One day in the incomprehensibly distant future, our descendants will gaze upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty or the Mall of America, and ask, “Mommy, what is that?” Over the course of human history, an astonishing number of cities and towns have been lost, drowned, abandoned, and leaving us with mysterious, and often beautiful, ruins. Here are some of the world’s most spectacular lost cities.
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Chernobyl's Ghost Cities, Ukraine
After the worst nuclear disaster in history, the Soviet Union evacuated the towns near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, including the Ukrainian city of Pryp’yat. Twenty years later, the city still stands, ghostly, overgrown, filled with wild animals. No one lives there anymore, but you can take a day trip.
Like a real-life Game of Thrones fortress, the Eagle’s Nest was an impenetrable city 1,000 meters up a mountain. Even Alexander the Great, rampaging through Turkey, bypassed it rather than try to conquer it. But the Eagle’s Nest lost its water supply around 200 CE and was abandoned. It has been left essentially untouched for the last 1800 years.
The Sunken City of Baia, Italy
Baia was the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire, a hedonistic vacation town of villas and spas. Sacked and abandoned, the city was eventually submerged in a bay near Naples. Today you can tour it in glass-bottom boats or by scuba, and see amazingly well-preserved underwater buildings and statues.
The Gedi Ruins, Kenya
One of the great mysteries of African archeology, Gedi was a large, advanced city on the Kenyan coast. It had flush toilets—more than 600 years ago!—but has been abandoned for centuries.
Ani Ghost City, Turkey
Once a rival to Baghdad and Constantinople, this medieval Armenian city of 200,000 was sacked and abandoned 500 years ago. The skeletal remains—many of them churches—are ghostly and incredibly beautiful.
A cute Romanian town. A picturesque valley. And then, in 1978, they found copper. The Communist dictatorship evacuated Geamana and dumped a flood of toxic sludge into the valley, drowning the town and creating a garish, poisonous lake. A few of the town buildings remain visible, roofs jutting out above the waterline.
The Lost City of Heracleion, Egypt
One of the world’s greatest port cities and the gateway to Egypt, Thonis-Heracleion sank into the Mediterranean Sea more than 2,200 years ago. Now nearly three miles off the coast of Egypt, the city was rediscovered by a French archeologist in 2000. Its submerged ruins include eerie 16-foot high statues, tiny sarcophagi holding animal sacrifices, and a huge temple.
Nan Madol Ruins
Just off the coast of a small island in Micronesia is an artificial archipelago—more than 100 man-made islands filled with houses, warehouses, and royal buildings. Erected 800 years ago, but abandoned for hundreds of years, Nan Madol also inspired the novelist HP Lovecraft, whose malevolent deity Cthulhu hibernated in a submerged South Pacific city.
The most ironically named place in the United States, the upstate New York town of Neversink was founded in 1798 and grew to a population 2,000. Then, in 1953, New York City needed a new reservoir, and Neversink was sunk—flooded to form the Neversink reservoir.
This article was written by David Plotz for Atlas Obscura.