mark Antony were ruling the East.

The age of historic landmarks is a fascinating subject. If you've had the pleasure of visiting any of the ancient Greek monuments still standing, you probably wondered how the heck they managed to last so long. It's usually because people in every age and civilization appreciate fine craftsmanship.

Below is a selection of breathtaking ancient monuments still standing today, along with some background on when they were constructed and why.

  • Photo: MusikAnimal / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Memphis was the first capital of Ancient Egypt, and it is where the Great Sphinx of Giza resides. The necropolis is also the location of dozens of other archaeological marvels, including the first complex stone buildings in Egyptian history; the pyramids of Giza; more than 9,000 tombs; and several temples. 

    The age of the Sphinx is currently a matter of debate. It was long thought that the monument dates back 4,500 years, to 2500 BC, and that it was modeled after the pharaoh Khafre (who reigned from around 2603-2578 BC). However, a new theory suggests that the erosion on its topmost structure could only be caused by significant rainfall - something that hasn't occurred in Egypt since 7000 BC.

    As NBC News reports, many experts disagree with this analysis "as there is no evidence of an Egyptian civilization this old." Traditional Egyptologists still place its construction around 2500 BC, citing multiple factors for the existence of limestone erosion. 

  • Stonehenge, England (c. 2500 BC)

    Experts believe that the construction of Stonehenge took about 1,500 years to complete. The first stage may have begun more than 5,000 years ago by Neolithic (late Stone Age) Britons, who first carved out a large circle and dug pits for wooden posts.

    Over the next several hundred years, bluestones were transported 200 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales to be arranged in a circle or horseshoe shape on the Salisbury Plain. The largest stones, known as sarsens, were sourced from quarries 25 miles away (these could be up to 24 feet long and weigh more than 40 tons).

    As to what Stonehenge was used for? There's evidence that it was a burial site, but it likely served other functions, too. History lists a number of possibilities: "a ceremonial site, a religious pilgrimage destination, a final resting place for royalty or a memorial erected to honor and perhaps spiritually connect with distant ancestors."

  • Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, Greece (c. 330 BC)

    A sacred site to both Greeks and Romans, and named after the son of Apollo (Epidauros), Epidaurus has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Its ancient theater was constructed around 340-330 BC and expanded in the 2nd Century AD to increase its capacity from 6,000 to more than 12,000. At one point, it may have been the largest theater in the ancient world. 

    The acoustics of the theater, perhaps more due to accident than design, are remarkable. The seats of the theater function as "acoustic traps" that filter out low frequencies and create a high clarity sound for audiencegoers. Efforts to replicate the acoustics in the ancient theater failed, probably due to the use of wooden seats that lacked the corrugation of the stone used at Epidaurus.

    Though the theater and its surrounding pagan sanctuaries were closed by Roman Emperor Theodosius II in 426 AD, the site remains well preserved in the present era. The theater is still used today for annual theater festivals.

  • Nemrut Dağ, Turkey (c. 1st Century BC)

    Located in Central Anatolia, Nemrut Dağ or Nemrut Daği is the mausoleum of Antiochus I, who reigned over the kingdom of Commagene in the 1st century BC. The kingdom was only independent for about two centuries before it was overtaken by the Roman Empire.

    According to UNESCO, Antiochus built the temple tomb "as a monument to himself," using advanced construction techniques for the era. It describes the site as:

    one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. Its complex design and colossal scale combined to create a project unequalled in the ancient world. A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom's culture.