Lost city

Lost city

In the popular imagination lost cities were real, prosperous, well-populated areas of human habitation that fell into terminal decline and whose location was later lost. Most known lost cities have been studied extensively by scientists. Abandoned urban sites of relatively recent origin are generally referred to as ghost towns. This article however includes places where people lived that were important local centres, without applying a specific test of size.

Lost cities generally fall into three broad categories: those whose disappearance has been so complete that no knowledge of the city existed until the time of its rediscovery and study, those whose location has been lost but whose memory has been retained in the context of myths and legends, and those whose existence and location have always been known, but which are no longer inhabited. The search for such lost cities by European adventurers in the Americas, Africa and in Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards eventually led to the development of the science of archaeology.

How are cities lost?

Cities may become lost for a variety of reasons, including geographic, economic, social (e.g. war), others, or some combination of these.

An Arabian city named Ubar (Iram of the Pillars) was abandoned after much of the city sank into a sinkhole created by the collapse of an underground cavern, which also destroyed its water supply. The city was rediscovered in 1992 when satellite photography revealed traces of the ancient traderoutes leading to it.

Other settlements are lost with few or no clues to guide historians, such as the Colony of Roanoke. In August 1590, John White returned to the former English colony, which had housed 91 men (including White), 17 women (two of them pregnant) and 11 children when he left, to find it completely empty.

Malden Island, in the central Pacific, was deserted when first visited by Europeans in 1825, but ruined temples and the remains of other structures found on the island indicate that a small population of Polynesians had lived there for perhaps several generations some centuries earlier. Prolonged drought seems the most likely explanation for their demise. The ruins of another city, called Nan Madol, have been found on the Micronesian island of Ponape. In more recent times Port Royal, Jamaica sank into the Caribbean Sea after an earthquake.

Many cities have been destroyed by natural disasters and rebuilt, sometimes repeatedly. But in other cases the destruction has been so complete that the sites were abandoned completely. Classic examples include the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried with many of their inhabitants under a thick layer of volcanic ash after an eruption of Vesuvius. A lesser known example is Akrotiri, on the island of Thera, where in 1967, under a blanket of ash, the remains of a Minoan city were discovered. The volcanic explosion on Thera was immense, and had disastrous effects on the Minoan civilization. It has been suggested that this disaster was the inspiration that Plato used for the story of Atlantis.

Less dramatic examples of the destruction of cities by natural forces are those where the coastline has eroded away. Cities which have sunk into the sea include the one-time centre of the English wool-trade, at Dunwich, England, and the city of Rungholt in Germany which sank into the North Sea during a massive storm surge in 1362.

Cities are also often destroyed by wars. This is the case, for instance, with Troy and Carthage, though both of these were subsequently rebuilt, and the Achaemenid capital at Persepolis was accidentally burnt by Alexander the Great.

Various capitals in the Middle East were abandoned; after Babylon was abandoned Ctesiphon became the capital of the new Parthian Empire, and this was in turn passed over in favor of Baghdad (and later Samarra) for the site of the Abbasid capital.

Some cities which are considered lost are (or may be) places of legend such as the Arthurian Camelot, Russian Kitezh, Lyonesse and Atlantis. Others, such as Troy and Bjarmaland, having once been considered to be legendary, are now known to have existed.

Lost cities by continent


*Akhetaten, Egypt – Capital during the reign of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten. Later abandoned and almost totally destroyed. Modern day el Amarna.
*Canopus, Egypt – Located on the now-dry Canopic branch of the Nile, east of Alexandria.
*Itjtawy, Egypt – Capital during the 12th Dynasty. Exact location still unknown, but it is believed to lie near the modern town of el-Lisht.
*Tanis, Egypt – Capital during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, in the Delta region.
*Memphis, Egypt – Administrative capital of ancient Egypt. Little remains.
*Avaris, capital city of the Hyksos in the Nile Delta.
*Leptis MagnaRoman city located in present day Libya. It was the birthplace of Emperor Septimius Severus, who lavished an extensive public works programme 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.
*Dougga, Tunisia – Roman city located in present day Tunisia.
*Carthage – Initially a Phoenician city, 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 AD 697.
*Great Zimbabwe
*Aoudaghost – Wealthy Berber city in medieval Ghana, sacked by mujahideen, location unknown.
*Timgad - Roman city founded by the emperor Trajan around 100 AD, covered by the sand at 7th century.


