Lost city

A lost city is a settlement that fell into terminal decline and became extensively or completely uninhabited, with the consequence that the site's former significance was no longer known to the wider world. The locations of many lost cities have been forgotten, but some have been rediscovered and studied extensively by scientists. Recently abandoned cities or cities whose location was never in question might be referred to as ruins or ghost towns. The search for such lost cities by European explorers and adventurers in Africa, the Americas, and Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards eventually led to the development of archaeology.[1]

Lost cities generally fall into two broad categories: those where all knowledge of the city's existence was forgotten before it was rediscovered, and those whose memory was preserved in myth, legend, or historical records but whose location was lost or at least no longer widely recognized.

How cities are lost

Cities may become lost for a variety of reasons including natural disasters, economic or social upheaval, or war.

The Incan capital city of Vilcabamba was destroyed and depopulated during the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1572. The Spanish did not rebuild the city, and the location went unrecorded and was forgotten until it was rediscovered through a detailed examination of period letters and documents.[2]

Troy was a city located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey. It is best known for being the focus of the Trojan War described in the Greek Epic Cycle and especially in the Iliad, one of the two epic poems attributed to Homer. Repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, the city slowly declined and was abandoned in the Byzantine era. Buried by time, the city was consigned to the realm of legend until the location was first excavated in the 1860s.

Other settlements are lost with few or no clues to their decline. For example, Malden Island, in the central Pacific, was deserted when first visited by Europeans in 1825, but the unsuspected presence of ruined temples and the remains of other structures found on the island indicate that a population of Polynesians had lived there for perhaps several generations some centuries earlier. Prolonged drought seems the most likely explanation for their demise and the remote nature of the island meant few visitors.


With the development of archaeology and the application of modern techniques, many previously lost cities have been rediscovered.

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca site situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World. Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. In 1911, Melchor Arteaga led the explorer Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley.

Helike was an ancient Greek city that sank at night in the winter of 373 BCE. The city was located in Achaea, Northern Peloponnesos, two kilometres (12 stadia) from the Corinthian Gulf. The city was thought to be legend until 2001, when it was rediscovered in the Helike Delta. In 1988, the Greek archaeologist Dora Katsonopoulou launched the Helike Project to locate the site of the lost city. In 1994, in collaboration with the University of Patras, a magnetometer survey was carried out in the midplain of the delta, which revealed the outlines of a buried building. In 1995, this target was excavated (now known as the Klonis site), and a large Roman building with standing walls was brought to light. The city was rediscovered in 2001, buried in an ancient lagoon.[3]


Some cities which are considered lost are (or may be) places of legend.

Other lost cities, having once been considered legendary, are now known to have existed, such as Troy and Bjarmaland.

Lost cities by continent



  • Akhetaten, Egypt – Capital during the reign of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten. Later abandoned and almost totally destroyed. Modern day el Amarna.
  • Aoudaghost, Mauritania – Wealthy Berber city in medieval Ghana.
  • Avaris – capital city of the Hyksos in the Nile Delta.
  • Canopus, Egypt – Located on the now-dry Canopic branch of the Nile, east of Alexandria.
  • Carthage – Initially a Phoenician city, destroyed and then rebuilt by Rome. Later served as the capital of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, before being destroyed by the Arabs after its capture in 697 CE. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Dougga, Tunisia – Roman city located in present-day Tunisia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Great Zimbabwe – Built between the 11th and the 14th century, this city is the namesake of modern-day Zimbabwe. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Leptis MagnaRoman city located in present-day Libya. It was the birthplace of Emperor Septimius Severus, who lavished an extensive public works programme on the city, including diverting the course of a nearby river. The river later returned to its original course, burying much of the city in silt and sand. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Memphis, Egypt – Administrative capital of ancient Egypt. Little remains. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Niani – lost capital of the Mali Empire
  • Pi-Ramesses, Egypt – Imperial city of Rameses the Great, now thought to exist beneath Qantir
  • Tanis, Egypt – Capital during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, in the Delta region.
  • Timgad, Algeria – Roman city founded by the emperor Trajan around 100 CE, covered by the sand at 7th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Uncertain or Disputed



