Read on to discover more about some truly mysterious ancient kingdoms, from the snowy peaks of Tibet to the deserts of Sudan...
Ancient lost kingdoms
The golden age of the Khmer civilization was between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, when the kingdom of Kambuja, which gave Cambodia its name, ruled large territories from its capital at Angkor in Cambodia's west. Under Jayavarman VII (1181–ca. 1218), Kambuja reached the zenith of its political power and cultural creativity, given expression today in the ruins of this palace. The central towers represent the peaks of Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu universe, and huge, smiling Gods' faces beam down from carved bas-reliefs.
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka during the heyday of the ancient Lankan civilization. Anuradhapura is considered to be the most holy, important, and longest occupied of the ancient Sri Lankan cities. The city was originally built in 380 BC and flourished until its population relocated to Polonnaruwa in the late 10th century AD. A sacred site for Buddhists and Hindus alike, the city is these days surrounded on all sides by monasteries.
A great city flourished here from the 11th century on, with over 10.000 inhabitants. Great Zimbabwe, home of the Shona civilization, was the chief trading centre in southern Africa, trading gold to Arab merchants. There were also trade links with East Africa, and fragments of Persian and Chinese pottery have been found at the site. Arab and European travellers in the 16th century made marvellous reports of Great Zimbabwe's impressive stone fortress. The site was abandoned in the 15th century, probably due to a severe drought.
A mysterious Tibetan kingdom founded by a son of King Glang Darma, Guge came into being in about the tenth century, then collapsed in mysterious circumstances 700 years later. A population of tens of thousands disappeared without trace. The ruins lie on a hill in Ngari, famous for its Buddhist monasteries, snow-capped mountains and lakes. Highlights at the site itself include intricate murals depicting for the daily life of its ancient inhabitants and amazing statues of Buddha in gold and silver.
Hampi is found among the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of an empire in modern-day Karnataka, India. Possibly predating the city of Vijayanagara, this village continues to be an important religious centre, housing the Virupaksha Temple. As the village is at the original centre of Vijayanagara, it is sometimes confused with this ruined city- although they are listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Kingdom of Kerma was a rival to Ancient Egypt from around 2500 BC to about 1520 BC. It was based in Upper Nubia- today Sudan- on the eastern banks of the Nile and emerged as a major trading centre during the Middle Kingdom period of Egypt. The site includes a cemetery full of large burial mounds, where the Emperors were buried. Some archaeologists believe Kerma might be linked to the legendary Kingdom of Kush, mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
The Kotte Kingdom, centred on Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte- located just outside present-day Colombo- was a kingdom that flourished in Sri Lanka during the 15th century. Its king was the last native sovereign to unify all of Sri Lanka under one rule. By 1450, Parâkramabâhu VI had unified all of Sri Lanka. Under his rule, literature and the arts flourished.
Scattered in China's Jilin and Liaoning provinces are the remains of three cities- Wunu Mountain City, Guonei City and Wandu Mountain City- home to 14 royal tombs. These ruined cities once belonged to the Koguryo culture, named after the dynasty that ruled over parts of northern China and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula from 277 BC to 668 AD.
The Sabaeans lived in what is today Yemen, between 2000 BC to the 8th century BC. A temple was recently discovered in Sirwah, located east of Sana'a. Known as Almaqah, the temple is in good condition, with huge entrance posts and massive interior rooms. They are made of wood and stone, with tower-like protrusions weighing over six tons each. The seven temple posts were put up by using a crane-like mechanism and the temple's front was ornamented with two huge sculptures of the the Sabi' kings.
In northern Thailand is the ruined city of Sukhothai. It was the capital of the kingdom of the same name, which had its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries. The city walls form a rectangle with 193 ruins on 70 square kilometres of land and a gate in each wall. Inside are the remains of the royal palace and twenty-six temples, the largest being Wat Mahathat. The park is maintained by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand with help from UNESCO, which has declared it a World Heritage Site. The park sees thousands of visitors each year, who marvel at the ancient Buddha figures, palace buildings and ruined temples.