Everyone knows, even just from having seen them on TV of pictures, the most famous “lost cities” in the world. The ancient ruins come to mind straight away when you think about this: Pompei, Petra, and Angkor Wat just to mention a few ones, touristic destinations and important archaeological sites visited by millions of people. But not only the very popular ones are to be taken into consideration. On the list underneath a series of rocky remains, sometimes dating back to thousands of years ago, which stupefy not only for their state of conservation but also for the resemblance to the modern cities of our time. Maybe you’ve never heard of these 20 cities?
Above: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Its current name translates in “Lost City” but these mysterious ruins, based in Colombia in the Sierra Nevada, are also known as Teyuna, name given by the indigenous and Buritaca, the name of the river running nearby. Founded in the 800 AD, the place is around 650 years older than the most ancient Inca city, Machu Picchu. It was discovered in 1972 by treasure hunters, who sold on the black market some finds and in 1975 its existence was revealed to the public by the local authorities. It appears to be the main city of a network of villages built by the native population of the Tairona. The area has a series of ledges obtained on the side of a mountain, and by a grid of tiled roads and circular squares, which could have hosted up until 8,000 inhabitants.
Above: picture by John Burka via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
On the biggest island of the Orkney ones in Scotland, there is the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, the most complete in all Europe. It dates prior the Great Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge in England. It has been buried for thousands of years until a violent storm has brought to light the stone dwellings in 1850. Skara Brae was inhabited from around the 3180 to the 2500 BC, up until the gelid temperatures forced the people to abandon it.
Above: picture by Percy Meza via Wikivoyage – licence CC BY 3.0
In this picture the city of Caral seems nothing more than a continuation of the dry landscape of Peru. Yet those are the remains of one of the biggest cities of the Norte Chico population. It is considered as one of the most ancient urban centres of the Americas. The area was inhabited between the 3,000 and 2,000 BC and it is presumed to have been home to 3,000 people.
Above: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 1.0
Taxila, North West of Pakistan, went through a huge number of cultural swaps. It’s an ancient city belonging to the Kingdom of Gandhara, running between the 4th and 1st century BC. It got conquered for the first time by the Persian King Darius the Great in 518 BC. Around 200 years later it became a Greek city, under Alexander the Great. It was conquered many other times by different populations up until becoming a Buddhist centre and, according to a legend, it was also visited by the apostle Thomas in the 1st century. The city remained an important spot as it was meeting point of 3 different trade routes. The city of Taxila was eventually destroyed by the Huns in the 5th century. The ruins of the city include Hindu, Buddhist and Greek temples which recall the great and various heritage of the site.
Above: picture by PhR61 via Wikivoyage – licence CC BY 2.0
This Roman colony in Algeria was founded by the emperor Trajan in 100 AD in honour of his parents and major sister. Only ruins are left nowadays but its still possible to see the typical grid used by the Romans to build their city, still used to this day. Timgad enjoyed 400 years of quietness before being sacked by the Vandals and Berbers and then being abandoned, slowly swallowed by the sand until his (re)discovery in 1881.
Above: picture by Saqib Qayyun via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
This city in the Hindus Valley in Pakistan, was one of the very first urban centres in the whole world, dating back to the Bronze Age. It was built in 2,600 BC and flourished for about 600 years before being abandoned and later on found in 1922. Many artifacts talk about this civilization but the writing of this people has not been deciphered yet. Mohenjo-daro, which means “mountain of the dead” is its modern name but its real name was Kukkutarma.
Above: picture shared via Wikimedia Commons
Zimbabwe holds this name for the complex of stone ruins spread all over the country known as zimbabwes. The biggest one is the Great Zimbabwe, built in 1200 by the natives Bantu. The city kept on growing for about 300 years, reached its peak with a population of 18,000 citizens. After that the decline, perhaps started with a famine, a political instability or lack of water.
Above: picture shared via Wikipedia
Hatra, in Iraq, was capital of the first Arab Kingdom. Its thick and high walls helped to keep out even the Romans. The city rose as a commercial and religious centre under the Parthians but eventually it was destroyed by the invasion of the Persian Sasanian. The architecture of the city reflects the Eastern, Greek and Roman influences. In current times the city is risking to be destroyed by the Islamic State, which has already demolished a few statues and part of the facade of some of its buildings.
Above: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 2.0
Sanchi, Indian site which included its Buddhist religious buildings, was built throughout more than 1000 years, from the 3rd century BC to the 1200. The area was abandoned in 1300 with the decline of Buddhism in India and then becoming part of the Jungle. In 1818 it was discovered by a British officer but only in 1881 the works of restoration started.
