From the depths of the Mediterranean Sea to the man-made dams of Japan, we often forget just how much of our planet is littered with the remains of ancient civilizations – some that we didn’t even know existed. As we continue to move further and further away from the ancient times, it is increasingly difficult to simply fathom a time where electricity, internet and technology didn’t even exist – better yet, a time where the only tools were made out of wood and stone.
Given our current day and age, you would be forgiven if you haven’t exactly stopped to imagine what would happen if your city slowly, but surely began to sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. But despite how powerful and unstoppable our technologically advanced cities may appear to be, they don’t stand a chance against the relentless force of Mother Nature as we have witnessed in the past.
While the legendary lost city of Atlantis has yet to be found, archaeologists have been lucky enough to discover several sunken cities that once belonged to popular and thriving ancient civilizations. While not every sunken city met its demise through natural causes, some were intentionally submerged to avoid the death of millions of people.
While there are hundreds of sunken cities to explore, here is fifteen of the most mind blowing underwater cities ever discovered.
15. Cleopatra’s Palace – Alexandria, Egypt
Destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami more than 1,500 year ago, the palace of Cleopatra and Alexandria’s old lighthouse were discovered just meters below the surface of the ocean in the late 1990’s. Discovered by Frank Goddio and his team of archaeologists, they have been able to uncover a series of ruins from ancient cargo ships, jewelry, vases, pillars, and even Cleopatra’s palace that consists of shrines, temples, statues and 2 perfectly preserved sphinxes.
Unfortunately though, a terrible earthquake and tsunami hit the once great city of Alexandria – causing it to sink the island of Antirhodos where it claimed Cleopatra’s palace and Alexandria’s old lighthouse.
Visiting the site may not be all that it’s cracked up to be as many of the well preserved pieces that have been found have since been dug out and taken to tour the worlds museums. Despite only being five to eight meters below the surface, the visibility is less than one meter in some locations, making it quite challenging to not only see but also for those that are not well experienced in scuba diving.
14. Shi Cheng (Lion City) – Qiandao Lake, China
Hidden more than 85 feet below the surface of the Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Providence of China, are two of the most mysterious underwater cities that have ever been found. Believed to date back as far as the Han and Tang dynasties, the underwater city – which is known as Lion City – was rediscovered in 2001 when divers described the city as a time capsule because almost every structure has remained completely intact.
During 1959, the Qiandao Lake was intentionally flooded to create the Xin’anjiang Reservoir and Xin’an River Hydroelectric Station – which resulted in more than 290,000 people having to relocate their homes.
13. Dwarka – Gulf of Cambay, India
Located in the modern day bay of Dwarka, India is an ancient underwater city that sits approximately 131 feet below the ocean surface. What was once thought to be a myth, the ancient underwater city of Dwarka was discovered in the year 2000 and holds some very significant claims.
According to the Indian epic Mahabharata, Dwarka is believed to have 900,000 royal palaces, which are all connected by an elaborate system of boulevards, roads, market places, assembly houses and even temples. Surprisingly enough, archaeologists have found items from the sunken city that date back at least nine thousand years.
Furthermore, the Hindu text claims that Lord Krishna was attacked by King Salva with a flying machine, which has gained the attention of ancient alien theorists, as the text seemingly suggests that advanced technology and weapons were used by a craft that was attacking from orbit.
While nothing has yet been confirmed on whether or not this city is the one famously spoken of in the Mahabharata, its confirmation by archaeologists would be significant as the book of supposed myths would now hold some form of credibility.
12. Yonaguni Monument – Yonaguni-Jima, Japan
Quite possibly one of the biggest debates when it comes to underwater cities is the Yonaguni Monument as nobody can provide a definite answer has to how the great underwater pyramid shaped ruins were originally formed.
Discovered in 1986 by Yonaguni-Cho Tourism Director – Kihachiro Aratake – many geologists believe that the 250 feet pyramid is a natural formation, whereas many others firmly disagree and believe that it is in fact an artificial structure that was constructed by man during the last ice age at approximately 10,000 BCE.
The great underwater pyramid of Yonaguni is a sight that cannot be missed – so if you are looking for an adventure, experienced divers can take part in a number of regularly scheduled tours. However, just be prepared as the location is notorious for its strong currents and rough surface conditions.
