April 18, 2024 | Sarah Ng

14 Legendary Lost Cities From History


Where Did They Go?

Though we've managed to find many of history's lost cities, others have yet to be discovered. Legends and textual references make these hidden cities some of history's greatest mysteries.

Lost-Cities-Msn1

Lyonesse

According to legend, Lyonesse connected the Isles of Scilly to the western part of Cornwall. It was an important slice of land known for its gorgeous inhabitants, 140 churches, and lush soil. But on one fateful night, it became a victim of the sea.

An ancient city submerged underwaterridersuperone, Shutterstock

Lyonesse: The Bells Are Still Ringing

Since the alleged loss of Lyonesse, there have been reports of bells ringing along Cornwall's West Coast. The lost city has surfaced in written texts like the Arthurian legend of Tristan and Iseult, as well as Celtic mythology.

West Penwith coast of CornwallTom Corser, CC BY-SA 2.0 UK, Wikimedia Commons

Iram Of The Pillars

Iram of the Pillars is an alleged lost city in the Arabian Desert. Similar to Atlantis, this city existed hundreds of years ago and was supposedly a paradise. 

Iram City Of PillarsJens Heimdahl, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

Iram Of The Pillars: Lost In The Desert

Iram of the Pillars has been written about in the Qur'an and other sources, and scholars and believers suspect that it's buried beneath the sand—forever lost to time.

An amazing lost ancient city.LukaszDesign, Shutterstock

Lothal

Lothal is a lost city in India—once part of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. However, Lothal isn't completely lost. A portion of the city has been discovered and excavated, and yet it is still steeped in mystery.

Ancient site at LothalAbhilashdvbk, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Lothal: It Has A Dark Meaning

Part of the superstition surrounding Lothal has to do with its name, which means "the mound of the dead." According to speculation, the city was once an important center for farming, trade, and capitalism. However, the fate of Lothal—and why the city fell to ruin—remains unknown.

Lothal IndiaProf Ranga Sai, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

El Dorado

El Dorado might be the most famous lost city of all. For decades, its tantalizing legend has attracted treasure hunters and explorers. After all, it's known for its unbelievable riches—a city rumored to be filled with gold.

El DoradoPedro Szekely, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

El Dorado: The King Wore Gold Dust

Reportedly, Spanish Conquistadors went looking for the kingdom of El Dorado in the Andes Mountains. They'd heard stories about the king coating himself in gold dust. It was around this time that the city disappeared.

El DoradoDreamWorks, The Road to El Dorado (2000)

El Dorado: Explorers Can't Find It

Many explorers have tried and failed to locate El Dorado: Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco de Orellana, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. 

El DoradoDreamWorks, The Road to El Dorado (2000)

El Dorado: Found Along The Way

Though many doubt that the golden city of El Dorado is even real, many other lost cities have been discovered in the attempt to find it. There is still hope.

El DoradoDreamWorks, The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Kalahari

The lost city of Kalahari may, or may not, have existed. The region where it's believed to be buried is far-reaching. The Kalahari Desert covers 350,000 square miles, and reaches South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.

Lost City RocksHansm, CC BY-SA 3.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

Kalahari: The Search Began

In 1885, the explorer William Leonard made a shocking claim: He'd found a lost civilization in the Kalahari Desert. That's when the search began. Since then, close to 30 explorations have gone into the desert, looking for answers.

William Leonard HuntW & D Downey, Wikimedia Commons

Kalahari: An Honest Mistake

Although nothing substantiating has been uncovered, some strange rock formations point to a possible explanation. Some believe that these rock formations may have sparked the original legend, as they look like city walls.

Lost City of the KalahariThe National Archives UK, Wikimedia Commons

The Lost City Of Z

Colonel Percy Fawcett made an intriguing discovery in 1920. At the National Library of Rio De Janeiro, he found a document from 1753 that had been written by a Portuguese explorer.

British explorer Colonel Percy FawcettPictorial Parade, Getty Images

The Lost City Of Z: Deep In The Jungle

This Portuguese explorer claimed to have found a lost city, which he called the Lost City of Z. It was located in the Amazon rainforest's Mato Grosso region.

Charlie Hunnam  as Percy FawcettAmazon Studios, The Lost City Of Z (2017)

The Lost City Of Z: Shocking Descriptions

According to the explorer's description, the Lost City of Z had multi-storied architecture, sprawling roads, and large stone arches.

Charlie Hunnam  as Percy FawcettAmazon Studios, The Lost City Of Z (2017)

The Lost City Of Z: A Dangerous Mission

After finding this manuscript, Colonel Percy Fawcett set out on a mission to find the lost city. He and his team went into the depths of the Matto Grosso jungle... but they were never seen again.

Mato Grosso junglejose donizetti dias, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Lost City Of Z: They Were Never Found

The disappearance of Colonel Percy Fawcett and his crew made history. Tragically, although rescue efforts were made to find the lost explorers, none were successful.

Charlie Hunnam  as Percy FawcettAmazon Studios, The Lost City Of Z (2017)

Thinis

Egypt has many lost cities, but Thinis was especially powerful as it was the capital throughout Ancient Egypt's first dynasty. Historical records reveal that the city didn't survive after Memphis became the capital instead.

OsireionAntiguoEgipto.org, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Thinis: There Are Many References To It

There's good reason to believe that Thinis was far more than just a legend. Proof of its existence can be found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has also been written about by numerous authors, including the Egyptian priest Manetho. 

Book of the DeadHunefer, Wikimedia Commons

Thinis: Still Out There Somewhere

It's important to note that early Egyptians referred to the city as Tjenu. Though it's believed to be near Abydos, its archaeological site has never been discovered.

