Several years ago I wrote an article about five legendary lost cities. In that article I examined five famous lost cities, and considered whether there was any basis in historical fact to the exciting tales of once mighty cities that disappeared into the mists of time. This article is going to examine four more legendary lost cities. These cities range from the famous to the more obscure, and cover locations as diverse as thick jungle and frozen lake beds. However, one thing they all have in common is they make for fascinating mysteries.
1. Paititi : The lost city of Gold
We start with Paititi, the legendary lost city of the Incas that’s said to lie somewhere in the amazon rainforest east of the Andes. Anyone who’s played the most recent Tomb Raider game will be familiar with Paititi. In Shadow of the Tomb
Raider the lost city is beautifully imagined as a still thriving hidden city in the Peruvian Amazon, with a culture that’s a mix of Mayan and Incan (far-fetched but entertaining).
Paititi has been the stuff of legend for 500 years. Incan traditions mention a city deep in the jungle that was the last refugee of their people after the Spanish conquest. It’s said a vast amount of treasure was stored here, which naturally attracted conquistadors and other adventurers. Starting in the late 16th century many expeditions set of to search for the legendarycity. Nothing was ever discovered and lots of explorers vanished into the green ocean.
By the 1970s many academics had long since dismissed Paititi as a myth, but some explorers were convinced it was out there. Numerous expeditions were launched which led to the discovery of the first Incan ruins found in the amazon. Documents were also discovered from the 16th and 17th centuries which referenced Paititi, the most famous of which was discovered in the Vatican archives in 2001 – we all know countless treasures are hidden in there. This document dated 1600 was from a Jesuit missionary called Lopez who mentioned how he’d been told about Paititi: he described it as a large Incan city filled with treasure hidden deep in the jungle.
In recent years dozens of Incan ruins have been found in the region, with several being proposed as being the legendary lost capital of the Incas. One site on top of a mountain looks particularity promising and is currently being investigated.
Although we can’t say for certain that Paititi has been found yet, it looks likely that the city was a real place. As to whether Paititi was filled with the treasure of the Incan Empire as the legends say… I will leave that for you to decide (just remember to contact me if you discover where the treasure might be).
2. Lost City of the Kalahari
There have long been rumours of a lost city in the unforgiving Kalahari desert. They started in 1885 when Guillermo Farini claimed he discovered the ruins of a city while exploring one of the most remote areas ofthe desert. The legend of a lost city in the Kalahari soon took root, and starting in the early 20th century numerous expedition were launched to look for the city. At least 30 expeditions searched in vain for the city over the next 50 years – interestingly Elon Musks grandfather led one of them.
None of the expeditions found any ruins which naturally led many people to claim the city didn’t exist. Some experts pointed out a large city couldn’t be supported in the harsh Kalahari desert, and that there was no evidence of an old advanced civilisation in the region. However, in 2015 adventurer and television presenter Josh Gates came across some ruins while filming an episode of Expedition Unknown. They looked like they could be the remnants of a lost town or city.
There will need to be a lot more work done to determine whether there really was a city in the Kalahari desert. Perhaps the ruins found were only part of a large village; maybe they are natural rock formations, or maybe they are part of what was once once an impressive city in the desert.
3. Kitezh: The Russian Atlantis
We all love a good tale of a once magnificent city disappearing beneath the waves. Atlantis might be the most famous example, but Russia has it’s own legend of a city sinking beneath the water never to be seen again.
According to legend Kitezh was a city founded on lake Svetloyar in the late 12th century by the Grand Prince of Vladimir in Russia. In 1237 the Mongols invaded this part of Russia and turned their attention to Kitezh when they heard of the cities wealth. The stories say the city wasn’t defended at all, but instead the citizens prayed for salvation and the city sank beneath the waters of the lake in front of the awestruck Mongol horde.
All sorts of other myths grew up around Kitezh, including that the city was invisible and could only be reached by those who are pure of heart. Other people claimed that sometimes ghostly lights, and even buildings, could be seen beneath the lake on certain nights by pious individuals.
Of course there is no evidence that a large city ever existed here, let alone that it magically vanished beneath a lake to save it’s deeply devout inhabitants. However, some archaeological remains have been found in and around the lake. This has led some people to believe there may be some truth to the legend. Perhaps a small settlement did exist here which was damaged and abandoned.
Now here is a legendary lost city most people have never heard of. I know Zerzura sounds like a made-up name from a Robert E Howard story or a B movie, but I promise you it’s real. Or at least some people think it could be real…
Zerzura is a city that’s said to have existed at an oasis in the Sahara hundreds of miles west of the Nile in Egypt or Libya. In tales dating back to at least the 13th century, it’s described as a beautiful white city guarded by black giants with a sleeping king and queen. The longest record we have is from 1481 when a disheveled camel driver told the Emir of Benghazi a curious story: He had become lost in the desert and was close to death, when strange men with fair skin and hair found him and took him to a city. He claimed it was a beautiful city with white buildings, where people lived in peace and prosperity. He went on to claim he stole a ring with a huge ruby and fled the city. This tale sounds far-fetched, but it was only one of many stories told about this lost city.
In 1929 a group of European explorers went looking for Zerzura in model T cars. They found nothing but created the Zerzura club when they returned to Waidi Halfa, which was a gentlemen’s club for explorers in the region. Another explorer used a plane to try and find it in 1932 but again he found nothing apart from a new oasis. There have been numerous fruitless expeditions since then. This had led many to claim the city is just a myth.
Some people have claimed Zerzura was created by crusaders returning from the Holy Land. They say they could have created a settlement in a remote oasis where they could lead pious lives away from civilisation. Another theory is crusaders came across an already existing city and decided to settle there. If Zerzura did exist it’s much more likely it was just a settlement created by Egyptians or other North Africans at an oasis in a strategic location for desert trade.
However, maybe the origins of the city are less mundane and lie in the ancient past. As little as 6000 years ago large parts of the sahara were still covered in savanna, lakes, rivers and even forests. This means there would have been many locations a city (or cities) could have developed and thrived. As the climate changed the civilisation would have become increasingly unstable until it collapsed, with the cities eventually completely abandoned to the encroaching desert. Or perhaps a smaller population survived for centuries in one city built around an oasis, largely cut-off from the outside world…
Whatever the truth is, it seems likely that there are many archaeological discoveries waiting to be made in the Sahara. Maybe Zerura is one of them.