Erlena Kimberly Once again, we have not conquered the peak, but yourself.

Lost Cities Forgotten by Time

7 min read

Lost Cities

It’s hard to imagine how an entire city can get lost but that’s exactly what has happened to the lost cities on this list. There are actually many reasons why a city has to be abandoned.

War, natural disasters, climate change and the loss of important trading partners to name a few. Whatever the cause, these lost cities were forgotten in time until they were rediscovered centuries later.

1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

One of the most famous lost cities in the world, Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hawaiian historian Hiram after it lay hidden for centuries above the Urubamba Valley.

The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs.

Although known locally in Peru, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being rediscovered in 1911.

2. Angkor


Angkor is a vast temple city in Cambodia featuring the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century AD.

These include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument, and the Bayon temple (at Angkor Thom) with its multitude of massive stone faces.

During its long history Angkor went through many changes in religion converting between Hinduism to Buddhism several times.

The end of the Angkorian period is generally set as 1431, the year Angkor was sacked and looted by Ayutthaya invaders, though the civilization already had been in decline.

Nearly all of Angkor was abandoned, except for Angkor Wat, which remained a Buddhist shrine.

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3. Tikal


Between ca. 200 to 900 AD, Tikal was the largest Mayan city with an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants.

As Tikal reached peak population, the area around the city suffered deforestation and erosion followed by a rapid decline in population levels.

Tikal lost the majority of its population during the period from 830 to 950 and central authority seems to have collapsed rapidly.

After 950, Tikal was all but deserted, although a small population may have survived in huts among the ruins.

Even these people abandoned the city in the 10th or 11th centuries and the Guatemalan rainforest claimed the ruins for the next thousand years.

4. Petra


Petra, the fabled “rose red city, half as old as time”, was the ancient capital of the Nabataean kingdom.

A vast, unique city, carved into the side of the Wadi Musa Canyon in southern Jordan centuries ago by the Nabataeans, who turned it into an important junction for the silk and spice routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Greece and Rome.

After several earthquakes crippled the vital water management system the city was almost completely abandoned in the 6th century.

After the Crusades, Petra was forgotten in the Western world until the lost city was rediscovered by the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

5. Teotihuacan


In the 2nd century BC a new civilization arose in the valley of Mexico. This civilization built the flourishing metropolis of Teotihuacán and it’s huge step pyramids.

A decline in population in the 6th century AD has been correlated to lengthy droughts related to the climate changes.

Seven centuries after the demise of the Teotihuacán empire the pyramids of the lost city were honored and utilized by the Aztecs and became a place of pilgrimage.

6. Pompeii


On August 24, 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius erupted, covering the nearby town Pompeii with ash and soil, and subsequently preserving the city in its state from that fateful day.

Everything from jars and tables to paintings and people were frozen in time. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum, were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten.

They were rediscovered as the results of excavations in the 18th century. The lost cities have provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of people living two thousand years ago.

7. Tiwanaku


Tiwanaku is one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire. During the time period between 300 BC and 300 AD Tiwanaku is thought to have been a moral and cosmological center to which many people made pilgrimages.

The community grew to urban proportions between the 7th and 9th centuries, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes.

At its maximum extent, the city had between 15,000–30,000 inhabitants although recent satellite imaging suggest a much larger population.

Around 1000 AD, after a dramatic shift in climate, Tiwanaku disappeared as food production, the empire’s source of power and authority, dried up.

8. Palenque


Palenque in Mexico is much smaller than some of the other lost cities of the Mayan, but it contains some of the finest architecture and sculptures the Maya ever produced.

Most structures in Palenque date from about 600 AD to 800 AD. The city declined during the 8th century.

An agricultural population continued to live here for a few generations, then the lost city was abandoned and was slowly grown over by the forest.

9. Ani


Situated along a major east-west caravan route, Ani first rose to prominence in the 5th century AD and had become a flourishing town and the capital of Armenia in the 10th century.

The many churches built there during this period included some of the finest examples of medieval architecture and earned its nickname as the “City of 1001 Churches”.

At its height, Ani had a population of 100,000 to 200,000 people. It remained the chief city of Armenia until Mongol raids in the 13th century.

a devastating earthquake in 1319, and shifting trade routes sent it into an irreversible decline. Eventually the city was abandoned and largely forgotten for centuries. The ruins are now located in Turkey.

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10. Hvalsey


Hvalsey was a farmstead of the Eastern Settlement, the largest of the three Viking settlements in Greenland. They were settled in approximately 985 AD by Norse farmers from Iceland.

At its peak the site contained approximately 4,000 inhabitants. Following the demise of the Western Settlement in the mid-fourteenth century, the Eastern Settlement continued for another 60-70 years.

In 1408 a wedding was recorded at the Hvalsey Church, but that was the last word to come from Greenland.

11. Ctesiphon


In the 6th century Ctesiphon was one of the largest city in the world and one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia.

Because of its importance, Ctesiphon was a major military objective for the Roman Empire and was captured by Rome, and later the Byzantine Empire, five times.

