Forbidden archeological sites that are truly wonderful

a group of people posing for a photo

Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, China

Did you know that the Lascaux cave and its famous prehistoric paintings have been closed to tourists since 1967? Today, many popular archeological sites are partially restricted or, in some cases, completely off-limits to tourists.

a llama with Machu Picchu in the background

Machu Picchu, Peru

The famous Inca site has been suffering for years under the weight of its huge popularity. As of 2019, visitors must be accompanied by a guide and must only use trails designated by the Peruvian government and UNESCO. In 2016, this high-altitude, five-hectare (12-acre) South American historic property was added to UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage sites.

a group of people in a field with Stonehenge in the background

Stonehenge, England

In 1977, visitors to the world’s most famous circle of stones lost the right to walk freely among the monoliths. In an effort to preserve the site, ropes have since been installed around the prehistoric sanctuary, so getting within touching distance is impossible. Even modern-day Druids don’t risk getting too close.

a man standing next to a rock wall

Lascaux cave, France

When they were discovered—or rather, rediscovered—in 1940, the remarkable prehistoric paintings on the walls of southwestern France’s Lascaux cave soon attracted big crowds. Who wouldn’t want to see the 600 works created around 17,000 years ago? But with more than a thousand tourists visiting each day, the site was at risk of being damaged by heat, humidity, carbon dioxide, and contaminants. As a result, the cave has been closed to tourists since 1967. If you want to see the paintings, you’ll have to content yourself with the replica next to the real cave.

a group of people posing for a photo

Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, China

When the emperor Qin Shi Huang died in 210 BCE, he wasn’t buried alone. The founder of the Qin dynasty was interred with a terra cotta army of no fewer than 2,000 life-size soldiers, along with their horses and chariots. This immense tomb, built by hundreds of thousands of workers, was discovered by accident by a group of farmers in March 1974. The Chinese government has since declared that only archeologists may visit the site.

food, forbidden archeological sites that are truly wonderful

Chichén Itzá, Mexico

These famous Mayan ruins are still accessible to visitors, but if your goal is to climb the steps of El Castillo, the 30-metre (98-foot) pyramid, forget it. A formal ban against climbing the structure was introduced after a woman fell to her death in 2006. Too bad for those who wanted to admire the throne room inside.

a stone building that has grass in front of a brick wall

Bhangarh Fort, India

This 17th-century fortress is in very good condition despite its considerable age. It’s also one of the most-visited sites in India, and it’s still open to tourists—during the day, that is. The site is believed to be haunted at night, which prompted the Indian government to forbid visits after sunset.

a close up of a large rock

Pluto’s Gate, Turkey

Pluto’s Gate is a stone monument dedicated to the god of the same name, constructed in the second century BCE in the ancient city of Hierapolis, Turkey. This “gate to hell” (Pluto being the god of the underworld) wears its name well, given the toxic gases emitted by the cave on which the structure was built. Visitors are forbidden from getting too close to the site.

a stone building

Paris Catacombs

One of the French capital’s many tourist attractions, the Paris Catacombs were built 20 metres (66 feet) underground at the end of the 18th century. Designed to store human bones due to a lack of space in the city’s cemeteries, the catacombs are visited by half a million people every year. However, only 1.7 kilometres (1 mile) of the tunnels are officially open to visitors, which is less than one per cent of the underground network. But that doesn’t stop some people from exploring the rest of the catacombs—at their own risk.

a map of the cake

Chauvet cave, France

While Lascaux is the most famous cave in France, and one of the best-known in the world, the Chauvet cave is popular in its own right. The hundreds of works that have covered its walls for more than 36,000 years can be viewed—just not on site. The cave is off-limits to tourists in an effort to avoid the problems seen at Lascaux (such as crowding, humidity, heat, and germs). In fact, Chauvet cave is the only UNESCO World Heritage site that’s closed to the public.

a close up of a tree

Gran Pajatén, Peru

This Peruvian archeological site, which dates to the second century BCE, is facing a paradoxical problem. Gran Pajatén is threatened by tourism, and at the same time, by the absence of tourists. The efforts to clear the jungle overgrowth exposed the ruins to the elements, and due to its remote location, the site saw very few visitors and continued to deteriorate until it was added to the World Monuments Watch list in 2014. Since then, the Peruvian government has planned to build infrastructure to help protect the site, with the help of funds generated by increased tourism.

a large stone statue in front of a building

Complex of Koguryo Tombs, North Korea

This funeral complex is a relic of the Koguryo kingdom, which ruled parts of China and Korea between the third century BCE and the seventh century CE. Spread across the two countries, the site is made up of 10,000 tombs, fewer than a hundred of which are decorated with murals that paint a vibrant picture of the lives of nobility and royalty of the era. Although it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, the complex is difficult to access due to the many restrictions on tourism in North Korea, a country that is mostly closed off to foreigners.

food, forbidden archeological sites that are truly wonderful

Despite what you may have heard, it’s not so easy to visit this Chilean territory. The “living museum” saw an overabundance of tourism and a real risk of damage to the soil and the statues, and now limits the number of visitors, who must present the required documents to enter. Some say the island is becoming a destination that’s only accessible to the wealthiest travellers.

a close up of a church with Angkor Wat in the background

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

In 2017, nearly 2.5 million visitors descended on this magnificent 12th-century Khmer temple complex, a 12 per cent increase compared to the previous year. This massive influx of tourists has led to the growth of the surrounding urban area, which drains water from the soil and weakens the structure of these historic monuments. The Cambodian government stepped in, doubling the price of admission to the complex and limiting the number of visitors who can be on-site at any given time. Too little, too late?

food, forbidden archeological sites that are truly wonderful

Cyrene, Libya

This ancient village, first Greek and later Roman, was for a long time protected due to its historical importance. But in the 21st century, urban development encroached, and the site is slowly but surely being destroyed, which is a real shame.

food, forbidden archeological sites that are truly wonderful

Rock-art sites of Tadrart Acacus, Libya

A spectacular cave that houses thousands of murals, some more than 12,000 years old, is located in southern Libya, in the desert the country shares with Algeria. The works of art document the flora and fauna of the Sahara over the centuries—until 2014, when vandals looted the area. The site’s former splendour has disappeared, much to the dismay of visitors.

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