Man Knowledge: Lost Cities Every Man Should Know

by Chris on August 30, 2010 · 31 comments

in Manly Knowledge

Once again we step into the realm of Man Knowledge, where we seek to broaden your understanding of various manly topics so that when the subject comes up in conversation, you’re ready to contribute. This time around, we’re off hacking through the jungles of who-knows-where and diving to the deepest depths of destinations unknown in search of that most mysterious of mysteries: Lost Cities.

As young boys, most of us were fascinated by tales of daring adventure, where men like Indiana Jones and Allan Quatermain dashed through perilous jungles with savage tribesman hot on their trail in search of some priceless artifact or other untold riches. A primary element in many of these stories continues to capture the imagination of both adventurers and academics alike even today…the lost city. While many lost cities have all but been written off as myth, others are still believed by many to be out there somewhere, their mysterious remains waiting to be unveiled once again to the world. What follows is a brief examination of several of the more prominent lost cities, providing you with some basic information and the principle theories surrounding each location.

El Dorado

Earliest Known Reference: c. 1530 in the writings of Spanish conquistadores

Theorized Location: Outside of present day Bogota, Colombia

Status: Dismissed as myth

El Dorado, which stands alongside Atlantis as the best known of lost cities, is now generally believed to not be a city at all. The name El Dorado, translated as “The Gilded One,” refers not to a mythical lost city, but to a long dead tribal leader from the Muisca people. This king, known to his own people as the Zipa, is believed to have been bound by sacred duty to offer sacrifices to a tribal deity that lived in Lake Guatavita (in present day Columbia). The king would do so by ritually covering himself with gold dust every morning and swimming out into the lake, as his people ceremonially threw gold and jewels out into the lake from the shore. By 1545 word of these practices had reached Spanish conquistadores, who moved to conquer the Muisca and claim their wealth as their own. As word spread, the story evolved, and the assumption was made that a golden king must live in a golden city. This, coupled with the conquistadores overhearing prisoners whisper about a mythical city in the area, became the origin of the lost city of El Dorado.

Several prominent expeditions were mounted in search of El Dorado, often with fatal consequences. Most notable among these were the misadventures of Sir Walter Raleigh, an English aristocrat who mounted two separate expeditions in search of the site. Raleigh claimed to have found a similar city in modern day Venezuela and documented the find in his book, The Discovery of Guiana. Returning again to the region to search for El Dorado years later, Raleigh found only trouble. After an armed encounter with Spanish soldiers in strict violation of his orders from English royalty, Raleigh was shipped home to England and swiftly beheaded. It is now believed that Raleigh’s writings on the subject of El Dorado and his findings related to the city were by and large exaggerated, which only fueled the growing mythical status of the lost city for centuries afterward.

Gaily bedight,
A gallant night
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado.

But he grew old –
This knight so bold –
And – o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like El Dorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow –
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be –
This land of El Dorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied –
“If you seek for El Dorado.”

-Edgar Allen Poe, El Dorado

Lost City of Z

Earliest Known Reference: Manuscript 512 (National Library of Rio De Janeiro) written by Portuguese explorer João da Silva Guimarães in the mid 18th century.

Theorized Location: Mato Grosso region of Brazilian Amazon

Status: Possibly found. Confirmation pending.

Originating with and made famous by legendary explorer/madman British Colonel Percy Fawcett, the Lost City of Z was believed to be the capital city of a great civilization which once thrived in the Mato Grosso region of the Brazilian Amazon. Fawcett, an iconic figure considered by many to be the last man of the era of solo exploration, disappeared into the wilds of the Amazon with his son in 1925, sparking what has since been labeled the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century. Fawcett based his assumptions on the existence and whereabouts of the City of Z on snippets of information gathered through study of the writings of Portuguese explorers and by piecing together local legends and folklore.

Although Percy Fawcett is not quite the household name it once was, his life has certainly left a mark on history. As a personal friend to writers H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle, Fawcett’s real world adventures served as inspiration for the legendary characters these men created. His disappearance, along with the mystery of the Lost City of Z, has fascinated both academics and armchair adventurers for almost a century. While the mysterious fate of Fawcett may never be uncovered, it is believed by some that his fabled Lost City of Z has in fact been found. Remains of a very large, advanced civilization deep in the Mato Grasso, known as Kuhikugu, have just recently been discovered. Using advanced technology, scientists are still uncovering the vastness of this great city whose technology was equally as advanced as any elsewhere. Yet while it is certain that a great city has been found in the region, speculation continues as to whether it meets the description of the fabled kingdom that inspired Fawcett’s fateful expedition.


