Legend or truth: Lost cities that have never been found
Throughout history, explorers, adventurers, and archeologists have spent lifetimes searching for long lost places, legendary cities, and hidden treasures.
Since our childhood, we heard many mythological stories. But people say there's a little bit truth in every mythological story. We heard of many mythological lost cities which exist in legends, imaginations but no one ever found them in real. Like the gold city of El Dorado or the submerged powerful city Atlantis. But there are also many lesser-known stories of lost civilizations over the course of human history from around the world. These ancient lost cities might or might not exist but the quest for the cities will never end.
Throughout history, explorers, adventurers, and archeologists have spent lifetimes searching for long lost places, legendary cities, and hidden treasures. While some of these expeditions have been a success, others were a complete failure. And when it comes down to legendary cities there's a thin line diving legend from reality. Below are some cities steeped in legend that may yet be discovered by some intrepid archaeologist.
First mentioned in writing by the Greek philosopher Plato in 360 BC, the legendary island of Atlantis has captured the imaginations of explorers and historians for more than two millennia.
The island was said to be expansive and home to a powerful kingdom with advanced technology and an unmatched navy. Sometime around 9,600 BC, the entire region was devastated by what Plato described as "one terrible night of fire and earthquakes" and sank into the sea.
While there have been countless expeditions to find the submerged location of Atlantis and disprove its existence as one of myth alone, all have come up short. The most recent, and possibly the most promising, was headed by Canadian-Israeli journalist and investigative archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici, who's made several films about Jerusalem. Partnering with film director James Cameron, the only man to complete a solo dive of the Mariana Trench, Jacobovici and his team used clues in Plato's writings and advanced tech to scour the sea floor for signs of ruins. The most compelling find was that of six bronze-age stone anchors discovered in the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Spain.
Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and, after the Lancelot-Grail cycle, eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world.
The stories locate it somewhere in Great Britain and sometimes associate it with real cities, though more usually its precise location is not revealed. Most scholars regard it as being entirely fictional, its unspecified geography being perfect for chivalric romance writers. Nevertheless, arguments about the location of the "real Camelot" have occurred since the 15th century and continue to rage today in popular works and for tourism purposes.
The lost city of Z
Since Europeans first arrived in the New World, there have been stories of a legendary jungle city of gold, sometimes referred to as El Dorado. Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana was the first to venture along the Rio Negro in search of this fabled city. In 1925, at the age of 58, explorer Percy Fawcett headed into the jungles of Brazil to find a mysterious lost city he called "Z". He and his team would vanish without a trace and the story would turn out be one of the biggest news stories of his day. Despite countless rescue missions, Fawcett was never found.
In 1906, the Royal Geographical Society, a British organization that sponsors scientific expeditions, invited Fawcett to survey part of the frontier between Brazil and Bolivia. He spent 18 months in the Mato Grosso area and it was during his various expeditions that Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of lost civilizations in this area. In 1920, Fawcett came across a document in the National Library of Rio De Janeiro called Manuscript 512. It was written by a Portuguese explorer in 1753, who claimed to have found a walled city deep in the Mato Grosso region of the Amazon rainforest, reminiscent of ancient Greece. The manuscript described a lost, silver laden city with multi-storied buildings, soaring stone arches, wide streets leading down towards a lake on which the explorer had seen two white Indians in a canoe. Fawcett called this the Lost City of Z.
In 1921, Fawcett set out on his first of many expeditions to find the Lost City of Z, but his team were frequently hindered by the hardships of the jungle, dangerous animals, and rampant diseases. Percy's final search for Z culminated in his complete disappearance. In April 1925, he attempted one last time to find Z, this time better equipped and better financed by newspapers and societies including the Royal Geographic Society and the Rockefellers. In his final letter home, sent back via a team member, Fawcett sent a message to his wife Nina and proclaimed "We hope to get through this region in a few days.... You need have no fear of any failure." It was to be the last anyone would ever hear from them again.
