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 onward eventually led to the development of archaeology.
Lost cities generally fall into two broad categories: those where all knowledge of the city’s existence was forgotten prior to its rediscovery, and those whose memory was preserved in myth, legend, or historical records but whose location was lost or at least no longer widely recognized.
Legends or History Lost
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.
Ai – important city in the Hebrew Bible
Aztlán– the ancestral homeland in Aztec mythology
Ciudad de los Cesares (City of the Caesars, also variously known as City of the Patagonia, Elelín, Lin Lin, Trapalanda, Trapananda, or Wandering City) – a legendary city in Patagonia, never found
Dvārakā – An ancient city of Krishna, submerged in the sea
Iram of the Pillars – this may refer to a lost Arabian city in the Empty Quarter, but sources also identify it as a tribe or an area mentioned in the Quran
Kitezh, Russia – legendary underwater city which supposedly may be seen in good weather
Lost City of Z – a city allegedly located in the jungles of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, said to have been seen by the British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett sometime prior to World War I
Otuken – legendary capital city of Gokturks in Turkic mythology
Paititi – a legendary city and refuge in the rainforests where Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru meet
The Seven Cities of Gold
Sodom and Gomorrah
Vineta – legendary city somewhere at the Baltic coast of Germany or Poland
Ys – legendary city on the western coast of France
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 Magna – Roman 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.
Pi-Ramesses, Egypt — Imperial city of Rameses the Great, now thought to exist beneath Quantir.
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.
The Lost City of the Kalahari – not yet discovered.
Itjtawy, Egypt – Capital during the 12th Dynasty. Exact location still unknown, but it is believed to lie near the modern town of el-Lisht.
Thinis, Egypt — Undiscovered city and centre of the Thinite Confederacy, the leader of which, Menes, united Upper and Lower Egypt and was the first pharaoh.
Karakorum – Capital of Genghis Khan.
Loulan – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
Niya – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
Old Urgench – capital of Khwarezm. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Otrar – City located along the Silk Road, important in the history of Central Asia.
Sarai – Capital of the Golden Horde
Subashi – Located in the Taklamakan Desert, on the ancient Silk Road route.
Undiscovered Lost Cities
Abaskun – Medieval Caspian Sea trading port
Atil, Tmutarakan, Sarai Berke – Capitals of the steppe peoples
Balanjar – Earlier Khazar capital
Turquoise Mountain – Capital of Afghanistan, destroyed 1220
Far East Asia
Xanadu – China Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Uncertain or Disputed
Yamatai – Japan
Lost Cities of India
Dholavira – Located in Gujarat, India. Indus Valley Civilization city
Dvārakā – Ancient city of Krishna, hero of the Mahabharata. Now largely excavated. Off the coast of the Indian state of Gujarat.
Kalibangan – Located in Rajasthan, India – early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
Lothal – Located in Gujarat, India – early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
Pattadakal – Located in Karnataka, South India. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Poompuhar – Located in Tamil Nadu, South India
Rakhigarhi – Located in Haryana, largest Indus Valley Civilization site, dating back to 4600 BCE.
Surkotada – Located in Gujarat, India – early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
Vasai-Located in India – former capital (1533-1740) of the Northern Provinces of Portuguese India
Vijayanagar – Located in Karnataka, India. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Muziris – Located near Cranganore, Kerala, southern India
Lost Cities of Pakistan
Harappa – Located in Punjab, Pakistan – early city of the Indus Valley Civilization
Kot Diji – Located in Pakistan’s Sindh province Indus Valley Civilization city
Mehrgarh – Located in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province Indus Valley Civilization city
Mohenjo-Daro – Located in Pakistan Sindh — early city of the Indus Valley Civilization, the city was one of the early urban settlements in the world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Taxila – Located in Pakistan’s Punjab province
Anuradhapura – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Sigiriya – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Pollonnaruwa – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Angkor and surroundings – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Ayutthaya – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Sukhothai – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Huangdom of Pangasinan – Philippines
Kingdom of Tondo – Philippines
Gangga Negara – Malaysia (Malay Archipelago)
Uncertain or Disputed
Kota Gelanggi – Malaysia (Malay Archipelago)
Huangdom of 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
Ani – Medieval Armenian capital, located on the Turkish side of the Armenia-Turkey border
Antioch – Ancient Greek city, important stronghold in the time of the Crusades
Çatalhöyük – A Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement, located near the modern city of Konya, Turkey
Hattusa – Capital of the Hittite Empire. Located near the modern village of Boğazköy in north-central Turkey
Mada’in Saleh (and capitol Petra) – Now a UNESCO World Heritage site
Washukanni – the capital of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni, its precise location is unknown. A proposal locates it under the unexcavated mound of Tell el Fakhariya.
