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Top 10 Lost Cities

Ben Gazur . . . Comments

Humans seem to have a need to imagine the past as grander than the present, and that the ancients had some knowledge we have lost. This has been compounded by archaeological discoveries of important cities no one had known existed. It seems absurd to us, who have the internet to remind us of every fact, that anything so large as a city could be lost. But cities have always fallen into disuse for a variety of reasons, and without a resident population, have been lost to history for centuries until rediscovered. This list focuses on cities which have been abandoned, forgotten (except perhaps by a few people living nearby) and rediscovered later.




Whenever ‘lost cities’ are discussed Atlantis springs to mind. While there is no strong evidence that Atlantis existed outside of an allegorical tale by Plato many cities have suffered the supposed fate of Atlantis – being swallowed by the sea. Pavlopetri was a town of pre-Classical Greece that was settled in the Stone Age and persisted until ~1000 BC. That the site was submerged has given archaeologists a unique insight into life at the time. Other sites have been built over, or plundered for building material, or ploughed over by farmers, but Pavlopetri is uncontaminated. The town was likely submerged by rising sea levels and subsidence of the ground caused by earthquakes. Since sea levels have fluctuated widely over the course of human existence it is entirely likely that other such sites exist in the world’s oceans awaiting discovery.


Cliff palace


The Pueblo people, the Native Americans of the US southwest, are named for the villages (Pueblos) they construct. While there are still vibrant pueblo communities today, the Anasazi, an ancient pueblo society, flourished between 900 and 1200 AD. ‘Cliff Palace’ was constructed in this Golden age of the Anasazi; dendrochronology dates most of the buildings at the site to ~1200 AD. Occupation of the site was short lived and it was abandoned by 1300 AD. It remained undiscovered in the desert, until 1888. While out looking for stray cattle Richard Wetherill, Charles Mason and an Ute tribesman called Acowitz found the site nestled under a cliff wall. Their accidental discovery turned out to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. ‘Cliff Palace’ is actually a misnomer as the site is more like a village than what we would understand as a palace. While the reason for the site’s abandonment is not certain, the widely accepted theory is that the first of the great droughts, that has been linked to the collapse of the Anasazi golden age, disrupted farming throughout the region.




The Minoan civilization of Crete is named for the mythical King Minos, builder of the labyrinth. There is scant written material left from the Minoans, so we do not know what they called themselves. The entire civilization was largely forgotten until the turn of the 20th century. With the discovery of the great palace at Knossos the glories of the Minoans were rediscovered. Instead of the well known Knossos, I have included a Minoan outpost, Akrotiri on the island of Santorini. Santorini, or Thera, is the home of the Thera volcano. It is now thought that the explosion of Thera around 1600 BC, one of the largest eruptions in recorded history, brought about the collapse of the Minoan empire. The discovery of Akrotiri, in 1967, brought to light exceptionally well preserved frescos, homes up to three stories high, and a complex planned settlement. The water supply system suggests the people of Akrotiri had access to running hot and cold water, with the hot water provided by the very volcano which would destroy them.



Templo De Tikal

The Mayan city of Tikal was once the capital city of a Mayan kingdom and a major city of the New World. The site was occupied from ~200-900 AD. Thanks to the almost perfect preservation of the city much is known about the grandeur of Tikal at its height, as well as the powerful kings who ruled there. While the site is sometimes – like other New World ruins – listed as ‘mysteriously’ abandoned, research is showing that the land could not support the large number of people congregating in the city. Abandonment occurred over a number of years and the city was left for the jungles to grow over. It seems, however, that some locals knew of its existence during those years, for rumors of a lost city in the area persisted. The first organized expedition found the city in 1848. What they found was one of the largest surviving New World archaeological sites. There are pyramids up to 70m high, royal palaces, monumental stele and a playing arena for the Mayan ball game.




