Top 5 Lost Cities

We’ve had a lot of interest in our Classical Civilisation courses lately, so this week we’re going to countdown of the top 5 lost cities. Let’s start with No5...

No: 5 - Pompeii


Bay of Naples Courtesy of

We’re starting with possibly the most famous lost city of all time. No, not that Pompeii!! Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that started as a collection of small hamlets or villages. The name Pompeii actually refers to this, being derived from the word for 5, Pompe. It was a large and wealthy city with around 20,000 inhabitants.

Due to its location near Mount Vesuvius, it suffered from minor earthquakes from time. Residents didn’t take them particularly seriously and this came back to haunt them when a major earthquake hit the town in AD62. The quake was thought to be in excess of level 5 on the Richter scale. Many major buildings were ruined and repairs were still taking place when disaster struck in AD 79.


On the morning of the eruption nothing seemed amiss and the people of Pompeii went around their everyday business as if it were any other day. Around midday however, a huge ash column emerged from the crater of Vesuvius and ash began to fall across the area.  Throughout the afternoon the ash fall thickened and blackened the sky, as pumice stones began to fall, reaching depths of up to 3 meters deep. By the next morning Pompeii was buried in pyroclastic flows.  By the time the eruption was finished, meters of ash covered the city.

The city remained buried and forgotten despite being briefly uncovered in 1599.In 1748 Pompeii, was excavated properly and promptly became a popular tourist attraction. Today it’s famous for its astonishingly good preservation of the buildings, as well as the eerie plaster casts that preserve the outlines of the volcanoes victims.

No:4 - Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia was a small town that was founded in the mid 1800’s. Originally called Centreville, the town changed its name to Centralia in 1866.The city grew slowly, reaching a peak of around 2,700 people in 1890. The sleepy mining town slowly declined in population over the years, reflecting the overall state of the town’s fortunes.

In 1962, disaster struck, though its effects wouldn’t be readily apparent for some time. During the annual burning of the refuse heap a fire started. The refuse was stored in an old strip mine, which had been in properly insulated from the fires. As a result, the burning of the refuse ignited a layer of coal that burned away under the refuse. By the time it was noticed, fire fighting efforts were unsuccessful and the underground fire had spread into the coal shafts that ran deep beneath the city.

Astonishingly, very little was done about the fire until the 1980’s, by which time the health effects of the immense amounts of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide was beginning to become apparent. Temperatures just below the ground were reaching over 70C and sinkholes were opening up as the ground literally burned away underneath the surface.

In 1984, most of the town’s residents were bought out by the state and the town was largely abandoned. Whilst a handful remained, most of the buildings in the town were pulled down. Today, only the road grid is visible and the main highway linking the town is severed. Around 20 residents remain in the town.

A modern ghost town, Centralia served as the inspiration for the town of Silent Hill in the movie of the same name.

  centralia Cracks in the road to Centralia - Courtesy of

No:3 - Machu Picchu

Say the word Inca to someone and it’s likely that the city of Machu Picchu is the image that they think of.  Scroll down to the picture below and tell us we're worng! The spectacular stepped city is thought to have been built around 1450 as an estate for the emperor Pachacuti.  Located nearly 8,000 metres above sea level, building it must have been no mean feat when we consider that the buildings would have been constructed largely by hand.

While Machu Picchu is now world famous and a listed UNESCO world heritage site, it was hardly known outside of the local farming communities for hundreds of years. When it was abandoned in response to the Spanish conquest barely 100 years after being built, the remaining inhabitants are thought to have died of the diseases introduced into the country by the Conquistadores and the city fell into obscurity. Whilst the city was only around 80KM from the Incan capital, the Conquistadores never found Machu Picchu, which contributed to the remarkable preservation of the city.

Sadly, having survived hundreds of years, Machu Picchu is under threat from the thousands of tourists that visit each year.

picchu   Courtesy of

No:2 - Plymouth, Montserrat

Proving that we shouldn’t sneer too much at those residents of Pompeii that failed to heed the warnings that rumbled from Vesuvius, our second from last entry is the Caribbean city of Plymouth. The capital of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory, Plymouth began to be showered in Ash in July of 1995. Following a bombardment of volcanic rock, the city was evacuated the following august.

After a lull of 2 years the volcano again erupted, releasing huge amounts of smoke, debris and triggering pyroclastic flows that buried much of the southern portion of the island.  The islands’ airport was covered by mud as was Plymouth, resulting in 19 deaths. Following the flows, the city was buried in metres of hardened mud and ash, with a composition similar to concrete.

It was decided that rebuilding Plymouth wasn’t worth the effort and the capital moved to the north side of the island, with the south side remains an exclusion zone.

plymouth Courtesy of  


Wait for it...


Waaait for it....




Ok, Ok, we cheated here. Bit of a cop out to be fair. But really, can we have a list of lost cities without including the most famous one of all?

Plato described it as located between the Pillars of Hercules, today known as the strait of Gibraltar. He described an ancient city that was a major naval power around 9,000 BC. Plato described the loss of the city in spectacularly understated terms, with the city disappearing into the ocean in a “single day and night of misfortune”.

Misfortune indeed.

Since then Atlantis has been a subject of much speculation, much of it serious, much of it lounge in cheek and remains a staple in popular culture to this day. From visits from Nemo (that’s the captain, not the fish!)to Lovecraft’s Old ones mythology to the Ice Age films, Atlantis remains a staple of fiction.


So, what notable cities did we miss? Tell us in the comments!