Legendary homeland of the Aztecs
The Aztec people of Mexico created one of the most powerful empires of the ancient Americas. While much is known about their empire located where today's Mexico City can be found, less is known about the very start of the Aztec culture. Many consider the missing island of Aztlan to be the ancient homeland where the Aztec people began to form as a civilization prior to their migration to the Valley of Mexico. Some believe it is a mythical land, similar to Atlantis or Camelot, which will live on through legend but will never be found in physical existence. Others believe it to be a true, physical location that will someday be identified. Searches for the land of Aztlan have spanned from Western Mexico, all the way to the deserts of Utah, in hopes of finding the legendary island. However, these searches have been fruitless, as the location – and existence – of Aztlan remain a mystery.
The formation of civilization at Aztlan comes from legend. According to Nahuatl legend, there were seven tribes that once lived at Chicomoztoc – "the place of the seven caves." These tribes represented the seven Nahua groups: Acolhua, Chalca, Mexica, Tepaneca, Tlahuica, Tlaxcalan, and Xochimilca (different sources provide variations on the names of the seven groups). The seven groups, being of similar linguistic groups, left their respective caves and settled as one group near Aztlan.
The word Aztlan means "the land to the north; the land from whence we, the Aztecs, came." It is said that eventually, the people who inhabited Aztlan became known as the Aztecs, who then migrated from Aztlan to the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec migration from Aztlan to Tenochtitlán is a very important piece of Aztec history. It began on May 24, 1064, which was the first Aztec solar year.
To this day, the actual existence of an island known as Aztlan has not been confirmed. Many have searched for the land, in hopes of having a better understanding of where the Aztecs came from, and perhaps a better understanding of ancient Mexican history. However, like other lost cities, it is not clear whether Aztlan will ever be found.
The Kingdom of Lyonesse
In Arthurian legend, Lyonesse is the home country of Tristan, from the legendary story of Tristan and Iseult. The mythical land of Lyonesse is now referred to as the "Lost Land of Lyonesse," as it is ultimately said to have sunk into the sea. However, the legendary tale of Tristan and Iseult shows that Lyonesse is known for more than sinking into the ocean, and that it had a legendary presence while it remained above ground. While Lyonesse is mostly referred to in stories of legend and myth, there is some belief that it represents a very real city that sunk into the sea many years ago. With such a legendary location, it can be difficult to ascertain where the legend ends and reality begins.
According to legend, the kingdom of Lyonesse was a mass of land in Britain's Isles of Scilly that became engulfed by the ocean over the course of one day. Some even speculate that the litany of 140 islands that exist there today are simply the hilltops of a lost drowned world.
The oldest written account of a lost kingdom off Cornwall's coast is described in William of Worcester's "Itinerary" from the 14th century. According to the author, an unidentified piece of land extending six miles from the sea existed before the flood. "Woods and fields and 140 parochial churches, all now submerged, between the Mount and the Isles of Scilly," he wrote.
While Lyonesse is referenced in various texts, it's most famous for its place in Arthurian legend as the home of the hero Tristan. In fact, the catastrophe reportedly occurred in the sixth century at the time of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
While no great underwater civilization has ever been discovered, geologists say the region has experienced a great deal of submergence over the last 3,000 years. It's possible that stories of lost civilizations that bore the brunt of these changes may have inspired the legends of Lyonesse that grip the imagination today.
For hundreds of years, treasure hunters and historians alike have searched for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The idea of a city filled with gold and other riches has a natural appeal, drawing the attention of individuals from all over the world in hopes of discovering the ultimate treasure, and an ancient wonder. In spite of numerous expeditions around all of Latin America, the city of gold remains a legend, with no physical evidence to substantiate its existence.
The origins of El Dorado come from legendary tales of the Muisca tribe. Following two migrations – one in 1270 BC and one between 800 and 500 BC, the Muisca tribe occupied the Cundinamarca and Boyacá areas of Colombia. According to legend, as written in Juan Rodriguez Freyle's "El Carnero," the Muisca practiced a ritual for every newly appointed king that involved gold dust and other precious treasures.