Timgad, or Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi to Latinists, is the archetypal lost city from adventure stories. Once a vibrant city founded in the desert on the orders of the emperor Trajan it survived the upheavals of the empire and grew to a large trading city. After being sacked in the 5th century it was reborn as a center of Christian life. A second major sacking in the 7th century by Vandals led to the complete abandonment of the city. That is when the sands of the Sahara covered the site and preserved the city until its rediscovery, in 1881. Now the ruins of the city give a brilliant insight into Roman cities of the African provinces. The streets follow a perfect grid, as you would expect from a city built to order. Today at the site you can see the arch of Trajan, the baths and the temple of Jupiter. The temple is as large as that of the pantheon in Rome, showing the importance of the city. A graffito in the forum reads “To hunt, bathe, play games and laugh. This is life!”


Machu Picchu


No list of lost cities is complete without Machu Picchu. This old Inca city sits on a peak in the Andes. It was only inhabited for a short period of time, likely 1450-1572 AD, before being abandoned as a result of the Spanish conquest of South America. Since Spaniards never found the city, and locals did not reveal its location, Machu Picchu only came to the attention of the West in the early 20th century. Debate still exists as to whether Machu Picchu was a regular settlement, a Royal retreat, or a religious sanctuary. To reach the site itself is now incredibly easy, with regular buses and trains. This has led to worries about the sustainability of large numbers of visitors there. However, given the wonderful views and the ruins themselves it is easy to see why people flock to Machu Picchu.



Lost-City-Mohenjo-Daro-Pakistan 24712 600X450

Along with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations the Indus Valley civilization is considered one of the world’s earliest. The Indus Valley civilization reached its peak approximately 2000 BC, though it was considerably older. Science, writing, trade, crafts, religion and agriculture all progressed remarkably. The advanced nature of this civilization can be seen at Mohenjo-daro with its ordered streets and drainage system. Unlike other sites on this list, there is no obvious palace or temple complex. This has led some to consider the Indus Valley civilization as egalitarian, however we know very little of the people who lived at Mohenjo-daro, so such a statement is bold. Flooding of the Indus appears to have destroyed the city at least six times and new cities were built directly on top of the ruins of the previous ones. What caused the final abandonment is not clear but occurred around ~1800 BC and Mohenjo-dar was only rediscovered in 1922.




The inclusion of Petra may prove controversial as one can question whether it was really lost. It was certainly abandoned, but may have been very well known to locals. At any rate it was lost from Western knowledge for at least a thousand years. The ancient precursor of Listverse, Pliny the Elder, mentions Petra and it was taken into Roman rule in 103 AD. The city in the desert flourished until an earthquake destroyed the vital water system. With other cities available it seems it was easier to just abandon the site than rebuild. From then the site was left to the desert, attracting only curious travelers and grave robbers. Now it is one of the great archaeological sites in the Middle East. The city is half built and half carved from the red rocks of the hills it inhabits. The architecture is a fusion of Roman, Greek and native Nabataean. Really, no small text here can do credit to the remains of this city.



P57734-Assos-Odeon At Troy

“Sing, O Muse, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus…” So begins the Iliad of Homer, the foundational text of western literature. For all the importance placed in the Iliad, it was for a long time thought that Troy was as mythical as Atlantis. Then in 1871 a self-taught classicist, Heinrich Schliemann, funded a dig at a mound in Hissarlik. There – where in ancient time a city called Ilium (named for the Iliad) had stood – they found huge defensive walls of the type described by Homer. As well as the walls of Troy, Schliemann discovered golden jewelry which he displayed as the jewels of Helen. This treasure was once thought lost after the Second World War, but was, in fact, looted by the Soviets and can be found in the Pushkin museum. Modern excavations of the site have revealed the city to be large – large enough to be the basis of the ancient legend. They have also discovered the city was founded in around 3000 BC and destroyed multiple times. Each new city was built on the ruins of the last. There is a lively debate as to which of these layers might relate to the city besieged by the Greeks. Interestingly, the mighty walls of the city would have far outstripped any siege weaponry available to the attackers at the time and therefore any siege would be protracted. This is just what the Iliad describes and explains the need for the trickery of the Trojan Horse.


