Ancient squared or polygonal walls composed of giant boulders masterfully placed one next to the other without the use of mordant testify to the existence of civilizations of which little or nothing is known. In different parts of the world, from Peru to Italy, these civilizations chose to work stone by hand and to often create blocks all different from each other. These techniques are fascinating. The successors of the stone masters adopted less grandiose techniques.
This post presents 10 archaeological sites where you can admire megalithic walls and provides useful information on how to visit them.
Stoa of the Athenians
By Roxanne of Faraway Worlds
One of the most impressive polygonal walls in Greece is part of the Stoa of the Athenians, built around 478 BC-470 BCE. The stoa is essentially a porch which was added to the Temple of Apollo and dedicated to the god when the Athenians won the Persian War.
The Stoa of the Athenians is only one of many remarkable ruins at the ancient site of Delphi, home to the god Apollo and his priestess the Pythia. Located in central Greece, Delphi is where supplicants traveled from all over the ancient world in search of Apollo’s wisdom and guidance, which were handed down by his prophesying priestess.
The sanctuary is situated high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. Other notable monuments there include the Sanctuary of Athena at the foot of the site, the Temple of Apollo and the stadium at the top of the site which once seated over 7,000 people. The Delphi Museum is also worth visiting with some famous sculptures on display.
You can visit Delphi independently or as part of a tour. As it’s a long drive from Athens and Thessaloniki, consider staying in the nearby town of Arachova. Entry is 12 euros which cover both the archaeological site and the museum.
Polygonal walls of Amelia, Italy
By Lisa of Travel Connect Experience
The city of Amelia, defended to the north from a rocky spur, is almost for entire ringed from mighty and ancient polygonal walls (7th – 4th century B.C.). This monumental work is exceptional for extension, age, and state of preservation.
The most ancient pre-Roman walls are located inside the historical center between the Teatro Sociale and the Porta della Valle. The pre-Roman tract of the wall. of the 4th Century B.C., is certainly the most scenic and touristically attractive of the entire wall. It extends on both sides of the central Porta Romana for about 800 meters and is formed by megalithic blocks, an ingenious work of compact overlapping of stones, without the use of cement mortar.
In the upper part, and in other points of the wall the defensive work instead is of the medieval period. This masonry is certainly less interesting than the pre-Roman, but it contributes to give continuity to the development of the imposing defensive perimeter of Amelia unique in its kind. According to Greek historians Euripide, Strabone and Pausania the massive polygonal walls in the Mediterranean region would be the work of the pre-Hellenic people of the Pelasgians, who would have built the walls of Mycenaean cities, first of all, Mycenae.
Amelia is a picturesque small town near Rome. To admire the polygonal walls, it is sufficient to go to the main entrance door to the historical center, Porta Romana, and then walk all around the walls.
To get to Amelia by public transportation, take a train from Roma Termini to Orte and then a bus to Amelia. If you are visiting the town on a weekend, take a cab from Orte station to Amelia.
Contributed by Erica at Trip Scholars
Mycenae in Greece is a spectacular Bronze Age archaeological site. It is so influential that it gave its name to the Mycenaean period in history, 1600 BCE-1100 BCE. The megalithic wall surrounding the site, known as the circuit wall, and those throughout the complex, are some of the highlights of a visit. In fact, the stones from which they are built are so large that they are known as Cyclopean because it was thought that only a great Cyclops would have the strength to have laid them. The circuit length is 1,105 meters (3,625 ft) and the crowning jewel is the Lion Gate entrance.
Mycenae had been inhabited by early Neolithic people since ~5000 BCE, but the Mycenaean civilization reached its peak around 1350 BCE. It was near this time that most of the structures we see in the city were built. Mycenae was one of the most powerful and influential cities of Ancient Greece. It also played a prominent role in Homer’s epic poems and some think that it was Agamemnon’s actual palace. In fact, the controversial archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann claims to have discovered Agamemnon’s gold burial mask in one of the burial tombs on the site. You can visit it and many other priceless treasures in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Mycenae is less than two hours from Athens and is an excellent day trip from the capitol. You can drive or take an organized tour, both of which bring you over the stunning Corinth Canal. Entrance fees range from €6 – €12 and include access to the onsite museum. Your day trip visiting this fascinating UNESCO site will inspire you for years to come.
