Focus on Archaeology

The Municipal Museum in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Buenos Aires has always been one of my favorite cities. I try to visit as often as I can to enjoy its elegant cafés, superlative steakhouses, ubiquitous street and flea markets, great museums and parks and, above all, tango, of which I can’t get enough.

But when cosmopolitan living gets a bit much — especially on month-long visits — my husband, Paul, and I like to slip away for a few days to a far simpler place. Our getaway place is not even in Argentina but is just...

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One of the interior courtyards of El Zanjón de Granados — Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Plaza de Mayo lies at the very heart of Buenos Aires. In 1535, King Carlos I of Spain sent the conquistador Pedro de Mendoza y Luján to establish a fort on the Río de la Plata in what was to become Argentina. This fort was the site of the settlement Mendoza called Santa María del Buen Aire, today’s Buenos Aires.

In 1580, another conquistador, Juan de Garay, moved the settlement a mile and a half from Mendoza’s site, awarding tracts of land to members of his expedition....

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The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania as seen from Gediminas Tower in the Upper Castle on Gediminas/Castle Hill. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

The story of the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius, Lithuania, and its rebirth began for me many years ago.

I traveled to Lithuania for the first time in the mid-1970s during the bleak years of the Soviet occupation of the country (1940-41, 1944-90). There was no palace visible then, only a park next to Vilnius’ Cathedral (which the Soviets had turned into an art museum). The park covered the site where a palace had stood for centuries until it was destroyed by the Russians...

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Cēsis Castle, built around 1213.

Riga, Latvia, was the second stop on a month-long trip that my husband, Paul, and I took to the Baltic states in May-June 2019. As with Tallinn, Estonia, our first stop (Feb. ’20, pg. 47), we had allotted eight days for Riga and, as with Tallinn, we could have spent all eight days exploring this vibrant city on the Baltic Sea, with its Old Town, wealth of Art Nouveau buildings and nearby seaside resort town of Jūrmala.

We also wanted to venture into the Latvian countryside to...

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Kuressaare Castle as seen from our window in the Ekesparre Boutique Hotel — Saaremaa, Estonia. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is one of the gems of the Baltic states, a cluster of three small countries that also includes Latvia and Lithuania. They are all located along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea in Northeastern Europe.

It would be easy to spend all of your time in Tallinn without venturing beyond. Its Old Town alone, with Hanseatic-era guildhalls and merchants’ houses, kept my husband, Paul, and me happily occupied for three days of our 8-day visit in May...

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Staircase and base of Building A at Dainzú. Photos by Julie Skurdenis.

The city of Oaxaca lies about 290 miles southeast of Mexico City in an area enclosed by three valleys. In these valleys developed some of the richest cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico: first, the Zapotecs, whose earliest noteworthy archaeological site, San José Mogote, dates from the 7th century BC (perhaps even much earlier, to the 15th century BC), then, much later, the Mixtecs, who probably arrived in the valleys in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Two of Mexico’s foremost...

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Danzantes, with Building M in the background — Monte Albán, southern Mexico. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

In the valleys 290 miles southeast of Mexico City, one of Mesoamerica’s earliest civilizations, the Zapotecs, developed. Living off the land, hunter-gatherers first appeared in these valleys about 10,000 years ago. By about 5000-4000 BC, these early settlers had begun to cultivate the land. The first important settlement identifiable as Zapotec, San José Mogote, can be dated to between 1450 and 1150 BC. By the 8th to 7th centuries BC, this settlement had expanded to include dozens of...

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Stone banquette with carvings of warriors and priests — Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

There is an old adage that “all roads lead to Rome.” It’s a statement with much truth in it, since most, if not all, roads in the early centuries of the Christian era did lead to Rome, then the center of a vast, far-flung empire.

The same adage could be applied to 14th-century Tenochtitlán, then the center of the Aztec empire in Mesoamerica. All roads seemed to lead to Tenochtitlán. Or at least they did from AD 1325 to 1521.

Before then, the Aztecs were a...

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