Incredible lost cities that were rediscovered



Slide 1 of 36: Founded, flourished and eventually forgotten – this has been the fate of many cities since ancient times. A few names have stayed alive in legend and literature while others disappeared completely – until a chance discovery brought these mysterious metropolises back from the dead. From Sigiriya, the amazing hill-top site in Sri Lanka, to the astonishing Pompeii in Italy, we look at some of the most fabulous cities lost and reborn plus how to visit, when it's safe to do so.
Slide 2 of 36: In 1799 Scottish army officer Colin Mackenzie was in the Deccan Plateau area of southern India when he came upon ancient ruins. He’d heard rumors about the lost city of Vijanyangara but he was unsure about what he'd discovered. He didn't realize he was looking at the remains of a great empire that dated from the 14th century AD.
Slide 3 of 36: The Vijanyangara Empire was famed for its efficiency, international links and magnificent architecture. The temples and intricate carvings they produced are unbelievable – huge stone wagons, eight-foot (2.4m) high stone horses and a row of 11 domed elephant stables. It was a wealthy community too, with one visitor at the time remarking that people in the market traded diamonds and sapphires as easily as if they were vegetables.
Slide 4 of 36: During 1565 a war ruined the city and it was abandoned. Nowadays the wonderfully restored monuments are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi, which lies in Vijayanagara in central Karnataka state. Highlights include the huge steps to the audience hall and the underground green soapstone passages to the elephant stables. Now discover the 50 wonders of the world and how to explore them. 

Slide 5 of 36: In 1818 Major Henry Taylor and his men were out hunting, two days' march northeast of Bhopal in central India. They stumbled upon a huge domed stone structure with several stone gateways. Each was 40-feet (12m) high and nine-feet (2.7m) wide and decorated with carvings of elephants, horses, lions and maidens.
Slide 6 of 36: Taylor had discovered a 3rd century BC Buddhist complex built by the emperor Ashoka. At the time, Buddhism was relatively unknown, but Ashoka was drawn to its message of peace. He built a Great Stupa or domed temple guarded by four gateways carved with scenes from Buddhism. However, by the 13th century AD, the center was abandoned.
Slide 7 of 36: Sanchi can usually be reached by bus or car from Bhopal airport. The preservation of the site is astonishing and visitors can take in the Great Stupa, one of three such structures, plus 50 other monuments and a monastery. In 1989, Sanchi was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Slide 8 of 36: In 1748, The Duke of Naples was having a summer palace built 14 miles (24km) south of Naples on Italy’s west coast. As workmen dug foundations, they came across the buildings and streets of a lost city and treasure hunters and art collectors descended on the scene. It dawned on people that this was the lost and largely forgotten Roman city of Pompeii – destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius one day in the summer of AD 79. 
Slide 9 of 36: Throughout Victorian times, when this picture was taken, people flocked to see the mysterious town as more was uncovered. They found a huge amphitheater, a forum and fine villas as well as ordinary houses, streets, shops and brothels. On the day of the eruption, thousands of people were trapped and died of gas poisoning. Their bodies left cavities in the ash and when plaster of Paris was poured in, their sad remains became evident.

Slide 10 of 36: Usually Pompeii is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world – 2.5 million visited in 2018. It’s astonishing to see this world trapped in time with the colors of the wall paintings as fresh as if they had just been done. And the excavations still continue with much of the city yet to be uncovered and surprising secrets still being unraveled. This city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. 
Slide 11 of 36: American history Professor Paul Kosok was fascinated by ancient settlements and he devoted much of his time making studies in Peru. While he was there in 1948 he made a once in a lifetime discovery. Hard at work in a dry desert terrace 125 miles (200km) north of Lima, he came across the remains of an ancient city.
Slide 12 of 36: Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady radio-carbon dated the site to 5,000 years ago, the oldest city in the Americas. It once housed 3,000 pre-Inca inhabitants and was already thriving when the Egyptian pyramids were just being built. Covering 370 acres, there were temples, plazas, an amphitheater and ordinary houses. Caral was peaceful with no trace of battlements or weapons too. Abandoned in 2000 BC, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.
Slide 13 of 36: If you've ever seen the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark you'll be familiar with the fictional version of Tanis. But the real-life story behind the city is just as amazing as the one from the film. In 1939, Pierre Montet's team was excavating around 100 miles (160km) northeast of Cairo, looking for the city called Zoan which in the Bible was where baby Moses was found. Montet uncovered burial chambers, huge temples and an urban complex. 
Slide 14 of 36: Tanis was a magnificent city and one-time capital of ancient Egypt. The earliest buildings date from around 1000 BC with the temple of Amun (king of the gods) surrounded by a wall, plus houses and streets on a grid pattern. It declined when its ports silted up and the entire city slipped beneath the sand. Visitors can get there by taking a train to Port Said and a bus to Tanis.