Earliest Known Reference: Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias

Theorized Location: Most often the Mediterranean Sea, although proposed sites also include the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the South Pacific.

Status: Lost

Atlantis reigns supreme as the best known of lost cities. First mentioned over 2000 years ago in Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias, it was described as a large landmass somewhere west of the “Pillars of Hercules” (the points of land that nearly meet where the Mediterranean Sea separates the Spanish and North African peninsulas). Located somewhere in the Atlantic, the Atlantean civilization was believed to have been extremely prosperous, with a “confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power” (Plato, Timaeus) who maintained a powerful naval force in the region. According to Plato, the near-utopian society suffered a tragic fate, however, when a cataclysmic natural disaster led to the entire city being swallowed up by the ocean in a single day, leaving behind no trace of its existence.

One grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the Island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal mud which the island created as it settled down.”

-Plato, Timaeus

The 19th and 20th centuries saw a revival in interest in the Atlantean legend, and searches became more commonplace. Known for a strong interest in the occult and mysticism, the Nazi Party of Germany sponsored in-depth research on the lost city, believing that the fabled Atlanteans were possibly genetically connected to the Aryan race. More recently, as understanding of geological patterns and plate tectonics increased, it became increasingly clear that the scenario of an entire landmass disappearing overnight was highly improbable, and interest again waned. For many enthusiasts out there, however, there remain many unanswered questions regarding Atlantis, and the search continues.


Earliest Known Reference: Unknown. Originated in Russian folklore predating the 19th century

Theorized Location: Western Russia near the Volga River

Status: Dismissed as myth

Kitezh is a lesser known lost city that originates in Russian religious folklore. Generally dismissed by modern scholars as existing only in legend, it is considered to be the Russian version of the Atlantis myth. The legend speaks of a 12th century Grand Prince, Yuri II of Vladimir, who had a magnificent town built on an island off the shore of Svetloyar Lake in modern day western Russia. When Mongol invaders led by Batu Khan moved to conquer the town, they found it was completely exposed, lacking even the most rudimentary defensive structures. Even more unbelievably, the citizens of the town made no effort to defend themselves, but instead chose to simply kneel in prayer, invoking the Almighty to protect them. Unmoved by this display of piety, the Mongols prepared to strike. As they advanced, however, they were stopped short as massive geysers erupted across the town, shooting high into the sky. Astonished, the Mongols ceased their advance, watching as the geysers flooded the town and the island itself began to slowly sink into the lake, with its residents all the while praying for protection from on high.

As with any legend, the facts surrounding the possible existence of Kitezh and its extraordinary disappearance are few and far between. Oral tradition and folklore have colored the story for generations, and time has only made the legend more fantastic. It is now rumored that bells and singing can be heard from the shores of Svetloyar Lake on calm evenings, a guiding beacon which leads the pure in heart to the gates of Kitzeh, where its pious residents continue to walk the streets, shielded from the view of ordinary men.

Bonus: Lost City Found – Troy

Earliest Known Reference: Homer’s Iliad, 8th Century B.C.

Theorized Location: Northwest Turkey

Status: Found!

Troy, the magnificent city at the center of Homer’s epic Iliad, was long believed to have existed only in oral tradition and in the pages of Homer’s works and those that followed. It was not until Heinrich Schliemann began a chance archaeological excavation at a site in Northwest Turkey in the mid/late 19th century that it became clear that Homeric Troy was a very real place. Schliemann, a wealthy businessman and self-taught archaeologist, used prior studies done by the owner of the dig site to determine where to dig, and what he found would quickly become one of the greatest archaeological studies to date.

Troy is not one, but technically several different archaeological sites all existing in the same location and hidden at varying depths below the earth’s surface. One of these cities, known as Troy VII(a) is widely accepted to be the Troy of Homer’s Iliad. Now a World Heritage Site and considered to be one of the greatest discoveries of the modern world, Troy stands as testament that while most will continue to live on only in legend, lost cities do, every once and again, become found.

Sources and Further Reading

Finding the Lost Cities by Rebecca Stefoff

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Exploration Fawcett by Percy Fawcett

Lost Cities of Atlantis, Ancient Europe & the Mediterranean by David Hatcher Childress

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan August 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm

While I haven’t been to Troy yet I have been lucky enough to visit many archaeological sites as part of my studies. There is something magical about wandering the ruins of ancient cultures. My favorite is the Bronze Age palace at Pylos, the mythical home of Nestor, excavated by my archaeological hero Carl Blegan. Also like many students of the classics I was drawn to the ancient world by the likes of Indiana Jones. Thanks for the enjoyable article.

