I never knew there were so many lost cities, abandoned and forgotten in time. It’s hard to imagine how an entire city can get lost, although modern day warfare and threats really make you realize it’s possible. So, let’s go back in time and learn about the 34 lost cities around the world that were rediscovered centuries later.
Carthage was founded by Phoenician colonists and was located in present-day Tunisia; it became a major power in the Mediterranean, but the resulting rivalry with Syracuse and Rome meant war was inevitable. The city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, when – after some horrific acts of war – Carthage was set ablaze. Interestingly enough, the Romans re-founded Carthage and transformed it into one of the Empire’s largest and most important city. It was later destroyed during the Muslim conquest.
33. Ciudad Perdida
Ciudad Perdida is an ancient city in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, supposedly founded around 800 AD; no one knows for sure. This lost city features a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads and several small circular plazas. You can imagine that was a lot of hard work. Members of local tribes call the city Teyuna; they strongly believe this city was the heart of a network of villages inhabited by their forebears, the Tairona. Sadly, the Spanish conquest turned it into an abandoned place.
I’m guessing you’ve all heard of Troy. The legendary city sits in modern day northwestern Turkey and it was made famous in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad. According to the story, this is where the Trojan War took place. The archaeological site of Troy contains several layers of ruins, but I’m not sure if you’re allowed to visit it or not. The layer Troy VIIa was probably the Troy of Homer and dates back to the mid- to late-13th century BC.
31. Skara Brae
This ancient city is located on the main island of Orkney. Skara Brae is one of the best preserved Stone Age villages in Europe, and that was possible because it was covered for hundreds of years by a sand dune until 1850. What’s interesting is that, due to the fact that were no trees on the island, furniture had to be made of stone – which also survived. Skara Brae was occupied from roughly 3180 BC–2500 BC, but after climate changes it was abandoned by its inhabitants.
Memphis, founded around 3,100 BC, is the legendary city of Menes, the king who united Upper and Lower Egypt. It was built more likely a fortress which is where the king controlled the land and water routes between Upper Egypt and the Delta. It was conquered by different people and by the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640 AD it was abandoned. Its ruins include the great temple of Ptah, royal palaces, and a colossal statue of Rameses II.
Somewhere in the Supe Valley in Peru, you’ll find Caral – one of the most ancient lost cities of the Americas. Inhabited between 2600 BC and 2000 BC. by more than people, this was one of the largest cities of the Norte Chico civilization. It features a central public area with six large platform mounds, and was probably the focus of this civilization.
Babylon was the capital of Babylonia, an ancient empire of Mesopotamia, located on the Euphrates River. The city degenerated into anarchy circa 1180 BC, but the brilliant color and luxury of Babylon became legendary from the days of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC), who is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens.
Located in northwestern Pakistan, Taxila is probably unknown to many. This ancient city was annexed by the Persian King Darius the Great in 518 BC. Ruled by a succession of conquerors, the city became an important Buddhist center; even the apostle Thomas reputedly visited Taxila in the 1st century AD., but was later destroyed by the Huns in the 5th century.
Sukhothai is one of Thailand’s earliest and most important historical cities. It gained its independence in the 13th century and became established as the capital of the first united and independent Tai state. After 1351, Sukhothai’s influence began to decline, and in 1438 the town was conquered and incorporated into the Ayutthaya kingdom. Which is why the city was abandoned in the late 15th or early 16th century.
Timgad was a Roman colonial town in Algeria, founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100 AD. Originally designed for a population of around 15,000, the city quickly pushed beyond its limitations; however, its size didn’t prevent it from being sacked by the Vandals in the 5th century and two centuries later by the Berbers. The city disappeared from history, becoming one the lost cities of the Roman Empire, although I’m not sure why.
Built around 2600 BC in present-day Pakistan, Mohenjo-daro was one of the early urban settlements in the world. The city features a planned layout based on a grid of streets, all laid out in perfect patterns. Moreover, the buildings of the city were particularly advanced, with structures constructed of same-sized sun dried bricks of baked mud and burned wood. Mohenjo-daro vanished without a trace from history around 1700 BC until discovered in the 1920s.
23. Great Zimbabwe
The Great Zimbabwe is a complex of stone ruins spread out over a large area in modern-day Zimbabwe. Built by indigenous Bantu people, the construction started in the 11th century and continued for over 300 years. It seems that the decline and ultimate abandonment of the site were caused by a decline in trade, political instability and famine and water shortages.
Hatra was a large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom. the city withstood several invasions by the Romans but fell to the Iranian Sassanid Empire of Shapur I in 241 AD and was destroyed. The ruins of Hatra in Iraq attest to the greatness of its civilization.
The Sanchi site dates back to more than one thousand year. It all started with the stupas of the 3rd century BC and ended with a series of Buddhist temples and monasteries, now in ruins. In the 13th century, after the decline of Buddhism in India, Sanchi was abandoned and the jungle quickly moved in.
Hattusa became the capital of the Hittite Empire in the 17th century BC. The city was destroyed around 1200 BC, as part of the Bronze Age collapse and the site was subsequently abandoned. The dwelling houses were built with timber and mud bricks, while the temple was built from stone. One of the most important discoveries at the site has been clay tablets, consisting of legal codes, procedures and literature of the ancient Near East.
