Macchu Pichu, for example, is merely a set of terraces with what may appear to be occasionally random stones aggregated in some organized fashion at the edge of each parcel of farm land. It takes a little time and a modicum of meditation before half clad Inca warriors appear in full regalia and workers fill the land, furrowing, planting, harvesting and tending domesticated animals. There may well be llamas treading the trails through the site (there are actually a couple who roam the grounds). The clouds that once rolled in to cover the mysterious city still appear in the early afternoon and lend an aura of mystery to the scene below. The quiet that surrounds the site when the morning tourist groups return to their original destination comes once again to open the gates to our imagination. The more we know about life at the ruins and the purpose of the city atop the mountain, the more we can conceive of the once brightly colored housing and busy buildings and hills that fill the landscape. If we can even begin to reconstruct what we are seeing in line with our understanding of life there when the city was alive, we have entered an ancient and beautiful world. It takes a bit of effort, but that is what the tourist who visits the impressive ruins of the past must offer to make his visit meaningful.
At now deserted places like Tikal and Copan, Borobudur and Khujaraho, Xian and Giza, Angkor Wat and Djenne, we must add for ourselves the colors and the decor that have faded over the ages. We must supply the parade of workers and the array of soldier-guards, the shoppers and sellers, the artists and strolling citizenry. We must remove the winding tree trunks that have grown in cracks in the stone facades or have twisted themselves around structures and engulfed them in the jungle habitat.We can do that if we prepare ourselves and if we concentrate on what we actually know about the niche in man's history that the site occupies. When we do so, ruins come alive; shopfronts fill with flowers and goods; activities spring from doorways and fill walking paths. It is then that we have visited the past and made our visit a travel through time to gain a glimpse of some past civilization.
All of us have some ability to picture the past. I remember many years ago walking through the ruins of the Forum in Rome and the marble floors of the temples at Paestum or Santorini. It was my responsibility to paint the bricks and complete the columns so that the sites could come alive for me. Visiting the remains of ancient cultures requires preparation and knowledge. The more we know, the more we see. Grab that guidebook and study it as you go. It is truly an amazing experience to have a long disappeared place come to life before your eyes. Many travelers tend to drift aimlessly and unfocused through the aisles of the world's museums or the piles of stones left to us by long gone ancestors and, if that is your predilection, sobeit. Yet you can add a great deal to the depth and value of a journey by learning about where you are headed beforehand and adding your own dreams and cultural memories to the places you traverse.
Palace of the Magicians, Uxmal, Yucutan, Mexico