Europe has a rich history that dates back millennia. This isn’t history that can be adequately covered by a visit to Stonehenge or a handful of other ruins. To truly explore the history of the land, you need to get off the beaten track and look where no one else is looking. Below is the list of the lesser known ancient ruins in Europe.
1. Grasburg, Switzerland
To most tourists doing the rounds of Europe’s ancient ruins, Switzerland doesn’t figure prominently on the map. The ruins of Grasburg Castle, though, are well worth a visit. In its time, it is said to have been the entertainment center of the nobles of Burgundy. The ruins are only partially restored today. Locally, it is a popular destination for hiking groups and schoolchildren.
2. The Temple of Segesta, Sicily
On the northwest of the island of Sicily, around 75 km from Palermo, along the highway that connects the city to Trapani, is a spectacular ancient ruin – the Temple of Segesta. The temple, that looks something like the Parthenon from a distance, is magnificent and very well-preserved. It has no roof, but not because it collapsed over time, but because it was never completed when it was built in 430 BC. Nearby are the ruins of a spectacular amphitheater. To this day, it is used for concerts and plays.
3. The Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ireland
Ireland’s vast, stark plains have dozens of ancient sites dating to the Neolithic period. Some of them resemble the Stonehenge in their basic design. Others are mere caves. In barren, rocky County Clare stands the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a solitary, large, irregular-shaped stone construction that marks a burial chamber. The thought that this simple structure has stood at this location for thousands of years can be a moving one.
4. The Temple of Asklepieon, Kos
In ancient Greece, an Asklepieon was a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing. At one point, there were 300 Asklepieons around the country. Today, though, only a handful of ruins are in reasonable shape. One of them is the Asklepieon of Kos, on a Greek island of the same name that’s very close to Asian Turkey. The Asklepieon of Kos is a beautifully preserved temple set in idyllic countryside. It’s great for a day’s exploration.
5. Pottu Codinu, Sardinia
Unlike the other sites on this list, the Pottu Codinu in Sardinia, Italy, isn’t a castle, a temple or a theater. It is far more ancient than the other sites, too. The Pottu Codinu is an ancient burial ground dating to 3,500 BC. The ruins are situated on the back roads of Sardinia, and are completely unmaintained, open to the elements. These ruins aren’t actual buildings, rather, they are man-made caves in the ground.
6. Visegrad, Pest County, Hungary
Visegrad, a town on the Danube in Hungary, is home to the small, but impressively fortified Visegrad Castle. It was built by King Béla IV, but destroyed after raids by the Turks. Today, the ruins of the castle are open to the public.
7. The Castle of St. Hilarion, Northern Cyprus
Perched atop a mountain in the Kyrenia range, the Castle of St. Hilarion is one of the most dramatic ancient ruins of Europe. The castle isn’t named after the Palestinian monk St. Hilarion the Great, but after another saint of the same name. The castle dates to the 11th century. The interiors of the castle are fascinating to walk through, and the view of the Mediterranean outside, unbelievable.
8. Ephesus, Asian Turkey
Ephesus was a Greek city on the Ionian coast of Asian Turkey that was inhabited for 500 years, starting in the 10th century BC. Unlike the other ruins on this list, Ephesus is a whole city. The ruins contain dozens of temples, fountains, libraries and streets, all preserved in impressive shape. The amphitheater, in particular, was large enough to be comparable to a small, modern stadium.
9. Pula, Croatia
Pula is an ancient waterfront city in Croatia. It has a rich heritage of ancient construction: temples, arches, amphitheaters and gates dating to the Middle Ages and even prehistoric times. From the Pula Arena and the Chapel of Mary Formosa to the Pula Amphitheater, the city has some of the finest ancient ruins you are likely to encounter anywhere.
10. The Plovdiv Roman Theatre, Bulgaria
The Plovdiv Roman Theatre, an ancient amphitheater that dates back to 100 AD, is a ruin that isn’t well-known outside of Plovdiv, the second largest city of Bulgaria. With 28 rows of marble seats arranged in horseshoe formation and a three-story stage building, Plovdiv was one of the best-built theaters of its time. After repeated incidents of severe damage over its history, the theater, today, has been beautifully restored. Hosting performances each night, the Plovdiv Roman Theatre is in demand once again, probably as it was millennia ago.
While tourists looking for a way to connect with the ancient past could easily see the well-known ruins of Rome, Greece or elsewhere, there’s something to be said for searching out places that aren’t known to the world at large. It can be a more intimate feeling, gazing upon an ancient ruin when it isn’t overrun with tourists.