Every place has some kind of history, with the past of some being longer and more complicated than that of others. But history leaves its mark in the heritage and architecture it leaves behind. And here are places with heritage sites that we found particularly fascinating.
1. Malindi, Kenya
Malindi is a little seaside town on the coast of Kenya. Its main attractions are its beaches and the Malindi Marine National Park. But close by are the ruins of an old Swahili city.
The ruins of Gedi
No one really knows why the city of Gedi was abandoned. Theories mention drought, famine and military conflict as possible reasons. But whatever the reason, this once-prosperous medieval trading hub fell into ruin and was swallowed by the jungle. It was only rediscovered in the early 1900s, and is still being excavated. And though not very large or impressive by international standards, it has an air of mystery and melancholy.
I haven’t written about our visit to Malindi yet. But while I get down to it, take a look at our video diary of our memories of Africa instead.
The town center
What’s left of the grand mosque
2. Paro, Bhutan
The remote Himalayan nation of Bhutan isn’t something that too many international travellers have heard of. But its strong focus on preserving its culture and natural heritage make it one of the last few unspoiled mountain destinations. Paro is the only town in Bhutan to have an airport, but it’s also well-known for its incredible Taktsang or ‘tiger’s nest’ monastery.
The local Tibetan-style Buddhist architecture is a bit squat and solid, but Taktsang monastery’s impossible location makes it an incredible sight to see. Perched on a cliff halfway up a mountain, the monastery is said to have been built in honour of a holy man who flew up there on a tiger (hence the name). Whatever the reason, it takes your breath away, and gets even more impressive the closer you get on the three-hour hike up.
Read more about things to experience in Bhutan
The impossible Tiger’s Nest monastery perched on its cliff
3. Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg, Austria’s capital city, lies in the foothills of the Alps, and even has some green hills within the city itself. The city is best known for being the birthplace of famous western classical composter Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. For those more inclined to cinema, the famous movie The Sound of Music was largely shot here. But while this is a modern city in every way, its old quarter is chock-full of impressive heritage buildings.
The old quarter
The old quarter of Salzburg is dominated by the Hohensalzburg fortress on its hill, and the view from there makes you feel like you’re in a postcard. But what adds a lot of atmosphere to the view are the Salzburg Cathedral and the Franciscan Church next door.
Read about our less-than-ideal visit to Salzburg
Up close with Salzburg’s Franciscan church and the cathedral
4. Wuerzburg, Germany
Wuerzburg is the beginning of the classic ‘romantic road’, a series of atmospheric medieval towns in Germany’s state of Bavaria. Though a bustling city today, Wuerzburg’s 1,500-year history is obvious, and the old quarter is a glimpse into the past. While the Marienberg fortress is the main attraction (for good reason), the Residenz is a testament to the power of its erstwhile rulers.
This palace was the seat of the ruling bishop-princes of Wuerzburg. Unlike other cities, where the church and the state were kept separate, Wuerzburg was governed directly by bishops appointed by the church. The massive palace could rival any other in Europe, but it’s from the inside that you really appreciate the scale. The Residenz even has an entrance hall large enough for carriages to drive through so that the occupants didn’t have to alight in the rain!
The massive Wuerzburg Residenz
5. Cologne, Germany
Cologne is one of Germany’s largest cities, and—if you’re wondering about the similarity—the first eau de Cologne was created here. It even means ‘water of Cologne’. The city itself has a long history, starting out as a roman settlement before the building of the great cathedral put it on the world map.
The Cologne cathedral
The massive Cologne cathedral began to be built in the 1200s (on the site of an even older church) to house the relics of the three Magi. It was finally completed in 1880. They say this is the tallest twin-spired church in the world, with each of its Gothic spires reaching 157 meters into the air. You can’t help but feel the hundreds of years that went into its making when standing inside its incredible arched interiors.
One of the Cologne cathedral’s spires seen from inside the other
One of the amazing stained glass windows inside the cathedral
6. Hyderabad, Telangana
Disclosure: We live in Hyderabad. But that doesn’t mean that we find the city’s heritage any less fascinating. Over 600 years of history have left countless monuments and buildings scattered around the city, each with its own interesting story.
This impressive fort is where Hyderabad’s history began, as the stronghold of the city’s founding Qutb Shah kings. The central citadel of Golconda Fort is one of the most popular tourist spots in Hyderabad. But most visitors don’t realize that there are some magnificent sights among the outer fortifications, too.
Read about a visit to Golconda Fort’s outer ramparts
The outer ramparts of Golconda Fort at Petal Burj
The Qutb Shahi tombs
Near Golconda Fort lies the necropolis of the Qutb Shahi kings. Over seven generations, the Qutb Shahis shaped the destiny of a considerable part of South India. Today, their impressive tombs still bear testament to their grandeur.
Read about a visit to the Qutb Shahi tombs
The magnificent tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah at sunset
Built by the founder of Hyderabad, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, the reason behind the Charminar is still not completely clear. But it still remains a symbol of Hyderabad, and one of the most recognizable monuments in India—and, arguably, the world.
