Our fascination with ancient civilisations and the ancient past causes us to dig, often deep into the Earth, to see what’s been concealed for centuries by the elements, hidden by lava or buried under a pile of natural rubble where trees took root.
Some mysterious cities founded by those ancient civilisations considered to be myths or legends for centuries were actually out there, just waiting for us to uncover them. Indeed, our curiosity can lead us to entire buried cities. And as technology improves, with tools like remote sensors and satellites, archaeologists are able to see more detail, more clearly and faster.
Here, we look at ten ancient lost cities that shed light on the history of people all over the world.
1 – Dvaraka: Home of Lord Krishna, the Hindu Deity
The city of Dvarka, also spelled as Dwarka holds immense religious sentiment to it. It is a sacred town and the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the Hindu deity who is believed to be the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu (the creator of the world).
Dvarka city was home to Lord Krishna almost 5000 years ago. It is believed that the town was built by the architect of the gods under Krishna’s supervision who wanted a city made of silver, emeralds, and crystals. Krishna demanded the construction of 16,108 palaces in the town for his 16,108 queens. However, the battle between Krishna and King Salva destroyed the entire city of Dvaraka due to the blasts of energy.
While we may find it a little difficult to believe in mythology, archaeologists found the ruins of the city under the sea where the city once existed. Although it did not have 16,108 palaces, it had the same layout as the actual town of Dvaraka.
Dvaraka city was built almost 9000 years ago which qualifies it as one of the oldest cities on earth. While the city was at its peak, it was one of the busiest seaports in the world. In second millennium BC, the city collapsed into the water just as its mention in the legend.
2 – The Palace Of Kublai Khan
Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant traveler, returned from China to give some wonderful descriptions of the Kublai Khan’s empire. Kublai Khan was the first emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty. The king’s palace, Xanadu, is certainly worth a mention. The castle is made of marble and is surrounded by an enormous 26-kilometer-wide park with beautiful fountains, rivers and inhabited by wild animals. Khan kept around 10,000 pure white horses in the golden palace guarded by dragons.
The palace was like a paradise on earth. Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed by the Ming army from the Ming dynasty in 1369 well before the Europeans could see it. As centuries passed, the palace became a legend. Poets wrote extensively about this place and found a place in their imagination.
When Kublai Khan’s palace was discovered, it was found that Marco Polo’s description was exact. Khan’s palace was two times bigger than the White House and was surrounded by a massive park. Ramps of horses and even the dragons were found in every part of the park. There were yellow-colored statues on top of the pillars, and the palace matched Polo’s description perfectly.
By the 1990s when the first archaeological investigations of the site began, the walls and temples had been reduced to grassy mounds. Since then, however, the site has been extensively excavated and over 1,000 buildings have been unearthed. In 2012 Xanadu, or more correctly Shàngdū, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
3 – City of Helike
Atlantis is a fictional island that is believed to have sunk under the water. Just like the Atlantis, the city of Helike is said to have met with a similar fate. According to the myths, the Helike city locals outcasted the Ionian tribe who were worshippers of the sea god which enraged Poseidon, one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion. Poseidon then destroyed the entire city of Helike by pulling it under the water. Helike was destroyed in 373 BC, and for many decades it was thought to be a parable until it was found.
In the late 1980s, two archaeologists decided to track down the city. They worked for a decade and finally discovered the city which was buried. Studies revealed that the mythic city was not destroyed by Poseidon but by an earthquake that liquefied the ground. The whole town collapsed into an inland lagoon following an enormous tremor.
4 – Mystifying Palace of Sigiriya
King Kasyapa, the second king of the Mauryan dynasty, ruled Sri Lanka from 473 to 495 CE. Around the fifth century AD, he built a palace on top of a rock which was around 200 meters (650 feet) tall. It was considered as one of the most incredible castles in the world as per the legends.
To get into the palace, one had to take a large staircase that went through the mouth of a huge lion statue. Kasyapa did not live in the palace for long. As soon as the construction of the palace was completed, Kasyapa’s brother Mogallana staged a war. The army deserted Kasyapa as they feared for their lives and the soldiers’ wives ended their lives by leaping from the side of the boulder.
Mogallana and his army conquered Sigiriya and left behind a monument. For some time, the palace served as an outpost and later was converted into a Buddhist monastery. Soon, it was forgotten to time. The palace was found by a group of European archaeologists. A large lion guarded the staircase, and one indeed had to walk through its mouth to reach the inside of the palace.
Just as its mention in the legends, the palace had a gleaming white parapet that worked as a mirror for the king to stare at his reflection while walking through the castle. UNESCO declared this palace as the eighth wonder of the world and today; it is a popular tourist destination.
5 – Great Zimbabwe, the Medieval Castle Of Africa
In early 16th century, Portuguese explorers reported about the existence of a legendary castle in Africa. The natives informed the explorers about a stone fortress that overlooked the trees in a land called as Symbaoe, which is today known as Zimbabwe. The residents were clueless about who had built it.
