Some historic, religious structures, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the pyramids in Egypt, draw hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Other temples, tombs and mosques, no less spectacular than their tourist-heavy peers, have been reclaimed by nature, turning from architectural marvels into man-made shells covered with trees, plants, vines, or sand. Despite being aged and broken down, the unique hybrid of man-made elements and natural ones makes the ruins below as spectacular as when they were newly constructed.
Beng Mealea, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is one of Southeast Asia’s biggest tourist draws. The most intact and spectacular group of temples is instantly recognizable because of their tall towers and intricate carvings. Most people forget about the other temples scattered in a hundred km radius of the main complex. Beng Mealea (about 60 clicks from Angkor) is most unrestored, but impressively large, structure with trees and vines thriving all over the grounds.
This has become one of Cambodia’s most famous temples, partially because it was featured in one of the Tomb Raider movies. Visitors line up for their chance to snap the obligatory “roots hugging ruins” shot. It is hardly the wild experience that those pix might suggest, but impressive nonetheless.
Cham Ruins, Vietnam
The Cham ruins found in central Vietnam date back to pre-Buddhist times. There is a strong Hindu influence in these nearly completely unrestored structures. Unfortunately, some of the temples were destroyed during heavy fighting in the 1960s.
Roadside shrines are a regular feature of the geography of Nepal. Some have mysterious histories and are the sources of almost mythical stories. Others simply sit quietly on the hillsides, seemingly at peace with their ever encroaching surroundings.
Bali’s Hindu temples have an otherworldly vibe. The vertical, ancient structures are decorated with dramatic statues and carvings. Bali is one of Indonesia’s greenest islands, and nature finds its way into everything, even these storied religious monuments.
East Africa is home to some of the oldest religious buildings in the world. Temples, mosques and churches from a thousand years ago (or more) are found throughout Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Eritrea. Some, like the Gedi Mosque (at left), were recently excavated. Many more remain mostly untouched by anything except nature.
The Middle East is home to numerous abandoned religious structures. Some have simply fallen into disuse because of their sheer age. Such was the case for the mosque, at left, in Egypt.
Mosques in the disputed Golan Heights are recent ruin: the result of years of conflict between the major religious groups in the area. The structures are simply left to the desert because it is not possible to safely return them to their former glory.
Abandoned churches can be found throughout the U.S., especially in rural areas. The lack of funding and religious leadership have caused some of these churches, like the one is rural Minnesota above, to close their doors.
India’s Best Archaeological Site
The recently discovered Talakadu temples were hidden for years under the sand near the Indian city of Bangalore. The relative remoteness of this collection of temples (most devoted to Shiva) makes up for the feeling that the temple lacks the “undiscovered” vibe of many of the other sites on this list.
Tombs of the Kings, Central Vietnam
The tombs of Vietnam’s ancient kings line the Perfume River, near the city of Hue in Central Vietnam. Tourists can get to these sites by boat, though a hike is sometimes necessary for some of the older sites. Some of these tombs are cleared, though you still have to watch your step, lest you walk on a snake or get lost among tangled vines.
The Babri Mosque was one of the most notable religious structures in India prior to its 1992 demolition. Its history was disputed, and no one is exactly sure of the exact truth. The temple was destroyed by a group of Hindu nationalists after years of arguments and conflict between Hindu, Muslim and Jainist groups.