Slide 15 of 36: Thanks to declassified spy footage and drone photography, a lost city is being slowly unearthed in Iraqi Kurdistan. Built around 331 BC, Qalatga Darband is thought to have been established by Alexander the Great. It’s believed the fortified city sits on what was once a well-trodden route between Iran and Iraq.
Slide 16 of 36: The site was originally detected when experts watched declassified spy footage that was made public in 1996, but the area’s political volatility meant nothing could be done at first. Recently though, a team of Iraqi and British archaeologists, led by specialists from the British Museum, have been excavating the area. So far, they’ve uncovered terracotta roof tiles and Greek and Roman statues, including one that depicts Aphrodite.
Slide 17 of 36: In 1922, R D Banerji, an official with the Archaeological Survey of India, was investigating what he thought was a Buddhist monument in the Sindh province of what's now Pakistan. He guessed the site dated to around 500 BC, but when he made some trial trenches, he realized it was far older. His boss, John Marshall, made further excavations in the 1920s and 1930s and decided the city actually dated from around 2500 BC.
Slide 18 of 36: Mohenjo Daro was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley and home to 50,000 people. Buildings uncovered include a Great Bath, an elaborate sewage system with 700 freshwater wells and a grid system of housing. So far no temples, royal tombs or government buildings have been found. The unknown people were prosperous though, as artifacts made of ivory and gold have been found, and they were traders with standardized seals and weights.
Slide 19 of 36: The city went into decline around 1900 BC and was abandoned. Although it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, sadly the mud-brick buildings remain at risk of damage from the salty waters of the nearby Indus River. Discover more ruins that have been ravaged by Mother Nature.
Slide 20 of 36: When British diplomat Stephen Bushell trekked into the prairie land of inner Mongolia in 1872 in search of Xanadu, he wasn’t the only one whose imagination had been captured by the lost 13th-century city. Seventy-five years earlier the English writer Coleridge had penned a poem based on a historical description of the fabled metropolis. But it was Bushell who, about 220 miles (350km) north of Beijing, made the rediscovery. Its walls featured ruined palaces strewn with blocks of marble and stone lions and dragons. The city gate was intact under a 20-foot (6m) arch.
Slide 21 of 36: Bushell was the first European to set eyes on the place since the merchant and explorer Marco Polo visited in 1275. The Venetian adventurer wrote that the site was chosen by the emperor as his summer residence and featured marble and gilt halls and chambers. He claimed wild animals roamed in the grounds and pastures and there was even a bamboo palace that could be taken down and put up elsewhere.
Slide 22 of 36: By 1430, Xanadu had been abandoned. Much of what Bushell saw has now gone, but the authorities have preserved what remains and excavated more than 1,000 buildings. The 25,000-hectare site was opened to visitors in 2011. Around 60,000 objects have been found including ceramics, jade sculptures and coins and they are on display in a museum four miles (7km) south of the site. In 2012, Xanadu was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Slide 23 of 36: When German businessman and adventurer Heinrich Schliemann started an archaeological dig on Turkey’s Aegean coast in 1868, he was convinced he’d found Troy – the city made famous by Homer’s epic poem The Illiad. While Schliemann certainly had found a magnificent ancient city, in truth there’s no ironclad proof the ruins really are the Troy featured in the ancient story, or indeed that a Trojan war ever took place. Nowadays the city's known as Hisarlik.
Slide 24 of 36: Legend says that Troy, also known as Illiumm, was placed under a 10-year siege by the Greeks after Paris of Troy abducted Helen Queen of Sparta. This is thought to have taken place around 1200 BC. But the site Schliemann discovered had been occupied from around 4000 BC for about 3,000 years, with the buildings and walls of seven settlements discovered. Troy was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. 
Slide 25 of 36: In July 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham was making a tour of ancient Inca settlements in Peru. He was near the city of Cusco when a farmer told him about ruins on top of a mountain which his people called Machu Picchu or ‘Old Peak’. Bingham and his team rode on mules to see it for themselves and were amazed to discover stone entrances to a forgotten city built on a number of man-made terraces.
