10 of the most fascinating lost cities of the world

Posted on 17 July 2013

10 lost cities (that actually existed) that have fascinated the imaginations of people and archaeologists alike.

As lost cities of the world go, Atlantis is at the top of the list of mythical places that have enticed the interest of explorers and historians through the ages. It was originally mentioned by ancient Greek philosopher Plato in his dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, written around 360 BC. As Plato explains: the city of Atlantis conquered Western Europe and Africa and was considered a naval power in the ancient world. After failing to conquer Athens, Atlantis sunk into the ocean in a single day and night, never to be seen or heard from again. Whether the lost city of Atlantis exists or not is irrelevant, the idea of a great civilisation brought to its knees by nature is enough to tug on the curiosity of all. These 10 cities have fascinated the imaginations of people and archaeologists alike.


1. Machu Picchu, Peru

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Image by world-wide-gifts.com

Machu Picchu is a fifteenth century Inca site in Peru, built at the height of the Inca Empire. It is the most legendary icon of Inca civilisation. Archaeologists believe it was built as an estate in 1450 for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. It was rediscovered in 1911 by American historian and politician Hiram Bingha. Reasons for the desertion of  this ancient Inca city is still largely unknown but it’s believed to have been abandoned a century later because of the Spanish conquest. Another theory hypothesises that the inhabitants of Machu Picchu had been infected with smallpox by travellers before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and died out (read: Machu Picchu – mystery in the mountains). Machu Picchu is now considered a World Heritage Site and was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

Visit Machu Picchu

Follow the Inca traditions from Cuzco, through the fertile heartland of the Sacred Valley and to the magnificent Ollantaytambo ruins, before trekking to Machu Picchu on a six-night Inca Trail adventure. Visit Getaway Travel – Inca Trail adventure for more details. Here are a few handy tips for surviving Peru’s Inca Trail.


2. Pompeii, Italy

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Image by Cliff Hellis

The vanished city of Pompeii (a favourite in our 10 ancient places to spend the Apocalypse) was a Roman city situated at the foot of Mount Vesuvius near modern day Naples in Italy. It was a popular destination for ancient Romans who had holiday villas in the area. In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted, leaving in its wake destruction and death. Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash that measure four to six meters thick. It was rediscovered by explorers in 1748 and had remained largely intact underneath the thick layer of ash and pumice that had protected it against natural decay. The artefacts have provided us with detailed insight into the life of the city during the Pax Romana era. Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years and in now a World Heritage Site and is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations.


3. Great Enclosures, Zimbabwe

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Image by Richard Pluck

The stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe span across an area of almost 728 hectares of the southeastern hills of Zimbabwe, near Lake Mutrikwe. These ancient lost city of Africa ruins are renowned for its architecture of stone walls constructed without mortar. It was built by the ancestors of the Shona people and served as a palace for the Zimbabwean monarch during the Iron Age. The walls of the Great Enclosures tower as high as 11 m and extend as wide as 250 metres, making it the largest structure south of the Sahara Desert. The construction of Great Zimbabwe started in the eleventh century and continued into the fourteenth century. Great Zimbabwe has been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government and is recognised as a World Heritage Site (read: 10 of the best World Heritage Sites in Africa).

Visit Zimbabwe

Hop on a houseboat in Kariba, throw yourself off the Victoria Falls bungee and enjoy a safari next to the wild Zambezi on one of these affordable Zimbabwe travel packages with Getaway Travel.


4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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Image by Pigalle

Originally an ancient Hindu temple built in honour of god Vishnu, Angkor Wat later became a Buddhist temple in the fourteenth century. It is the largest religious monument in the world covering an area of 82 hectares. Its name means ‘temple-city’ and it was constructed in the early twelfth century by the Khmer King, Suryavarman II as his state temple and his eventual mausoleum. Angkor Wat was considered the capital of the Khmer Empire during his reign. The temple was built at the height of Khmer classical style architecture and was made by using over five million tons of sandstone. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site and is a symbol for Cambodia, appearing on its national flag.