By Heather of Conversant Traveller
The ancient city of Pikillacta is 32 kilometers southeast of Cusco in Peru, with one of the straightest, and most impressive megalithic walls in all of South America. Constructed by the Wari tribe in 800 AD, the geometrical city and its long outer walls give a fascinating insight into early engineering in this part of the world. The buildings were built over several levels, with the only access by ladder, perhaps for safety from intruders or wild animals.
Not much is documented about the Wari people, but legend has it that one of their queens locked an inferior suitor in a room full of fleas, leaving him to perish. The word “Piki” means flea, which is how scholars believe this settlement got its name.
It’s relatively easy to get there, but you’ll need to arrange your own transport. A day trip to Pikillacta from Cusco can be organized through your hotel, and often includes a visit to the archaeological site of Tipon. It’s worth hiring a guide as there is very little information in English.
Entrance to Pikillacta is with the Cusco tourist ticket, which can be purchased at several places in the city, and also allows you access to several other historical sites.
Ġgantija Temples – Gozo
By Suzanne of Meandering Wild
Gozo is a small island off the north coast of Malta in the Mediterranean. On the outskirts of one of the small hilltop villages are the Ġgantija Temples. This complex of temples and walls was built between 3600 and 3200BC and is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The name comes from the belief that the temples were built by giants with some of the megaliths used to build the walls measuring over 5 meters in length and weighing over fifty tons.
A boundary wall encloses the two temples and is made using a hard-wearing limestone known as Coralline Limestone. This has stood the test of time and can still be seen surrounding the temples. The temples themselves were built using a softer Globigerina Limestone which may have been plastered over and painted.
The temples and wall are located in Xaghra which is close to Victoria, the capital of the island. It is easily reached by bus from the Malta ferry terminal. If you are visiting the island using the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus it is one of the stops on the route.
There is a lovely visitors center with information about the site and includes some of the finds during the excavation and restoration works. The entrance is €18 for adults, €7 for teens and €5 for children which includes the museum and the temple.
Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu, Peru
By Martha from May Cause Wanderlust
The Temple of the Sun is an extraordinary building in an extraordinary place. It sits in the middle of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru, and stands out, even in that spectacular place, for its semi-circular shape and its Pachacutec-style stone work. Pachacutec architecture consists of stones that are carved, polished smooth, and then fit tightly together with extreme precision. It is named after the Inca ruler who built Machu Picchu in the 15th Century.
The temple is thought to have been a very holy place where ceremonies and animal sacrifices took place to honour Inti, the Sun God. Only priests were allowed inside. The two trapezoid-shaped windows were created to capture sunlight during the summer and winter solstices.
Entrance to Machu Picchu is US$65, more if you want to climb the steep mountain, Huayna Picchu, for an elevated view of the citadel.
The easy way to reach Machu Picchu and the Temple of the Sun is by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and then by bus along a steep, winding road up the mountainside. However, an even more scenic route is to hike the Inca Trail, a 4-day hike along a 500-year-old stone path through the Andes and past other spectacular Inca ruins.
Rujm el– Hiri
By Erez of Israel by Foot
The name Rujm el– Hiri, comes from ancient Syrian maps and translates to “stone heap of the wild cat”. The term Rujum in Arabic is also used to describe a pile of stones covering the human burial site. The site is an ancient megalithic monument built from local basalt rocks, typical due to the region’s volcanic history. It is made from 37,500 – 40,000 tons of partly carved stone stacked one on top of the other, reechoing a height up to 2 meters (6.6 ft). Due to its obscure form and the mystery behind its origin, it is nicknamed the “Stonehenge of Israel”.
