Everyone decides to travel for different reasons. Many go to discover new foods, landscape, or adventure. I go for the buildings. Of course I want to explore all of those other things, and I normally come away with a lot more than a visit to an old structure. But that initial seed was planted by a desire to get up close and personal to a piece of architectural history.
Most destinations have a distinctive landmark. One icon that it identifies with and tourists flock to visit. It’s a symbol and representation of place and holds much more meaning than a place to worship, live, or work. They reflect the culture that have built and used them over centuries. Which is why many of these buildings excite and pull me in for a closer look.
Like so many of the places I long to see, I was introduced to these structures in one college class or another. I’ve learned and forgotten most of the facts and details about these particular structures, but the desire to explore them for myself held true. There are three sites that topped my list, Haggia Sophia (Istanbul), Machu Picchu (Peru), and Ananda Temple (Myanmar). These are common stops for many tourists and are by no means off the beaten path, but for me personally they held some kind of allure. Last year, I completed my visit to the third structure. I remember sitting on a bench overlooking the Ananda Temple and reflecting on 10 years before when I promised myself that I one day visit this place. At the time, the country wasn’t open for Western tourists. Oh how far Myanmar and I have come.
In addition to those three, I’ve added the Acropolis (Greece) and Angkor Wat (Cambodia) to my list of architectural wonders. Of course these aren’t the only amazing buildings/sites I’ve visited, but these five had whole trips centered on them. I went out of my way to see and explore these sites and for good reason. They reflect the history and culture of a place, have weathered so much change, and can transport you to another time. Standing in one of these spaces makes me feel small and insignificant (which can be a good thing), and helps to put my life in perspective.
I am now a part of the buildings’ history, and have a personal story associated with each one. I hiked four days in the mountains to arrive at Machu Picchu, and woke up at 3am to beat the crowds to Angkor Wat only to have a man plop his camera gear right in front of me as the sun rose behind it. These places mean something to me now, and I treasure my experiences at each one. I know these won’t be the last stops on my architectural tour around the world, I’m looking at you Taj Mahal, but it’s a nice start.