2 Jimmy August 31, 2010 at 2:06 am

Great post. I always enjoy learning something I didn’t know before.

I think I heard that they are making a movie out of the Lost City of Z book with Brad Pitt as Fawcett. Sounds like it could be a great flick, although Pitt seems awfully pretty for the role.

3 Seth Robertson August 31, 2010 at 2:25 am

There are some pretty interesting arguments that Atlantis could have been related to the Minoan civilization on Crete.

4 Luiz Fróes August 31, 2010 at 8:45 am

Interesting Post.
Allow me one correction. The state name is not Mato GrAsso, is Mato GrOsso. Brazil.

5 Pete Zefo August 31, 2010 at 9:19 am

I read The Lost City of Z over the summer. Great book! If it’s not on the “100 Must Read” Man Books, it should be!

6 Chris Walls August 31, 2010 at 10:33 am

I had heard once that Atlantis is now under Antarctica. They had found really detailed maps of the coastline buried under ice that we’ve only been able to verify now. (or something like that) and the only way that was possible was that it at one time wasn’t under ice. Can’t remember where that was, maybe some discovery channel special maybe.

7 Darl August 31, 2010 at 10:48 am

Even though it was only “Lost” for about 400 years (1434-1860), I feel a mention of the temple complex of Angkor Wat should have been mentioned in the list of lost cities.

8 William August 31, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Great article!
I’m with Julian. Columbia is the university. Colombia is the country.

9 Bill August 31, 2010 at 12:39 pm

@Chris Walls

I was intrigued by your comment and did some quick internet searching. It looks like you might be referring to the Piri Reis map. Here’s a small article on it, and there’s of course some info on wikipedia:

10 Jeff August 31, 2010 at 12:48 pm

You could have also mentioned the kingdom of Prester John: It’s not a lost city in the same sense as the ones you mentioned (except for maybe Atlantis), but it certainly fits in with the spirit of the post.

11 Dom Parker August 31, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I recall watching a very thought-provoking documentary on one of the Discovery channels several years ago about Atlantis which theorized that it was actually located in what is now Antartica. The prog also said something about a theory Einstein apparently subscribed to called ‘Earth crust displacement’. Frankly I find that not knowing where these ‘lost cities’ are is all part of the mystique.

12 Dom August 31, 2010 at 2:16 pm

How about Shangri-La?!

13 Benjamin Lee August 31, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Troy I wouldn’t really say was “found” per sae. During one of the earliest phases of the development of archaeology one of the initial pioneers, a man by the name of Schliemann traveled to Turkey and began searching. Since modern techniques did not exist at the time, Schliemann’s dig eventually destroyed most of the potential evidence that modern archaeologists could have used to identify the city.

However due to geographical descriptions and tiny amounts of physical evidence we’ve sorta ball parked the area where Troy most likely was.

14 Leo August 31, 2010 at 4:01 pm

One very interesting story is that of Timbuktu, which actually had (has) gold-draped kings. It was the wealthiest city, in terms of gold and knowledge, and thus kept quiet for most of the 14-16th centuries. It was the only place west of Asia that had a library and encourage its citizens to learn — all this during the “Dark” Ages of Europe.

15 Hugo Stiglitz August 31, 2010 at 4:19 pm

A few American cities are “lost.” Detroit and East St. Louis come to mind…places where, in the 1950s and 1960s were home to a mix of white and blue collar workers, where the streets were lined with blooming trees, well-manicured lawns and loving homes, where one could smell the aroma of ribs cooking on backyard grills on a Saturday afternoon. Cities where women and children could walk safely at night, where husbands would come home to adoring children and a well-cooked homemade meal. Where jobs were plentiful and an Ivy-League education wasn’t needed to “make it” in the world. Cities where neighbors talked and children played outside. Where one could hear the thrill of a radio announcer’s voice as he exclaimed Home Run! on a hot July afternoon. Where Sundays were respected as days of rest and Mondays bustled to life with commerce and industry. When, “honey, I’m home!” was met with a kiss and the daily newspaper. When a phone rang with an ear-splitting bell chime and not the latest bubble-gum pop song. When a man opened a door for a lady; also, when a man could give a compliment to a lady without getting a dirty look in return. When the biggest problem a teacher faced was a kid chewing gum in class. And as I close, I notice that I have transitioned from “where” to “when” . . . and also that my post only partially relates to this article. We have many cities right here, in America, although not physically lost, have been lost culturally and spiritually, and you realize that the prospect of finding Atlantis is no different than resurrecting 1955 Detroit.

