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But the Temple of Quetzalcoatl is more decorated—dedicated to the plumed serpent god that figures prominently in its sculptures and reliefs.

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The ruins of sacred temples’ columns and friezes (whether dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture, or to the emperors Vespasian and Titus) hint at the level of grandeur on display here two millennia ago.Annual Visitors: 3.6–4.5 million Discovered in 1974, these 700 life-size terracotta generals, infantrymen, archers, chariot drivers, and other warriors—as well as 400 horses and 100 chariots—are each unique, with distinct facial features, hairstyles, and clothing.Annual Visitors: 5.1 million The social center of Rome for 1,200 years beginning in the fifth century B.C., this 700-yard-long piazza has been both marketplace and government center.While Asia has hundreds of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that meet the first two standards, those sacred sites are still used for worship.

People still live in Pueblo de Taos in New Mexico and the ancient Chinese villages of Xidi and Hongcun, so we omitted them too.Yet we still don’t know for sure how the ancient Egyptians built them, which only adds to their intriguing appeal to travelers.The three major tombs for pharaohs at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are now surrounded on three sides by the pressures of Cairo, a city teeming with nearly 11 million people.“Ancient ruins give us a connection to the past that’s visceral,” says Mary Jo Arnoldi, chair of the anthropology department at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.“This was a real place, and you can walk through it.” The world’s most-visited ancient ruins, among them Ephesus, can indeed bring history alive.Built just above the half-mile-wide, 65-foot-tall travertine wonder in 190 B.