If you had lived in the ancient city of Atlantis, you would have been a member of a sophisticated, utopian civilization, living on a huge island full of gems, gold, silver, and exotic wildlife. Your lush island nation was a powerful empire that conquered African and European nations using its powerful navy and protection from the god Poseidon.
However, as your fellow citizens’ power grew, their ethics declined, and they became greedy. As punishment for becoming morally corrupt, your entire civilization was destroyed by earthquakes and floods, and then it sunk into the depths of the sea.
This is the story of the underwater city Atlantis, described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato around 360 B.C. in his dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias.”
People have been fascinated with this lost underwater civilization legend for thousands of years, and there have been countless “discoveries” of Atlantis in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea, and other bodies of water.
Was Atlantis real or at least based on a real civilization?
It depends on who you ask. Many believe it was a real place and should be remembered as a lesson in how ruthless greed and power cause harm, so the universe (or other entity) responds with punitive action. Those who aren’t prepared or enlightened suffer.
Others believe Plato created the story to illustrate his philosophical ideas of an ideal society and serve as a cautionary tale. While many claim to have located the city under the sea, its existence is still shrouded in mystery. There is no widely accepted, undisputed proof Atlantis ever existed. In addition, there have been no references to Atlantis in any other ancient texts except Plato’s.
What about other lost underwater civilizations?
Sunken City of Cuba
Marine engineer Pauline Zalitzky’s and her husband Paul Weinzweig were exploring the ocean floor (in conjunction with the Cuban government) off the western tip of Cuba in 2001 using advanced sonar equipment to search for sunken Spanish ships containing lost treasures.
Imagine Zalitsky’s surprise when instead of a treasure-laden Spanish galleon, she discovered a series of massive stone bricks, other geometric shapes, structures, and pyramids that resembled a city under the sea. Those who study underwater discoveries around the globe were hopping with excitement and scrutinized the images carefully, some even thinking Zalitsky had found Atlantis.
The Sunken City of Cuba was found in about 700 meters (2,300 feet) of water, which was quite a bit deeper than other known underwater cities. Researchers thought it would have taken roughly 50,000 years for the city to sink to this depth. At that time, it is believed no cultures had the ability to build structures this advanced.
Was Cuba’s sunken city another lost underwater civilization?
Maybe. According to Mayan and Yucateco oral stories that were passed down through the ages, their ancestors inhabited an island nation that vanished underwater. Some researchers speculated there was once a land bridge that connected Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula with Cuba, so this could have been that civilization. Others suggest the Caribbean could have been a dry basin at some point, making it easy to construct a city on its bed, even if below sea level.
While the geometric shapes certainly appear to be manmade and not anomalies of nature, many scientists are skeptical due to the underwater city’s extreme depth. Throughout Earth’s history, sea levels have risen and fallen, but most researchers say it never fell this far.
While there was a flurry of activity shortly after the findings, many who carefully reviewed the sonar images say they are inconclusive. Computer enhancements made the structures look more man made. Conspiracy theorists say Zalitsky was warned off, but interest in the site has diminished due to lack of evidence.
Another disputed underwater city: Yonaguni Monument
The Yonaguni Monument is a submerged rock formation off of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands. Discovered by a diver looking for a place to observe sharks in 1987, some believe it may be the Lost Continent of Mu, Japan’s “Atlantis.”
Marine geologist Masaaki Kimura at the University of the Ryukyus believes Yonaguni Monument’s many right angles and carvings are definitely manmade. He says he has identified 10 structures, including a stadium, castle, temples, and roads, which date back to about 5,000 years ago. The architecture and carvings are similar to other ancient Asian structures, according to Kimura.
Others dispute the evidence of this lost underwater civilization, saying the sandstone making up the structures tends to break along planes, creating straight edges. They say carvings and other indentations were created by natural underwater eddies.
Undisputed Lost Underwater Cities
Researchers, geologists, archeologists, historians, spiritual leaders, and many others have disputed the existence of Atlantis, the Sunken City of Cuba, Yonaguni, and other underwater discoveries. Many mainstream scientists doubt their existence, but what about underwater cities that have been proven to exist?
Port Royal – “the wickedest city on Earth”
In the late 1600s, Port Royal on Jamaica’s southeast coast was one of the largest and most important European cities in the New World. Port Royal’s deep harbor and protected location made it an ideal hub of activity for merchants, privateers, slave traders, tradesman, sailors, and notorious pirates, including Captain Henry Morgan and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Accounts from sailing captains and citizens described more than 2,000 buildings occupying about 51 acres at the height of its prosperity in the 1690s.
On June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake and subsequent tidal wave hit the island, plunging 20 acres of the city into the ocean immediately, and killing thousands. While some structures remained, the city never regained its former size and significance.
Port Royal: From Wicked to Authentic Sunken City
Port Royal’s population of pirates, prostitutes, slaves, sailors, and soldiers naturally led to a lively atmosphere of decadence and debauchery. Was Port Royal destroyed because of its immoral reputation? Regardless of why it was destroyed, today it is recognized by scholars as the only authentic sunken city in the Western Hemisphere.
Numerous buildings, structures, and artifacts have been excavated. Combined with historical documents, they provide an excellent view into the architecture, city planning, diet, cooking activities, and other aspects of daily life in this 17th century colonial city. As of this writing, Port Royal is on UNESCO’s tentative list of cities to gain World Heritage status.
Other Undisputed Underwater Cities
Dwarka is one of the most studied underwater discoveries in India’s Gulf of Cambay. It’s still a thriving city today, but marine archeologists have been studying its ancient underwater ruins for decades. According to ancient Hindu texts, Dwarka was a beautiful, prosperous city founded by the god Krishna. Dwarka was destroyed when the evil King Salva attacked with a flying machine, and it sank into the sea when Krishna left.
Alexandria, Egypt (home of Cleopatra), Teonimanu in the Solomon Islands, and Pavlopetri, Greece, are among many well-studied sunken cities that were thought to be destroyed by earthquakes and subsequent flooding.
Did Natural Disasters or Divine Intervention Cause Ancient Cities to Sink Underwater?
During ancient times, including when Plato lived, frequent tectonic activity caused massive earthquakes, floods, and other catastrophic events that might explain why so many cities vanished underwater. Many of these sunken cities are shrouded in myths and legends, but were those legends simply based on the geological events?
Those who favor a more transcendental or metaphysical explanation suggest there is some kind of divine intervention at work, and these destroyed civilizations were paying the price for their immoral deeds.
Regardless of why these cities around the globe slipped underwater, they are fascinating windows into the history of civilization.
Want more like this article?
Don't miss Ancient Civilizations on Gaia to journey through humanity's suppressed origins and examine the secret code left behind by our ancestors.