11. Port Royal –Jamaica
Located on the southeast coast of Jamaica, the harbor of Port Royal was once known as “the wickedest city on earth” as during the seventeenth century it quickly became the infamous home to pirates, prostitutes and Englishmen. Being visited by famous pirates such as Blackbeard, Port Royal quickly become the hang-out and base for pirates between treasure raids on ships that were sailing the Spanish Main.
Meeting its demise in 1692, the city collapsed after a devastating earthquake where much of its foundations gave way. Thankfully, despite falling up to 40ft below the surface, the famous underwater city still has many of its structures intact.
Unfortunately, don’t expect to be able to explore the underwater city as special access is require from the government to dive in the restricted area of the Port Royal ruins. Luckily though, divers have been exploring and cataloging the submerged city since the 1950’s – with many of their finds being placed in the Museums of History and Ethnography at the Institute of Jamaica.
10. Atlit Yam – Israel
When Marine Archaeologist, Dr. Ehud Galili, was deep sea diving in the dark and murky waters of the Levantine Sea – just off the coast of Israel in 1984 – he came across something extraordinary on the ocean floor – an ancient underwater city. The underwater city of Atlit Yam is believed to date back as far as 7,000 B.C.E, with many claiming that it may even be older than what they first estimated.
Since then, a number of significant objects have been uncovered such as stone walled buildings, fireplaces, wells, courtyards, farming items, animal bones and even human remains. Some of the human remains have even shown evidence of the terrible disease, tuberculosis – which has been dated as the oldest known evidence of the infection in humans.
While nobody is exactly certain as to why Atlit Yam fell into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, experts currently have a theory that Atlit Yam met its demise after the eastern side of Sicily’s Mount Etna fell into the ocean causing a 130 foot tsunami that destroyed several cities.
9. Phanagoria – Russia / Greece
The location of Phanagoria was found during the 18th century when a number of marble statue bases were discovered with dedications to Aphrodite. When archaeologists began excavating the site in 1822, a number of soldiers dug into a large barrow that held rich discoveries of gold and silver objects – which was divided up between themselves.
One of the more interesting aspects of the underwater city is the vast necropolis that spreads on three sides around Phanagoria. Archaeologists have found thousands of burials, many with cypress or marble sarcophagi.
Much like most ancient underwater cities, the excavation of Phanagoria has been painstakingly slow as much of the settlement still remains covered with sand – some structures of the site have been found to be buried beneath upwards of seven meters of dirt. The most recent discoveries from the location have included coins, vases, pottery, terracotta figurines, jewelry, and metal items.
8. Thonis-Heracleion – Egypt
Described as one of the world’s oldest cities, the submerged city of Thonis-Heracleion is believed to date back as far as 1,200 BC. Not much is currently known about the ancient underwater city, but experts currently believe that Thonis-Heracleion was at one point the obligatory port of all ships coming from the Greek world.
Before it’s discovered in 2000, the memory of Thonis-Heracleion was almost erased from mankind and was only persevered in ancient classic texts and rare inscriptions found on land by archaeologists. Since its discovery, a number of spectacular finds have been uncovered such as grand temples, colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewellery and coins, ritual objects and ceramics.
After a series of diverse natural catastrophes in the third or fourth century BC, many believe that the city ultimately met its demise when the silt that the city was built upon was washed away, causing the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion to sink into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.
7. Pheia, Greece
Located in the natural bay of modern day Agios Andreas, Katakolo – the ancient city of Pheia was primarily used by the Athenians after the Peloponnesian War as their base for military operations.
Built upon a very seismically active area – much like many ancient cities – the small town of Pheia met its demise in 551 AD when a tsunami caused the city to slide into the depths of the ocean. While Pheia was no stranger to the effects of an earthquake, this particular one was just too powerful and was even recorded as also being responsible for the destruction of the city of Patras and the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
Lying just five meters below the surface, archaeologists have uncovered a number of interesting artifacts such as building remains, prehistoric pottery, a Roman cemetery and even a byzantine coin. Surprisingly, many of the archaeological remains from the site have been dated from the Early Helladic through to the Byzantine periods.
6. Pavlopetri – Greece
Located off the coast of Vatika Bay in south-eastern Peloponnese is an ancient underwater city that many archaeologists believe to be the oldest submerged city in the world. While the official name of the city is currently unknown, archaeologists have temporarily named the city after a modern settlement, Pavlopetri.