19. Chan Chan
The vast adobe city of Chan Chan in Peru was the largest city in pre-Columbian America, with the buildings buildings were finished with mud frequently adorned with patterned relief arabesques. The center of the city consists of several walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers and temples. But everything disappeared with the conquest by the Inca Empire in 1470 AD.
18. Mesa Verde
The Mesa Verde in Colorado is home to the famous cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi people. They started building houses in the 12th century, with some of them large as 150 rooms. By 1300, all of the Anasazi had left the Mesa Verde area, but the ruins remain almost perfectly preserved. No one knows what happened.
Persepolis was the center and ceremonial capital of the mighty Persian Empire. It was a beautiful city, adorned with precious artworks of which unfortunately very little survives today. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great burned it to the ground as a revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens.
16. Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna or Lepcis Magna was a prominent city of the Roman Empire, located in present-day Libya. Its natural harbor was the key point in the city’s growth as a major Mediterranean and Saharan trade center. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus (193–211), who was born at Leptis, became a great patron of the city, but after the Arab conquest of 642 the city fell into ruin.
This city was formerly situated on the Amu-Darya River in Uzbekistan. Ürgenç or Urgench was one of the greatest cities on the Silk Road. The 12th and early 13th centuries were the golden age of Ürgenç, when it became the capital of the Central Asian empire of Khwarezm. But, in 1221 Genghis Khan razed Urgench to the ground, and that was the beginning of the end
Vijaynagar was once one the largest cities in the world. The Indian city flourished between the 14th century and 16th century, during the height of the power of the Vijayanagar empire. During this time, the empire was often in conflict with the Muslim kingdoms; which is why, in 1565 the empire’s armies suffered a massive defeat and Vijayanagara was taken and destroyed.
The Mexican state of Campeche is home to Calakmul, one of the largest Maya cities ever uncovered. Once a powerful city that challenged the supremacy of Tikal and engaged in a strategy of surrounding it with its own network of allies, the city failed to extinguish Tikal’s power completely. So, a battle that took place in 695 AD determining the demise of both cities.
For centuries Palmyra, or the city of palm trees, was an important city located along the caravan routes linking Persia with the Mediterranean ports of Roman Syria. Palmyra’s trade diminished starting 212, as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The city was captured by the Muslim Arabs in 634 and declined under Ottoman rule.
In the 6th century, Ctesiphon was one of the largest city in the world and one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia. It was a major military objective for the Roman Empire, but later fell to the Muslims during the Islamic conquest of Persia in 637. After the 8th century the city went into a rapid decline and soon became a ghost town.
Hvalsey was the largest of the three Viking settlements in Greenland. They were settled in approximately 985 AD by Norse farmers from Iceland; however, following the demise of the Western Settlement in the mid-fourteenth century, the Eastern Settlement continued for another 60-70 years. Strangely enough, in 1408 a wedding was recorded at the Hvalsey Church, after which nothing else came out of Greenland.
Ani was situated along a major east-west caravan route,and went on to became the capital of Armenia in the 10th century. Numerous churches were built there during this period, which is why it earned its nickname as the “City of 1001 Churches”. A devastating earthquake in 1319, and shifting trade routes sent it into an irreversible decline, and was abandoned.
Palenque in Mexico is a much smaller city than others of Mayan origins, but it contains some of the finest architecture and sculptures the Maya ever produced. The city declined during the 8th century and went on to be abandoned.
This lost city is located near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. It was once a moral and cosmological center to which many people made pilgrimages; at its maximum extent, the city had between 15,000–30,000 inhabitants although recent satellite imaging suggest a much larger population. Around 1000 AD, after a dramatic shift in climate, Tiwanaku disappeared.
On August 24, 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius erupted, covering the nearby town Pompeii with ash and soil, thus allowing for a preservation of the city in its state from that fateful day. Everything from jars and tables to paintings and people were frozen in time. Pompeii was abandoned, although it has provided scientists with an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of people living two thousand years ago.
In the 2nd century BC a new civilization arose in the valley of Mexico, and built the metropolis of Teotihuacán and it’s huge step pyramids. A decline in population in the 6th century AD, together with climate changes, has led to the demise of the Teotihuacán empire. However, the pyramids of the lost city were honored and utilized by the Aztecs.
Also seen in the Indiana Jones movie, Petra was the ancient capital of the Nabataean kingdom. This vast, unique city, was carved into the side of the Wadi Musa Canyon in southern Jordan centuries ago by the Nabataeans; once an important junction for the silk and spice routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Greece and Rome, the city was abandoned after several earthquakes crippled the vital water management system.
Between ca. 200 to 900 AD, Tikal was the largest Mayan city . As Tikal reached peak population, the area around the city suffered deforestation and erosion followed by a rapid decline in population levels. After 950, Tikal was all but deserted, and the Guatemalan rainforest claimed the ruins for the next thousand years.
Angkor is a vast temple city in Cambodia. Its magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument, and the Bayon temple. The end of the Angkorian period is generally set as 1431, the year Angkor was sacked and looted by Ayutthaya invaders and the city was abandoned.
1. Machu Picchu
One of the most famous lost cities in the world, Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hawaiian historian Hiram after it lay hidden for centuries above the Urubamba Valley. This lost city was completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs and the good thing about it was that it was largely unknown to the outside world.