A lost city is an urban settlement that fell into terminal decline and became extensively or completely uninhabited, with the consequence that the site's former significance was no longer known to the wider world. The locations of many lost cities have been forgotten, but some have been rediscovered and studied extensively by scientists. Recently abandoned cities or cities whose location was never in question might be referred to as ruins or ghost towns. Smaller settlements may be referred to as abandoned villages. The search for such lost cities by European explorers and adventurers in Africa, the Americas, and Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards eventually led to the development of archaeology.[1]

Hiram Bingham rediscovered the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, preceded by Agustín Lizárraga in 1902
Ruins of Ciudad Perdida, a city built by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Lost cities generally fall into two broad categories: those where all knowledge of the city's existence was forgotten before it was rediscovered, and those whose memory was preserved in myth, legend, or historical records but whose location was lost or at least no longer widely recognized.

How cities are lost edit

Cities may become lost for a variety of reasons including natural disasters, economic or social upheaval, or war.[2]

The Incan capital city of Vilcabamba was destroyed and depopulated during the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1572. The Spanish did not rebuild the city, and the location went unrecorded and was forgotten until it was rediscovered through a detailed examination of period letters and documents.[3]

Troy was a city located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey. It is best known for being the focus of the Trojan War described in the Greek Epic Cycle and especially in the Iliad, one of the two epic poems attributed to Homer. Repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, the city slowly declined and was abandoned in the Byzantine era. Buried by time, the city was consigned to the realm of legend until the location was first excavated in the 1860s.[4]

Other settlements are lost with few or no clues to their abandonment. For example, Malden Island, in the central Pacific, was deserted when first visited by Europeans in 1825, but the remains of temples and other structures on the island indicate that a population of Polynesians had lived there for perhaps several generations in the past. Typically this lack of information is due to a lack of surviving written or oral histories and a lack of archaeological data as in the case of the remote and fairly unknown Malden Island.

Rediscovery edit

With the development of archaeology and the application of modern techniques, many previously lost cities have been rediscovered.

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca site situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World. Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. In 1911, Melchor Arteaga led the explorer Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley.[5] Nevertheless, Peruvian explorer and farmer Agustín Lizárraga predated this discovery by 9 years, having found the Inca site on July 14, 1902. He left a charcoal inscription bearing the words "A. Lizárraga 1902".[6]

Helike was an ancient Greek city that sank at night in the winter of 373 BCE. The city was located in Achaea, Northern Peloponnesos, two kilometres (12 stadia) from the Corinthian Gulf. The city was thought to be legend until 2001, when it was rediscovered in the Helike Delta. In 1988, the Greek archaeologist Dora Katsonopoulou launched the Helike Project to locate the site of the lost city. In 1994, in collaboration with the University of Patras, a magnetometer survey was carried out in the midplain of the delta, which revealed the outlines of a buried building. In 1995, this target was excavated (now known as the Klonis site), and a large Roman building with standing walls was brought to light.[7][8]

Lost cities by continent edit

Africa edit

Rediscovered edit

Egypt edit
Maghreb edit
  • Carthage – initially a Phoenician city in Tunisia, destroyed and then rebuilt by Rome. Later served as the capital of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, before being destroyed by the Arabs after its capture in 697 CE. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Dougga, Tunisia – Roman city located in present-day Tunisia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Leptis MagnaRoman city located in present-day Libya. It was the birthplace of Emperor Septimius Severus, who lavished an extensive public works program on the city, including diverting the course of a nearby river. The river later returned to its original course, burying much of the city in silt and sand. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Timgad, Algeria – Roman city founded by the emperor Trajan around 100 CE, covered by sand in the 7th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Aoudaghost, Mauritania – wealthy Berber city in medieval Ghana.
Horn of Africa edit
Subsaharan Africa edit

