It’s hard to imagine how an entire city can get lost but that’s exactly what has happened to the lost cities on this list. There are actually many reasons why a city has to be abandoned. War, natural disasters, climate change and the loss of important trading partners to name a few. Whatever the cause, these lost cities were forgotten in time until they were rediscovered centuries later.
Located in present-day Tunisia, Carthage was founded by Phoenician colonists and became a major power in the Mediterranean. The resulting rivalry with Syracuse and Rome was accompanied by several wars with respective invasions of each other’s homeland, most notable the invasion of Italy by Hannibal. The city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. The Romans went from house to house, capturing, raping and enslaving the people before setting Carthage ablaze. However, the Romans re-founded Carthage, which became one of the Empire’s largest and most important city. It remained an important city until it was destroyed a second time in 698 AD during the Muslim conquest.
Ciudad Perdida (Spanish for “Lost City”) is an ancient city in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, believed to have been founded around 800 AD. The lost city consists of a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads and several small circular plazas. Members of local tribes call the city Teyuna and believe it was the heart of a network of villages inhabited by their forebears, the Tairona. It was apparently abandoned during the Spanish conquest.
Troy is a legendary city in what is now northwestern Turkey, made famous in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad. According to Iliad, this is where the Trojan War took place. The archaeological site of Troy contains several layers of ruins. The layer Troy VIIa was probably the Troy of Homer and has been dated to the mid- to late-13th century BC.
Located on the main island of Orkney, Skara Brae is one of the best preserved Stone Age villages in Europe. It was covered for hundreds of years by a sand dune until a great storm exposed the site in 1850. The stone walls are relatively well preserved because the dwellings were filled by sand almost immediately after the site was abandoned. Because there were no trees on the island, furniture had to be made of stone and thus also survived. Skara Brae was occupied from roughly 3180 BC–2500 BC. After the climate changed, becoming much colder and wetter, the settlement 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. Early on, Memphis was more likely a fortress from which Menes controlled the land and water routes between Upper Egypt and the Delta. By the Third Dynasty, Saqqara had become a sizable city. It fell successively to Nubia, Assyria, Persia, and Macedonia under Alexander the Great. Its importance as a religious centre was undermined by the rise of Christianity and then of Islam. It was abandoned after the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640 AD. Its ruins include the great temple of Ptah, royal palaces, and a colossal statue of Rameses II. Nearby are the pyramids of Saqqara.
Located in the Supe Valley in Peru, Caral is one of the most ancient lost cities of the Americas. It was as inhabited between roughly 2600 BC and 2000 BC. Accommodating more than 3,000 inhabitants, it is one of the largest cities of the Norte Chico civilization. It has a central public area with six large platform mounds arranged around a huge plaza. All of the lost cities in the Supe valley share similarities with Caral. They had small platforms or stone circles. Caral was probably the focus of this civilization.
Babylon, the capital of Babylonia, an ancient empire of Mesopotamia, was a city on the Euphrates River. The city degenerated into anarchy circa 1180 BC, but flourished once again as a subsidiary state of the Assyrian Empire after the 9th century BC. 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. All that remains of the famed city today is a mound of broken mud-brick buildings and debris in the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq.
Located in northwestern Pakistan, Taxila is an ancient city that was annexed by the Persian King Darius the Great in 518 BC. In 326 BC the city was surrendered to Alexander the Great. Ruled by a succession of conquerors, the city became an important Buddhist centre. The apostle Thomas reputedly visited Taxila in the 1st century AD. Taxila’s prosperity in ancient times resulted from its position at the junction of three great trade routes. When they declined, the city sank into insignificance. It was finally destroyed by the Huns in the 5th century.
Sukhothai is one of Thailand’s earliest and most important historical cities. Originally a provincial town within the Angkor-based Khmer empire, Sukhothai gained its independence in the 13th century and became established as the capital of the first united and independent Tai state. The ancient town is reported to have had some 80,000 inhabitants. After 1351, when Ayutthaya was founded as the capital of a powerful rival Tai dynasty, Sukhothai’s influence began to decline, and in 1438 the town was conquered and incorporated into the Ayutthaya kingdom. Sukhothai 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 outgrew its original specifications and spilled beyond the orthogonal grid in a more loosely-organized fashion. In the 5th Century, the city was sacked by the Vandals and two centuries later by the Berbers. The city disappeared from history, becoming one the lost cities of the Roman Empire, until its excavation in 1881.
Built around 2600 BC in present-day Pakistan, Mohenjo-daro was one of the early urban settlements in the world. It is sometimes referred to as “An Ancient Indus Valley Metropolis”. It has a planned layout based on a grid of streets, which were laid out in perfect patterns. At its height the city probably had around 35,000 residents. 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 and the Indus Valley civilization vanished without a trace from history around 1700 BC until discovered in the 1920s.
The Great Zimbabwe, is a complex of stone ruins spread out over a large area in modern-day Zimbabwe, which itself is named after the ruins. The word “Great” distinguishes the site from the many hundred small ruins, known as Zimbabwes, spread across the country. Built by indigenous Bantu people, the construction started in the 11th century and continued for over 300 years. At its peak, estimates are that Great Zimbabwe had as many as 18,000 inhabitants. Causes for the decline and ultimate abandonment of the site have been suggested as due to a decline in trade, political instability and famine and water shortages caused by climatic change.