Lost Cities of the Ancient World
Table of Contents
Nothing lasts forever – not even centers of ancient civilizations (except maybe Rome). So many beautiful cities have been lost or destroyed over time and eventually recovered, but even more of them are still undiscovered. Below you can find a list of 10 ancient cities lost in time:
Carthage, a Phoenician trading town that was sacked and reconstructed by the Romans, grew into a major port, second only to Rome in terms of size at its peak. It was later conquered by the Vandals and then the Arabs, but the majority of the ambient ruins that remain today are Roman in origin, particularly the amphitheater and Antonine Baths.
One of the greatest cities of Mesopotamia, Ctesiphon was the largest city in the world in the 6th century. She was a significant military objective to the Romans and was captured by them no less than five times. Nonetheless, she survived the Roman warriors and lived to serve as the inspiration for the city of Isbanir in One Thousand and One Nights. Ctesiphon also hosts the world’s largest brick-built arch.
The civilization that thrived in the Indus Valley and built Mohenjo-Daro about 2600 BC was a rival to its more famous Greek and Egyptian counterparts – though little is known about its people, who were early masters of town planning and civil engineering. Today, its compound of houses, shops, ramparts, and streets is threatened by erosion.
Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Today’s UNESCO World Heritage site, the city of Great Zimbabwe served as the center of political power in the country’s Iron Age. The city fell into ruins around the 15th century, mostly due to exhaustion of gold mines, which were the people’s primary source of income – the gold trade is believed to have extended as far as China.
Mosque City of Bagerhat, Bangladesh
A 15th-century Turkish general ordered the construction of a town at the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, complete with palaces, mosques, and tombs (including his own). This city of 360 mosques, an outpost of the Islamic world, fell into disrepair soon after its founder’s death and lay for centuries under vegetation; it has now been partially restored.
Mesa Verde, Colorado, USA
The Mesa Verde National Park is home to over 600 cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by the Anasazi people, who lived here from the seventh to fourteenth centuries AD. Cliff Palace, built primarily of sandstone, wood, and mortar beneath the overhang of ridges, housed approximately 100 people and was accessed via ladders.
Petra, the Nabatean capital and a key trading center for silk and spices that connected Asia with Arabia and the West, declined under Roman rule in the 4th century AD and was not rediscovered until 1812. Its tombs, particularly The Treasury (of Indiana Jones fame) and The Monastery, are enthralling, made all the more so by the fact that they were carved into the rock face itself.
La Ciudad Perdida, Columbia
The name literally means “The Lost City”. La Ciudad Perdida, or Sierra Nevada, was found quite accidentally in 1972, although due to the tense political situation in the region, she didn’t become a popular touristy spot until a few years ago. Nonetheless, although the site is a few hundred years older than Machu Picchu, it’s still not considered a “mainstream” tourist destination.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This lost city was the gem of the Incas civilization, although she only stood for about a century. The “Old Peak” conceals many mysteries of the Incas – for example, how they ran a huge empire without ever having a marketplace. Other cities on the list were the hubs of trade back in their day, but Machu Picchu’s economy was different, and we’ll hopefully find out just how different it was. One day.
You likely haven’t heard of it, but in 1500 AD, Vijayanagar had twice the population of Paris and was the center of the southern India’s greatest empire. Built around a series of holy places, including the magnificent Virupaksha Temple (which still stands), its temple districts and shrines are venerated by both Hindus and non-Hindus.
Palenque was a Mayan city in Mexico that flourished in the 7-10th centuries and today it’s one of the largest preserved Mayan sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although she was smaller than Mayan hubs of civilization like Tikal, she serves to this day as one of the best representations of the Mayan culture. Unfortunately, over 80% of the ancient city is still buried underneath the jungle that appeared after Palenque was abandoned around the 12th century.
Ani, the magnificent capital of an Armenian kingdom in the tenth century, was renowned as “The City of 1001 Churches.” Many of them are still standing today, looking strangely out of place in the lush greenery that surround them. It’s difficult to believe that these evocative ruins were once part of a city-state rivaling Damascus or Constantinople.
Pavlopetri is the only underwater city on this list (no Atlantis, sorry!) and the world’s oldest submerged archeological site. As the name suggests, she was named after the two Christian saints – Peter and Paul. It’s hard to determine why a city that can be traced back to as early as 2800 BC was submerged, although earthquakes are thought to be the main cause.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site has made it onto this list. The City of Persians was founded by Darius in 518 BC, who spent over a century on building her. She was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC – Alexander is believed to have set fire to the city. However, the fire failed to destroy the stunning panoramic views of Persepolis that depict the daily life of the citizens to this day.
The tragedy of Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 AD has been depicted in many films, TV episodes, music and artwork, and the city was rediscovered in 1599. The Roman Empire has long fallen, but the treasures of Pompeii have been miraculously preserved; perhaps that’s the reason she attracts so many tourists – who wouldn’t want to experience actually walking on the streets of Roman Empire? And yes, Pompeii is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Herculaneum, nearby, was evacuated in time but buried deeper under the ash; doors and even food remained unharmed. They function as a morbid time capsule when combined.
Thinis might be the only city on the list still undiscovered, but numerous historical sources attest to her existence and greatness. While being a home to the first pharaoh of the united Egypt, Menes, Thinis was also believed to be a mystical place in heaven in Egyptian mythology. Unfortunately, she has lost her prominent position by the time of the Roman Empire.
The city of pleasure that inspired “Kubla Khan” and by extension served as the name for Citizen Kane’s Charles Kane’s mansion actually served as a summer capital for Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty. All that’s left from Xanadu or Shangdu now is ruins and, while she might be considered a lost city, thanks to the numerous influences of popular culture, she’s unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Greatest Lost Cities
Some of the world’s greatest cities are no longer in existence. Hundreds of once-thriving cities around the world are now in ruins, ravaged by war or purely natural progression. These are the world’s most important lost cities.