Uncertain or disputed edit

Undiscovered edit

Asia edit

Central Asia edit

Rediscovered edit
Undiscovered edit

East Asia edit

Rediscovered edit

Undiscovered edit

Uncertain or disputed edit

South Asia edit

India edit
Rediscovered edit
Uncertain or disputed edit
Undiscovered edit
Nepal edit
Pakistan edit
Rediscovered edit
Undiscovered edit
Sri Lanka edit
Rediscovered edit

Southeast Asia edit

Rediscovered edit
Angkor was rediscovered by Henri Mouhot in 1860.
Undiscovered edit
Uncertain or disputed edit
  • Kota Gelanggi, Malaysia
  • Ma-i, Philippines – was a sovereign polity that pre-dated the Hispanic establishment of the Philippines and notable for having established trade relations with the Kingdom of Brunei, and with Song and Ming Dynasty China. Its existence was recorded both in the Chinese Imperial annals Zhu Fan Zhi (諸番志) and History of Song.

Western Asia edit

Rediscovered edit
Undiscovered edit
Uncertain or disputed edit

Europe edit

Austria edit

  • Noreia – the capital of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Noricum. Possibly in southern Austria or Slovenia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina edit

Bulgaria edit

  • Perperikon – the megalith complex had been laid in ruins and re-erected many times in history – from the Bronze Age until Middle Ages.
  • Seuthopolis – an ancient Thracian city, discovered and excavated in 1948. It was founded by king Seuthes III around 325 BC. Its ruins are now located at the bottom of the Koprinka Reservoir near the city of Kazanlak.

Croatia edit

  • Heraclea somewhere in the Adriatic on the Croatian coast. Exact location unknown.

Denmark edit

Finland edit

France edit

  • Quentovic – In 842, the ancient port of Quentovicus was destroyed by a Viking fleet.
  • Thérouanne – In 1553, the city was razed, the roads broken up and the fields ploughed and salted by command of Charles V.

Germany edit

Greece edit

  • Akrotiri – on the island of Thera, Greece.
  • Chryse Island – in the Aegean, reputed site of an ancient temple still visible on the sea floor.
  • Helike – sunk by an earthquake in the 4th century BC and rediscovered in the 1990s.
  • Mycenae
  • Pavlopetri – underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, is about 5,000 years old, and is the oldest submerged archaeological town site.

Hungary edit

Italy edit

  • Acerrae Vatriae – a town of the Sarranates mentioned by Pliny the Elder as having been situated in an unknown location in Umbria.
  • Castro – a city in Lazio, capital of a Duchy ruled by the Farnese family. It was destroyed by a Papal army in 1649.
  • Luni
  • Paestum – Greek and Roman city south of Naples; three famous Greek temples.
  • Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae – buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and rediscovered in the 18th century.
  • Sybaris, Italy – ancient Greek colonial city of unsurpassed wealth utterly destroyed by its arch-rival Crotona in 510 BC.
  • Tripergole – ancient Roman spa village on the eastern shores of the Lucrine Lake in the Campi Flegrei. The village and most of the lake were buried by tephra in 1538 during the volcanic eruption that created Monte Nuovo. The exact location of the village and its associated hot springs can no longer be identified.

Lithuania edit

Netherlands edit

Norway edit

  • Kaupang – In Viksfjord near Larvik, Norway. Largest trading city around the Oslo Fjord during the Viking age. As sea levels retreated (the shoreline is 7m lower today than in 1000) the city was no longer accessible from the ocean and was abandoned.

Poland edit

Portugal edit

  • Conímbriga – early trading post dating to the 9th century BC. Abandoned in the 8th century AD.

Romania edit

Russia edit

Serbia edit

  • Stari Ras – one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state of Raška, abandoned in the 13th century.

Slovakia edit

  • Myšia Hôrka (near Spišský Štvrtok) – 3500 years old town (rediscovered in the 20th century) and archaeological site.

