Mystery and legend abound in the ruins of these ancient cities. While remnants of the civilizations remain, the truth is long gone – lost with the passing of time.
Machu Picchu in Peru. Photo: Thinkstock
1. Machu Picchu
The quintessential lost city, Machu Picchu lay undisturbed by all but locals for nearly 500 years before its rediscovery in 1911.Yale professor Hiram Bingham found the ruins with the aid of a local Indian boy, setting off a global publicity blitz and a frenzy among archaeologists and explorers desperate to uncover other lost cities in the Andes, the Amazon and elsewhere.Imperial residence, ancient observatory or sacred ground? The truth behind these ruins, located high above the Peruvian rainforest, has been lost with the Incas.
Akhetaten, created during the 14th-century BC reign of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, was occupied through Roman times and the early Christian era before its abandonment. Now called Amarna, the ruins were discovered by Napoleon’s Corps de Savants during the French occupation of Egypt in the late 18th century.
Prominent German archaeologist Robert Koldewey is credited with rediscovering ancient Babylon. Although other Europeans had excavated parts of the site during the 19th century, it was Koldewey’s marathon dig of 1899–1917 that identified the Iraqi site (then in the Ottoman Empire) as the famed biblical city. Among Koldewey’s finds were remains of the Hanging Gardens, the Marduk ziggurat and the elaborately decorated Ishtar Gate.
4. Nan Madol
Even the South Pacific has its lost city. Nan Madol was the capital of an ancient civilisation on Pohnpei island in Micronesia. Comprising nearly a hundred artificial islands fashioned from coral and linked by canals, the city was founded around AD 1200 and was occupied until the early 17th century. A Russian maritime expedition came across Nan Madol in 1828.
Sigiriya citadel was carved out of a Sri Lankan mountaintop in the 5th century AD and flourished as a Buddhist monastery for nearly a thousand years. The fortified eyrie was abandoned and lost to history until its accidental rediscovery by a British major, Jonathan Forbes, in 1831.
One of the largest cities of the Mundo Maya, Tikal thrived from AD 200 to 900. When the Spanish arrived six centuries later, the metropolis had faded back into the Central American rainforest. Continuing accounts of a lost city in northern Guatemala led the government to organise a local expedition, which celebrated the rediscovery of Tikal in the 1840s.
The ancient city of Troy was no more than a legend until 1866, when British amateur archaeologist Frank Calvert identified a large mound in northwestern Anatolia as its most likely site. In the decade that followed, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann proved that theory with excavations that unearthed a sequence of bygone cities built one on top of another.