Far East Asia


outheast Asia

*Angkor and surrounds

outh Asia

*Vijayanagar – Located in South India
*Poompuhar – Located in Tamil Nadu, South India
*Mohenjodaro – Located in Pakistan Sindh - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
*Harappa – Located in Pakistan Punjab - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
*Taxila – Located in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province
*Muziris – Located in Tamil Nadu, South India
*Lothal – Located in Gujarat, India - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
*Kalibangan – Located in Rajasthan, India - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
*Surkotada – Located in Gujarat, India - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
*Dwarka – ancient seat of Krishna, hero of the Mahabharata. Now largely excavated. Off the coast of the Indian state of Gujarat

Central Asia

*Abaskun – Medieval Caspian Sea trading port
*Ani – Medieval Armenian capital
*Niya – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
*Loulan – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
*Subashi – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
*Otrar – City located along the Silk Road, important in the history of Central Asia.
*Karakorum – Capital of Genghis Khan.
*Old Urgench – Capital of Khwarezm.
*Mangazeya, Siberia
*Turquoise Mountain - Capital of Afghanistan, destroyed 1220
*Sarai - Capital of the Golden Horde

Western Asia/Middle East

*Çatalhöyük – A Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement, located near the modern city of Konya, Turkey.
*Choqa Zanbil
*Iram of the Pillars – Lost Arabian city in the Empty Quarter.
*Kourion, Cyprus
*Hattusa – Capital of the Hittite Empire. Located near the modern village of Boğazköy in north-central Turkey.

outh America

Inca cities

*Machu Picchu – Possibly Pachacuti's Family Palace.
*Vilcabamba – Currently known as Espiritu Pampa.
*Paititi – A legendary city and refuge in the rainforests where Peru, Bolivia and Brazil meet.
*Choquequirao - Considered to be the last bastion of Incan resistance against the Spaniards and refuge of Manco Inca Yupanqui.


*Chan ChanChimu. Located near Trujillo, in present day Peru.
*Tiahuanaco – pre-Inca. Located in present day Bolivia.
*CahuachiNazca, in present day Peru.
*Caral – An important center of the Norte Chico civilization, in present day Peru.
*Ciudad de los Cesares - City of the Caesars, A legendary city in Patagonia, never found. Also variously known as City of the Patagonia, Wandering City, Trapalanda or Trapananda, Lin Lin or Elelín,
*Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien – First city in the mainland of the American continent, in the Darien region between Colombia and Panama. Founded by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1510.
*Lost City of Z - A city allegedly located in the jungles of the Matto Grosso region of Brazil, was said to have been seen by the British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett sometime prior to World War I.
*Kuelap - A massive ruined city still covered in jungle that was the capital of the Chachapoyas culture in Northern Peru.
*Tayuna (Ciudad Perdida) located in present day Colombia

North America

Mexico and Central America

Maya cities

"incomplete list – for further information, see Maya civilization"
*Chichen Itza – This ancient place of pilgrimage is still the most visited Maya ruin.
*Copán – In modern Honduras.
*Calakmul – One of two "superpowers" in the classic Maya period.
*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
*Tikal — One of two "superpowers" in the classic Maya period.

Olmec cities

*La Venta – In the present day Mexican state of Tabasco.
*San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán – In the present day Mexican state of Veracruz.

