Discover ancient civilisations and modern history

Three main civilisations dominated Latin America at various times before the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. These's were the Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, the Aztecs in central Mexico and the Incas, mainly in Peru. These civilisations flourished within their local surrounds, gaining wealth and power from which they built great cities and empires. Religion was also very important, with each civilisation constructing great temples for the performance of ceremonies and rituals to appease the gods, in return for bountiful harvests and victories in battle.

The Mayas thrived throughout the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, creating a complex society built on agriculture and trade, which consisted of several large city-states, with large pyramids and palaces. They also created an accurate calendar and a numbering system.

The Incas settled in Peru, near the Urubamba Valley, establishing Cusco as their capital and building nearby the 'lost city' of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains. They built their famed terrace farms, as well as an elaborate system of roads to maintain control of their empire. Today, Inca descendants still speak their ancient language, Quechua.

The Aztecs were a fierce warrior society, who built a huge empire through military conquest and subsequent taxation of neighboring peoples. They built there mighty capital Tenochtitlan on floating islands in Lake Texcoco, located on the site of present-day Mexico City.

Today we can explore the remains of these mighty civilisations, marveling at their extraordinary capacity and ingenuity, at some of the best preserved archaeological sites in the world.

Meanwhile in China, successive Dynasties ruled for centuries, contributing to an immense tapestry of palaces, pagodas and temples. The greatest concentration of these are in the capital Beijing, which is also close to the Great Wall. Just outside Xi'an we find the 8,000 strong Terracotta Army, built to defend the tomb of China's first emperor.