My favourite historical places: Dr Julie Barrau

As part of our weekly series, Dr Julie Barrau from the University of Cambridge picks out her favourite historical places to visit

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Q: What is your favourite historical place in Britain?

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That probably would be Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire.

In the 12th century, Cistercian monks were drawn by their strict adherence to the Benedictine rule to remote places and to sober architectural designs.

Across Europe those isolated sites and minimalist lines appeal to our modern esthetical tastes, even when their original spiritual meaning escape us. Rievaulx adds to the mix the charm of ruins and the shadow of the destructions ordered by Henry VIII – it is rather irresistible.

Q: What is your favourite historical place overseas?

The city of Split, on the Dalmatian coast, is one of a kind.

It started as a huge fortified palace built by the emperor Diocletian, where later on intact Roman temples became churches; windows opened into the massive walls, and centuries added layers over layers of urban landscape.

The restored columns, crumbling brickwork and composite buildings of Split are a tempting metaphor for the pointlessness of seeing history as a series of neatly defined periods and issues.

Q: Where would you most like to visit?

High on my wish list are long walks around the remains of the Cambodian city of Angkor.

Probably the largest in the world at the time, it was abandoned in the 15th century. Its hundreds of temples buried in the jungle have long fascinated Western visitors, who often doubled as looters.

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Angkor’s seemingly timeless beauty has been shaped by change – slow with the transition of Hinduism to Buddhism, brutal with French colonization, and insanely radical with the Khmer Rouge regime.