Sirens and superstition. Voyages into the deep. Mythical or just undiscovered? Sunken cities are as fascinating if they are real or exist only in legend. Preserved in a watery shroud, they offer tantalising hints to historic events. Those yet to prove their existence become a beacon of unknown, a tempting treasure for explorers and storytellers alike. Here are my top five mythical sunken cities.
5. Atlantis: You can’t possibly have a list of sunken cities without including Atlantis. Such a huge myth that has lasted for eons that it’s no wonder it’s hard to let go of. Written about by Plato as a vision of a utopian island; and widely believed to have sprung to life from his imagination. But there is an argument that he was inspired by older texts and that it may well have existed many years before, wiped out by a volcano or earthquake/tsunami before Plato’s linage was conceived.
4. Vineta: A mythical city supposed to be submerged in the Baltic Sea, off the southern coast. As many of these legends go, it was the general naughtiness of the inhabitants that lead to the sea rising up and swallowing the city. It is said that it reappears at times to act as a warning for future revellers – misbehave at your peril!
3. Mu: Not quite a city, more a whole lost continent. Mu is the legendary Motherland of all society – believed to be written about by the ancient Mayans, referencing it as their homeland that was destroyed and sunk after a cataclysmic event. Augustus Le Plongeon (1825–1908), a traveller and writer, was the first to popularise the ‘Mu’ myth, claiming he had translated the ancient Mayan writings that told of this even more ancient continent. Where is it? Buried in either the deep blue of the sea or our collective imaginations.
2. Kitezh: A Russian sunken city, thought to be lying at the bottom of Lake Svetloyar. The legend goes that on the impending invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century, rather than fortifying their city, the citizens of Kitezh prayed instead for their redemption. The Mongols, seeing the city unguarded, moved to attack, only to be astounded by water shooting up around them. Before their eyes, the city was submerged into the lake and away from capture. It is said that only those who are ‘pure of heart and soul’ will find their way to Kitezh, and when the the lake is calm you can hear the bells chiming and people singing in the city below.
1. Ys: Another mythical city that succumbed to its own depravity. Ys is said to be of the coast of Brittany, built below sea level and surrounded by a dike to keep it from flooding. It was given by King Gradlon to his daughter Dahut, who then turned the city into the capital orgy destination in the land. She apparently enjoyed not just wild sex with many men, but also beheading them afterwards. The city wall had a great gate, with the only key held by the King.
The legend goes that one of Dahut’s lovers convinced her to steal the key from her father and give it to him. The lover was in fact the devil, and he opened the gate, flooding the city. Dahut was turned into a mermaid and the city was lost. It is said that when Paris falls, Ys will rise again.
So next time you’re thinking of jetting a character off into a mythical city, why not pack them a wetsuit and dive into a sunken city?