One of the explorers wrote, “When, and by whom, these edifices were raised, as the people of the land are ignorant of the art of writing, there is no record, but they say they are the work of the devil, for in comparison with their power and knowledge it does not seem possible to them that they should be the work of man.”
For many years, the Europeans thought Symbaoe was just a myth. However, in the 19th century, the explorers found the castle. In Zimbabwe, a huge castle with stone walls which were over 11 meters (36 feet) tall. The castle was built in 900 AD by an African civilization.
Inside the castle, there were relics from all over the world which the civilization people must have gathered after trading with other countries. The explorers found Persian pottery, Arab coins and even antiques that belonged to the Chinese Ming dynasty. The fortress proves that the trade routes were well connected all the way to China.
6 – The Drowned Egyptian City, Heracleion
Heracleion which is also known as Thonis was an ancient Egyptian city located near the Canopic Mouth of the Nile. Almost every Greek myth finds a mention of this town. It is the city where Heracles, a divine hero in Greek mythology and the son of Zeus and Alcmene initiated his steps into Africa.
Heracleion is the city where Paris of Troy and his stolen bride Helen hid from Menelaus, the king of Sparta before the dreaded Trojan War. According to the legend, around 2,200 years ago, the city of Heracleion was hit by an earthquake or a tsunami which drowned it completely.
Divers who were swimming off the coast of Egypt stumbled upon the ruins in early 2000. The divers found a strange rock under the water and on bringing it up, they realized that it was a fragment of an ancient statue. The divers dove back into the sea to find more of the ruins. Soon, they found statues, jewels and the drowned ruins of an ancient Egyptian temple.
Most of the part of the city was still intact under the sea. The divers also found large steles that warned the visitors about the Egyptian tax laws in hieroglyphics or symbols. Many statues of ancient Egyptian gods were found in their original form with fish swimming around them.
The entire lost city was pulled from the depths of the sea and brought back to life.
7 – La Ciudad Perdida: The Lost Colombian City
Around 1300 years ago, ancient people called the Tairona built a magnificent city along the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain sides. The city was built following the command of their god, who wanted them to live close to the stars. Tairona people lived there for almost 700 to 800 years until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
The Spanish conquistadors brought with them diseases that spread to the Tairona which wiped them out completely. Following this, the city was left barren, and the civilization was forgotten for centuries. In the 1970s, the city was discovered once again by a group of bandits who were making their way through the jungle.
The thieves stumbled upon the town by chance and found an ancient city full of jade figures and gold jewelry. The bandits took with them whatever they could and sold the rest on the black market when they came to the attention of the archaeologists. Soon, the lost city was found after being hidden in the jungle for almost 500 years.
8 – Leptis Magna, the City in Sand
Leptis Magna, a large Roman city in Libya which was a major trading hub for the Roman empire was buried in a sandstorm. Roman emperor Septimus Severus was born in this town, and he turned the city into an enormous one. When Rome started to fall, Leptis Magna fell with it.
The Raiders and Arab invaders robbed the city and left it in ruins. It was completely forgotten and was buried under the drifting sands. The city spent almost 1200 years under the sand dunes until the 19th century when a group of archaeologists found it.
The city was found in perfect condition under the sand. The archaeologists did not just find a few broken pots, but they could unearth and walk through an entire ancient Roman city. The city still had an amphitheater, a basilica, a circus and baths, all well-preserved by the sand. A mere look at the city gives us an idea of how it would have been when the city was in its prime.
9 – The Viking Land Of Plenty
In 1073 AD, Adam of Bremen, a German cleric sailed across the Atlantic ocean and found a distant land where everything grew in abundance. He informed this to the Danish king Sven Estridsson and called the area as Vinland because vines grew there on their own accord.
Besides the German cleric, there were other Vikings who had been passing it down and claimed of having fought the natives who lived there, whom they called the Skraelingar. They said the Skraelingar dressed in white clothes and lived in caves and holes. When the Vikings attacked the Vinland, the natives carried long poles and charged back screaming out loud war cries.
Vinland was considered as a Viking myth for many years even after the Spanish reached America. In the 1960s, it was found out that the Vikings were telling the truth. Archaeologists finally found the remains of the Viking settlement at the L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada in the 11th century.
10 – City of the Monkey God, La Ciudad Blanca
In his quest for gold, Hernan Cortes heard rumors that there was a city of great wealth hiding in the jungles of Honduras. It was called the White City by some and the City of the Monkey God by others, and it was promised to hold an incredible fortune.
Although Cortes never found the city, the legend continued. Charles Lindbergh, an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, explorer, and environmental activist claimed of having seen the city while flying over the country. Many others spread rumors of having found the city, but the city remained a mystery.
A group of archaeologists followed the path described by some people and to their surprise, they found a city in the jungle of Honduras. At the site, they found a pyramid in a rain forest which is believed to have been built by a culture that disappeared almost 1000 years ago. Inside the pyramid, there were stone sculptures and impressive architecture.
The castle indicated signs of incredible wealth and power. While some people doubt if this was the place that Cortes wrote about, it is certainly a lost civilization of individuals who lived in the jungle and whose existence had been forgotten till now.
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