Many people love the idea of discovering a lost city in some remote region, the buildings long since abandoned to nature. It’s natural to want to be the first to make a great discovery. This fascination with lost cities has a very long history, with people throughout the ages telling tales of once magnificent cities collapsing and disappearing into the mists of time. This article will examine five of the most interesting, legendary lost cities. While some of these tales appear to be just myths, there is a surprising amount of truth behind a few of them.
The natural place to start is with Atlantis, by far the most well known mythical city. The story of Atlantis has inspired countless books, films, TV programs, games and of course internet articles. The origins of the story of Atlantis are very well known: in 360BC Plato wrote about Atlantis as part of an allegory on the hubris of nations. He described Atlantis as a great power that existed in 9000BC on a large island beyond the Pillars of Hercules. After falling out of favour with the Gods, there is a huge catastrophe and Atlantis disappears beneath the waves.
Apart from Platos account there is no other primary reference to Atlantis in the ancient world, and no real evidence of it’s existence. This hasn’t stopped dozens of theories being put forward about it’s location, including the Atlantic, Caribbean, Antarctica and Indonesia. Some people have even claimed it was built by aliens. Others have more reasonably theorized it may have been a story inspired by real events, such as the destruction caused to the ancient Minoan civilsation by the eruption of Thera. It could also have been inspired by the memory of rising sea levels flooding coastal cities.
Whatever the truth is, it’s clear that the tale of Atlantis will continue to inspire speculation for a long time to come.
2. El Dorado
El Dorado is another lost city that needs little introduction. Most people have heard the story of the legendary city of gold lost somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. The story actually originated as a tale about a golden man rather than a city. The Spanish heard stories about a tribal chief of the Muisa in Colombia, that covered himself in gold and submerged himself in a lake as part of an initiation ceremony. As often happens, the tale changed from a golden king to an entire city and then kingdom filled with gold.
Naturally rumours of huge amounts of gold drew conquistadors and explorers like moths to a flame. Numerous expeditions were launched to find the city, especially in the 15th and early 16th century by the Spanish, English and Germans. Sir Walter Raleigh led two expeditions to try and find lake Parime In Guena, which many believed was the location of El Dorado. They never found the lake, and in the end all of the expeditions failed to find any trace of a city of gold.
Although a city of gold never actually existed, plenty of gold was certainly mined and plundered from South America. Lake Guatavita where the tribal chiefs of the Muisa used to submerge themselves while covered in gold is estimated to hold $300 million worth of gold. Several exhaustive attempts were made through the centuries to salvage the gold, but only small amounts were recovered. Please excuse me while I go and book plane tickets to Colombia.
3. The Lost city of Z
The lost city of Z is another legendary lost city claimed to be located in the vast Amazon rainforest. This city was first mentioned in 1753 by a Portuguese document detailing an expedition from a decade before. The Portuguese claimed to have come across a huge, advanced city that lay abandoned deep in the rainforest. Nothing more was mentioned about the city until British explorer Percy Fawcett found the document in 1911, and subsequently led two expeditions to look for it. His last disastrous expedition was in 1925, when he and his two companions (one of whom was his son) mysteriously disappeared after venturing deep into the rainforest.
The disappearance of Colonel Fawcett caused a sensation, as his was famous by this time and his expedition had been widely published. There were several failed attempts to look for him and the city of Z, with no trace found of either. There are many theories about what happened to his group, but the most likely scenario is they were killed by a hostile tribe: perhaps as a result of inadvertently angering them.
Whatever the fate of Colonel Fawcett, it turns out he was right all along about there being a lost civilisation in that part of Brazil. Recently archaeologists discovered the remains of a city in Matto Grosso, the same region he was searching in. The city known as Kuhikugu consisted of twenty interconnected settlements with roads connecting them, and may have supported up to 100,000 people. It’s possible this remarkable discovery really is the lost city of Z.
4. Lost City of Ubar
Ubar, also known as the Atlantis of the Sands, is said to be an ancient city that was swallowed by the sands of Arabia and lost. The city is called Iram of the Pillars in the Quran, which says that Iram was destroyed after the inhabitants angered God. Numerous people looked for the city, including several expeditions in the 1930s and 1940s. Even Lawrence of Arabia wanted to join the hunt for it, but never mounted an expedition.
In 1992 an expedition led by Nicholas Clapp that included Ranulph Fiennes went to look for Ubar. They investigated several sites, including the fort at Shisr which had been looked at by earlier expeditions. Excavations at Shisr revealed a fort and walls that were over 2000 years old, along with a large sinkhole. The team claimed this was probably the legendary lost city of Ubar.
Not everyone is convinced Ubar has been found though, with some experts saying that Shisr is too small to be the lost city. There are also a few sites in Saudi Arabia that could possibly be the location of Ubar. A few academics have even claimed there is no lost city at all, with the name Ubar just referring to a tribe and not a city.
This is one lost city that may have been found, or perhaps it’s still out there waiting to be discovered.
No list of lost cities would be complete without Shangri-La, the fictional Himalayan paradise described in the book Lost Horizons. Author James Hilton described Shangri La as a peaceful place cut off from the outside world, where people aged extremely slowly. When anyone wondered into the valley they often found themselves naturally wanting to stay forever.
Shangri-La was probably based on Shambhala, the earthly paradise mentioned in ancient Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. Shambhala was also described as an earthly paradise cut off from the outside world. Over the centuries many people speculated about the location of Shambhala, with some people setting out to fruitlessly search for it. However Shambhala can best be understood as an allegory rather than a physical place, with the mystical kingdom representing an ideal to Tibetan Buddhists. Likewise Shangri-La has come to mean any earthly paradise, with many business cashing in on the name. One city in China even changed it’s name in 2001 to Shangri-La to attract more tourists!
Shangri-La is clearly one lost city that can never been found.