16 Mike August 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I seem to remember one of my professors attacking Schliemann for letting his biases get in the way of actual archaeology. She claimed that he found what he wanted to find instead of looking at what was actually there and letting the evidence speak for itself. Granted, archaeology is rarely an exact science, but some objective detachment must be maintained to avoid misinterpreting the facts.

17 Matt September 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm

While my knowledge of the particular subject is elementary, in a documentary I watched some time ago, which discussed the Earth’s shifting of poles, it was purported by a scientist (Who was apparently responsible for quite a few discoveries, though I do not remember them), that the Atlantean natural disaster described was entirely plausible. See, based on the fact the Earth shifts poles every x-thousand years, he believed that what tends to happen is a natural disaster similar to that of a moving bowl of cereal. When it is moving at a consistent rate, so too will the milk. However, when the bowl is made to change direction, slow down, or stop entirely, the milk, not being entirely one with the bowl, continues to move. Basically, the theory is: When the Earth shifts poles, it’s course direction also sidles. When that happens, the ocean wants to continue in its normal direction and so floods lands that were previously untouched by it.

18 Martin September 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Atlantis isn’t a real lost city. it is a hypothetical cit created by Plato as is stated in his writings. This is why there wasn’t more interest in Atlantis in ancient times because they took it as what it really was a hypothetical city. They knew that Plato didn’t intend for it to be perceived as a real location.

19 Gareth September 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Great article and pictures. While ‘El Dorado’ was just a myth, Colombia does have ‘La Cuidad Perdida’, a genuine lost city discovered in the 1970′s.

20 PeterPansDad September 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I thought Barry Strauss did a good job of discussing Troy and Schliemann’s contributions in “The Trojan War”. Durant also briefly discusses Schliemann in “The Life of Greece”. His bias, enthusiasm, desire for fame and record of theft don’t diminish the value of his finds. We know what he should have done. He didn’t. But he still found some amazing things.

There were also mentions of Schliemann in “Who Killed Homer”, the book that set me to studying ancient history.

21 scarlet September 2, 2010 at 1:05 am

Atlantis should be found!LOL^_^ maybe it exist and destroyed by earthquake,volcano, or other disaster.

22 Sean Murley September 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm

When people refer to El Dorado they are actually referring to Lake Guatavita.

23 Jeffrey D September 3, 2010 at 12:56 am

Hugo, thanks for the heads up about the darkie menace.

24 Tim Richards September 3, 2010 at 6:46 am

Hate to be a buzzkill, but it actually says in Homer’s works that Atlantis is a hypothetical city, created only for him to demonstrate a point (which I can’t remember). Sorry.

25 DaveN September 3, 2010 at 9:58 am

Atlantis was a myth made up for illustrative purposes by Plato. However, it is possible that the eruption of Thera some time in the second millenium BCE may have been a contributing influence to Plato’s myth. A village, Akrotiri, was destroyed by the eruption.

26 Rafael September 5, 2010 at 7:56 pm

“El Dorado” translates more closely to “the golden one”, “the one with a golden aspect”.

There is no state of “Mato Grasso”(*), but “Mato Grosso” (thick grass or thick jungle).

(*) Funnily enough, that would translate as “fatty grass” in portuguese (mato = grass, jungle, and grasso = oily, fatty,…), which is close to the name of a common variety of grass (capim gordura – capim = grass, gordura = fat).

27 Chris Kavanaugh September 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm

The motiff of sudden and total disaster is common to mankind; the Old Testament Flood, itself possibly from a babylonian account, Atlantis and today’s fear of nuclear annihilation, Armageddon and preoccupation with end time prophecies from the Hopi.
Disaster has always been a companion to humanity from the days when a few thousand people hung on in glacial europe. True or metaphorical, Lost cities reflect our shared experience. The flood myth itself possibly recalls post glacial memories when the U.K. was still connected to europe or the cataclysmic flooding now known to have occured in the caspian sea with wooden artifacts still visible underwater. The famous lair of caribean pirates lies underwater from a earthquake and Krakatoa, Vesuvius and Mount Saint Helens all remind us of a poem ” I am Ozymandius!’

28 mike September 21, 2010 at 11:04 am
29 basque guy October 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

the basques are our blood brothers the catalans are the atlanteans/hebrews of the bible

30 basque guy October 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

and* not are

31 Clive G March 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

To be fair Troy was never really lost. Ilium was a standard stop on Roman tours of Asia. However it was thought that Homer’s Iliad couldn’t really reflect a historical reality. It was Schliemann’s work at Troy and Mycenae that “proved” that the Iliad was at least plausible.

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