From pyramids in Egypt and Mayan temples in Mexico to Roman ruins across Europe and cave paintings in Southern Africa, historical sites hold a special place in our travel itineraries. Whether the quest to understand the past dominates your holidays or you simply enjoy ambling through the odd ancient amphitheatre as part of your vacation, you\u2019ve probably engaged in some historical tourism during your travels. But are you the right kind of historical tourist?With millions of people flocking to the world\u2019s greatest historical sites, our love of the past and our mission to engage with it is stronger than ever. But in our enthusiasm we are at risk of jeopardising the places we treasure so greatly. Archaeology Travel\u2019s Thomas Dowson sat down with us to share more what historical tourism is and how we can be better at it. Meet your historical tourism insider: Thomas Dowson Thomas Dowson trained as an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). His research focused on prehistoric arts of southern Africa and western Europe. In the mid 90s he moved to the UK where he set up the world\u2019s first postgraduate degree programme on rock art. Other research activities include the contemporary significance of the past, which continue to influence his work on Archaeology Travel. Thomas travels widely and deeply to find more perspectives to the way sites and museums are experienced.\u00a0 1. Tell us a little a bit about how you got into archaeology. I was born in Zambia, raised in Zimbabwe, and as a child I spent a lot of my time out on farms and doing things like searching nearby rocky hills for rock paintings. So when the time came to choose something to study at university, I chose archaeology. I wasn\u2019t sure I wanted to become an archaeologist, but somehow that\u2019s what I found myself doing! Once I\u2019d finished studying, I started working at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and then Southampton University in England. After a while I decided to leave the academic world \u2013 it no longer sparked enough excitement in me. Instead of staying in academia, I decided: \u201cThat\u2019s it, I\u2019m going to run a B&B in France,\u201d \u2013 just like the many others escaping life at the end of the \u201890s! I opened up my B&B in Normandy, and while I was there I set up a website called Archaeology Travel as means to attract people to that area of France and to stay at my B&B. I didn\u2019t stick with the B&B, but I stuck with the website. A view of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the country where Thomas Dowson grew up. 2. Which area of archaeology is your area of expertise? My specialty was actually cave paintings in southern Africa, but I also did leading research on cave art in France. Although my B&B wasn\u2019t located anywhere near France\u2019s caves, which can be found in southwestern France (Normandy as some may know is in the north of France), I did eventually start doing guided tours to the caves. As I was based in Normandy and writing about the region on my website, I researched a lot of aspects of Normandy\u2019s past; I looked into the area\u2019s WWII history, as well as its Roman history. That was more or less when I started becoming more interested in other eras and periods of prehistory. Southern Africa is renowned for its cave paintings, but you can also find cave paintings in France. 3. You mentioned WWII, which brings me to my next question: What does the term archaeology encompass? That\u2019s a very interesting question, and different archaeologists will give you different answers. Some may be surprised to learn this, but not all archaeologists agree what archaeology is.The popular perception is that archaeologists are people who dig around looking for old bones and stones in the ground. As an archaeologist you often get asked the question: Have you found any dinosaurs lately? Archaeologists don\u2019t look for dinosaur remains \u2013 that\u2019s what palaeontologists do. But even those who know that archaeologists do not look for dinosaur bones probably think it\u2019s all about digging up artefacts. As I said, different archaeologists will give you different answers, but my answer to \u2018What does archaeology encompass?\u2019 is: archaeology, at its core, is a way of engaging with the past.\u00a0It\u2019s also important to remember that archaeology is a developing field, like medicine or engineering. It\u2019s not your stereotypical Indiana Jones type wandering around the desert picking up bones and artefacts. And because it\u2019s an ever-changing field, what constitutes archaeology changes too. It's part of everyone's itinerary, but what is historical tourism? 4. So, in a nutshell: What is historical tourism? Historical tourism is a rather generic term, but it is what it sounds like: it\u2019s about visiting historical sites. But it\u2019s also so much more sophisticated than that, and one of the ways I\u2019m trying to show that is through my website Archaeology Travel. I want people to think differently about why they\u2019re traveling, why they\u2019re going to certain places and what they\u2019re doing once they are there. 