Pompeii and Herculaneum

Pompeii Temple Of Jupiter

“There were some so afraid of death that they prayed to die.” So write Pliny the Younger of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. His uncle, the great elder Pliny, had taken the Roman fleet across the bay of Naples to rescue those people trapped at the foot of the volcano. The expedition would cost the elder Pliny his life as the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were smothered in ash. The ash, which destroyed so many lives, perfectly preserved the two towns for 1700 years. While we often think of the ancient Romans as inhabiting a flawless world of white marble, Pompeii reveals a real town with many features we would recognize today. Political slogans are daubed on walls; “Vote for Lucius Popidius Sabinus!” There is also fruitier graffiti on toilet walls. A mural shows a riot that occurred around the cities amphitheater. The city has been a gold mine for archeologists and is a major tourist site. Unlike the other cities here you can still see some of the inhabitants. Dotted throughout the ruins are the ghostly, and in many cases ghastly, plaster casts of the dead whose bodies left hollows in the ash.

Honourable mentions- L’anse aux meadows, Mycenae, Xanadu, Vijayanagara, Angkor.

  • SamuraiHP

    awesome list! well done champ!

  • trudel69


    • Josh

      …Isn’t real.

      • yeeeeep


      • Chris Dow

        Isn’t confirmed to be real or fake.

        • Eric

          I suppose that planet Hoth isn’t confirmed to be real or fake either, but that doesn’t mean it warrants any search by astronomers.

          • anonymous

            well played sir.

          • nunyo

            Well, sir, the planet “Hoth” has not been discussed for many centuries. Or did Plato talk about Hoth as well?

    • Metalwrath

      Read item number 10… and lo and behold… Atlantis is mentioned.

      I hate it when people comment about a supposed forgotten item on a list they clearly haven’t read thoroughly.

      • trudel69

        mentionned being the keyword.

        • Barney

          The misspelled key word, but still…

    • fish

      Thera may have been the inspiration for Atlantis; it seems more likely than other possibilities. Pellegrino did a book musing about this- it’s titled “Unearthing Atlantis”. There’s enough evidence the two cities are the same that I think they are.

      • gator

        i agree fish. I Saw a documentary on it and it’s pretty compelling evidence. Besides when plato first wrote about it he didn’t know the name of the island. He said the city was so beautiful it must be a city of the gods in there for named it atlantis after the gods home mount olympus. The structures they found at thera submerged underwater matched plato’s descriptions of atlantis. They said that when santarini erupted it dropped a third of the mountain into the ocean causing a huge tsunami that wiped out santarini and because of water displacement the water never receded. Thera is believed by many to be Plato’s Atlantis.

  • leef18

    Number 1 baby!!!!!!!!!!!

    • leef18


    • Chris Dow


    • faisal

      epic fail

  • Stu Miller’s Gust

    Venice and other cities will eventually share the fate of #10. Despite what you’ve read on Listverse, global warming is real.

    • listverseloveslostcities

      Chill-out Al Gore

      • Tryclyde

        Ha, you sound like Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin.

        • monie

          but he’s super cereal! Manbearpig is real!

          • levi.

            i see what you did there.

          • Iva

            Excelsior!!! Lol

  • Chris Dow

    Giorgio Tsoukalos walks in the room…………

    • inconspicuousdetective

      hahahahahahahahahahahahaha i wonder how many more people will catch this. you made my night that much better.

    • Somalion

      Hahaha that man is nuts! :D

      • inconspicuousdetective

        actually, somalion, the dude knows his stuff. at least that’s what i’ve read.

  • Boss Atkins

    Fantastic reading.

  • itswinston

    Interesting o.O

  • Seymour Butts

    I was pleasantly surprised that these were actual lost cities instead of fictional cities such as El Dorado (the city of gold).

  • Simplifried

    Brilliant, very well done. I much enjoyed this list. More please.

  • Troy just has the worst of luck.

  • The Mick

    you have to include in this list, Göbekli Tepe

  • Maad

    Dwarka the lost city should also have been included, the Hindu scriptures give various accounts about it and some archeologists have also found some evidence prooving the ancient city was there !

  • Jono

    Ubar was not included, so I guess there’s enough lost cities for a second list. :P
    Ubar basically sucked the aquifer underneath itself dry, and then fell down into the cavern that once held water. Ba-burr. Then the ancient writers stopped mentioning Ubar. And it was then thought lost, until probably discovered in the 90s.

  • Abigirl

    I loved this list! I love learning about lost cities! I’ve been to Cliff Palace and Mesa Verde (similar, but smaller) on a school trip and family vacation. I highly recommend it for anyone that gets a chance to go.

