Europe's Lost Underwater Cities
We’Äôve all heard of the legend of Atlantis ’Äì the once
great city, submerged under water, unseen yet eerily compelling. But
unlike this fictional island there are several real lost cities buried
under layers of water waiting to be discovered. A wealth of human
history lies submerged in ancient cities at the bottoms of lakes, seas
and oceans of the world. Some of these urban centers were sent into the
water via earthquakes, tsunamis or other disasters thousands of years
ago. Many rui have just recently been rediscovered, by accident or
through emergent technological innovations. Some have even caused
scientists to question the history of human civilization.
Europe's Lost Underwater Cities
Believed to have been submerged off the coast of Greece by a series
of earthquakes around 1,000 BCE, Pavlopetri is the oldest-known
underwater archaeological town site in the world. Unlike other
underwater ruins, which are incomplete or difficult to verify as actual
man-made structures, Pavlopetri has a complete town plan, including
streets, architecture and tombs. It consists of about 15 structures,
submerged about 10-13 feet underwater. Discovered in 1967, the site has
been routinely explored by the University of Cambridge and the
University of Nottingham, the latter of which has an ongoing excavation
project to find and date artifacts found on the ocean floor.
Heracleion, Medierranean Sea, Egypt
A lost city and vital port known as Heracleion to the ancient Greeks
and Thonis to ancient Egyptians was thought to be nothing but a memory
until a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archeology
(IEASM) discovered the mystical city submerged in the Mediterranean
Sea. Traces of Thonis-Heracleion were found four miles off the coast of
Egypt, 30 feet below the Aboukir Bay in 2000. The team, under French
underwater archaeologist Dr. Frank Goddio’Äôs direction, discovered
many ruins, among them a monolithic chapel, a giant red granite statue
of the god Hapi and the largest known concentration of ancient ships.
It was the chapel that tipped off Goddio that it was in fact the lost
An ancient Roman city that was something like the vacation homes of
the rich and fabulous. Sitting on a series of volcanic vents, the city
had a number of hot springs and this constant source of water was
partly responsible in making the place popular. When the water started
to rise, fate of Baiae kind of became inevitable. Its visitors found
new cities to splurge their golds on. A great number of ruined
monuments are found including the Pisonian villa which Emperor Nero had
seized in the first century BC from a family who had been plotting to
Montenegro's Lost Port
Michael Le Quesne, 16, was swimming off a popular beach in
Montenegro with his parents and his ten-year-old sister when he spotted
an odd looking 'stone' at a depth of around two metres. It turned out
to be a large, submerged building which may have been the centrepiece
of an important Greek or Roman trading post, swallowed up by the sea
during a massive earthquake. On a clear day, the columns are visible
from the surface of the water, but it appears that the remains, which
include ancient pottery, have stayed untouched for thousands of years.
The potential size of the structure and the discovery of other
architectural remains nearby suggest the ’Äòtemple’Äô could
have formed part of a large Greek or Roman settlement, dating back as
far as the 2nd century BC. No historical records exist of a major
settlement on the site, although the Montenegrin coast is dotted with
ancient ruins yet to be documented.
The Wadden Sea is a large body of water that runs along the
northwest border of Germany. In the Wadden Sea, there’Äôs a narrow
strip of islands called the North Frisian Islands, which are being
eroded away by the tides that batter the German coast. They’Äôre
growing smaller every day, and at least one of those islands (Sylt)
used to be around 300 meters (1,000 ft) wider than it is now. We know
this because a few hundred meters off the current coastline is the
underwater settlement of Eidum. It is believed that Eidum was built
sometime in the 1300s and then built again, and again, and again. Due
to its location, Eidum had a tendency to take the full brunt of the
North Sea, which would periodically destroy the town.
In 1436, the All Saints’Äô Day Flood completely devastated the area, killing 180 people and forcing the coastal inhabitants to move to higher ground. There they set up a new settlement that became modern-day Westerland, which is now a beach. According to this German account from the 1800s, the remains of Eidum were still visible hundreds of years later at low tide.
The ancient geography of Crete, an island in the Mediterranean Sea,
was much larger than its present-day counterpart. Due to the erosion of
the sea (and more than one earthquake), sections of the island have
plunged into the sea, and Crete has become a fairly large tourist
destination for viewing the submerged ruins of cities and structures.
One of those is the city-state of Olous, which was once a thriving city with close to 40,000 inhabitants. While it paralleled the other Greek cities of the time in terms of industry, trading, and architecture, Olous had one tragic flaw’Äîit was built on a sandy shoreline, rather than the limestone foundation of most other cities on the island. These days, the remains of Olous are easily accessible to scuba divers and snorkelers in the Poros Bay. The most notable is the ancient city wall that still rises above the water line at low tide.
Immortalized in dozens of works of fiction, the Peloponnesian War
took place in the fifth century B.C. between the city-state of Athens
and various armies of the Peloponnese, who called themselves the
Peloponnesian League. The war lasted nearly 30 years, raging across the
Aegean Sea and the northern Mediterranean. One of the cities involved
in the war was Pheia, which was conquered by the Athenians and turned
into a shipping headquarters for its military supply line.
Near the close of the fifth century, the area along the western coast of Greece was shaken by an earthquake that plunged the city of Pheia five meters below the surface of the Mediterranean. The city was lost until 1911, when an excavation team found the ancient civilization. Since then, numerous archaeologists have studied the city. Despite the global interest in the Pheia ruins, we still don’Äôt know much about this important fragment of history.