Narbata – Hebrew : נרבתא. Jewish city in The Great Revolt.
Noreia – the capital of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Noricum. Possibly in southern Austria or Slovenia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Daorson – the capital of ancient Hellenic community in present-day 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.
Niedam – near Rungholt
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.
Damasia – An ancient hill-top settlement on the Lech, of the Licates, a tribe of the Celtic Vindelici. Commonly identified with either the Auerberg or pre-Roman Augsburg. According to folklore, sunken into the Ammersee.
Rungholt – Wadden Sea in Germany, sunken during the “Grote Mandrenke”, a storm surge in the North Sea on January 16, 1362
Akrotiri – On the island of Thera, Greece.
Chryse Island in the Aegean – reputed site of an ancient temple still visible on the sea floor.
Helike, Greece, on the Peloponese – Sunk by an earthquake in the 4th century BC and rediscovered in the 1990s.
Pavlopetri, Greece – underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, is about 5,000 years old, and is the oldest submerged archeological town site.
Avar Ring, Hungary – Central stronghold of the Avars, it is believed to have been in the wide plain between the Danube and the Tisza.
Acerrae Vatriae – a town of the Sarranates mentioned by Pliny the elder as having been situated in an unknown location in Umbria.
Paestum – Greek and Roman city south of Naples, abandoned due to climate change. Three famous Greek temples.
Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia 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.
Brittenburg – ancient Roman settlement, Netherlands
Reimerswaal, Netherlands – flooded in the 16th century
Saeftinghe, Netherlands – prosperous city lost to the sea in 1584
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.
Conímbriga, Portugal – early trading post dating to the 9th century BC. Abandoned in the 8th century AD.
Vicina – a port on the Danube, near the Delta.
Alaborg – Varyagian fort mentioned in the Norse sagas.
Ilimsk – was a small town in Siberia. Flooded by the Ust-Ilimsk Reservoir in the mid-1970s.
Kitezh – Mythical city beneath the waters in central Russia.
Lyubutsk – a Russian fortress, first mentioned in 1372.
Peremyshl – town that was founded in 1152.
Rurikovo Gorodische – a settlement, an archaeological site of the 9th century, in Veliky Novgorod.
Tmutarakan – a trading town of Rus’ Khaganate
Stari Ras, Serbia – one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state of Raška, abandoned in the 13th century.
Myšia Hôrka (near Spišský Štvrtok), Slovakia – 3500 years old town (rediscovered in the 20th century) and archaeological site, complex is called also Slovak Mycenae.
Wogastisburg (Wogastisburc) – where in 631 Slav warriors under Samo defeated the Frankish forces of King Dagobert I, was a fortress of the Samo’s Empire (the first Slavic state). The location of this site remains obscure.
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.
Ny Varberg, Sweden
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.
Evonium, Scotland – purported coronation site and capital of 40 kings
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).
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.
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.
The Lost Cities of Canada (Pre-British/French)
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.
Port Royal, Jamaica – Destroyed by earthquake in 1692.
Mexico and Central America
Lost Maya cities
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.
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.
The Lost Olmec cities
La Venta – In the present day Mexican state of Tabasco.
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán – In the present day Mexican state of Veracruz.
The Lost Totonac Cities
Teotihuacan – Pre-Aztec Mexico. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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.
The Lost Cities of United States (Pre-British)
The cities of the Ancestral Pueblo (or Anasazi) culture, located in the Four Corners region of the Southwest United States – The best known are located at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.
Bethel Indian Town, New Jersey – Lenape settlement which has disappeared as the Lenape migrated west.
Cahokia – Located near present-day St. Louis, Missouri. At its height Cahokia is believed to have had a population of between 40,000 and 80,000 people, making it amongst the largest pre-Columbian cities of the Americas. It is known chiefly for its huge pyramidal mounds of compacted earth. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Pueblo Grande de Nevada – a complex of villages, located near Overton, Nevada
Lost Inca cities
Choquequirao – Considered to be the last bastion of Incan resistance against the Spaniards and refuge of Manco Inca Yupanqui.
Machu Picchu – Possibly Pachacuti’s Family Palace. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Vilcabamba – Currently known as Espiritu pampa.
Other Lost South American Cities
Cahuachi – Nazca, in present-day Peru.
Caral – An important center of the Norte Chico civilization, in present-day Peru. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chan Chan – Chimu. Located near Trujillo, in present-day Peru. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Kuelap – A massive ruined city still covered in jungle that was the capital of the Chachapoyas culture in Northern Peru.
Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida) – located in present-day Colombia
Tiahuanaco – pre-Inca. Located in present-day Bolivia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Santa María la Antigua del Darién – First permanent European settlement in the mainland of the continental Americas, in the Darién region between Panama and Colombia. Founded by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1510.
La Ciudad Blanca