Slide 26 of 36: It’s believed the city was built around AD 1450 as a summer retreat for Inca rulers and luckily remained hidden from the Spanish conquistadors. The 200 buildings had a population of about 750 people, probably royal retainers. Built without the use of mortar, the polished dry-stone buildings include the Inti Watana, a kind of sundial, the semi-circular Temple of the Sun and the Temple of Three Windows. The site was abandoned in 1550, perhaps due to disease brought by the Spanish invaders.
Slide 27 of 36: Today, you can reach the city by train from Cusco then take a bus to the entrance. It can also be accessed on foot but it’s a strenuous 90-minute climb. Due to the number of visitors, only 400 are permitted to climb each day and it's best to book online in advance for a timed slot. Excavations continue and as pathways run off into the jungle there may yet be more discoveries. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Discover the world's underrated historic small cities too. 
Slide 28 of 36: In the winter of 1850, a huge storm hit Scotland causing around 200 deaths. The next day, in the Orkney Isles, villagers discovered the tempest had dislodged part of a cliff and uncovered a hidden settlement with stone roofless houses. The local laird (or estate owner), William Watt, excavated four of the houses. When the village was threatened again by a storm the following century, it was decided the site needed preserving.
Slide 29 of 36: Tests showed the site dated from 3200 to 2200 BC and was inhabited for 600 years. It consisted of 10 round stone houses with a central hearth and beds by the wall. The roofs were probably made of whalebone and peat and roofed passages meant you could go from house to house out of the weather. The standardized design suggests there was no hierarchy but a community of sophisticated people living peacefully as farmers, herdsmen and traders.
Slide 30 of 36: The village is on the Bay of Skaill, the largest of Scotland’s Orkney Isles, and the ferry takes you there from John O’Groats. The site is quite small but the houses are remarkably well preserved by centuries of sand and soil. However, they are still delicate and can be viewed from the pathway, while a replica house offers a fuller picture of Neolithic life on the island. Skara Brae became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Slide 31 of 36: For more than 300 years, Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) remained hidden from the outside world, known about only by those living deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Then, in 1972, a group of bird hunters happened on an ancient stone staircase, carpeted with moss. When they hacked their way through, they found the ruins of a vast city buried under thick foliage.
Slide 32 of 36: Built around AD 800, the Lost City (or Teyuna, as it was known) was home to several thousand Tairona people. But it was abandoned after the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the late 16th century and gradually reclaimed by the fast-growing jungle.
Slide 33 of 36: Today, nearly an acre of the Lost City is open to tourists, although a far bigger area remains hidden by thick foliage. The only way to get there is via a strenuous, five-day hike, culminating in a thigh-burning climb up some 1,200 steps. But the effort rewards as this sacred jungle spot features magnificent tiered terraces, ancient stone paths and incredible views. 
Slide 34 of 36: The jungle in central Sri Lanka is thick and lush. Back in 1831, Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of the British Army, was having trouble hacking his way through on horseback. But as he emerged, he came across an astonishing sight. It was the "bush-covered summit of Sigiriya" adorned with brightly colored frescoes that looked as if they had just been painted. Forbes had rediscovered a mythical city that had lain abandoned since the 14th century.
Slide 35 of 36: Sigiriya means lion and the city is fronted by a huge lion entrance – sadly missing its head. Sigiriya was constructed on a rocky outcrop 650 feet (200m) above the jungle, initially as a 3rd century BC Buddhist monastery. Then 800 years later, King Kasyapa built an opulent palace there and covered it in frescoes. The palace was surrounded by gardens, pools and a mirrored wall that was polished so brightly the king could see his face in it. 
Slide 36 of 36: It takes around an hour to climb the 1,200 steps to the top of the rock, but the trek rewards with the sight of the Sky Palace surrounded by amazing gardens, pools and moats plus colorful frescoes. Called by some the Eighth Wonder of the World, UNESCO recognized Sigirya as a World Heritage Site in 1982.  See more worldwide wonders we're only just discovering here