The Khazars were an ancient race of nomads that lived and traveled
throughout the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia during the eighth
century A.D., and after the Second Arab-Khazar War, they claimed the
small port city of Atil as the capital of their empire. Known as
Khamlij in Arab texts, Atil became a major stopping point along the
Silk Road. Partially due to the trade routes passing through it, Atil
created something of a cultural melting pot and became the common home
of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
But sometime during the end of the 900s, disaster struck. Prince Svyatoslav I of Kiev attacked the enormously wealthy city and left it in ruins’Äîruins that remained lost for over a millennium. Because of its position on the Caspian Sea, it was believed that the city’Äôs remains were swept away, but in 2008, a Russian professor named Dmitry Vasilyev discovered the remains of eighth-century ruins along the northern lip of the Caspian Sea. The discovery has tentatively been named as the ruins of Atil, although they are still searching for Khazar writings to confirm it.
Rungholt, North Sea
Sometimes, an island town is slowly pulled into the sea by the
erosion of the tides. Other times, the entire island drops into the
ocean without a trace. That was the case with the island of Strand,
located in the North Sea, which was demolished by a storm tide in the
early 1600s. Since the island itself is no longer around, apart from a
few fragmented islets, it’Äôs been rather difficult to locate the
island’Äôs only city - Rungholt.
In 1362, the North Sea experienced the legendary Grote Mandrenke’Äîa massive Atlantic storm surge that swept across the coasts of England, Germany, and the Netherlands. With an estimated death toll of 25,000 people, the storm also wiped Rungholt off the map. For the next 700 years, divers found relics from Rungholt on the sea floor, but the city itself has never been found.
Phanagoria, Taman Peninsula, Russia
At the height of their civilization, the Greeks were spread out
across most of the Mediterranean Sea. But what many people don’Äôt
know is that they extended into modern-day Russia. The Greek empire
spread its fingers along the northern rim of the Black Sea and founded
over a dozen port cities on the borders of Romania, Bulgaria, and the
Ukraine. One of these was Phanagoria, located on the Taman Peninsula.
The history (and legend) of Phanagoria is actually what allowed
archaeologists to figure out which Greek city they were dealing with
after its discovery. According to history, Panagoria was invaded by
Mithridates VI, king of the rival Pontus Empire, in the first century
The Panagorians, unhappy about this turn of events, sided with the Roman Empire to kick out the invading king and sparked the 25-year-long Mithridatic Wars. When an underwater excavation team explored the ruined city in 2011, they discovered a massive marble tombstone, which had the following inscription: ’ÄúHypsikrates, Wife of King Mithridates Eupator Dionysos, Farewell.’Äù In the part of the city that’Äôs on land, there’Äôs a vast necropolis, or city of tombs. It’Äôs estimated that there are thousands of sarcophagi in the Phanagoria city of the dead.
Saeftinghe, The Netherlands
The Dutch city of Saeftinghe has had a rough history’Äîto say
the least. In the 1200s, a wide swath of swampland was drained to
provide more arable land for crops and livestock. For several hundred
years, that region became extremely prosperous. Unfortunately, in 1570,
a massive flood wiped out all the land surrounding Saeftinghe.
The city itself miraculously survived the flood, but less than 15 years later, the Dutch themselves committed Saeftinghe to a watery grave by destroying a dike during the 80 Years War. Now, the Saeftinghe region is a quagmire, a vast area of swampland, salt marshes, and sandy deltas that stretches across 3,850 hectares. There have been several attempts to excavate the lost city, but none have been successful. There are guided tours that take visitors near the region, but it’Äôs forbidden to enter the ’ÄúDrowned Land of Saeftinghe’Äù without a guide because the tide often surges thousands of feet inland in a matter of minutes, covering the land in a deep layer of water.
Tyno Helig, Wales
Regarded as Wales’Äô Atlantis, Tyno Helig is sometime considered
part legend and part of it is based on reality. The story goes that a
lord’Äôs daughter fell in love with a common man. The man wanting
to be with his love and he made a plan. He stabbed a nobleman on his
back and stole his gold collar. He came before the lord and told him
that he won the collar in a fair fight and married the woman he loved.
On the night after the wedding the noble man’Äôs ghost came and
cursed the couple. Generations later the curse started to take effect
when the waves slowly gulped the castle where they lived. Today some
say the castle tops are sometimes seen peeking out from the water.
Llys Helig, Wales
Legend tells of a Welsh prince (named Helig ap Glanawg) who built a
massive palace in the north of Wales during the sixth century.
According to the stories, his kingdom stretched across the area that is
now Conwy Bay. After the palace was built, a storm struck and the sea
flooded the area, submerging the palace and everything around it.
To this day, the story is chalked up to myth, and there are contradicting opinions about a land ridge about three kilometers (two miles) off the coastline. The ridge is called Llys Helig (Welsh for Helig Palace), and many people believe it marks the spot of the fabled palace of the prince, while others say that it’Äôs a natural rock formation. However, some geographical surveys have discovered a submerged wall that runs through the area near the Llys, which might date to the sixth century.
Dunwich was a port city and was once a religious centre where
Christians came to set off for the Crusades. Now a tiny fishing village
with only over a 100 people, Dunwich was once the 10th largest city in
England almost as big as London today. For long the city had been
dealing with rough weather and at one point it resulted in serious
erosion. By the 15th century the once thriving city with its
cathedrals, houses, and port structures was washed under water.
Doggerland, North Sea
In ancient times, the Doggerland was home to Mesolithic tribes in
the North Sea. Now a mere speck, once they were a continuous mass of
land joining England with Europe. Doggerland was a huge area of dry
land that stretched from Scotland to Denmark that slowly submerged by
water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC. Historians call the Doggerland
the north’Äôs Garden of Eden where life (both human and animal) was
on its full swing, until the sea level started rising and swallowed
large chunks of the land masses. Before the flooding, Doggerland was
largely occupied with fishermen and hunters.
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