The structure consists of a large stone circle containing four smaller, concentric circles, each getting gradually thinner. The walls of the rings are inter-connected by smaller perpendicular stone walls.
There is no clear answer as to when the site was built nor what it was used for. It was excavated several times, and the scientists believe it was built around 3000 BC as a worship site to Tammuz and Ishtar, the gods of fertility. It appears that the place of worship later became a burial site for leaders or other important individuals (Although no human remains were found).
The site can be reached only on foot, hiking along the Golan Trail. The trail is 130 Km long, but the site is located about 5 Km from the main road, and the trail is flat and well-marked.
Ancient Wall – Knap of Howar
By Tracy of Tracy’s Travels in Time
The Knap of Howar is located on the small island of Papa Westray in the Scottish Orkney Islands. It is the oldest preserved stone walled dwelling in northern Europe and dates back to the Neolithic era.
The farmstead consists of two walled buildings or houses linked by a low passageway. The walls stand at a height of 1.6 metres and are constructed from local materials from the island. Knap of Howar is just one example of prehistoric architecture on the island with Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Steness and the Maeshowe tomb they make up the Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
The Knap of Howar is open all year round and is free to visit. Wear strong footwear when you visit due to uneven ground.
If you which to visit the Knap of Howar you will need to make your way to Kirkwall on the Orkey Mainland. From there it is possible to fly to Papy Westray or take a ferry. Two car ferry services operate from Kirkwall and one passenger only ferry. There are a few accommodation options on the island including a guest house and a hostel if you plan to explore this tiny island over a few days.
Wall of Skulls at Chichen Itza
By Shelley of Travel To Merida
Located at Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, you’ll find the ancient Tzompantli, meaning “skull rack” in the Nahuatl Aztec language. It is more commonly known as the Wall of Skulls, or Platform of Skulls.
On it, there are stone blocks place atop of one another; each craved into a human skull, eagle or snake. Tzompantli were used by pre-Columbian cultures, including the Aztec, Toltec and Maya, to memorialize their lost soldiers and display the heads of sacrificial prisoners or enemies who died in battle.
In total, there are 20 ancient stone structures at Chichen Itza. These include the largest pyramid, El Castillo (AKA Temple of Kukulcan), Temple of the Warriors, and Group of a Thousand Columns.
Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico. The nearest big city is Merida, located about two hours away by bus or car. For most who visit this colonial city, seeing Chichen Itza is one of the best things to do in Merida.
As a top Mexico tourist site, there are Chichen Itza tours from all the popular nearby destinations, including Cancun, Riviera Maya, Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Chichen Itza entry is $539 pesos ($27USD).
Sacsayhuaman – Peru
By James Ian of Travel Collecting
Sacsayhuaman is the remains of an ancient Incan fortress perched on the edge of a hill overlooking Cusco. Built in the 15th century as a well-armed citadel, it has a large plaza area and several terraces.
Mostly what remains today are three long walls – but they are very impressive indeed. They stand about 6 meters high and the longest is over 400m long. They are made from enormous stones, all different shapes and sizes, that were hand-carved to fit together without mortar. They fit so well together that you can’t even slip a piece of paper between them!
Today the site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but when the Spanish conquistadors moved in, they used the stones from Sacsayhuaman to make many of the buildings in colonial Cusco at the bottom of the hill. The stone walls that remain are made of the largest stones that were too big to move.
It’s a massive site. You will be in awe of the skill used to carve these huge stones with rounded corners that fit so well together – and the technology and/ or manpower used to move and fit them all together. There are also wonderful views of Cusco below!
To get there, you can walk up the hill from Cusco (it takes about 40 minutes) or take a taxi. It’s open daily from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Entrance is with a Cusco Tourist Ticket that costs S/130 and includes entrance to other sites as well.
Let us know if, near the place you live in or during your travels, you have discovered more ancient polygonal walls or megalithic walls in general.