5. Can you tell us a bit more about how you see historical tourism? There\u2019s a tendency to visit historical and heritage sites so that you can tick them off a list. UNESCO World Heritage sites are a good example of this. Deciding what to see when visiting a new place based on a top 10 list can often mean you miss out on the stories behind some of the most amazing historical sites. Of course, a lot of people do try and find out more about the places they\u2019re going to visit, but I think we can do a lot more to help people get more out of historical sites. An example of this is the Colosseum in Rome. It\u2019s arguably the most famous historical site in the world, but it\u2019s also one of about 250 Roman amphitheatres around the world that you can still visit today. You can learn just as much about the role of Roman amphitheatres in Roman culture from other amphitheatre sites. The Colosseum in Rome is a historical site that people flock to every year, come rain or shine. Photo by Dennis van den Worm on Unsplash Instead of only visiting the historical sites that make the top 10 cut, I believe people should visit smaller, and lesser known sites too. Because that\u2019s historical tourism; getting a more realistic picture of what history was, not trekking across the world to see just one example of it. I also think that the sites beyond the obvious can give you a more complex view of history. Of course, if you visit Rome, I highly recommend seeing the Colosseum but know that it\u2019s only part of a bigger picture. When you visit the Colosseum, go behind it. Right behind the Colosseum you\u2019ll find the training grounds for the gladiators \u2013 so if what you\u2019re most interested in when it comes to the Colosseum is the gladiator battles, the training grounds will likely be more interesting to you. The Trevi Fountain is another great example in Rome of there being more to the site than what meets the eye. People the world over come to see this beautiful baroque fountain, they throw a coin in, the City of Rome says thanks very much, and the tourist ticks it off their list. But, the Trevi Fountain isn\u2019t just a place to make a wish, it\u2019s also a phenomenal remnant of the Roman era that was built on in later periods. If you go behind it, you can still see remains of the Roman aqueduct that fed that fountain and if you go beneath it, you can find a city\u2019s worth of ruins from the Roman era! When you start looking beyond the standard list of things to do, you get a bigger picture of history; you get a different story. 6. Is there an easy way to make sure you get more context when visiting a historical site? It\u2019s good to remember that everyone has different levels of interest in historical tourism and people are going to be interested in different things. Let\u2019s stick with Rome and her Colosseum as an example; people who are interested in art might be more drawn to the art museums the city is famous for, as opposed to its historical sights. As an archaeologist, I would advise anyone and everyone to go and experience the Colosseum too because of its historical value \u2013 you can go and learn something from the Colosseum without my level of interest or enthusiasm for it! But you should go and see the Colosseum out of curiosity, out of a desire to know how it forms a part of history \u2013 and not just to tick it off a list. 7. Historical tourism forms such a big part of many people\u2019s travel itineraries. Where do you think this fascination with the past comes from? I don\u2019t know why, but yes there is a healthy general interest in the past. Some individuals have no interest at all and couldn\u2019t be bothered with historical sites and museums. But as a society we have ideas about the past and we want to know where we come from. We are fascinated with ancient artefacts and buildings. Some of us at least want to know how our predecessors lived.At school we\u2019re taught to be interested in our histories and we\u2019re taught that it\u2019s important to learn about the past so that we can learn from our mistakes. I\u2019ve always thought that\u2019s one of history\u2019s biggest fallacies; because as many historians and archaeologists have pointed out, we don\u2019t learn from the past, more often than not we repeat it.\u00a0\u00a0Nevertheless, that\u2019s certainly one part of why people are interested in the past, because we\u2019re taught to take note of it so we don\u2019t make the same mistakes. But that\u2019s not all we should get out of historical tourism. We\u2019re pre-conditioned to think about the past in certain ways, but if we can get beyond that we can get a deeper, more meaningful understanding of it.\u00a0When you go to the Colosseum, it\u2019s difficult to look at it and think about the mistakes you should learn from it. If you take into account the wider context of the Colosseum, if you go behind and beyond, you can get a deeper understanding of what life was like in Roman times and also how our lives today are affected by what the Romans came up with. To borrow a famous question, \u201cWhat have the Romans ever done for us?\u201d Becoming better visitors to historical sites 8. One of the concerns around historical tourism is that a lot of the sites people want to visit are very fragile. Do you think we should change the way we visit historical sites? If there\u2019s one thing the pandemic has taught those of us in the tourism industry, it\u2019s that the restrictions when it comes to visiting historical sites are here to stay, in some form or another. Aside from the importance of the conservation of these sites, it\u2019s clear to everyone that having millions of people trample over some of our most treasured historical sites was never sustainable. When we visit ancient sites like the Acropolis or the Colosseum, we must remember that it\u2019s a privilege to be able to do so. I don\u2019t think that we should shut these sites down altogether, who would we be saving them for? But during our visits we should remember that we\u2019re lucky to be there. Measures like social distancing mean that fewer people can visit a historical site at a given time, protecting the site from being over-trafficked. 