    • Spaz

      Cliff Palace is in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. I believe that there are 5 cliff dwelings in the park with Cliff Palace being the biggest one. You can go to two others ones and two are not accessable.

  • Good list, when i visited pompeii in 2008 they didn’t have plaster casts of people in the ruins, they were only in one place and at that sealed in a room with railings over it. Maybe they bring them out only at certain times of year but it would have made the triP more interesting if they had replicas of the casts made and placed them where the originals were founnd.

    Though not really lost, Ostia Antica is another ancient city near rome that is well preserved, it’s well worth the visit, i prefered it to pompeii and it isn’t as busy & easy to get too on the trains.

  • qw0rtz

    I’d like to add Rungholt. Not quite as spectacular as the other entries, but still interesting.

  • Hercules321

    Loved this list! What a feeling it must be to discover a city that has been long lost.

    Mohenjo-daro is the most fascinating for me. The amount of advancement they had in urban planning 5000 years back is truly remarkable! And the reason why the city was abandoned is still completely unknown.

    Excellent list!

  • chela

    you could have included the lost cities of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. these cities have major architectural and engineering works. Only a portion have been uncovered. Ancient city of Sigiriya is the more spectacular of the three as it is located on top of an ancient volcanic plug in the midst of a very wide plain.

  • chela

    apparently, wikipedia has already list down all the lost cities in the world:

    • Metalwrath

      Nice find. Thanks

    • Metalwrath

      But the list is kind of wrong… for example, it lists “Chernobyl, Ukraine abandoned in 1986.”…. not really a lost city…

      • chela

        it’s already been in the process of becoming a lost city. unless ukrainians decided to live there once more.

  • kame

    Mohenjo daru is a really fascinating place. I’v visited it a few times and it always makes me wonder what could have happened here. One theory which is mostly believed is that it was attacked by the Aryai people..

  • oouchan

    Very well done. Well written and wide spread coverage of real and not imaginary cities.

    Good list.

  • kyle

    great list man, i love reading about stuff like this. very factual too, i like how you dont make any presumptions or accept far-fetched conclusions, as that seems to be a disease spreading throughout the site. Great job. more please

  • Gabryel

    well . i really dont belive that atlantis exist , but what i believe is that there are many other lost cities probably the world doesn’t know . well . one day . i hope they discovered one .

  • Armadillotron

    Isn`t Number 3 out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?

    • Hercules321

      Yeah he finds the holy grail in

      It also featured in Transformers 2.

  • Voorhees

    Great list. It always amazes me that these cities can full off the radar. Those that are buried are fair enough, but those that arent and remain undiscovered for a 1000 or more years, seems amazing given the increased population and the increase in exploration. Imagine, walking through a jungle and BAM an anchient ruin in front of you.

  • pamma

    Ok list for me..not interested much

  • Heitham

    Wow, I gotta say the quality of lists has been on the rise.

  • Allen

    I have only been to Petra in Jordan and it does not disappoint. You do not really get the sense of how big the buildings there are until you see them in person. Great list!

  • Lifeschool

    Another really great list – I love history! Double thumbs up.

  • Magnumto

    An excellent list, Ben – thanks!

  • bigstaff

    A very good list makes me want to go travelling.

  • homer and bruce

    Springfield and Gotham City anyone? :/

  • Joe Rosson

    What about Puma Punku?

  • jer-bear

    Well besides goirgio doing a quick walk by, great list!

  • History freak

    I believe Homer wrote the Odyssey, not the Iliad.. Nice work other than that

    • Reader

      Homer is credited with the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the list, it says that Ilium was named for the Iliad, but I think it’s actually the other way around. Ilium was the ancient name for Troy, so Homer’s account of the war is called the Iliad.

      • History freak

        Oh, ok thank you. I was confusing the Iliad with the Aeneid.

    • Caleb

      Yeah, history freak, you’re clearly not qualified to criticize.

      • History freak

        I really wasn’t criticizing, I wasn’t saying that what I thought was fact. Just a belief

  • lorra loo

    the cliff palace thing is in new mexico actually

    • Spaz

      You are wrong about that yourself. It is located in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. A few miles East of Cortez, Colorado. I have family that lives across the street from the park entrance.

