Published in Aug 2021 / Updated in Sep 2021
Sunken cities exist in both history and myth. The Greek philosopher Plato is credited with being the first to have told the story of Atlantis. The “lost city” was founded by a race of half-human half-god citizens with the aim of creating a utopia. The people of Atlantis grew greedy, however. The Gods punished them by causing an earthquake and sinking the city into the sea.
Atlantis is just a myth, of course. Real cities from the ancient world have also sunk into the sea, just like Plato said happened to Atlantis.
These six actual sunken cities from our long-ago past are just as incredible as the mythical Atlantis.
Sunken Pirate City At Port Royal, Jamaica
Before it sank, Port Royal was known as a place full of “wickedness and sin.” The Jamaican town was well-known for being home to pirates, brothels, and powerful rum.
Notorious pirate, and the face of his own modern-day rum brand, Henry Morgan, was once the Lieutenant Governor of the town. Morgan had actually tried to crack down on pirating in Port Royal in the late 1600s. However, he would die of suspected tuberculosis or liver cirrhosis in 1688, just a few years before Port Royal’s demise.
On June 7th, 1692, Port Royal was hit with an earthquake estimated to be 7.5 on the Richter scale. The city was built over top of the sand, and when the earthquake hit, everything sank. Buildings and people were literally sucked into the ground.
When the shaking had stopped, the tsunami waves came in. They dragged much of what was left out to sea. Thirty-three acres of the town is believed to have been taken by waves into the ocean.
Some say that what happened to Port Royal was punishment for its wicked ways. Nature would continue to pelt the town with disasters in the years that would follow as well. In 1951, much of what was left of the town was destroyed by Hurricane Charlie. Only a few buildings from the 17th-century city remain.
Nowadays, artifacts from the city are on display at the Museums of History and Ethnography, Institute of Jamaica.
The last Queen of Egypt’s luxurious home is now fully submerged underwater. During her reign, Cleopatra lived in an extravagant palace on the island of Antirhodos. The entire island was like a luxury resort.
Four hundred years after Cleopatra’s dramatic death, her island home had been racked by earthquakes and tsunamis. Eventually, the entire island was submerged underwater. It stayed hidden for 1600 years before its ruins were discovered in 1998.
The incredible discovery included art, statues, red granite columns, and signs welcoming new visitors to Cleopatra’s palace. Twenty thousand relics from the site have been extracted and placed in museums the world over.
The Egyptian government is planning to turn the archaeological site into a museum. They hope to hold underwater tours of what was once Cleopatra’s palace.
Italy’s Sunken City Of Baia
Before it sank, Baia was a resort city visited by the elites of Roman society. It has been called the “Las Vegas” of ancient Roman society.
One of its attractive features to the wealthy Romans was its natural hot springs used for medicinal purposes. Such hot springs occurred all over the city because they were located on top of natural volcanic vents. Those volcanic vents would play a role in the eventual sinking of the town, however.
Before it sank, Baia had been largely destroyed by Muslim armies in the 8th century. By the 16th century, the once luxurious town was largely abandoned. The volcanic vents in the area caused water levels to rise slowly, eventually swallowing up much of the ruins into the ocean.
Italy’s sunken city of Baia is now an underwater archaeological park. Tourists can scuba dive or snorkel in the area to view the ruins. Boat tours in the area also feature glass bottoms to allow interested viewers a glimpse of the sunken city.
Japan’s Atlantis, Yonaguni-Jima
Off the coast of the Yonaguni Islands sit the ruins of a city possibly 5,000 – 10,000 years old. Divers discovered the ruins in 1987 about 25 meters below the surface. When they noticed a series of perfectly carved steps and pyramid-like structures, they believed these were not naturally occurring structures.
The ruins are now known as the Yonaguni Monument and are often nicknamed “Japan’s Atlantis.” Some say they are the remnants of a city built by the Jomon people, Japan’s prehistoric ancestors who lived around 12,000 B.C.
More recently, however, scientists have argued that Japan’s Atlantis is not a sunken city at all. Rather, they believe that the steps and pyramid structures are naturally formed rock structures. They believe that erosion over the course of thousands of years has shaped the rocks the way they are.
Despite this, many still believe that the Yonaguni Monument and Japan’s Atlantis are the remnants of a by-gone civilization.
The Sunken City Of Pavlopetri, Greece
Located off the coast of southern Greece near a village named Pavlopetri to sit the sunken ruins of a city lost to time. Researchers from the Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project have used a combination of traditional archaeological practices and underwater robotics to piece together everything there is to know about the sunken city.
Experts believe the city was home to the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations from roughly 3000 BC to 1100 BC. It was a well-developed city with roads, two-story homes, cemeteries, and meeting places. Although it is not clear what led the city to sink, it is believed a combination of earthquakes, erosion, and tsunamis were the likely culprit.
What is notable about the sunken city of Pavlopetri, Greece, is how close it was in time and location to Plato and his description of the Lost City of Atlantis. Experts believe that Pavlopetri sank several centuries before Plato was born, but perhaps there were rumors of its remnants that Plato was privy to, leading him to theorize about Atlantis.
Bay Of Cambay, India
The Bay of Cambay off the coast of India was discovered in 2001. Scientists in the area were researching the effects of pollution when they discovered several unnatural-looking structures 120 feet under the surface. They believe the structures could date back as far as 9500 years ago.
Some say that the ruins are from the lost city of Dwaraka, which is mentioned in the Sanskrit Mahabharata text.
It is speculated that the city sank into the sea as the planet warmed at the end of the last ice age. Ten thousand years ago, sea levels were believed to have risen over a hundred feet, which is the possible reason the Bay of Cambay fell into the ocean.
However, many of the artifacts obtained from the site were collected using dredging techniques rather than traditional archaeological dig methods. This has led some experts to question the validity of artifacts collected from the Bay of Cambay.