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A lost city is a human settlement that fell into terminal decline and became extensively or completely uninhabited. The location of many lost cities has 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. The search for such lost cities by European explorers and adventurers in the Americas, Africa, and Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards eventually led to the development of archaeology.
Lost cities generally fall into two broad categories: those where no knowledge of the city existed until the time of its rediscovery, and those where location has been lost but knowledge of its existence has been retained in myths, legends, or historical records.
- 1 How cities are lost
- 2 Rediscovery
- 3 Legends
- 4 Lost cities by continent
- 4.1 Africa
- 4.2 Asia
- 4.3 South America
- 4.4 North America
- 4.5 Europe
- 4.5.1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 4.5.2 Bulgaria
- 4.5.3 Denmark
- 4.5.4 Finland
- 4.5.5 France
- 4.5.6 Germany
- 4.5.7 Greece
- 4.5.8 Hungary
- 4.5.9 Italy
- 4.5.10 Netherlands
- 4.5.11 Norway
- 4.5.12 Poland
- 4.5.13 Portugal
- 4.5.14 Romania
- 4.5.15 Serbia
- 4.5.16 Slovakia
- 4.5.17 Spain
- 4.5.18 Sweden
- 4.5.19 United Kingdom
- 4.5.20 Ukraine
- 4.5.21 Unknown
- 5 See also
- 6 References
How cities are lost
Cities may become lost for a variety of reasons including natural disasters, economic or social upheaval, or war.
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.
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.
Other settlements are lost with few or no clues to their decline. Malden Island, in the central Pacific, was deserted when first visited by Europeans in 1825, but the unsuspected presence of ruined temples and the remains of other structures found on the island indicate that a population of Polynesians had lived there for perhaps several generations some centuries earlier. Prolonged drought seems the most likely explanation for their demise and the remote nature of the island meant few visitors.
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.
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. The city was rediscovered in 2001 buried in an ancient lagoon.
Some cities which are considered lost are (or may be) places of legend.
- Arthurian Camelot
- Kitezh, Russia - Legendary underwater city which supposedly may be seen in good weather.
- Ys - Legendary city on the western coast of France.
- The Seven Cities of Gold
- El Dorado
- Vineta – Legendary city somewhere at the Baltic coast of Germany or Poland.
- 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.
- Paititi – A legendary city and refuge in the rainforests where Peru, Bolivia and Brazil meet.
- Otuken - legendary capital city of Gokturks in Turkic mythology.
- Ai - important city in the Hebrew Bible.
- Sodom and Gomorrah
- Iram of the Pillars – this may refer to a lost Arabian city in the Empty Quarter but sources also identify it as a tribe or an area mentioned in the Quran.
- Lost City of Z - A city allegedly located in the jungles of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, was said to have been seen by the British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett sometime prior to World War I.
- Aztlán- the ancestral homeland in Aztec mythology
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.
- Tanis, Egypt – Capital during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, in the Delta region.
- Memphis, Egypt – Administrative capital of ancient Egypt. Little remains. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Avaris, capital city of the Hyksos in the Nile Delta.
- Leptis Magna – Roman 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. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Dougga, Tunisia – Roman city located in present day Tunisia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 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 697 CE. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Great Zimbabwe– Built between the 11th and the 14th century, this city is the namesake of modern day Zimbabwe. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Aoudaghost, Mauritania– Wealthy Berber city in medieval Ghana.
- Timgad, Algeria - Roman city founded by the emperor Trajan around 100 CE, covered by the sand at 7th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Pi-Ramesses, Egypt — Imperial city of Rameses the Great, now thought to exist beneath Quantir
Uncertain or Disputed
- Itjtawy, Egypt – Capital during the 12th Dynasty. Exact location still unknown, but it is believed to lie near the modern town of el-Lisht.
- Thinis, Egypt — Undiscovered city and centre of the Thinite Confederacy, the leader of which, Menes, united Upper and Lower Egypt and was the first pharaoh.
Far East Asia
Uncertain or Disputed
- Sukhothai - Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Ayutthaya - Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Angkor and surroundings. - Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Kota Gelanggi - Malaysia (Malay Archipelago)
- Gangga Negara - Malaysia (Malay Archipelago)
- Kembayat Negara — Champa/Vietnam/Cambodia
- Dholavira - Located in Gujarat, India. Indus Valley Civilization city
- Vijayanagar – Located in Karnataka, India. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Poompuhar – 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
- Pattadakal – Located in Karnataka, South India. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Vasai-Located in India, former capital (1533-1740) of the Northern Provinces of Portuguese India
- Mohenjo-Daro – Located in Pakistan Sindh — early city of the Indus Valley Civilization, the city was one of the early urban settlements in the world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Harappa – Located in Punjab, Pakistan - early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
- Taxila – Located in Pakistan's Punjab province
- Mehrgarh – Located in Pakistan's Baluchistan province Indus Valley Civilization city
- Kot Diji – Located in Pakistan's Sindh province Indus Valley Civilization city
- 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 – capitol of Khwarezm. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Mangazeya, Siberia
- Sarai - Capital of the Golden Horde
- Abaskun – Medieval Caspian Sea trading port
- Atil, Tmutarakan, Sarai Berke – Capitals of the steppe peoples.