      • lorra loo

        yes I realize this now, sorry

  • James F

    Fantastic list!

  • Matt

    Nice list- would love to see a few mythical cities like El Dorado or Atlantis that plenty of explorers have gone lost looking for, but neat to see so many of the lost cities. I’ve been to the “cliff palace” in Colorado and it really is a village. Beautiful as well!

  • Eumesmopo

    Pompeii is indeed the coolest archeological site ever; it is like time has frozen itself so archeologists could take “snapshots” out of that ancient city.

  • g

    List win.

  • Cora

    Pompeii is a very interesting place to visit. I was lucky enough to go in 2006. I’d love to go again and spend more time!

  • blue jacket

    I would add Detroit.

    • Spaz

      LOL. But Obama is trying to resurrect it again by bringing back the overpaid people.

  • Conservengineer

    I’m just back from Italy, where I “discovered” the “Lost City” of Ostia Antica (near Rome Airport) – Certainly bigger and to my mind more impressive than Pompeii. Look it up (but don’t all visit at once, it was nice and quiet when I went)

  • don’t_tread_on_me

    Actually, number 9, the Minoan Civilization facts are wrong. King Minos didn’t build the labyrinth, Daedalus did. King Minos sent 7 men and 7 women to go to the labyrinth (and be eaten by the minotaur), but he did not build it himself.

    • stomper

      Actually, your post is wrong. If we are going to use a strict meaning of the word ‘build’ then Daedalus did not build the labyrinth either. He designed it. Minos ordered the construction of the labyrinth. Slaves or stone masons would have done the actual building. Except since the labyrinth is mythical no one did any building…

  • Shalayah2010

    The Disney Movie, The Road to El Dorado is one of my fav carttoon movies. I just thought it was a made up city, but after seeing it on this list, I went on google and found more info on it. Very fascinating! Also, that same pic from the Mayan civilization is the exact same tower from the movie Apocalypto !

  • Karine

    Thank you! Another excellent list …

  • eduardo jaramillo

    Really awesome list… I’d heard of half of these, so it was awesome to learn about the ones I knew nothing about. I’d reallly love to visit all of these, although item number ten seems pretty difficult to visit. My only complaint is… Angkor Wat?!?! a really cool lost city in my opinion, should have made it passed the honorable mentions… great list though.

  • Puzzled

    Why do you consider major tourist attractions as lost cities?

  • MatthewZD

    I’m very surprised that Cahokia and the Roanoke colony didn’t make the list

    • Cahokia is a big oversight!

  • conie

    The city of Ilium is not named after the Iliad, asshole. It’s the other way around! The city is actualy named after its founder Ilos, grandfather of Priam the last king of Ilium (or Ilion in Greek).

  • Bex

    Herculaneum wasn’t covered in ash. It was enveloped in toxic fumes then buried by a mudslide. Most of the inhabitants made it to the harbour area to try to get on boats but many perished in the mud.
    You can stil see their bones in the arches of the harbour (if you jump a fence)!

  • Simone

    Is it safe to say Hy-Brasil?

    Cool list, thanks for sharing! :-)

  • Fernando

    You missed out Copan, the biggest Mayan city, on west Honduras

  • Fascinating; thanks!

  • Alexus Harrell

    i think that they tell people all around the world that they have found ”Atlantis” but they really didnt until they they find it because im sure that they say they find atlantis in many differnt places like spain,china….like seriously china but im 11 year old girl whose trying to discover atlantis….the most dangerouse thing to do because of sharks and other sea life that can kill me…..i informed the president to help me but i havent got the letter he sent back yet…..

  • cursos a distancia gratis

    Thank you for another informative website. The place else may just I get that kind of information written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a project that I am just now running on, and I’ve been on the glance out for such information.

  • bridwildilk


  • Melissa Del Rey

    Not really “lost”, isn´t it? I mean, we know where they are and in many cases we know the reason of their actual state. I think about cities which are part legend and part obsession of many explorers like El Dorado, Central America Ciudad Blanca, Priest John Kingdom, etc…

  • kl

    what sodom and gomorra

  • Alan


  • ghania