10 Ancient Cities Lost in Time

Nothing lasts forever – not even centers of ancient civilizations (except maybe Rome). So many beautiful cities have been lost or destroyed over time and eventually recovered, but even more of them are still undiscovered. Below you can find a list of 10 ancient cities lost in time:


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Ctesiphon, Iraq

Ctesiphon palace ruin, with the arch in the centre, 1864

Ctesiphon palace ruin, with the arch in the centre, 1864, Credits: Wikimedia

One of the greatest cities of Mesopotamia, Ctesiphon was the largest city in the world in the 6th century. She was a significant military objective to the Romans and was captured by them no less than five times. Nonetheless, she survived the Roman warriors and lived to serve as the inspiration for the city of Isbanir in One Thousand and One Nights. Ctesiphon also hosts the world’s largest brick-built arch.

Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

Closeup of Great Zimbabwe ruins

Closeup of Great Zimbabwe ruins, Credits: Wikimedia

Today’s UNESCO World Heritage site, the city of Great Zimbabwe served as the center of political power in the country’s Iron Age. The city fell into ruins around the 15th century, mostly due to exhaustion of gold mines, which were the people’s primary source of income – the gold trade is believed to have extended as far as China.

La Ciudad Perdida, Columbia

Stairs and walkways, part of the Ciudad Perdida

Stairs and walkways, part of the Ciudad Perdida, Credits: Wikimedia

The name literally means “The Lost City”. La Ciudad Perdida, or Sierra Nevada, was found quite accidentally in 1972, although due to the tense political situation in the region, she didn’t become a popular touristy spot until a few years ago. Nonetheless, although the site is a few hundred years older than Machu Picchu, it’s still not considered a “mainstream” tourist destination.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu

Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu, Credits: Wikimedia

This lost city was the gem of the Incas civilization, although she only stood for about a century. The “Old Peak” conceals many mysteries of the Incas – for example, how they ran a huge empire without ever having a marketplace. Other cities on the list were the hubs of trade back in their day, but Machu Picchu’s economy was different, and we’ll hopefully find out just how different it was. One day.

Palenque, Mexico

Palenque ruins

Palenque ruins, Credits: Wikimedia

Palenque was a Mayan city in Mexico that flourished in the 7-10th centuries and today it’s one of the largest preserved Mayan sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although she was smaller than Mayan hubs of civilization like Tikal, she serves to this day as one of the best representations of the Mayan culture. Unfortunately, over 80% of the ancient city is still buried underneath the jungle that appeared after Palenque was abandoned around the 12th century.

Pavlopetri, Greece

Overview of Pavlopetri

Overview of Pavlopetri, Credits: Wikimedia

Pavlopetri is the only underwater city on this list (no Atlantis, sorry!) and the world’s oldest submerged archeological site. As the name suggests, she was named after the two Christian saints – Peter and Paul. It’s hard to determine why a city that can be traced back to as early as 2800 BC was submerged, although earthquakes are thought to be the main cause.

Persepolis, Iran

Apadana Palace, Persepolis,

Apadana Palace, Persepolis, Credits: Wikimedia

Another UNESCO World Heritage site has made it onto this list. The City of Persians was founded by Darius in 518 BC, who spent over a century on building her. She was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC – Alexander is believed to have set fire to the city. However, the fire failed to destroy the stunning panoramic views of Persepolis that depict the daily life of the citizens to this day.

Pompeii, Italy

Street and houses in ancient Roman Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Street and houses in ancient Roman Pompeii, Campania, Italy, via Flickr, By Trey Ratcliff

The tragedy of Pompeii destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 AD has been depicted in many films, TV episodes, music and artwork, and the city was rediscovered in 1599. The Roman Empire has long fallen, but the treasures of Pompeii have been miraculously preserved; perhaps that’s the reason she attracts so many tourists – who wouldn’t want to experience actually walking on the streets of Roman Empire? And yes, Pompeii is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Thinis, Egypt

Nearby Abydos (Osireion pictured), after ceding its political rank to Thinis, remained an important religious centre.

Nearby Abydos (Osireion pictured), after ceding its political rank to Thinis, remained an important religious center. Credits: Wikimedia

Thinis might be the only city on the list still undiscovered, but numerous historical sources attest to her existence and greatness. While being a home to the first pharaoh of the united Egypt, Menes, Thinis was also believed to be a mystical place in heaven in Egyptian mythology. Unfortunately, she has lost her prominent position by the time of the Roman Empire.

Xanadu, Mongolia

Shangdu (here spelled Ciandu, as Marco Polo spelled it) on the French map of Asia made by Sanson d'Abbeville

Shangdu (here spelled Ciandu, as Marco Polo spelled it) on the French map of Asia made by Sanson d’Abbeville, Credits: Wikimedia

The city of pleasure that inspired “Kubla Khan” and by extension served as the name for Citizen Kane’s Charles Kane’s mansion actually served as a summer capital for Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty. All that’s left from Xanadu or Shangdu now is ruins and, while she might be considered a lost city, thanks to the numerous influences of popular culture, she’s unlikely to ever be forgotten.

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