Your next vacation can be a unique opportunity to learn historical information about some of the most interesting cities on the planet. The Earth’s history continues to evolve, but it left many stories behind. You may be surprised to learn that planning your vacation to include historical enrichment can make your vacation more rewarding than usual. Here are some international cities that have deep historical stories:
Athens, Greece – Cradle of Democracy
Athens was first considered a city in 1400 B.C., when Mycenae people fortified its boundaries. Historic stories cite its name was chosen to honor the goddess, Athena. During the sixth century B.C., Athens was ruled by Pericles, and had its “Golden Age,” when the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena were built. During that era, Athens became the world’s center of drama (Aeschylus), medicine (Hippocrates), and philosophy (Socrates and Plato.)
In 594 B.C., Solon guided the Athenian authorities to a government by democracy. Athens was named the capital of Greece in 1821 C.E., after Greece won its independence. They also changed their currency to Euros, in deference to the same change made by most other European countries.
If you’re looking for historical sites to visit in Athens, begin with the Acropolis. This hilltop monument was built around 490 B.C., and its marble columns symbolize the military might of Athens during that era. When you climb to the top of this imposing structure, you’ll have an incomparable view of the city. When staying in Athens, enjoy a stay at an Athenian resort, such as the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel, where you’ll enjoy modern furnishings and timeless hospitality.
Washington, D.C. – America’s Capital
Washington, D.C., is the capital city of the United States. Washington, D.C.’s existence is unique because, unlike most other cities, it was founded primarily as a site for the country’s governmental center. According to historic stories, the Founding Fathers purposely planned that it would not be a state – to prevent future implications of favoritism.
The district was named for former President George Washington, to honor his service to the country. In 1791, Washington D. C’s mayor, Pierre L’Enfant, designed the capital city’s layout, although some of the city’s important landmarks weren’t finished until the early 1900s. Because of Washington’s purpose, most of its non-residential buildings are devoted to some form or function of the U.S. government. In 1814, the city was burned by the British Army, so the current White House was rebuilt as part of the city’s recovery from that fire, beginning in 1817.
When you visit Washington, D.C., some historically significant sites to tour include the Washington Monument (1885) and the Lincoln Memorial (1914). Recent visitors often visit the Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Memorial. Visitors who drive into the city must be careful where they park. Parking is usually enforced by meters, and unless you return to your car on time, you might need to find a towing service.
Beijing, China – Dynasties of Destiny
Since the beginnings of China, historic stories tell us of groups of people who formed temporary strongholds near the town now called Beijing. The modern history of Beijing is reported to have begun in 800 B.C. with the Jin dynasty. Dynasties are extremely significant to Chinese history, as the family unit has been a primary cultural priority to the Chinese people.
The Jin dynasty was no match for the Mongol warriors which invaded the country, and in 1271, Mongol leader Kublai Khan proclaimed himself Emperor. The Ming Dynasty took over in the 1300s, and they distinguished themselves by building the Great Wall of China. Previous visitors advise tourists that the best times to visit are in the mornings.
The differences in Chinese culture may astound Western visitors to Beijing. It may seem strange to see Oriental-style buildings with Chinese characters topped by solar panels. Yet, China’s significant increase in solar panel use by businesses and residents is considered ‘a success story.’
Istanbul, Turkey – Eurasian Crossroads
Istanbul has a historical significance, due to its strategic location at the midpoint of Europe and Asia. The town originated in 667 BC, as Byzantium and became prominent in 330 BCE when Emperor Constantine gained power and named the city Constantinople. Historic stories tell how Constantinople faced many enemies yet remained an influential city until 1453, when it fell to the Ottoman Empire’s sultan Mehmet II.
Mehmet II changed the city’s name to Istanbul, and then created the Grand Bazaar. From 1520-1566, the city was ruled by Suleiman the Magnificent, who used his influence to attract artistic and philosophical influences to establish Istanbul as the area’s cultural center. Istanbul became part of Turkey when Turkey won its independence in 1923.
One of Istanbul’s famous historical destinations is The Hagia Sophia mosque. Built in 537, it’s a testimony to the ability of Christians and Muslims to maintain it. Visitors to Turkey should be aware despite hot, dry summers, air conditioning in Turkey is rare, so the presence of AC maintenance companies is equally sparse.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – City of Changes
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. The country of Vietnam was occupied by France from 1945 through 1959. Vietnam attempted to declare independence in 1954, but instead was split into North and South Vietnam. When the Second Indochina War (also referred to as the Vietnam War) began in the 1960s, Saigon became the U.S. military headquarters.
Saigon switched its name back to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. In 1976, North and South Vietnam united and became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is now a busy manufacturing center, and a 2020 survey named it the 111th-most expensive city in the world.
To appreciate the scope of Vietnam’s history, visit the impressive Imperial City of Hue, where you’ll see several historical monuments and learn its historic stories. If you decide to visit Ho Chi Minh City, stop by a plant store to enjoy Vietnam’s breathtaking variety of flowers, including its most famous flower, the lotus flower.
