At one point, I asked myself, what would have been the tallest man-made building that the first light of January 1, 1000 would have fallen on? I found it would have been the Borobudur temple in Java, a Buddhist temple built in 849 ad. Buddha was born 2,000 miles away but had inspired people to build this massive temple — I saw it as a temple of globalisation. Asking questions around this led me to pinpoint the four broad categories of actors who left home carrying goods and ideas to become catalysts across the globe: traders, preachers, adventurers and warriors.
Cardiff de Alejo Garcia describes his experience of seeing the Angkor Vat temples in Cambodia for the first time (in Smithsonian Magazine):
I had come to the temples of Angkor prepared, having read about their archaeology and history and learned of their immense size and intricate detail. The mystery of why an early Khmer civilization chose to abandon the temples in the mid-15th century, after building them during a period of more than 500 years, intrigued me. So too did the tales of travelers who "discovered" Angkor in the centuries that followed, some of whom thought they had stumbled across a lost city founded by Alexander the Great or the Roman Empire—until finally, in the 1860s, the French explorer Henri Mouhot reintroduced the temples to the world with his ink drawings and the postmortem publication of his journal, Travels in Siam, Cambodia, and Laos.
But on that first morning I realized that such knowledge was unnecessary to appreciate this remarkable achievement of architecture and human ambition. There are few places in the world where one feels proud to be a member of the human race, and one of these is certainly Angkor," wrote the late Italian author Tiziano Terzani. "There is no need to know that for the builders every detail had a particular meaning. One does not need to be a Buddhist or a Hindu to understand. You need only let yourself go...