Sciences have estimated that the city sunk around the time period of 1,000 BC due to a series of earthquakes that shifted the land. While nothing is confirmed, historians believe that the ancient city was the centre for commerce for the Minoan and the Mycenaean civilizations.
Despite its age of over 5000 years, the underwater city of Pavlopetri is remarkably well preserved and contains around nine acres of ruins that include houses, gardens, temples, and even evidence of an ancient, yet complex plumbing system.
5. Lake Titicaca – Bolivia, Peru
Hidden in the mountains of the Andes – between Bolivia and Peru – lays a sacred lake that is known not only for its ancient stories , but also for being the world’s highest navigable lake.
In the year of 2000, an international team of archaeologists discovered the ruins of an ancient underwater city that lies below the stunningly beautiful Lake Titicaca. Despite the dangers of high altitude diving, the team of archaeologists were able to uncover an underwater city complex that includes a temple, roads, walls, and terraces that would have most likely been used for growing crops.
Much like the ancient stories described, the underwater city is home to some very wealthy treasures as divers have been able to uncover numerous artifacts that include gold fragments, ceramic, stone statues and vessels, animal bones, incense containers and even human remains. While tours have been held, divers must pass a very challenging test to ensure they are capable of managing the high altitude dive.
4. Baiae – Italy
Dubbed the Las Vegas of Italy, the ancient Roman city of Baiae was home to some of Rome’s richest and most powerful elite. Built upon natural volcanic vents, the city was famous for its healing medicinal hot springs which drew the likes of Rome’s most powerful figures such as Nero, Cicero, and Caesar.
Not everything lasts forever though, as the city was sacked by the Saracens in the 8th century and by the 1500’s, the remains of the luxurious city were abandoned. Once the city was emptied, the volcanic vents – the same ones that made the city so famous – caused the water levels to rise and eventually drown the city under shallow water.
The city of Baiae remains one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks available for the public to visit. You can view the stunning underwater city through glass bottomed boats, snorkelling, or even through scuba diving tours.
3. Olous – Greece
Situated off the coast of the modern day town of Elounda, the sunken city of Olous, Crete was one of the many cities that were once mentioned by the famous Greek poet, Homer. Thanks to this very information, many experts have been able to confirm that the city can be dated as far back as the Minoan times.
Olous wasn’t just any old standard city though, as it was often known for its powerful city-state, stable government, its own coinage, temples, harbours, trading partners, and even its large army. Unlike other Greek cities though that were built upon rocky fortified hills, Olous was instead built on coastal sands. So when a major earthquake struck the town, the movements of the sea floor, and sediments caused the ancient city to slip downwards into the depths of Poros Bay.
Thankfully, not everything was lost during the collapse as it has been said that the cities foundations are often visible above the water at low tide and is also known to be a popular snorkelling destination.
2. Mysterious Sunken City – Cuba
Found just off the coast of Cabo de San Antonio, researchers have found a number of unusual formations of smooth blocks, crests, and geometric shapes. While many have claimed it to be the fabled lost city of Atlantis, many geologists have stressed that it’s important to keep an open mind throughout the sites investigation.
With data only being collected through the use of sonar scans and video, it has been determined that the mysterious structures are buried beneath 1,900 to 2,500 feet of water. While nobody has specific evidence as to how the ruins sunk – if they even sunk at all – some experts believe that the submerged ruins were initially built at a much higher altitude but has since sunk to its current depth due to tectonic activity.
No matter what you believe, it’s important to remember that this wouldn’t be the first time that an ancient civilization was found at the bottom of the ocean – or even the first discovery of underwater pyramids.
1. Canopus, Egypt
Just kilometers from Thonis-Heracleion, Canopus was first discovered by Prince Toussoun in 1933. Since its discovery, the site has found a row of ruins 150 meters long that consist of broken shafts of columns of red granite that are combined with limestone construction blocks and other architectural elements. Archaeologists have also been lucky enough to find statues, buildings, jewels, crosses, and even coins and seals that belong to the Byzantine period.
Experts currently believe that the weight of the city caused the sediment below it to collapse as Canopus was built on unstable Nile clay. Although the city first collapsed in 800 AD, it wasn’t until 1,000 years later that the city finally sunk due to rising sea levels.
Unfortunately, the archaeological site is not currently available for the public to visit – which is probably a good thing as the sites visibility is extremely poor due to algae polluting the water with a green tinge. Due to this reason, excavations can only take place during specific times of the year.
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