Central Asia


Far East Asia

Uncertain or Disputed

South Asia

Sri Lanka

Southeast Asia

Uncertain or Disputed
  • Kota Gelanggi – Malaysia (Malay Archipelago)
  • Ma-i – Philippines – was a sovereign polity that pre-dated the Hispanic establishment of the Philippines and notable for having established trade relations with the Kingdom of Brunei, and with Song and Ming Dynasty China. Its existence was recorded both in the Chinese Imperial annals Zhu Fan Zhi (諸番志) and History of Song

Western Asia/Middle East

Status Unknown



  • Noreia – the capital of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Noricum. Possibly in southern Austria or Slovenia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina


  • Perperikon in Bulgaria – The megalith complex had been laid in ruins and re-erected many times in history – from the Bronze Age until Middle Ages.
  • Seuthopolis, Bulgaria – an ancient Thracian city, discovered and excavated in 1948. It was founded by king Seuthes III around 325 BC. Its ruins are now located at the bottom of the Koprinka Reservoir near the city of Kazanlak.


  • Heraclea somewhere in the Adriatic on the Croatian coast. Exact location unknown.



  • Quentovic – In 842, the ancient port of Quentovicus was destroyed by a Viking fleet.
  • Thérouanne – In 1553, the city was razed, the roads broken up and the fields ploughed and salted by command of Charles V.




  • Avar Ring, Hungary – Central stronghold of the Avars, it is believed to have been in the wide plain between the Danube and the Tisza.[11]


  • Acerrae Vatriae – a town of the Sarranates mentioned by Pliny the elder as having been situated in an unknown location in Umbria.
  • Luni, Italy
  • Paestum – Greek and Roman city south of Naples, abandoned due to climate change. Three famous Greek temples.
  • Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae in Italy – buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and rediscovered in the 18th century
  • Sybaris, Italy – Ancient Greek colonial city of unsurpassed wealth utterly destroyed by its arch-rival Crotona in 510 BC.
  • Tripergole, Italy - Ancient Roman spa village on the eastern shores of the Lucrine Lake in the Campi Flegrei. The village and most of the lake were buried by tephra in 1538 during the volcanic eruption that created Monte Nuovo. The exact location of the village and its associated hot springs can no longer be identified.




  • Kaupang – In Viksfjord near Larvik, Norway. Largest trading city around the Oslo Fjord during the Viking age. As sea levels retreated (the shoreline is 7m lower today than in 1000) the city was no longer accessible from the ocean and was abandoned.






  • Stari Ras, Serbia – one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state of Raška, abandoned in the 13th century.



  • Amaya – mentioned by Barro, it was either the capital or one of the most important cities of the Cantabri. Probably located in what nowadays is called "Amaya Peak" in Burgos, northern Spain.
  • Cypsela, drowned Ibero-Greek settlement in the Catalan shore, Spain. Mentioned by Greek, Roman and Medieval chroniclers.
  • Reccopolis, Spain – One of the capital cities founded in Hispania by the Visigoths. The site was incrementally abandoned in the 10th century.
  • Tartessos, Spain- A harbor city or an economical complex of small harbors and trade routes set on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river, in modern Andalusia, Spain. Tartessos is believed to be either the seat of an independent kingdom or a community of palacial cities devoted to exporting the mineral resources of the Hispanic mainland to the sea, to meet the Phoenician and Greek traders. Its destruction is still a matter of debate among historians, and one modern tendency tends to believe that Tartessos was never a city, but a culture complex.