- Balanjar - Earlier Khazar capital
- Turquoise Mountain - Capital of Afghanistan, destroyed 1220
Western Asia/Middle East
- Ani – Medieval Armenian capital, located in Turkish side of Armenia-Turkey border.
- Antioch - Ancient Greek city, important stronghold in time of Crusades.
- Çatalhöyük – A Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement, located near the modern city of Konya, Turkey.
- Choqa Zanbil
- Gobekli Tepe
- Kourion, Cyprus
- Hattusa – Capital of the Hittite Empire. Located near the modern village of Boğazköy in north-central Turkey.
- Mada'in Saleh (and capitol Petra) - Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Machu Picchu – Possibly Pachacuti's Family Palace. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Vilcabamba – Currently known as Espiritu pampa.
- Choquequirao - Considered to be the last bastion of Incan resistance against the Spaniards and refuge of Manco Inca Yupanqui.
- Chan Chan – Chimu. Located near Trujillo, in present day Peru. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Tiahuanaco – pre-Inca. Located in present day Bolivia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Cahuachi – Nazca, in present day Peru.
- Caral – An important center of the Norte Chico civilization, in present day Peru. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Kuelap - A massive ruined city still covered in jungle that was the capital of the Chachapoyas culture in Northern Peru.
- Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida) located in present day Colombia
- Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien – First city in the mainland of the American continent, in the Darién region between Colombia and Panama. Founded by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1510.
Mexico and Central America
incomplete list – for further information, see Maya civilization
- Chichen Itza – This ancient place of pilgrimage is still the most visited Maya ruin. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Copán – In modern Honduras. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Calakmul – One of two "superpowers" in the classic Maya period. 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 mi) south-south-east of Calakmul, and 65 km (40 mi) 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 "superpowers" in the classic Maya period. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Tulum - Mayan coastal city.
- La Venta – In the present day Mexican state of Tabasco.
- San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán – In the present day Mexican state of Veracruz.
- Hueyatlaco - Oldest city in Mexico.
- 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 – 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.
- 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. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Bethel Indian Town, New Jersey - Lenape settlement which has disappeared as the Lenape migrated west.
- Pueblo Grande de Nevada a complex of villages, located near Overton, Nevada
- Roanoke Colony
- 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.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Perperikon in Bulgaria - The megalith complex had been laid in ruins and re-erected many times in history - from the Bronze Age until Middle Ages.
- Seuthopolis, Bulgaria - 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.
- Quentovic - In 842, the ancient port of Quentovicus was destroyed by a Viking fleet.
- Damasia – An ancient hill-top settlement on the Lech, of the Licates, a tribe of the Celtic Vindelici. Commonly identified with either the Auerberg or pre-Roman Augsburg. According to folklore, sunken into the Ammersee.
- Hedeby, Germany
- Rungholt – Wadden Sea in Germany, sunken during the "Grote Mandrenke", a storm surge in the North Sea on January 16, 1362
- 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, Greece on the Peloponese – Sunk by an earthquake in the 4th century BC and rediscovered in the 1990s.
- Mycenae, Greece
- Avar Ring, Hungary - Central stronghold of the Avars, it is believed to have been in the wide plain between the Danube and the Tisza.
- Luni, Italy
- Paestum - Greek and Roman city south of Naples, abandoned due to climate change. Three famous Greek temples.
- Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia in Italy - 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.
- Dorestad, Netherlands
- Reimerswaal, Netherlands - flooded in the 16th century.
- Saeftinghe, Netherlands - prosperous city lost to the sea in 1584.
- 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.
- Conímbriga, Portugal - early trading post dating to the 9th century BC. Abandoned in the 8th century AD. 
- Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania - The capital city of Dacia.
- Vicina, a port on the Danube, near the Delta.
- Stari Ras, Serbia - one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state of Raška, abandoned in the 13th
- Myšia Hôrka (near Spišský Štvrtok), Slovakia - 3500 years old town (rediscovered in the 20th century) and archaeological site, complex is called also Slovak Mycenae.
- Amaya – mentioned by Barro, it was 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, Spain - One of the capital cities founded in Hispania by the Visigoths. the site was incrementally abandoned in the 10th century.
- Tartessos, Spain- 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 palacial 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.
- 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.
- Evonium, Scotland - purported coronation site and capital of 40 kings
- Hampton-on-Sea, England – A drowned and abandoned village in what is now the Hampton area of Herne Bay, Kent.
- Nant Gwrtheyrn former village on the North Welsh coast, abandoned after its quarry closed. Now regenerated as a language centre.
- Old Sarum, England – 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 19th century (see William Pitt).
- 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
- Winchelsea, East Sussex - Old Winchelsea, Important Channel port, pop 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
- Acerrae Vatriae – a town of the Sarranates mentioned by Pliny the elder as having been situated in an unknown location in Umbria.
- History of Archaeology
- Ancient "Lost City" Discovered in Peru, Official Claims
- Glassé, Cyril; Huston Smith (Revised edition 2003). The New Encyclopedia of Islam. AltaMira Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0759101906. Check date values in:
- Lost cities of the Amazon revealed, msnbc.com
- Metropolis: Angkor, the world's first mega-city
- Lost Cities of the Silk Road
- Amazon jungle gives up lost city of the 'Cloud People', News.com.au
- Teotihuacan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Charlemagne and the Avars