9. It\u2019s clear that you\u2019re passionate about the field of archaeology. What do you love about it? I used to love finding new sites when I worked as an archaeologist. Now that I am involved in something quite different, I have become more interested in the relationship between tourism and historical sites. As a society, we have this growing awareness around responsible travel but there are still problems with the way we interact with archaeological and historical sites. Some of the most obvious examples are people scratching their names into walls or pocketing stones as keepsakes. This will shock many people, but it still happens. A lot! So, in the interest of preserving historical sites and keeping these sites open to the public, I\u2019m interested in how people relate to the past and why they visit historical sites. 10. Why do you think people still try and leave their mark when they visit a historical site? Surely by now people know not to! There are probably as many reasons for this as there are instances! One of the problems is that these sites already have a lot of graffiti, and that might feel like an invitation of sorts. And, of course, the act of leaving your mark on something is not something new. A hundred years ago people wouldn't have thought twice about scratching their names into something. Just look at the prehistoric caves in France; some of the earliest graffiti there goes back to the 1700s! And those etchings are now historical documents in their own right. These are interesting for historians because thanks to people wanting to make their mark, we know who went there when \u2013 thus adding information to the more recent history of these sites. But we can\u2019t have everyone recording their visits today. Conservationists say as soon as there is graffiti you have to remove it as soon as possible as more will certainly follow. 11. How can people be responsible visitors of historical sites? There\u2019s a famous saying that sums this up nicely: take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. Photo by Felipe Correia on Unsplash 12. We\u2019ve talked a bit about responsible tourism, but what about respectful tourism? Being respectful at all historical sites is certainly something we need to pay more attention to. Whether it is how we physically interact with the remains of a site or how we behave at a site that has a sensitive history.Auschwitz is a prime example of a place where it\u2019s exceedingly important that tourists are mindful of how they behave. When you visit Auschwitz, you\u2019re given clear guidelines on what\u2019s appropriate and what\u2019s not. For example, you\u2019re not allowed to take selfies while on site. Visitors are encouraged to be respectful when visiting the site of the former concentration camp. Museums in Athens also encourage respectful tourism with certain guidelines; for example, you\u2019re not allowed to stand next to statues and mimic their poses for photos \u2013 of course people still try it, but it\u2019s not allowed. 13. A lot of the maintenance of historical sites and the rules around respect are down to the historical sites themselves. Do you have any examples of particularly well maintained, well managed historical sites? Some sites are particularly well set up for receiving visitors, for example, they have raised walkways for visitors so the site isn\u2019t damaged by foot traffic. The physical interaction with a site is, I believe, what makes it a pleasure to visit, things like having good information boards really do make the difference.One of the most common things I hear people saying when visiting a historical site is: \u201cWhat are we looking at?\u201d If you don\u2019t offer enough information, people are just walking around for the sake of it. So, sites that offer a lot of information are better. They are, however, the ones that usually have more money available to them, which helps a lot. Scavi D\u2019Egnazia in Puglia is a great example of historical tourism done well. One example of a well maintained historical site is Scavi D\u2019Egnazia in Puglia, Italy. It\u2019s an incredible site! It\u2019s big, important and it was occupied from ancient times right through to medieval times. It\u2019s got a beautiful museum with amazing exhibits and the site has a prehistoric cemetery, an amphitheatre, some early basilicas and domestic architecture. They\u2019re all low level ruins, but you can take a walk around the site, with good information boards to support what you are looking at. It\u2019s one of my favourite historical sites. 14. It must be tricky to research a site and make it easy to visit. How do historical sites balance research and tourism? Good examples of well known sites that I think get this right are Pompeii and the Acropolis, which are both active archaeological sites. The Acropolis is more of a reconstruction project. Over the years it has been altered frequently and it suffered severe damage during conflicts between the Venetians and Ottomans in the 17th century. So, archaeologists are working now to restore it.In Pompeii, archaeologists are still looking for and finding new artefacts. Some sections of the site are open for visitors, others are closed to the public while archaeologists are carrying out excavations.\u00a0There are also sites that are being excavated as part of current archaeological research projects. You can only visit these when archaeologists are working there. Archaeologists will often take time out from their excavations to show you around. That\u2019s a good model, and it\u2019s one that is being adopted more and more. I certainly encourage people to look out for those opportunities to go and see an active site with an archaeologist! Interested in finding out more about some of the world's most famous historic sites? These historical monuments should be on your radar.