The fictional, utopian city of Atlantis has long fascinated humans as a representation of paradise lost. But it’s not the only mysterious place to have been turned into legend by the ebbs of time. Below, we look at the lost city of Atlantis and five other lost worlds that have intrigued people throughout history.
The fictional island of Atlantis was introduced in Plato’s allegorical dialogues Timaeus and Critias. In the latter, Atlantis launches an attack on Athens, to which Athens responds with unprecedented force. Eventually, the gods turn their back on Atlantis and it sinks into the sea.
Even though Atlantis itself played a relatively small part in Plato’s body of work, it has been represented throughout many other artistic and literary movements as a lost utopia. It’s commonly accepted that Atlantis was fictional. However, many scholars over the years have argued that Plato may have based the story of Atlantis' destruction on real-life events.
According to legend, Lemuria was a continent that once existed in the Indian Ocean, thriving just south of modern day Sri Lanka. However, modern-day understanding of plate tectonics shows that Lemuria as it is typically described could never have existed.
Much of the hype surrounding Lemuria is owed to British zoologist Philip Sclater. The lemurs of Madagascar, a primate species found nowhere else in the world, puzzled Sclater. He discovered that fossil records for the lemurs existed in faraway India, but not in nearby Africa, and came to the conclusion that some larger continent must have once connected the two. In 1864, he wrote in The Quarterly Journal of Science:
“The anomalies of the Mammal fauna of Madagascar can best be explained by supposing that … a large continent occupied parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans … that this continent was broken up into islands, of which some have become amalgamated with … Africa, some … with what is now Asia; and that in Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands we have existing relics of this great continent, for which … I should propose the name Lemuria!”
A more likely explanation for the anomalies noted by Sclater is Pangea, a supercontinent that fossils and the geology of modern continents indicate broke apart 175 millions years ago.
Some people also associate Lemuria with the Tamil creation story, which talks of a lost continent known as Kumari Kandam, said to be the birthplace of Tamil civilization.
Celtic Breton mythology holds that a magnificent city known as Ys once towered over Douarnenez Bay in France’s Brittany region. Legend says that Dahut, a magician and the daughter of Gradlon, King of Kerne, had a deep love for the sea. She pleaded with her father to build a city at the edge of the sea, and so Ys was founded. But Dahut would also be the one to bring about the demise of her beloved city. She is said to have loved orgies that angered the gods, often murdering her own lovers when morning came.
Eventually, a knight arrived at Ys but couldn’t pass the city gates, although Dahut wanted to let him in. Knowing that only her father held the keys to the gate, she fetched them and gave them to the knight. Unfortunately, the knight was the devil. (I hate when that happens.) The devil intentionally left the gate open to the raging sea, and it rose like a cliff, swallowing all of Ys. As Dahut and Gradlon scrambled for shelter, Gradlon was convinced by a saint to push his daughter into the sea in order to save himself. Dahut would go on to become a mermaid.
Perhaps not “lost” in every sense of the word, Thule was a lost place to many in the ancient world. Considered a mysterious northerly location by many classical European cartographers, Thule was thought to be some of kind of untamed island at the far reaches of Earth’s end. The Carta Marina, published in 1539 by Swedish writer Olaus Magnus, depicts Thule as lying just northwest of Scotland’s Orkney Islands, surrounded by large sea monsters.
Thule owes one of its first mentions to the Greek explorer Pytheas, who described it as a place where land and sea were blurred “into the consistency of jellyfish.” Virgil coined “Ultima Thule” to refer to any place that seems unreachable or unattainable. Most modern cartographers contend, however, that Thule was likely modern-day Norway or Iceland, which still would have seemed very exotic to Virgil and his peers.
Iram of the Pillars
Al-Fajr, the 89th chapter of the Qu’ran, describes the destruction of non-believing people and the denizens of Iram of the Pillars. No one knows exactly where Iram of the Pillars, also sometimes called “Atlantis of the Sands,” was located. What is outlined in the story is that the city dissolved in a terrifying way.
Iram of the Pillars was a grand metropolis inhabited by a people known as Ad. Similar to the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Ad turned away from the word of Allah and led lives of wickedness. When the prophet Hud arrived to summon King Shaddad and his people back into the fold of Islam, they revolted. And so, a sandstorm rose up for seven nights and eight days and the entire city was consumed into the desert.
In the 1990s, a team of archeologists uncovered the lost city of Ubar, which is thought by some to be the Iram spoken of in the Qu’ran.
There are numerous tales throughout different cultures of tunnels and subterranean communities beneath the surface of the Earth. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder even spoke of those who escaped Atlantis’ demise by fleeing to the Earth’s core.
While this underworld has many names, Agartha (or Agharti) is a place where all four corners of the world are connected by paths and tunnels. Some Agartha believers even argue that another world exists beneath us and serves to counterbalance our energy. While we live in a state of heightened emotions, violence, and over-the-top ideology, this world crawling under the ground is, simply put, flipside.
French occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre claimed that this world’s potential could only be unlocked “when the anarchy of our world is replaced by synarchy” (harmonious rule). It’s a nice thought, particularly in our modern world.
Featured Photo: Ano Hanna / YouTube
This article was originally published in November 2016.