The Great Lost Cities Of The World
One of the truly amazing things about human history is how much we’ve left behind over the centuries. As a result, there are lost and ruined cities across the globe, from mythical places that may or may not exist (like some version of Atlantis or Camelot) to places that are actively visited by tourists (like Machu Picchu). There’s no end to the fascination associated with these places, which is why we’re devoting some attention to the greatest of them.
We’ll start with Atlantis simply because I’ve mentioned it already, as well as because it’s one of the less serious selections on this list. Atlantis is primarily associated with fiction, and could even appear explicitly in the upcoming superhero film Aquaman. The version of it as some underwater super-society is clearly false. However, the concept of Atlantis as an ancient stronghold that was buried underwater by time or a natural disaster isn’t completely extraordinary. That makes it a fascinating lost city at least in theory. Specific theories range from the city being an invention of Plato’s, to representing the very real Minoan civilization, to its being some tiny, lost island somewhere in the Atlantic.
Vijayanagar is a sprawling ruin in southern India, and represents a city that was first founded in 1336 by five brothers. Not only is it one of the more interesting ruins in India from a visual perspective, but it actually holds major significance in the country’s history. For one thing, it was a line of defense against invasion, specifically from Muslim sultanates (even if Muslims and the locals interacted on decent terms). Additionally, it was a center of literature and sanskrit that ultimately produced a meaningful cultural legacy. Today the ruins are partially overtaken by the active village of Hampi, but are also designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Persepolis is a place a lot of people only know from the history books, or even from historically themed games like Sid Meier’s Civilization. It’s prominent in these places because it was once one of the primary seats of the Persian Empire when it controlled much of what was then the known world. Because the city was famously sacked and burned down by none other than Alexander the Great, many don’t even consider it as a possible destination. However, the ruins are known to be at a certain site some 60km north of Shiraz in Iran, and can thus be visited. However, travelers would do well to recall that Iran can be dangerous at times these days.
Petra may be one of the most famous lost cities in the world, though “ruined city” might be a more appropriate term for it. That’s true given that we know precisely where to find Petra, and it’s become a very popular destination for those who like to get glimpses of the ancient world. The city was carved into the side of a canyon in present day Jordan long, long ago by a people called the Nabataeans and only abandoned to the ages when earthquakes rendered it inhabitable. It was rediscovered in the 19th century however, and is now one of the most incredible, preserved pieces of the ancient world that can be found anywhere.
El Dorado has been turned into little more than a cartoon. In fact it was literally the subject of an animated film imitating the popular Disney style of the 1990s. It’s also the foundation for the exploration-based game Gonzo’s Quest, which has been partially responsible for a revival in animated, themed slot games. Because of things like these we think of it largely as an element of fiction – and in all likelihood that’s just what it was! However, the idea of El Dorado – a mythical lost city of gold – is still intoxicating. And we actually can trace the idea to some ancient and still occupied settlements in Colombia, where one lake in particular was used for gold-adorned rituals.
Many misunderstand Chichen Itza. The name is commonly applied to the pyramid-like monument that stands proudly, and rather amazingly, in Mexico. This monument is part of the site, but Chichen Itza is actually a whole city, lost to the ages but once a proud and active part of the Mayan civilization. It’s believed that the city had about a 600-year run up until the early 13th century, when it began to decline and was finished off, in a sense, by Spanish conquistadors. Possibly in their haste to explore the New World however, the Spanish didn’t completely destroy it, and Chichen Itza can be visited today – including the main pyramid structure, which is known as El Castillo.
In Africa, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are said to be second only to the pyramids of Egypt in size and grandeur. Now effectively a series of large stone monuments built into the hills and valleys of Zimbabwe, it was supposedly one of the largest settlements in ancient Africa – and it’s one a lot of people who are taught conventional Western or Eastern histories haven’t even heard about!