5. Mahendraparvata, Cambodia

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 Image by Pigalle 

The recent discovery of Mahendraparvata by Australian archaeologist in June 2013, is a testament to the legendary Khmer Empire. It pre-dates Angor Wat by 350 years and was founded in AD 802. It is a medieval city situated in the thick jungle brush on the Phnom Kulen Mountains located 40 kilometres north of Angor Wat. The discovery of this lost city is owed to state of the art airborne laser technology called the Lidar. With the help of Lidar Australian archaeologist discovered that the scattered ruins in that area all belonged to the temple-city Mahendraparvata, It is linked by a network of roads, dykes, ponds and temples divided into city blocks.


6. Petra, Jordan

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Image by Cliff Hellis

The Rose City, better known as the Lost City of Petra (another one of our 10 ancient places to spend the Apocalypse), is a stone city that rises out of a cliff face between the Red and Dead Sea. This ancient Nabataean caravan-city was inhabited since the pre-historic era. Its inhabitants, the Nabataeans, were Arabian nomads. For reasons not fully understood, they moved from a nomadic lifestyle to living in a city. The city was an important crossroad and cultural hub between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. During the Hellenistic and Roman period it was a major centre for incense of Arabia, the silks of China and the spices of India. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site and is famous for its monuments cut into the surrounding cliffs.


7. Palmyra, Syria

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Image by Ulrich Waack

The ancient oasis city of Palmyra, situated in central Syria and located north-east of Damascus, houses the ruins of a monumental city that was one of the most prominent cultural centres in the ancient world. The architecture is a combination of Graeco-Roman techniques with the local influences of Persia. The earliest documented references to Palmyra in its Semitic name Tadmor is found in Babylonian tablets, Mari, in the second millennium BC. It was a prominent trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire. The bible attributes the building of Palmyra to Solomon as part of his Kingdom. Palmyra was inhabited by Arabian tribes and fell into disuse in the 16 century. It was replaced with a newer town of the same name, Tadmor, located next to it. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site and its most notable building is the temple of Ba’al. This temple is considered to be a very important religious building of the first century AD in the Middle East.


8. Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

The underground city of Derinkuyu is an ancient 13-storey underground city of the Median Empire in Nevesehir Province, Turkey. The city extends to depths of more than 85 metres and is large enough to house approximately 20 000 people together with livestock and food stores.  It is the largest excavated underground city in the historical region of Cappadocia where there are many underground complexes (read: the fairy chimneys of central Turkey).  The city was built out of soft volcanic rock and was possibly constructed by the Phrygians, a Bronze Age people related to the Trojans, in the seventh and eighth centuries BC. Some believe it was built by the Hittites, a warrior nation mentioned in the bible. It is unknown why the underground city of Derinkuyu was built or how the civilisation had access to the technology needed in order to build it. Theories range from building a temporary shelter to protect from invasions to extraterrestrials coming to earth and assisting early civilisations through the ice age.


9. Pavlopetri, Greece

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Image by ToNToN CoPT

The city of Pavlopetri is a sunken city, off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, Greece. It is about 5 000 years old and was originally founded in 2800 BC. The underwater city has an almost complete town plan. It was discovered in Nicolas Flemming in 1967 and was mapped by a team of archaeologist in 1968. Studies of city ruins show that the town was flooded around 1000 BC as artefacts dating back to the Mycenaean period as well as the Bronze Age were found. It has a minimum of 15 buildings under three to four metres of water. The ancient name of the city is unknown but the given name is the name of the islet and surrounding beaches. After 40 years after its discovery, the Greek government have now allowed archaeologists to excavate the sight in order to understand more about the people and the town.


10. Timgad, Algeria

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Image by PhR61

Located on the northern slopes of the Aures Massif, 60 kilometres east of Batna and 170 kilometres south of the Mediterranean coast is the Algerian city of Timgad. It was built in 100 AD by the Roman Emperor Trajan as a military garrison town controlling one of the main passes through the Aures Mountains to the Sahara. The town was only built to house approximately 15 000 people but its popularity and surrounding fertile land, attracted more. It soon outgrow its original plan and additional infrastructure and buildings were later added. In the fifth century the town was attached by vandals and fell into disrepair. Solomon, the Byzantine general found the city in AD 535 and came to occupy it. The city was briefly repopulated with early Christians before it was attacked by Berbers in the seventh century after which it was abandoned. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site in Algeria.

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