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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful
Great Monuments of the Ancient World

4-Session Evening Course

Tuesday, February 16, February 23, March 2, and March 9, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET
Quick Tix Code: 1J0076
$80 Package Member
$90 Package Non-Member
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  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.


There are 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout the world. Each of them offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of complex civilizations, empires, and religions. Some, however, are more iconic than others. Historian Justin M. Jacobs offers an in-depth overview of four of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites of the ancient world from Persia to Mesoamerica. Each lavishly illustrated program goes far beyond the typical tourist experience by incorporating the insights of the latest scholarship and research. 

Jacobs, an associate professor of history at American University, is the author of several books, including The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures. He is currently producing a 24-episode series on UNESCO World Heritage Sites for The Great Courses.

NOTE: Individual sessions are also available for purchase.

FEB 16  Ancient Thebes

For approximately five centuries during the second millennium B.C., the Egyptian city of Thebes served as the backdrop for the construction of a bewildering array of religious temples, memorial complexes, and royal tombs. Jacobs introduce the chief cultural, religious, and political themes of the monuments of ancient Thebes: the Karnak and Luxor temples of the East Bank, the memorial temples of the West Bank, and the necropolis in the Valley of the Kings.

FEB 23  Persepolis

In the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., the ancient Persians forged a new empire that stretched from the Indus River in the east to the Danube in the west. Jacobs analyzes the architectural symbol of their unprecedented wealth and power: the palace complex at Persepolis. By examining the artistic motifs of surviving stone reliefs and the many mysteries of the ruins, he illustrates how the ancient Persians laid the rhetorical foundations of so many other empires that followed in their historical wake.  

MAR 2  Acropolis

Few ruins of the ancient world are more instantly recognizable than the majestic white columns of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Jacobs provides a comprehensive historical overview of the many incarnations of the monuments on the Acropolis, including some that are no longer visible today. After revisiting the original function and appearance of the classical Acropolis, he explores how its monuments were altered over time to serve new rulers and new cultural contexts until reaching their current whitewashed form in the 20th century.

MAR 9  Teotihuacan

Located just outside of modern-day Mexico City, the ruins of Teotihuacan serve as a reminder that dense urban civilizations filled with grandiose monuments to wealth and power were not the exclusive preserve of Eurasian empires. Jacobs places the iconic pyramids and temple complexes of Teotihuacan into the history of the settlement of the Americas and development of a distinct form of agriculture and cultural traditions. In addition to analyzing the visible above-ground ruins, he looks at the exciting archaeological discoveries that have in recent decades revolutionized our understanding of the ancient Mesoamerican underworld.

4 sessions

Photo caption (upper right): Clockwise: Karnak Temple Complex, Luxor, Egypt; Persepolis in Shiraz, Iran; Parthenon, Athens, Greece; and Teotihuacan pyramids, near Mexico City


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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.