When a new leader was appointed, many rituals would take place before he took his role as king. During one of these rituals, the new king would be brought to Lake Guatavita, where he would be stripped naked, and covered in gold dust. He would be placed upon a highly decorated raft, along with his attendants, and piles of gold and precious stones. The raft would be sent out to the center of the lake, where the king would wash the gold dust from his body, as his attendants would throw the pieces of gold and precious stones into the lake. This ritual was intended as a sacrifice to the Muisca's god. To the Muisca, "El Dorado" was not a city, but the king at the center of this ritual, also called "the Gilded One." While El Dorado is meant to refer to the Gilded One, the name has now become synonymous with the lost city of gold, and any other place where one can quickly obtain wealth.
In 1545, Conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted to drain Lake Guatavita. As they did so, they found gold along its shores, fueling their suspicion that the lake contained a treasure of riches. They worked for three months, with workers forming a bucket chain, but they were unable to drain the lake sufficiently to reach any treasures deep within the lake. In 1580, another attempt to drain the lake was made by business entrepreneur Antonio de Sepúlveda. Once again, various pieces of gold were found along the shores, but the treasure at the depths of the lake remained concealed. Other searches were conducted on Lake Guatavita, with estimates that the lake could contain up to $300 million in gold, with no luck in finding the treasures. All searches came to a halt when the Colombian government declared the lake a protected area in 1965. Nonetheless, the search for El Dorado continues, even without the ability to search Lake Guatavita. The legends of the Muisca tribe, the Gilded One and their ritualistic sacrifice of treasures have transformed over time into today's tale of El Dorado, lost city of gold.
In 1885, a Canadian entertainer and adventurer named Guillermo Farini (aka The Great Farini) became one of the first westerners to cross the unexplored and treacherous Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Upon his return, he showed photographs and wrote a paper about ruins he discovered that appeared to indicate the remains of a lost civilization buried in the sands.
"We camped near the foot of it, beside broken line of stone which looked like the Chinese Wall after an earthquake, and which, on examination, proved to be the ruins of quite an extensive structure, in some places buried beneath the sand, but in others fully exposed to view," he wrote. "We traced the remains for nearly a mile, mostly a heap of huge stones, but all flat-sided, and here and there with the cement perfect and plainly visible between the layers."
Throughout the 20th century, dozens of expeditions were launched to find Farini's "Lost City of the Kalahari." No less than 12 were undertaken by the grandparents of South African entrepreneur Elon Musk, the same man who one day aims to help humans explore Mars.
In January 2016, the series "Expedition Unknown" chronicled a search by American host Josh Gates for the lost city. Using aerial scans and radar, as well as Farini's descriptions of the site, they discovered man-made ruins near an oasis located just inside the Kalahari. While it has yet to be confirmed, this site may in fact be the lost city mentioned in Farini's travels.
The lost desert cities of Dubai
Dubai cultivates an ultra-modern image of dazzling architecture and effortless wealth. Yet its deserts conceal forgotten cities and a hidden history which reveal how its early inhabitants adapted and overcame dramatic past climate change.
One of the most famous lost cities of Arabia – tantalizingly so because historians have known it existed from written records but simply could not find it – is the medieval city of Julfar. Home to the legendary Arabian seafarer Ahmed ibn Majid, as well as allegedly to the fictional Sindbad the Sailor, Julfar thrived for a thousand years before falling into ruin and disappearing from human memory for almost two centuries. Unlike other desert cities, Julfar was a thriving port, in fact the hub of southern Gulf Arabic trade in the Middle Ages.
Julfar was known to be somewhere on the Persian Gulf coast north of Dubai, but the actual site was only found by archaeologists in the 1960s. The earliest signs of settlement found on the site date from the 6th century, by which time its inhabitants were already trading as far afield as India and the Far East on a routine basis.