Above: picture by Bernard Gagnon via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA
Hattusa became capital of the Hittites Empire, today Turkey, in the 17th century BC. Around 600 years later, with the fall of the empire, the city was destroyed as well as many other settlements of the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean area. At its maximum splendour the city was counting between 20,000 and 40,000 people. The site was in any way occupied by other populations and still today, in a village named Boğazkale at the foot of the ancient capital, a Turkmen population lives.
Above: picture by Luis Padilla via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Chan Chan, in Peru, has the honour of being the biggest pre Colombian city in South America. Built by the Chimu population in 850 AD, the city remained inhabited until the conquest of the Inca Empire in 1470. It is estimated that the city would host around 30,000 inhabitants.
Above: picture by Mikel Lizarralde via Flickr -licence CC BY-SA 2.0
Sukhothai, literally “Dawn of Happiness” is a massive complex of temples and ancient palaces which was capital of the first independent Kingdom of Thailand, the Sukhothai Kingdom, which lasted for 140 years between the 1238 and 1378. In the nearby area there is the modern city New Sukhothai, place where many tourists stay when willing to visit the archaeological park.
Above: picture by Rationalobserver via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 4.0
Mesa Verde, in Colorado, was the homeland of many different generations of the Ancestral Puebloans, also known as Anasazi, who were cliff-dwellers, used to live in villages built inside the rock. Throughout the years their construction got to the point where each house could hold 150 rooms. Apart from their architecture though, the Anasazi are known for their mysterious disappearance, occurred in 1300, after some few hundreds of years. The ancient dwellings were abandoned for reasons still unknown and discovered in the 16th century by the Navajo, which gave the name Anasazi to the population that ha lived in that territory before them.
Above: picture by Doron via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
This ancient city, today in Turkmenistan, was once capital of the Khwarazmian dynasty yet their origin might go back to the Acaemenids. The place was important commercial centre between the 10th and 14th century and managed to get back of its feet after one of the most bloody massacres ever happened in history; the city was in fact invaded and destroyed in 1221 by Ghengis Khan and his army. However, when the nearby river Amu-Darya changed course, the trade diminished and the city abandoned in 1500. The modern city of Urgench is today Uzbekistan, just right beyond the border.
Above: picture by Dineshkannambadi via Wikimedia Commons – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Around the 1500, Vijaynagar, in India, counted 500,000 inhabitants and was the 2nd biggest city in the world, only after Beijing, almost 3 times the size of Paris. During the end of the Vijayanagar dynasty between 14th and 16th century, the city flourished but was often in conflict with the nearby Muslim Reigns of the Deccan. At the end, in 1565, the city was invaded, its temples destroyed and its people slaughtered. The Vijayanagar dynasty kept on existing, but its city was never rebuilded or populated.
Above: picture by Pete Fordham via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Tikal, in Guatemala, is one of the most popular ancient Maya cities and rival of the Mexican city of Calakmul. The power struggle between the two cities is seen as the battle between two superpowers of the Maya culture, divided in many little kingdoms. Calakmul won the battle thanks to a network allies, and became for a short time capital of a fragile Maya empire, but Tikal had its revenge in the 695. None of the two cities survived the collapse of the Maya culture after the Spanish conquest, and both of them were eventually abandoned.
Above: picture in the public domain
Ctesiphon, capital of both the Parthian empire and the one of the Sasanian, is located on the Tigris river, in Iraq. It was the first most populous city in the world between the 570 and 637. Of the ancient beauties what is left today is the remain of a huge barrel vault in the room of the Taq Kasra, or Khosrow palace. It is probably still the very biggest non supported vault in the whole world.
Above: picture in the public domain
Hvalsey was not a city according to our meaning but it was the biggest place amongst the 3 viking settlements in Greenland, dating back to the 985 AD. Its got to 4,000 citizens,at its maximum, but one one of the other settlements crumpled, even this site started meeting its decline. The last event registered in Hvalsey was a wedding in 1408, but shortly after the place was left; all it European inhabitants, around 500, disappeared mysteriously.
Above: picture by ggia via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0
In the Turkish province of Kars next to the border with Armenia, the ruins of Ani lays, city which was in the Middle Ages capital of the Armenian Kingdom. The place was called “city of the 1,001 churches”, it was popular for the charm and richness of its buildings and what remains nowadays of that culture shows an incredible variety of medieval architecture. The area bloomed until 1200 with a population of approximately 200,000 people; but a combination of earthquake, Mondolian invasion and exchange of the trading routes caused its decline.
Above: picture in the public domain
Tiwanaku was capital of the South American Empire, developed between 300 and 1000 AD. It is based in Bolivia and it is known for its rock architecture surprisingly precise, as well as the penchant of its population for human sacrifices. The city was abandoned around the 1100 (before the conquest of Bolivia from the Incas in 1445). The “Sun Door” in the picture, was called this way as if you stand in front of it during Spring, you can notice that the sun i right in the middle of the door.