What Great Archaeological Sites Used To Actually Look Like: Machu Picchu, the Colossus of Rhodes, Hadrian’s Wall & More in All Their Glory

With nation­al bor­der restric­tions now loos­en­ing up, many of us are reviv­ing our years-dor­mant world trav­el plans. For some, the pan­dem­ic-induced sus­pen­sion of easy access to oth­er coun­tries has even inspired jour­neys they might not oth­er­wise have tak­en. Stuck at home, they real­ized that they’d nev­er seen the won­ders of the ancient world — or at any rate, what remains of the won­ders of the ancient world. Ruin tourism has a long and pres­ti­gious his­to­ry, of course, but it also has the unde­sir­able side effect of sub­con­scious­ly con­vinc­ing us that our ancient fore­bears lived amid a more sham­bol­ic built envi­ron­ment than they real­ly did. To see these ruins as they were before their ruina­tion demands a strong imag­i­na­tion.

Alter­na­tive­ly, you can watch the video above, which presents artis­tic recon­struc­tions of such still-fre­quent­ed sites as Pom­peii, Machu Pic­chu, Chichen Itza, the Parthenon, and the Great Pyra­mid of Giza. You can still see some these struc­tures for your­self, of course, albeit only now that the rav­ages of time — as well as those of var­i­ous plun­der­ers, scav­engers, and insti­tu­tions — have tak­en their ter­ri­ble toll.

(The food hall of Nero’s palace still stands, but the water-pow­ered rota­tion sys­tem that made it his­to­ry’s first revolv­ing restau­rant has long since gone out of order.) Oth­ers of them nobody has seen since antiq­ui­ty itself: the Colos­sus of Rhodes once stood a hun­dred feet tall over that Greek island, but it only did so for 54 years until its top­pling by an Earth­quake in 226 BC.

Yet over the two-and-a-quar­ter mil­len­nia since, the Colos­sus has come to take on much greater pro­por­tions in our minds. “The famous imagery of it strad­dling the har­bor,” says the video, only “came about cen­turies lat­er, and was tout­ed by his­to­ri­ans in the Mid­dle Ages who had nev­er seen the mon­u­ment. The har­bor itself is almost the same width as an Amer­i­can foot­ball field, so to be pro­por­tion­al­ly accu­rate, the stat­ue would have to stand a stu­pen­dous 1,640 feet tall. This was firm­ly impos­si­ble at the time.” Even today, nowhere on Earth boasts a stat­ue that’s so much as half that size. And indeed, this may con­sti­tute the endur­ing appeal of ruins: how­ev­er glo­ri­ous they would have been when whole, their worn, dis­col­ored frag­ments fire our imag­i­na­tions to much greater heights.

Relat­ed con­tent:

What Ancient Greece Real­ly Looked Like: See Recon­struc­tions of the Tem­ple of Hadri­an, Curetes Street & the Foun­tain of Tra­jan

Watch Ancient Ruins Get Restored to their Glo­ri­ous Orig­i­nal State with Ani­mat­ed GIFs: The Tem­ple of Jupiter, Lux­or Tem­ple & More

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

How Ancient Greek Stat­ues Real­ly Looked: Research Reveals Their Bold, Bright Col­ors and Pat­terns

Roman Stat­ues Weren’t White; They Were Once Paint­ed in Vivid, Bright Col­ors

The Met Dig­i­tal­ly Restores the Col­ors of an Ancient Egypt­ian Tem­ple, Using Pro­jec­tion Map­ping Tech­nol­o­gy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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