Abydos Egyptisawnyu, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Atlantis

Over 2,000 years ago, Plato recounted the popular legend of Atlantis. Established by those were half human and half god, this powerful civilization was pulled into the depths of the sea. All of its people and rumored gold were lost.

Nicholas Roerich's The Last of AtlantisNicholas Roerich, Wikimedia Commons

Atlantis: Fact Or Fiction?

As sensational and alluring as the story of Atlantis is, there is a good chance that it's simply one of Plato's fictional tales. According to the philosopher, Atlantis was quite sizable—comparable to northern Africa and part of Turkey.

lost city of AtlantisFer Gregory, Shutterstock

Atlantis: Has Its Roots In Greek Mythology

The name Atlantis is derived from Greek mythology as the son of Poseidan was named Atlas—the Atlantic Ocean's namesake.

Atlantis, the lost citybkkillustrator, Shutterstock

Ubar

Also known as the Atlantis of the Sands, the city of Ubar is one of Dubai's greatest legends. As the story goes, God brought it to ruin, and it remains lost beneath the desert sands.

Shisr (Ubar)9591353082, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Ubar: It May Already Have Been Found

Archaologists have speculated that Ubar may have been more like a region than a city. The estimated time period ranges from 2,800 BC to 300 AD.

Some believe that the ruins of Shisr might actually be Ubar, but there's still no way to authenticate this theory.

Shisr OmanUlf Rydin, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Thule

The Greek explorer Pytheas is responsible for the legend of Thule. He described a mystical land where the sun doesn't set in the summer and never rises in the winter. 

Statue of PythéasRvalette, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Thule: It Was A Mystery To Them

Pytheas's description of Thule aligned with the realities of many Nordic nations, but this would have been a mystery to those living in the Mediterranean at the time.

Northern landsAndres Sonne, Shutterstock

Thule: Some Say It's Greenland Or Iceland

Therefore, many believe that Pytheas was simply describing what we know now as Greenland or Iceland. Others, however, aren't too sure—and theorize that the real Thule is still out there.

Greenland SceneryJensbn, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Aztlan

Aztlan is considered the origin place of the Aztecs—but it has never been found. Its name means "place of herons" or "place of whiteness," which coincides with the stunning descriptions of the city.

departure from AztlánUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Aztlan: The Animals Thrived

Aztlan was supposedly a gorgeous island known for its wildlife. The waters were rich with gorgeous fish, while duck and herons roamed the land. There were also colorful birds. So what happened to this rich city?

AztlanWilliam Gillet Ritch, Wikimedia Commons

Aztlan: They Moved Away

Allegedly, when the inhabitants of Aztlan moved to what is now the Valley of Mexico, the city faded into obscurity and was lost to time. Though many have searched for the lost city in Western Mexico and Utah, nothing has been discovered.

Mayan ruinsJuan Manuel Rodriguez, Shutterstock

The Roanoke Colony

Located off the coast of North Carolina, the Roanake Colony was founded in 1585—but these days, it's better known as the Lost Colony.

Roanoke Colony fortUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Roanoke Colony: An Unexplainable Disappearance

In 1590, a supply ship returned to the colony, only to make a disturbing discovery: all of the inhabitants had vanished. However, there was one clue left behind.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke, Roanoke Island, North CarolinaUniversal History Archive, Getty Images

The Roanoke Colony: There Was One Clue

Chillingly, someone had carved a word into one of the posts, reading "Croatoan." The disappearance of the colonists sparked some chilling theories. 

This image depicts John White returning to the Roanoke Colony in 1590 to discover the settlement abandonedWilliam James Linton, Wikimedia Commons

The Roanoke Colony: Wild Theories 

Some believed that the colonists had been taken out by Native Americans, while others wondered if they'd assimilated into local tribes. Some even theorized that pirates had kidnapped them.

Ruins Of The English Settlement At RoanokeJohn Parker Davis, Wikimedia Commons

Dilmun

Dilmun is a lost, utopian city. According to descriptions, it was renowned for its lovely gardens and fresh water, which reportedly smelled sweet.

Ruins of a settlement, believed to be from the Dilmun civilizationRapid Travel Chai, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Dilmun: A Point Of Debate

The city was said to be one of Mesopotamia's biggest trading partners, but its exact location has always been a mystery. Some argued that it was near the Arabian Gulf, but today, many think it was closer to Bahrain—even stretching to Qatar, Kuwait, and easter Saudia Arabia.

ancient monuments of BahrainDr Ajay Kumar Singh, Shutterstock

Dilmun: Archaelogists Have Not Found A Site

In historical texts, Dilmun existed between 3,300 BC and 556 BC. However, archeologists have not yet found a site that matches this timeline.

Dilmun stamp seal with hunters and goats, rectangular pen, ca early 2nd millennium BCMetropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons

Cahokia

Cahokia is one of America's enduring mysteries. It was a powerful city before Columbus even made it to the west. Its location? Where southern Illinois is today.

Cahokia site near Collinsville, IllinoisSkubasteve834, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Cahokia: A Sophisticated Society

Established by Native Americans, Cahokia was a sophisticated place of farming, hunting, and trade. They even had urban planners who mapped out the city based on astronomical alignments. 

Cahokia monks moundW. R. Brink & Co., Wikimedia Commons

Cahokia: Its Abandonment Defies Explanation

At its peak, Cahokia had a population of around 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants—and yet for some mysterious reason, it was mostly abandoned by 1350. 

Chunkey Player FigurineTimVickers, Wikimedia Commons


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