Even the World’s Most Famous Sites Have Their Secrets
How and why did a city roughly the size of Berlin, with advanced irrigation systems and beautifully designed infrastructure and architecture – and the one million people who lived there – vanish in less than 200 years? What was the fate of the remarkably resourceful islanders who created some of the most iconic statues still in existence? These are the kinds of questions that continue to stump experts and explorers. Some of the world’s most famous sites, known immediately by sight to millions, still hold secrets that remain unexplained in their origins, functions and fates.
We’re returning with the second installment of our “Unsolved Mysteries” travel list.. When you explore these captivating locales, you’re likely to find more questions than answers, which is part of the wonder of travel, after all.
Angkor Wat. The Khmer empire ruled most of Southeast Asia from approximately 800 CE to the 15th century. They were a sophisticated and ambitious people, who claimed the UNESCO-listed city of Angkor as their central capital. Angkor Wat, considered the most extensively complex religious monument in the history of mankind, was their creation, commissioned by King Suryavarman II, who declared himself “king of the world” in the 12th century. The 400-acre compound of intricately carved temples and structures once stood at the center of a thriving city at least the size of Berlin, its very existence a mystery to the western world until around 1860. There are numerous unanswered questions surrounding Angkor Wat’s temples themselves – what, if any, was the astronomical purpose of the buildings’ designs? What is the significance and purpose of the 1,796 portraits of women carved in the stone of the temple?
But the question that perplexes historians most is the ultimate fate of the Khmer people. The empire disappeared in less than 200 years, after ruling the region for more than 600 years, without a definitive reason. Many theories have been formed and tested, but none ever proven.
Explore the complex story of Angkor Wat and marvel at its elaborate and sacred significance aboard Crystal Symphony 2019 and 2020 voyages to Southeast Asia.
The Terra Cotta Warriors. A 12-year-old king with an ambition for great things. Things like the Great Wall of China and a grand army to guard him during his afterlife. An army of more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses – no two the same and each intricately carved in terracotta clay. Fast forward 2,200 years and today, it is considered to be the singular most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. The Terra Cotta Army was discovered in 1974 in Xi’an China – the oldest of the four great ancient capitals located in the Shaanxi Province – in the grandest mausoleum in the world, that of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The mausoleum was constructed as an underground replica of the emperor’s palace, and the army was discovered in the underground pits that have been excavated. Archaeologists speculate that construction on the project was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings and the death of Qin Shi Huang. What resides in the remaining pit remains a mystery, but archaeologists have unearthed numerous treasures in addition to the mighty clay warriors, including more mysteries.
Among them are an unusually high amount of mercury trapped in the underground spaces, thought to have been put there to poison invaders of the tomb. Remarkable forging technology also has experts curious, like astonishingly sharp bronze swords that appear new and shiny and were crafted with tremendously advanced skill that allows them to bend to 45 degrees under pressure and revert to perfection when released. Another mystery: Qin’s tomb remains unexcavated, even though Siam Qian’s writings suggest even greater treasures.
Learn the secrets of the Qin Dynasty and the Terracotta Army during 2019 and 2020 voyages through the Far East.
The Moai of Easter Island. The ominous stone faces gazing over the edge of the tiny island in the middle of the Pacific are impressive regardless of when they were constructed and what engineering resources may or may not have been available. Standing 13 feet high with massively disproportionate heads and bodies, the island’s 887 Moai represent the ingenuity of the native Rapa Nui people, and their intriguingly grand engineering skills. It is believed that the Moai were built to watch over the village families residing on the island, one statue per family, though there are still outstanding mysteries attached to the monuments and the people who created them. How were the massive structures moved around the island from their points of construction? And what ultimately happened to the Rapa Nui? While the people still thrive today as roughly half of French Polynesia’s population, the fate of those indigenous to Easter Island is the subject of many theories and debates.
Visit Easter Island and its astounding Moai aboard Crystal Symphony’s “Storied Isles of the Pacific” voyage in February 2019.