Cairo, Egypt – Caravans and Canals
Cairo was founded in the tenth century and is one of the oldest Islamic cities. Cairo’s location at the Nile Delta made it a significant crossing point during North Africa’s history. Persia destroyed Cairo in 525 and then rebuilt it, but its importance was overshadowed by Babylon and Memphis. In 642, Egypt’s capital city, Alexandria, was conquered, and a new town named Fustat was founded.
Fustat’s name was changed to Cairo, and one of the earliest projects for Cairo’s new government was to reopen an old Trojan canal. During the 1300s, Cairo was the world’s largest city. Cairo then went through a series of military occupations, until it was re-captured by the Ottomans in 1801 – and then made Egypt’s capital.
If you visit Cairo, visit the Mosque of Mohammed Ali – a vast and beautiful mosque. Although the Muslims in this city are the majority, Cairo is also the center of the Coptic Christian religion. To learn more about Coptic historic stories, visit the Babylon Fortress to see the ruins of this settlement. After a day touring Cairo, spend time relaxing at an inground pool at your hotel.
London, England – Churches and Kings
London was founded by the Romans in 47 A.D. London’s location made it a major port, and in the 300s, it became the capital of Brittania Inferior. For the rest of the first millennium, several armies occupied London, which endured many fires. In 978, Ethelred was crowned King of the Wessex (the name used for England, at that time).
1066 Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England, but William the Conqueror replaced him by the end of that same year. The historic stories of London have echoed the history of England since its government changes were enacted in London palaces and courts. London’s rulers aligned their allegiance to different churches.
The activities of the Royal family of the United Kingdom continue to fascinate people worldwide. Visitors to London enjoy visiting historical sites, such as Buckingham Palace, (the royals’ residence). Another popular site is Westminster Abbey, the main house of worship for the Anglican church. While staying in London, pamper yourself like a royal with a hotel like the Hotel Corinthia, where you can relax in a hot tub at the end of the day.
Marrakesh, Morocco – The Red City
Marrakesh began as a stop on the trail of the Berber tribes, and became popular enough for the sultan’s cousin, Youssef Tashfin, to name it as a city, in 1062. Tashfin led Marrakesh into prominence as a popular marketplace. Historic stories say Marrakesh became known as the Red City in the 1100s, due to the red-hued Kasbah walls surrounding it.
In the 1200s, the Marinids captured the city and ruled it for 200 years. During this time, Marrakesh’s location made it the ideal spot for it to become Morocco’s source of clean water. The Kettah (Marrakesh’s irrigation system) was built during the 1300s and grew to become the primary water source for the country. Beginning at the same time, Marrakesh’s citizens built the famous Bab Doukkala Mosque and the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Marrakesh again became the capital of Morocco during the 16th century but continued to struggle until the French overtook it in 1917. Morocco became independent in 1956, and Marrakesh kept its reputation as the region’s cultural and commercial center. When visiting, you can visit the Ben Youssef Madrasa Mosque; or experience the fascinating bargaining styles of the city’s souks and open-air markets.
Kyoto, Japan – Samurai City
Kyoto was first settled in the 7th Century and became prominent in 794 when Emperor Kammu made it Japan’s capital. From that era until 1200, Kyoto became an international center for art, architecture, poetry, and religion. That same period began the samurai’s reign and provided a setting for the Buddhist faith’s growth and the construction of Buddhist temples. The next period in Japanese history was characterized by artistic and cultural advances, such as ikebana (flower arrangements), the Japanese tea ceremony, and the construction of the Golden Pavilion.
A period of war followed this cultural growth, and Kyoto was destroyed. Two samurai generals rebuilt the city, but its withdrawal from prominence meant a new capital was needed. Edo (later called Tokyo) was named the capital, and Kyoto eventually recovered its cultural significance. Visitors to Kyoto will have many historical places to visit, including the Kinkaju-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion.)
The Kinkaju-ji is notable for its top two floors, covered with pure gold leaf. Visitors there can learn about the historic stories associated with the Temple. Japanese visitors are often fascinated by Japanese coins, especially with the holes in the middle of some of the yen. Many tourists visit a coin dealer to buy some souvenir coins.
Barcelona, Spain – Flamenco Flair
When the Romans founded Barcelona, they called it Barcino. Barcino was fortified by a wall and ruled by Muslims for 200 years. The medieval period recognized Barcelona as a center for economics and politics. The Gothic Quarter still has many buildings constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries.
Barcelona was conquered by the Bourbons in 1714. Barcelona regained international its status in the 19th Century when Spanish textiles began to be in demand. Barcelonan architecture became well-known when famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi built the Sagrada Familia church, the Casa Mia, and the Casa Battlo. Visitors to Barcelona should see the Sagrada Familia – a true combination of architectural history and religious significance
The architecture of most buildings in Barcelona is so impactful that it is the only city ever awarded the British Royal Gold Medal of Architecture (the medal is typically given only to people). One practical feature of Barcelona’s ornate architecture is its indoor shutters. These reinforced windows are part of Barcelona’s efforts to protect its citizens from the impact of hurricanes and the other fierce weather conditions in that town.
History’s influences can be found in most major world cities, and observant tourists will always benefit from learning historic stories from each city. A deep and significant history has blessed these ten destinations. Those who take the time to learn the histories of these cities will find themselves significantly blessed.