Herod the Great, King of Judea, could not have chosen a more dramatic site for his palace and stronghold, atop a cliff on the edge of the Judean Desert. But when he built it in the 1st century BC -- in part as protection from possible invasion by the Egyptians -- he couldn't have known Masada would become the Jewish people's last line of defense against the Romans, who stormed it in 73 AD.
Scholars still debate the "official" account of events by 1st-century historian Josephus, but Masada's ingenious engineering is indisputable, from the grand palace to the 2,000-plus-year-old system to capture rainwater for drinking, bathing and irrigation. Climb to the top like a Roman via the "snake path" or take a cable car from the visitor's center.
Tarquinia and Cerveteri, Italy
Before there were Romans, there were Etruscans, a distinct civilization with its own language, practices and social structure that thrived in Italy from 750 to 90 BC.
They're not as well-studied as the Romans (few civilizations are), but they're known for their elaborate burial practices and the huge necropolises they left behind.
The sites at Tarquinia and Cerveteri (formerly Caere) -- both in Italy's Lazio region on the Tyrrhenian Coast -- are true "cities of the dead" with streets, houses and neighborhoods. The subterranean tombs contain stunning murals of everyday scenes that help historians understand how the Etruscans lived as well as how they were treated when they died.
Jerash (Gerasa to the Romans) isn't as well-known as Petra, but it's older, superbly preserved and just 30 miles from Amman. It's also the venue for the annual Jerash Festival, two weeks of music, dance and other performances amid the ancient Roman ruins.
It's possible Alexander the Great founded Jerash, but the Romans who conquered it in 63 BC put it on the map. By the 2nd century AD, it was a prosperous city. A few hundred years later, it was in decline, and by the 19th century, it was buried in sand. There it remained untouched and perfectly preserved until archaeologists began digging it out in the 1920s in a process that continues today.
Dolmen sites, Korean Peninsula
A dolmen doesn't look like much: a large rock balanced on slightly smaller, yet still quite large, rocks. Then you stop and ponder how in the world it was constructed. There were no motorized cranes to do heavy lifting in 1000 BC, and those rocks weighed tons.
Dolmens, which were enormous grave markers and portals to the afterlife, are found all over the world, which in itself is something to ponder since they were built by civilizations that seem to have little else in common.
The largest concentration is in the Korea Peninsula. Sites at Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa in South Korea are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Start with a primer at the Gochang Dolmen Museum before touring the sites.
Mnajdra and Hagar Qim, Malta
When they were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the "megalithic temples" of Malta were called "the oldest free-standing monuments in the world." There are seven on the UNESCO list. Mnajdra and Hagar Qim near the town of Qrendi on the island's south coast are arguably the best of the group -- plus, they're included on a combined price of admission.
The oldest structure at Mnajdra could date back to 3600 BC, the most impressive was built before 2500 BC and the orientations of all the Mnajdra temples coincide with the position of the sun at the summer and winter solstice. Hagar Qim was built around the same time.
In 623 BC, Queen Maya rested in the serene gardens of Lumbini. She bathed in the Pushkarini Pond, and there, in the shade of a sal tree, Prince Siddhartha Gautama -- the Buddha -- was born. In 249 BC, Emperor Ashoka erected a pillar at Lumbini to mark the precise place of the Buddha's birth. He also declared that residents of Lumbini no longer were required to pay taxes and only owed the government one-eighth of their harvests.
Since then, Lumbini has been a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Remains of monasteries and walkways from the 3rd century BC are still there, and recent archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence that the site was in use much earlier. Active monasteries and temples fill the surrounding area.
In the third century BC, when the Romans conquered just about everything they cared to, Hannibal, the military commander and strategist from Carthage who famously crossed the Alps on an elephant, made them quake in their sandals.
Even though they sacked it in 146 BC, the Romans rebuilt Carthage, and it remained a trading port on the Gulf of Tunis for centuries. Highlights of the site include the Roman era Antonine Baths and the Punic era Tophet burial site once thought to be the scene of ritual child sacrifice -- a theory that, thankfully, has been debunked.
Hattusha was the capital of the Hittite Empire, whose relics include an archive of more than 25,000 cuneiform tablets. Most famous of these is the Treaty of Kadesh, guaranteeing "eternal peace" between the Hittites and the Egyptians.