Read about our early-morning visit to the Charminar
The Charminar as seen from Mecca Masjid
The Paigah tombs
Soon after the fall of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the Asaf Jahi dynasty took over the rule of the kingdom of Hyderabad. And during that time, the Paigah family was the foremost noble family under the ruling Asaf Jahi Nizams. Their tombs, hidden away in the by-lanes of Hyderabad’s Old City, may not be as large as the Qutb Shahi tombs, but are very intricately decorated.
Read about a visit to the Paigah tombs
The capstone on one of the tombs in the Paigah necropolis
7. Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Madurai, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, is famous for its countless Hindu temples. But none is more famous than the 2,000 year-old temple of Meenakshi.
The Meenakshi temple
This magnificent temple is quite unique. It is one of the very few temples in which both a goddess (in this case, Parvati as Meenakshi) is given precedence over a god, despite both having their own shrines in the complex. Also, despite being a Shaivite temple, it includes many Vaishnavite themes, making it an important site for worshippers of both Shiva and Vishnu.
Read about our visit to Madurai and Thanjavur
One of the magnificent gateway towers of the Meenakshi temple
8. Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
Thanjavur, earlier known as Tanjore, is said to be the origin of modern Tamil culture and language. It is also thought to have been a major trade that spread Hindu culture and religion through the rest of south and south-east Asia. And this all began at the 1,000 year old Brihadeeswarar temple.
The Brihadeeswarar temple
This imposing temple looks very different from the Meenakshi temple at Madurai. For one, its unpainted façade is made entirely of red brick and granite. It also has a vimana (roof over the inner sanctum) that is taller than the outer gopurams (gateway towers), which is very unusual. Also, it has many smaller temples built in different styles in the courtyard of the complex. These were built by successive dynasties of conquerors, each in their own architectural style.
Read about our visit to Madurai and Thanjavur
The hulking main gateway tower of the Brihadeeswarar temple
9. Jodhpur, Rajasthan
The city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan is often called ‘the blue city’ because of the many houses painted the traditional light blue in the old city. The former capital city of the kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur has many fine heritage sites, but none more impressive than the Mehrangarh fort.
This massive hill-top fort dominates the skyline of the city, and can be seen from anywhere in Jodhpur. The fort, with its huge walls, is said to never have been conquered. The scars of cannon fire around its gates suggest that many tried and failed.
Mehrangarh fort as seen from Jodhpur’s Sardar Market
Blue buildings of Jodhpur seen from Mehrangarh’s battlements
10. Jaipur, Rajasthan
Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is one of the corners of India’s ‘golden triangle’ of tourism, the others being Delhi and Agra. The ‘pink city’ (so named after the traditional red sandstone houses of the old city) has plenty of heritage on offer, including the famous Hawa Mahal, and Amer Fort. But we found the Jal Mahal particularly fascinating.
The Jal Mahal
The Jal Mahal (‘Water Palace’) is a five-storied palace that sits in the Man Sagar lake in Jaipur, and can only be accessed by boat. They say it was constructed in the 1700s by the then-king as a duck-hunting lodge. Interestingly, four of the five stories are under water, and can only be seen when the water level is very low.
The beautiful Jal Mahal lit up at night
11. Hampi, Karnataka
The village of Hampi in the South Indian state of Karnataka is all that remains of the 14th century city of Vijayanagara. Vijayanagara (‘victorious city’ or ‘city of victory’) was the capital of a powerful Hindu kingdom of the same name that covered a large part of South India, bordering the Muslim kingdoms of Golconda and Bidar.
The spiritual quarter
Most of the main buildings of old Vijayanagara were built from granite blocks carved out of the surrounding hills. Many of these buildings—temples, marketplaces and walkways—still stand today. And walking through them gives you an eerie feeling that their former residents are just away on holiday and might appear again any minute.
The granite columns of Hampi’s main marketplace still stand
The musical pillars of Hampi’s Vittala temple
12. Ross Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Ross Island is a small island just off Port Blair, the capital of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The island used to serve as a penal colony for ‘hard-core’ political prisoners during the British Raj, and later as the administrative headquarters of the islands. The buildings on Ross Island were destroyed in an earthquake a few months before the islands were invaded by the Japanese during WWII.
The abandoned old prison buildings
The history of Ross Island is a bit creepy, so the present condition of its buildings is quite appropriate. Many of the old ruins have been overrun by strangler fig trees, giving them the look of something out of a horror movie. Even if you’re not easily scared, the sight of these buildings covered with tree roots is sure to send a shiver down your spine.
Read about our visit to the Andaman and Nicobar islands
One of the old buildings on Ross Island swallowed by a strangler fig tree
Wherever you are in the world, heritage architecture can give you a glimpse into the past (and the present) of a place. And while these are just a few places with impressive heritage, there are countless others left for us to discover.
Do you have any recommendations of impressive heritage sites and buildings that you think we should see? Leave a comment and let me know!