Philippe Renault / Hemis.fr / Aurora Photos
Where Cultures Took Shape: The bullring in Ronda is thought to be one of the oldest in Spain.
It’s often said that history is written by the winners but it takes an army of photographers to put it in perspective.
Consider “Great Places of History: Civilization’s 100 Most Important Sites” (TIME Books, $29.95), a new, 154-page hardcover book that captures the span of mankind’s time on the planet through more than 200 photographs.
“It’s a book about culture and history and human beings,” said editor Kelly Knauer. “We didn’t want it to be a series of ‘postcard’ shots.”
According to Knauer, the book is an outgrowth of TIME’s Person of the Year feature, which annually profiles a person the magazine’s editors consider to be the most influential on the world stage.
“We looked at the globe and said, ‘What are the 100 places that really influenced history, where historic events happened, where great trends began or societies crystallized that affected the course of civilization’,” Knauer said.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the book features several of what Knauer calls “the usual suspects” — the Acropolis, Angkor Wat, Moscow’s Red Square — but it also highlights lesser-known places that played roles in culture, war, scientific inquiry and other fields of human endeavor. Among them:
- Avebury: “Everybody knows Stonehenge,” said Knauer, but this nearby Neolithic ruin “was actually a larger site back in the day and probably more important.”
- The Silk Road: “It wasn’t just a highway for goods,” said Knauer. “It was the conduit by which Asian culture traveled to Europe and vice versa.”
- Shakespeare’s Globe: Yes, the London theater is a replica of the original, but its inclusion speaks to the importance of its one-time resident scribe. Said Knauer, “Shakespeare shaped the way we think because he shaped the way we talk.”
At the same time, including such modern sites underscores the book’s premise that there’s more to history than a compilation of dusty archeological sites. It’s a living thing that’s happening all the time.
Consider, for example, the last entry in the book, which captures a trio of giant sculptures rising above the Nevada desert during the festival/encampment/cultural experiment called Burning Man.
“Who’s to say history isn’t being made there?” asks Knauer. “We may not know what comes out of there for 30 or 40 years but I bet something interesting will.”
Philippe Lissac / Godong / Corbis
Sacred Spaces: Pilgrims gather outside the Church of St. George, a rock-hewn church in Lalibela in northern Ethiopia.
Domingo Leiva / Getty Images
Bastions of Power: Tikal, an archeological gem once ruled by the Mayans, is located in northern Guatemala.
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.