Spain edit

  • Amaya – either the capital or one of the most important cities of the Cantabri. Probably located in what nowadays is called "Amaya Peak" in Burgos, northern Spain.
  • Cypsela – drowned Ibero-Greek settlement in the Catalan shore, Spain. Mentioned by Greek, Roman and Medieval chroniclers.
  • Reccopolis – one of the capital cities founded in Hispania by the Visigoths. The site was incrementally abandoned in the 10th century.
  • Tartessos – a harbor city or an economical complex of small harbors and trade routes set on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river, in modern Andalusia, Spain. Tartessos is believed to be either the seat of an independent kingdom or a community of palatial cities devoted to exporting the mineral resources of the Hispanic mainland to the sea, to meet the Phoenician and Greek traders. Its destruction is still a matter of debate among historians, and one modern tendency tends to believe that Tartessos was never a city, but a culture complex.

Sweden edit

United Kingdom edit

  • Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester, England – large Romano-British walled city 10 miles (16 km) south of present-day Reading, Berkshire. Just the walls remain and a street pattern can be discerned from the air.
  • Dunwich, England – lost to coastal erosion. Once a large town, now reduced to a small village
  • Evonium, Scotland – purported coronation site and capital of 40 kings
  • Fairbourne, Walesmanaged retreat policy adopted by council in 2019 due to flooding prospects following climate change
  • Hallsands, Devon – built on a beach, last resident left in 1960, closed to public. Several derelict buildings still stand.
  • Hampton-on-Sea, England – a village in what is now the Hampton area of Herne Bay, Kent, drowned and abandoned between 1916 and 1921.
  • Kenfig, Wales – a village in Bridgend, encroached by sand and abandoned around the 13th century.
  • Nant Gwrtheyrn, Wales – former village on the North Welsh coast, abandoned after its quarry closed during World War II. Now regenerated as a language centre.
  • Old Sarum, England – population moved to nearby Salisbury in the 13th and 14th centuries, although the owners of the archaeological site retained the right to elect a Member of Parliament to represent Old Sarum until the 19th century (see William Pitt).
  • Ravenser Odd, England – important port near the mouth of the Humber, lost to coastal erosion in the 14th century.
  • Ravenspurn, England – near to Ravenser Odd, lost to coastal erosion at some time after 1471.
  • Roxburgh, Scotland – abandoned in the 15th century
  • Selsey, England – mostly abandoned to coastal erosion after 1043.
  • Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland – Neolithic settlement buried under sediment. Uncovered by a winter storm in 1850.
  • Trellech, Wales – declined between the 13th and 15th centuries.
  • Winchelsea, East Sussex – old Winchelsea, important Channel port, population of over 4000, abandoned after 1287 inundation and coastal erosion. Modern Winchelsea, 2 miles (3.2 km) inland, was built to replace it as a planned town by Edward I of England

Ukraine edit

North America edit

Canada edit

Rediscovered edit
  • L'Anse aux Meadows – Viking settlement founded around 1000. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Lost Villages – The Lost Villages are ten communities (Aultsville, Dickinson's Landing, Farran's Point, Maple Grove, Mille Roches, Moulinette, Santa Cruz, Sheek's Island, Wales, Woodlands) in the Canadian province of Ontario, in the former townships of Cornwall and Osnabruck (now South Stormont) near Cornwall, which were permanently submerged by the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958.

Caribbean edit

Rediscovered edit

Mexico and Central America edit

Maya cities edit

Incomplete list – for further information, see Maya civilization

Rediscovered edit
  • Calakmul – One of two superpowers in the classic Maya period. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Chichen Itza – This ancient place of pilgrimage is still the most visited Maya ruin. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Coba
  • Copán – In modern Honduras. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Naachtun – Rediscovered in 1922, it remains one of the most remote and least visited Maya sites. Located 44 km (27 miles) south-south-east of Calakmul, and 65 km (40 miles) north of Tikal, it is believed to have had strategic importance to, and been vulnerable to military attacks by, both neighbours. Its ancient name was identified in the mid-1990s as Masuul.
  • Palenque — in the Mexican state of Chiapas, known for its beautiful art and architecture. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Tikal — One of two major powers in the classic Maya period. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Tulum – Mayan coastal city.
Olmec cities edit
Rediscovered edit
Totonac Cities edit
Rediscovered edit
Other edit
Rediscovered edit
  • Izapa – Chief city of the Izapa civilization, whose territory extended from the Gulf Coast across to the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, in present-day Mexico, and Guatemala.
  • Guayabo – In Costa Rica. It is believed that the site was inhabited from 1500 BCE to 1400 CE, and had at its peak a population of around 10,000.