United Kingdom

  • Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester, England – Large Romano-British walled city 10 miles (16 km) south of present-day Reading, Berkshire. Just the walls remain and a street pattern can be discerned from the air.
  • Dunwich, England – Lost to coastal erosion. Once a large town, now reduced to a small village
  • Newtown, Isle of Wight – formerly an important seaport, the settlement has been reduced to a small hamlet over time since the 17th century after interest shifted to Newport, a more easily defended settlement that has since become the county town.
  • Evonium, Scotland – purported coronation site and capital of 40 kings
  • Fairbourne, Wales - managed retreat policy adopted by council in 2019 due to flooding prospects following climate change
  • Hampton-on-Sea, England – A drowned and abandoned village in what is now the Hampton area of Herne Bay, Kent.
  • Nant Gwrtheyrn former village on the North Welsh coast, abandoned after its quarry closed. Now regenerated as a language centre.
  • Old Sarum, England – population moved to nearby Salisbury although the owners of the archaeological site retained the right to elect a Member of Parliament to represent Old Sarum until the 19th century (see William Pitt).
  • Ravenser Odd, England - important port near the mouth of the Humber, lost to coastal erosion
  • Ravenspurn, England - near to Ravenser Odd, also lost to coastal erosion
  • Roxburgh, Scotland – abandoned in the 15th century
  • Selsey, England – mostly abandoned to coastal erosion after 1043.
  • Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland – Neolithic settlement buried under sediment. Uncovered by a winter storm in 1850.
  • Trellech, Wales
  • Winchelsea, East Sussex – Old Winchelsea, Important Channel port, pop 4000+, abandoned after 1287 inundation and coastal erosion. Modern Winchelsea, 2 miles (3.2 km) inland, was built to replace it as a planned town by Edward I of England


  • Bolokhiv, Ukraine abandoned in the 13th century.

North America


  • L'Anse aux Meadows – Viking settlement founded around 1000. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Lost Villages – The Lost Villages are ten communities (Aultsville, Dickinson's Landing, Farran's Point, Maple Grove, Mille Roches, Moulinette, Santa Cruz, Sheek's Island, Wales, Woodlands) in the Canadian province of Ontario, in the former townships of Cornwall and Osnabruck (now South Stormont) near Cornwall, which were permanently submerged by the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958.



Mexico and Central America

Maya cities

Incomplete list – for further information, see Maya civilization

  • Calakmul – One of two superpowers in the classic Maya period. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Chichen Itza – This ancient place of pilgrimage is still the most visited Maya ruin. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Coba
  • Copán – In modern Honduras. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Naachtun – Rediscovered in 1922, it remains one of the most remote and least visited Maya sites. Located 44 km (27 mi) south-south-east of Calakmul, and 65 km (40 mi) north of Tikal, it is believed to have had strategic importance to, and been vulnerable to military attacks by, both neighbours. Its ancient name was identified in the mid-1990s as Masuul.
  • Palenque — in the Mexican state of Chiapas, known for its beautiful art and architecture. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Tikal — One of two superpowers in the classic Maya period. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Tulum – Mayan coastal city.
Olmec cities
Totonac Cities
  • La Ciudad Blanca – In Eastern Honduras. long thought mythical, existence confirmed in 2015.
  • Hueyatlaco – Oldest city in Mexico.
  • Izapa – Chief city of the Izapa civilization, whose territory extended from the Gulf Coast across to the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, in present-day Mexico, and Guatemala.
  • Guayabo – In Costa Rica It is believed that the site was inhabited from 1500 BCE to 1400 CE, and had at its peak a population of around 10,000.

United States


South America

Inca cities



Status Unknown

See also


  1. "History of Archaeology". infoplease.
  2. Adams, Mark (2012). Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time. Plume. p. 306. ISBN 9780452297982 via Google Books.
  3. Alvarez-Zarikian, Carlos A.; Soter, Steven; Katsonopoulou, Dora (2008). "Recurrent Submergence and Uplift in the Area of Ancient Helike, Gulf of Corinth, Greece: Microfaunal and Archaeological Evidence". Journal of Coastal Research. 24 (1A): 110–125. doi:10.2112/05-0454.1. JSTOR 30133726.
  4. Glassé, Cyril; Huston Smith (2003). The New Encyclopedia of Islam (Revised ed.). AltaMira Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0759101906.
  5. Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertatia. Accessed 25 Oct. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertatia
  6. "Lost cities of the Amazon revealed". NBC News.
  7. Ancient "'Lost City' Discovered in Peru, Official Claims" Check |url= value (help). National Geographic. January 2008.
  8. Lost Cities of the Silk Road
  9. Metropolis: Angkor, the world's first mega-city
  10. id:Situs Trowulan
  11. Charlemagne and the Avars
  12. Conímbriga
  13. Teotihuacan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  14. Amazon jungle gives up lost city of the 'Cloud People', News.com.au
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