The city fell to the Muslims during the Islamic conquest of Persia in 637. After the founding of the Abbasid capital at Baghdad in the 8th century the city went into a rapid decline and soon became a ghost town.

Ctesiphon is believed to be the basis for the city of Isbanir in the Thousand and One Nights. Located in Iraq, the only visible remain today is the great arch Taq-i Kisra.

12. Palmyra

For centuries Palmyra (“city of palm trees”) was an important and wealthy city located along the caravan routes linking Persia with the Mediterranean ports of Roman Syria.

Beginning in 212, Palmyra’s trade diminished as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Roman Emperor Diocletian built a wall and expanded the city in order to try and save it from the Sassanid threat.

The city was captured by the Muslim Arabs in 634 but kept intact. The city declined under Ottoman rule, reducing to no more than an oasis village. In the 17th century its location was rediscovered by western travelers.

13. Vijayanagara


Vijaynagar was once one the largest cities in the world with 500,000 inhabitants. The Indian city flourished between the 14th century and 16th century, during the height of the power of the Vijayanagar empire.

During this time, the empire was often in conflict with the Muslim kingdoms. In 1565, the empire’s armies suffered a massive and catastrophic defeat and Vijayanagara was taken.

The victorious Muslim armies then proceeded to raze, depopulate, and destroy the city and its Hindu temples over a period of several months.

Despite the empire continuing to exist thereafter during a slow decline, the original capital was not reoccupied or rebuilt. It has not been occupied since.

14. Calakmul


Hidden inside the jungles of the Mexican state of Campeche, Calakmul is one of the largest Maya cities ever uncovered.

Calakmul was a powerful city that challenged the supremacy of Tikal and engaged in a strategy of surrounding it with its own network of allies.

From the second half of the 6th century AD through to the late 7th century Calakmul gained the upper hand although it failed to extinguish Tikal’s power completely and Tikal was able to turn the tables on its great rival in a decisive battle that took place in 695 AD.

Eventually both cities succumbed to the spreading Maya collapse.

15. Urgench


Formerly situated on the Amu-Darya River in Uzbekistan, Ürgenç or Urgench was one of the greatest cities on the Silk Road.

The 12th and early 13th centuries were the golden age of Ürgenç, as it became the capital of the Central Asian empire of Khwarezm. In 1221, Genghis Khan razed Urgench to the ground.

Young women and children were given to the Mongol soldiers as slaves, and the rest of the population was massacred.

The city was revived after Genghis’s destruction but the sudden change of Amu-Darya’s course to the north forced the inhabitants to leave the site forever.

16. Persepolis


Persepolis (Capital of Persia in Greek) was the center and ceremonial capital of the mighty Persian Empire. It was a beautiful city, adorned with precious artworks of which unfortunately very little survives today.

In 331 BC, Alexander the Great, in the process of conquering the Persian Empire, burnt Persepolis to the ground as a revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens.

Persepolis remained the capital of Persia as a province of the great Macedonian Empire but gradually declined in the course of time.

17. Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna or Lepcis Magna was a prominent city of the Roman Empire, located in present-day Libya. Its natural harbor facilitated the city’s growth as a major Mediterranean and Saharan trade centre, and it also became a market for agricultural production in the fertile coastland region.

The Roman emperor Septimius Severus (193–211), who was born at Leptis, became a great patron of the city. Under his direction an ambitious building program was initiated.

Over the following centuries, however, Leptis began to decline because of the increasing difficulties of the Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest of 642, the lost city fell into ruin and was buried by sand for centuries.

18. Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde, in southwestern Colorado, is home to the famous cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi people. In the 12th century, the Anasazi start building houses in shallow caves and under rock overhangs along the canyon walls.

Some of these houses were as large as 150 rooms. By 1300, all of the Anasazi had left the Mesa Verde area, but the ruins remain almost perfectly preserved.

The reason for their sudden departure remains unexplained. Theories range from crop failures due to droughts to an intrusion of foreign tribes from the North.

19. Hattusa


Hattusa became the capital of the Hittite Empire in the 17th century BC. The city was destroyed, together with the Hittite state itself, around 1200 BC, as part of the Bronze Age collapse.

The site was subsequently abandoned. Modern estimates put the population of the city between 40,000 and 50,000 at it’s the peak.

The dwelling houses which were built with timber and mud bricks have vanished from the site, leaving only the ruins of the stone built temples and palaces.

The lost city was rediscovered in the beginning of the 20th century in central Turkey by a German archeological team. One of the most important discoveries at the site has been clay tablets, consisting of legal codes, procedures and literature of the ancient Near East.

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20. Chan Chan

Chan Chan

The vast adobe city of Chan Chan in Peru was the largest city in pre-Columbian America. The building material used was adobe brick, and the buildings were finished with mud frequently adorned with patterned relief arabesques.

The centre of the city consists of several walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers and temples.

The city was built by the Chimu around 850 AD and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in 1470 AD. It is estimated that around 30,000 people lived in the city of Chan Chan.

Erlena Kimberly Once again, we have not conquered the peak, but yourself.