The 10th to 14th centuries were a golden age for Julfar and for long-distance Arab trading and seafaring, with Arab navigators routinely traveling halfway around the world. Arabs had sailed into European waters long before Europeans succeeded in navigating through the Indian Ocean and into the Persian Gulf, for instance. As the main base for these voyages and trade, Julfar was the largest and most important city in the southern Gulf for over a thousand years. Arab merchants routinely made the mammoth eighteen-month sea voyage as far as China, and traded almost everything imaginable.
Such a valuable commercial centre attracted constant attention from rival powers though. The Portuguese took control in the 16th century, by which time Julfar was a substantial city of around 70,000 people. A century later the Persians seized it, only to lose it in 1750 to the Qawasim tribe from Sharjah who established themselves next-door at Ras al-Khaimah, which they continue to rule to this day, leaving the old Julfar to gradually decay until its ruins became forgotten amongst the coastal sand dunes. Today most of Julfar in all likelihood remains still hidden beneath the sprawling dunes north of Ras al-Khaimah."
As early as 1530 the Spanish authorities in Mexico heard reports of the "Seven Cities of Cibola," which were reputed to be exceedingly opulent, but it was not until ten years later that any systematic attempt was made to find them and exploit their wealth. The Coronado Expedition was sent out from New Spain for that purpose in 1540, and while in winter quarters near the present city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Coronado learned from an Indian slave of a province teeming with wealth somewhere in the interior. This province subsequently became known as Quivira. There is some question as to whether the name "Quivira" is of Indian origin. One historian suggests that the original name might have been "Quebira," from the Arabic word "quebir" — meaning great — and that it was probably first used by the survivors of the Narvaez expedition who found their way to Mexico in the spring of 1536.
The province of Quivira was early on claimed by nearly every state in the Missouri Valley, and it was only in the late 19th Century that it was given a definite location by archaeologists.
Jacob V. Brower, an archaeologist of St. Paul, Minnesota, made three trips to Kansas for the purpose of determining if possible the location of the original Quivira. The first of these trips was made in November 1896, the second in March 1897, and the third in March 1898. Brower explored the valleys of the Kansas and Smoky Hill Rivers from the mouth of Mill Creek in Wabaunsee County to Lyon Creek in Dickinson County, and also the valleys of the Arkansas River in the vicinity of Great Bend. Through the testimony of stone implements — a method that has been criticized as untrustworthy — he determined the location of six ancient villages. Of these 11 were in Pottawatomie County, 10 in Wabaunsee, 11 in Riley, 20 in Geary, four in Dickinson, six in McPherson, and one each in Marion, Rice and Barton Counties. On October 29, 1901, the Quivira Historical Society was organized at Alma, Kansas, the county seat of Wabaunsee County. One of the principal objectives of the society was to erect monuments marking certain historical sites, and on August 12, 1902, the first of these monuments was unveiled at Logan Grove, near Junction City. More monuments were also erected in Dickinson, Riley and Wabaunsee Counties.
The island Thule comes from Norse mythology and it is said to be located between Scandinavia and Iceland. The land is imagined as a cold place and they had months without sunlight. A Greek commentator of the 4th century described it that the people of the island ate millet and other herbs, fruits and roots. The people got their beverage from grain and honey. While some scholars researched over its exact location, some identify it as just an ancient name for Norway. Others interpreted it as Shetland, Orkney and Scandinavia. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Thule was referred as Iceland or Greenland.
The Ancient Greek explorer, Pytheas, was the first to write about Thule during his travels between 330-20 BC. He was also one of the first to describe the effects of the moon on the tides, and to estimate the length of the British coastline, and was a specialist in longitude and latitude. Owing also to his skill as a sailor, he was chosen for the expedition. Pytheas left his home in Massalia (now known as Marseille) to travel north in search of tin from mines he had heard about in South Cornwall. He sailed to Britain and found the tin mines, then headed further north. He passed Scotland and visited the islands of the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands. From there, he sailed further north for six days before he found the island called Thule.
Pytheas described the people of this island as barbaric; in other words, Germanic tribes. The people were simple farmers living on grain, roots and honey. They showed him where the sun set on the shortest day of the year and explained that in winter the sun did not rise at all. In summer, there was no night.