United States edit

Rediscovered edit

South America edit

Inca cities edit

Rediscovered edit

Other edit

Rediscovered edit
Status Unknown edit

Undiscovered and fictional lost cities edit

Legendary edit

That some cities are considered legendary does not mean they did not in fact exist. Some that were once considered legendary are now known to have existed, such as Troy and Bjarmaland.

Fictional edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "History of Archaeology". infoplease.
  2. ^ Yan, Holly (24 August 2016). "Cities nearly obliterated by natural disasters". CNN. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  3. ^ Adams, Mark (2012). Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time. Plume. p. 306. ISBN 978-0-452-29798-2 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Troy". Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 2006.
  5. ^ Burger, Richard L. (C. J. MacCurdy Professor and Current Chairman of the Council on Archaeological Studies); Salazar, Lucy C. (2004). Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09763-8 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Heaney, Christopher (2011). Cradle of gold: the story of Hiram Bingham, a real-life Indiana Jones and the search for Machu Picchu. New York: MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-230-11204-9.
  7. ^ Alvarez-Zarikian, Carlos A.; Soter, Steven; Katsonopoulou, Dora (2008). "Recurrent Submergence and Uplift in the Area of Ancient Helike, Gulf of Corinth, Greece: Microfaunal and Archaeological Evidence". Journal of Coastal Research. 24 (1A): 110–125. doi:10.2112/05-0454.1. JSTOR 30133726. S2CID 140202998.
  8. ^ Paul Kronfield. "Helike Foundation - Discoveries at Ancient Helike". Helike.org. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  9. ^ Lost Cities of the Silk Road.
  10. ^ Bane, Theresa (March 8, 2014). "Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical Places". McFarland – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Ramaswamy, Sumathi (September 27, 2004). "The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories". University of California Press – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Sastri, Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta (June 9, 1941). "Historical Method in Relation to Problems of South Indian History". University of Madras – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Durant, Will (1963). The story of civilization. Vol. I: Our Oriental Heritage. Ariel Durant (1st ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 394. ISBN 0-671-54800-X. OCLC 23249604.
  14. ^ "Metropolis: Angkor, the world's first mega-city". Independent.co.uk. Archived from the original on September 23, 2008.
  15. ^ [1] Thorkild Jacobsen, "The Sumerian King List", Assyriological Studies 11, Chicago: University of Chricago Press, 1939
  16. ^ Jarus, Owen (2018-05-30). "Lost City of Irisagrig Comes to Life in Ancient Stolen Tablets". livescience.com. Retrieved 2022-10-26.
  17. ^ "Arkæologer finder spor fra druknet middelalderhavn: Hvordan kunne den forsvinde så pludseligt?". 5 February 2024.
  18. ^ Charlemagne and the Avars.
  19. ^ Watkins, Thayer. "Mangazeya: A 16th Century Arctic Trading City". San José State University. Archived from the original on 25 November 2002. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  20. ^ Teotihuacan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  21. ^ "Archaeologists uncover lost Indigenous NE Florida settlement of Sarabay". Heritage Daily. 8 June 2021.
  22. ^ Amazon jungle gives up lost city of the 'Cloud People', News.com.au.
  23. ^ Lost City Teyuna, Lostcitytour.com.
  24. ^ [2]
  25. ^ Glassé, Cyril; Huston Smith (2003). The New Encyclopedia of Islam (Revised ed.). AltaMira Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-7591-0190-6 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ "Lost cities of the Amazon revealed". NBC News.
  27. ^ "Ancient 'Lost City' Discovered in Peru, Official Claims". National Geographic. January 2008. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008.