Europe's Lost Underwater Cities

Weve all heard of the legend of Atlantis 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

Pavlopetri, Greece

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 Goddios 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 city.

Baiae, Italy

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 kill him.

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 temple 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.

Eidum, Germany

The Wadden Sea is a large body of water that runs along the northwest border of Germany. In the Wadden Sea, theres a narrow strip of islands called the North Frisian Islands, which are being eroded away by the tides that batter the German coast. Theyre 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 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.

Olous, Crete

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 flawit 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.

Pheia, Greece

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 dont know much about this important fragment of history.

Atil, Russia

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 ruinsruins that remained lost for over a millennium. Because of its position on the Caspian Sea, it was believed that the citys 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, its been rather difficult to locate the islands only city - Rungholt.

In 1362, the North Sea experienced the legendary Grote Mandrenkea 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 dont 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 B.C.

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: Hypsikrates, Wife of King Mithridates Eupator Dionysos, Farewell. In the part of the city thats on land, theres a vast necropolis, or city of tombs. Its 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 historyto 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 its forbidden to enter the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe 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 Atlantis, Tyno Helig is sometime considered part legend and part of it is based on reality. The story goes that a lords 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 mans 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 its 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, England

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 norths 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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