United States

*The cities of the Ancestral Pueblo (or Anasazi) culture, located in the Four Corners region of the Southwest United States – The best known are located at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.
*Cahokia – Located near present-day St. Louis, Missouri. At its height Cahokia is believed to have had a population of between 40,000 and 80,000 people, making it amongst the largest pre-Columbian cities of the Americas. It is known chiefly for its huge pyramidal mounds of compacted earth.
*Kennett, California was lost under 400 feet of water when Shasta Dam was built.
*Kane, Wyoming was a city that was lost when the Yellowtail Dam was built.
*Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, Massachusetts, were submerged beneath the Quabbin Reservoir in 1938.
*Napoleon, Arkansas was a city along the Arkansas Delta which was destroyed during a flood.
*Lost counties, cities, and towns of Virginia
*Pattenville, New Hampshire was flooded when the Moore Dam was built.
*Pueblo Grande de Nevada a complex of villages, located near Overton, Nevada


*L'Anse aux Meadows – Viking settlement founded around 1000.


*Aztlán- the ancient home of the Aztecs
*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.
*Teotihuacan – Pre-Aztec Mexico.


*Akrotiri – On the island of Thera, Greece.
*Atil, Tmutarakan, Sarai Berke – Capitals of the steppe peoples.
*Attila's Fortified Camp, Romania – Probably the great ruins at Saden (Zsadany, Jadani, now Cornesti -jud. Timis) from or to which the Hun tribe Sadagariem took or gave their name.
*Avars'Khan Fortified Camp, Romania - Probably the re-occupied city of Attila at Saden (Zsadany, Jadani, now Cornesti -jud. Timis).
*Birka, Sweden
*Biskupin, Poland
*Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester, England - Large Romano-British walled city 10 miles south of present day Reading, Berkshire. Just the walls remain and a street pattern can be discerned from the air.
*Chryse Island in the Aegean, reputed site of an ancient temple still visible on the sea floor.
*Damasia – Sank into the Ammersee, Germany.
*Dunwich, England, United Kingdom – Lost to coastal erosion.
*Hedeby, Germany
*Helike, Greece on the Peloponese – Sunk by an earthquake in the 4th century BC and rediscovered in the 1990s.
*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.
*Kitezh, Russia - Legendary underwater city which supposedly may be seen in good weather.
*Niedam near Rungholt
*Ny Varberg, Sweden
*Old Sarum, England, United Kingdom – population moved to nearby Salisbury although the owners of the archaeological site retained the right to elect a Member of Parliament to represent Old Sarum until the nineteenth century (see William Pitt abandoned).
*Paestum - Greek and Roman city south of Naples, abandoned after attacks by Muslim pirates. Three famous Greek temples.
*Perperikon in Bulgaria - The megalith complex had been laid in ruins and re-erected many times in history - from the Bronze Age till Middle Ages.
*Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy - buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and rediscovered in the 18th century
*Reccopolis, Spain - One of the capital cities founded in Hispania by the Visigoths. the site was incrementally abandoned in the tenth century.
*Roxburgh, Scotland - abandoned in the 15th century
*Rungholt – Sunken in the Wadden Sea, Germany.
*Saeftinghe, Netherlands - prosperous city lost to the sea in 1584.
*Selsey, England, United Kingdom - mostly abandoned to coastal erosion after 1043.
*Skara Brae, Scotland, United Kingdom - Neolithic settlement buried under sediment. Uncovered by a winter storm in 1850.
*Sybaris, Italy - Ancient Greek colonial city of unsurpassed wealth utterly destroyed by its arch-rival Crotona in 510 BCE.
*Tartessos, Spain
*Teljä, Finland
*Trellech, Wales, United Kingdom.
*Uppåkra, Sweden
*Vineta – Legendary city somewhere at the Baltic coast of Germany or Poland.
*Winchelsea, East Sussex, UK Old Winchelsea, Important Channel port, pop 4000+, abandoned after 1287 inundation and coastal erosion. Modern Winchelsea, 2 miles inland, was built to replace it as a planned town by Edward I of England
*Ys - Legendary city on the western coast of France.

ee also

*Lost city (fiction)
*Ghost town
*Lost lands
*Mythical place
*"Collapse" by Jared Diamond

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