11 Bizarre and Mysterious Historical Sites

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Alien conspiracies, unexplained ancient objects and mysterious disappearances; there's no need to look to fiction for your fix of mystery when real life has it all.
Alien conspiracies, unexplained ancient objects and mysterious disappearances; there's no need to look to fiction for your fix of mystery when real life has it all.

We may have figured out the play by play of some of the greatest battles of all time and unearthed the most mundane details of famous leaders' lives, but there are still some facts that remain tantalizingly out of reach.

From the slightly strange to the downright baffling, our friends at history travel website Historvius are taking us on a tour of some of the best mysteries of times gone by and the places to visit to immerse yourself in them.

11 Bizarre and Mysterious Historical Sites (PHOTOS)

First described by Plato thousands of years ago, the legendary lost city of Atlantis has been the subject of endless myth and speculation. Said to have “in a single day and night...disappeared into the depths of the sea”, Atlantis is so mysterious that many doubt it existed at all. For those who believe in this sunken city, the question is not whether it was real, but where it was really located.

The theories range far and wide, from the site of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini to places such as Gibraltar and Cornwall in Britain. There was even one memorable occasion when an underwater theme park in Bali was mistakenly “identified” as the real Atlantis. For those still on the hunt, the latest and most highly credited find of recent times is in Southern Spain, where archaeologists claim a city was overwhelmed by a tsunami.

Isolated in the midst of the South Pacific, tiny Easter Island packs a deceptively hefty punch in the world of historic mysteries. Stumbled upon by the Dutch in the 18th century, this small island is home to around 900 huge head-shaped statues.

Known as the moai and thought to have been created around 1000 AD, each is believed to embody the spirit of an ancestor. Dotted around the landscape, much about the origins of these unusual inhabitants - as well as those of the island’s diminishing Polynesian population - is unknown.

Not only is it unclear how these incredibly heavy statues were moved around the island, but it has yet to be established as to why they were all positioned to face inland, nor why they were toppled before the Dutch arrived, although some have posited that this followed a time of civil war and destruction. Another mystery is that of the Rongorongo, a type of script found on Easter Island that has yet to be translated.

Think of the Vikings and your mind probably travels to Denmark, Scandinavia and perhaps to wider Europe, but what about Canada?

It seems that in around 1000 AD, a group of Vikings became the first European settlers in North America, as evidenced by the ruins of their settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows.

So, how and why did this happen? Nobody is quite sure how these intrepid travellers got quite so far, but the most common suggestion is that their ship was accidentally taken off course and led them to this far-flung destination.

Any reader of the iconic I, Claudius series by Robert Graves would dearly love to know what really went on inside these walls. What ancient writers hinted – and Graves positively embroidered – was that the Roman Empress, wife of Augustus, murdered and manipulated all and sundry to ensure her son Tiberius would inherit the Empire.

What is certain is that no less than three of those who stood to inherit Augustus’ titles died young, while another was exiled in disgrace. Beyond this, the stories tell of a number of other prominent figures who were ‘bumped off’ by Livia – including Augustus himself. Whatever the truth of these tall tales, the fact that it is possible to explore the house of this extraordinary woman is a marvel in itself.

Discovered in 1911, the staggering beauty of Machu Picchu has intrigued historians and archaeologists from around the globe, yet without any written accounts from its heyday, its story remains shrouded in secrecy.

Built in the 15th century, nobody is quite sure why the Inca created this magnificent structural gem, although theories have ranged from it being everything from a convent to a ceremonial site and a retreat for the upper echelons of Inca society.

A monkey, a spider, a tree and what resembles an astronaut; hardly what you would expect to find drawn in a giant scale in the Peruvian plains, but that’s exactly what attracts hordes of tourists to Nazca every year.

Known as “geoglyphs”, what makes these earth drawings so spectacular is their complexity, sophistication and size, especially when you consider that they were probably created sometime between 500BC and 500AD. And, while theories abound as to the origins of these vast etchings, they raise a myriad of questions, not least of which include, why were they created and how?

A majestic city hewn from the rocks of the Jordanian desert, Petra was a well-kept local secret until 1812. Yet, whilst this magnificent Nabataean creation is one of the most famous visions in the world, there are some things we may never know. The best example of this is the star attraction at Petra, its stunning Treasury.

Rising a staggering 12-stories in height and carved with incredible intricacy, the original purpose of this site is unknown, although it was probably a temple, perhaps a tomb.

A vast stone circle built centuries ago, not only is Stonehenge one of the world’s most recognizable historic sites, it is also the subject of intense ongoing debate. While we know roughly when this masterpiece was built - circa 3000 BC to 1600 BC - we have yet to determine why.

Most theories center on the site’s remarkable alignment with the sun and the conclusion that it as a place of cosmic worship, others as part of a magnificent astronomical calendar. Whatever its purpose, Stonehenge was a fantastic feat of engineering, with its builders using only the most basic tools to move and shape tons of material.

Once the vast and thriving city of a great pre-Incan civilization, Tiwanaku has attracted much speculation over the years. Among its greatest remains is the Akapana Pyramid, with its plethora of carved heads, the strange shapes of which have sparked extensive debate. Some theories even went as far as claiming that the site was created by aliens, although they are now seen as representations of defeated enemies.

Indeed, archaeologists have managed to decipher a great deal about Tiwanaku over the years. For example, the intricate canal systems which can be found around its pyramid were once an enigma, but are now known to be an ingenious agricultural tool, a way to protect crops from freezing temperatures with solar heated water. However, though some questions have been answered, the almost endless debate and mystery continues.

The question of what happened to the princes in the Tower is one that has haunted Britons for centuries. These two brothers, the sons of the then recently-deceased King Edward IV, were brought to live in the Tower of London in 1483 and never seen again. 

The most popular theory - one that sparks considerable debate - is that their uncle, who was crowned Richard III that very year, had them murdered. Despite the endless speculation, it is unlikely that the truth will ever be firmly established beyond doubt.

The ancient city of Troy is home to many legends, including the famous stories of the Trojan War and the infamous Trojan Horse, but were any of these stories true?

In the past, Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey poems - from which the tales of the Trojan War originate - were certainly read as works of fact, but whether this is actually the case is more ambiguous.

Many believe that the truth is a mix of fact and legend, with Homer using real events as a basis for a more sensational plot. Today, visitors can tour what is believed to have been the real Troy - also a subject of debate - although little remains to echo Homer’s fantastic stories. 

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