Focus on Archaeology

Reconstructed foundations of the 3rd-century-AD Temple of Mithras in Walbrook — London, England. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

During the 1940-1941 Blitz, much of the area called The City, London’s historic center as well as its central business district, was destroyed. Years after the end of World War II, bombed-out sites were still being excavated. In 1952-1954, one of these sites, located on Walbrook between Cannon Street and Queen Victoria Street in the heart of The City, yielded a remarkable discovery buried 23 feet below the surface: the remains of a Roman temple.

On the last day of the excavation...

The Great Bath as seen from the upper terrace, lined with statues of Roman emperors and governors. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it. In this case, the good thing was the hot springs in what is now the city of Bath in southwestern England.

In the decades after the conquest of England in AD 43, following several invasions by Julius Caesar in the preceding century, the Romans turned a tribal sanctuary centered on hot springs into a thriving center that they called Aquae Sulis.

Before the Romans

Long before the arrival of the Romans, local Celtic tribal...

The meeting hall at Nuraghe Palmavera on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Three thousand years ago, stone towers — often surrounded by settlements enclosed within stone walls — peppered the Sardinian countryside. There were an estimated six to seven thousand of these towers constructed in the period roughly between 1600 and 550 BC, the Bronze and Iron ages in Sardinia. Perhaps many more still lie undiscovered beneath the ground or covered by earth mounds.

These stone towers are called nuraghi (singular, nuraghe), and they have become identified...

The central mound, with statue-menhirs, at the megalithic site of Filitosa in Corsica, France. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

At the base of a small mound overlooking a valley in southwestern Corsica lie fragments of upright stones called menhirs (from the Brittonic words men, meaning "stone," and hir, meaning "long").

Just above them on a stone wall that was once part of a prehistoric settlement stand more menhirs. They are unique. Each has the outline of a face etched on the top part of the stone. With sightless eyes, these statue-menhirs have stood for more than 3,000 years. They are...

View of the Mediterranean from the terrace of our apartment “Promenade” in Nice.

The last thing I expected to find in the French Riviera city of Nice was the ruins of a 2,000-year-old Roman city. The Mediterranean, miles of beaches, the famous Promenade des Anglais adjacent to those beaches, yes. Several fabulous art museums, certainly. Cafés, bistros, restaurants, of course. But a Roman city just a few miles from Nice's alluring beachfront was a surprise.

Located in the upscale residential area of Cimiez in Nice, with villas set in lush gardens, what was once...

The Grand Tomb at Hili Archaeological Park in Abu Dhabi. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Late one February afternoon in 2018, my husband, Paul, and I arrived at Hili, an archaeological site 6 miles north of the oasis city of Al Ain in Abu Dhabi.

At first, we were confused. What we saw before us was different from most of the archaeological sites we had visited around the world, including those we had just visited a week or two before in Oman, Abu Dhabi's neighbor to the southeast.

At Hili, it is not just rock or stone remnants from the past lying on the ground...

My husband, Paul, and our guide exploring the ruins of Al Baleed’s largest mosque — Oman. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

The city of Salalah lies on the southern coast of Oman beside the Arabian Sea, about 600 miles southwest of Muscat, the country's capital. It is in this area of Oman that the frankincense trade flourished for hundreds of years, beginning perhaps as early as the third millennium BC.

From ports along Oman's southern coast, frankincense traveled by land and sea not only to other parts of Oman and the Arabian Peninsula but east to China and India and north and west to Mesopotamia...

Walking on top of the medieval walls of Ávila — central Spain. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Sixty miles west of Madrid lies one of my favorite places in Spain: the small city of Ávila (population 58,000). Four decades ago I wrote two books of walking tours of European cities. Ávila was one of the 24 cities included in those books.

One of the reasons Ávila ranks as special is its magnificent stone walls that encircle the city, among the best preserved in Europe. I wanted to walk along these walls again and revisit the medieval city they enclose. I also wanted to see how the...