Lost cities found

Vijayanagara, India

Vijayanagara, India

Vijayanagara, India

During 1565 a war ruined the city and it was abandoned. Nowadays the wonderfully restored monuments are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi, which lies in Vijayanagara in central Karnataka state. Highlights include the huge steps to the audience hall and the underground green soapstone passages to the elephant stables. Now discover the 50 wonders of the world and how to explore them. 

Sanchi, India

Sanchi, India

Sanchi, India

Pompeii, Italy

In 1748, The Duke of Naples was having a summer palace built 14 miles (24km) south of Naples on Italy’s west coast. As workmen dug foundations, they came across the buildings and streets of a lost city and treasure hunters and art collectors descended on the scene. It dawned on people that this was the lost and largely forgotten Roman city of Pompeii – destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius one day in the summer of AD 79. 

Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

Usually Pompeii is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world – 2.5 million visited in 2018. It’s astonishing to see this world trapped in time with the colors of the wall paintings as fresh as if they had just been done. And the excavations still continue with much of the city yet to be uncovered and surprising secrets still being unraveled. This city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. 

Caral, Peru

Caral, Peru

Tanis, Egypt

If you’ve ever seen the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark you’ll be familiar with the fictional version of Tanis. But the real-life story behind the city is just as amazing as the one from the film. In 1939, Pierre Montet’s team was excavating around 100 miles (160km) northeast of Cairo, looking for the city called Zoan which in the Bible was where baby Moses was found. Montet uncovered burial chambers, huge temples and an urban complex. 

Tanis, Egypt

Qalatga Darband, Iraqi Kurdistan

Qalatga Darband, Iraqi Kurdistan

Mahenjo Daro, Pakistan

In 1922, R D Banerji, an official with the Archaeological Survey of India, was investigating what he thought was a Buddhist monument in the Sindh province of what’s now Pakistan. He guessed the site dated to around 500 BC, but when he made some trial trenches, he realized it was far older. His boss, John Marshall, made further excavations in the 1920s and 1930s and decided the city actually dated from around 2500 BC.

Mahenjo Daro, Pakistan

Mohenjo Daro was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley and home to 50,000 people. Buildings uncovered include a Great Bath, an elaborate sewage system with 700 freshwater wells and a grid system of housing. So far no temples, royal tombs or government buildings have been found. The unknown people were prosperous though, as artifacts made of ivory and gold have been found, and they were traders with standardized seals and weights.

Mahenjo Daro, Pakistan

The city went into decline around 1900 BC and was abandoned. Although it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, sadly the mud-brick buildings remain at risk of damage from the salty waters of the nearby Indus River. Discover more ruins that have been ravaged by Mother Nature.

Xanadu, China

When British diplomat Stephen Bushell trekked into the prairie land of inner Mongolia in 1872 in search of Xanadu, he wasn’t the only one whose imagination had been captured by the lost 13th-century city. Seventy-five years earlier the English writer Coleridge had penned a poem based on a historical description of the fabled metropolis. But it was Bushell who, about 220 miles (350km) north of Beijing, made the rediscovery. Its walls featured ruined palaces strewn with blocks of marble and stone lions and dragons. The city gate was intact under a 20-foot (6m) arch.

Xanadu, China

Xanadu, China

Troy, Turkey

When German businessman and adventurer Heinrich Schliemann started an archaeological dig on Turkey’s Aegean coast in 1868, he was convinced he’d found Troy – the city made famous by Homer’s epic poem The Illiad. While Schliemann certainly had found a magnificent ancient city, in truth there’s no ironclad proof the ruins really are the Troy featured in the ancient story, or indeed that a Trojan war ever took place. Nowadays the city’s known as Hisarlik.

Troy, Turkey

Legend says that Troy, also known as Illiumm, was placed under a 10-year siege by the Greeks after Paris of Troy abducted Helen Queen of Sparta. This is thought to have taken place around 1200 BC. But the site Schliemann discovered had been occupied from around 4000 BC for about 3,000 years, with the buildings and walls of seven settlements discovered. Troy was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. 

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Today, you can reach the city by train from Cusco then take a bus to the entrance. It can also be accessed on foot but it’s a strenuous 90-minute climb. Due to the number of visitors, only 400 are permitted to climb each day and it’s best to book online in advance for a timed slot. Excavations continue and as pathways run off into the jungle there may yet be more discoveries. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Discover the world’s underrated historic small cities too. 

Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland

Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland

Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland

The Lost City, Colombia

The Lost City, Colombia

The Lost City, Colombia

Today, nearly an acre of the Lost City is open to tourists, although a far bigger area remains hidden by thick foliage. The only way to get there is via a strenuous, five-day hike, culminating in a thigh-burning climb up some 1,200 steps. But the effort rewards as this sacred jungle spot features magnificent tiered terraces, ancient stone paths and incredible views. 

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya means lion and the city is fronted by a huge lion entrance – sadly missing its head. Sigiriya was constructed on a rocky outcrop 650 feet (200m) above the jungle, initially as a 3rd century BC Buddhist monastery. Then 800 years later, King Kasyapa built an opulent palace there and covered it in frescoes. The palace was surrounded by gardens, pools and a mirrored wall that was polished so brightly the king could see his face in it. 

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

It takes around an hour to climb the 1,200 steps to the top of the rock, but the trek rewards with the sight of the Sky Palace surrounded by amazing gardens, pools and moats plus colorful frescoes. Called by some the Eighth Wonder of the World, UNESCO recognized Sigirya as a World Heritage Site in 1982. 

See more worldwide wonders we’re only just discovering here

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