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5 Fantastic Cities of the Ancient World

By - Posted on 16 September 2010

Ancient cities lost and found, extraordinary architecture uncovered, mysterious and fascinating histories: Here are 5 fantastic cities of the ancient world.


Lost City of Memphis Eqypt
Photo of Alabaster Sphinx, Memphis Egypt © David Berkowitz

Memphis was once a great political capital and religious center of ancient Egypt. It was situated between Lower and Upper Egypt, a powerful position and was, at one point, named Ankh-Tawy -That Which Binds the Two Lands. Memphis’ power reined from 3100 BCE until the city of Alexandra was founded nearly 3000 years later. By 641CE Memphis was almost entirely abandoned.

Once Egypt’s political power moved to Alexandria under the control of the Roman Empire, Memphis still remained an important religious center. It is probable that the city disappeared with the rise in Christianity and then with the invasion of the Muslims in 641. Today, there is little left of this once towering city.

Machu Picchu

Lost City of  Machu Picchu
Photo of Machu Picchu, Peru © Allard Schmidt

Machu Picchu is one of the most famous lost cities in the world. Built by the Incas around 1450, it was abandoned only 100 years later. It is believed to be so briefly inhabited due to its population being wiped out by small pox.

There is also much debate as to what Machu Picchu was built for. Theories include it being erected as a monument for the gods, an agricultural testing center and a prison. The most agreed upon theory is that it was a private residence of the Inca emperor Pachacuti.

The city sits at an elevation of 9000 feet and is invisible from down below. It covers 5 square miles and includes agricultural terraces, temples, residential areas and parks.

One of the most amazing discoveries about Machu Picchu is that it was never found by the Spanish Conquistadors and thus was not plundered until its discovery in 1911. The unspoiled site and artifacts discovered there have provided amazing insight into the people of Machu Picchu.


Reconstructed Gate, Lost City of Babylon
Photo of Reconstructed Gate from the Lost City of Babylon. © tzaralunga

Located 55 miles south of Baghdad in what is now southern Iraq, Babylon was a highly advanced civilization. Records found show they had well developed literature, medicine, alchemy, astronomy, zoology, religion and legal system as far back as 3000 BCE.

Babylon is not only one of the greatest lost cities discovered, it was also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife, Amyitis. She came from a lush, mountainous region and was homesick in the dry, flat plains of Babylon. So, her husband built her an enormous tiered garden – not an easy feat in a land that did not see much rain.


Lost City of Tikal, Guatemala
Photo of Tikal, Guatemala © Rialfver

The most famous of all the Mayan sites, the lost city of Tikal was located deep the rainforests of Northern Guatemala. It was a Mecca for politics, science, culture and religion for nearly 1500 years and was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Mayans. It is so vast a city that only a small portion of its ruins have been excavated so far. It is also the largest excavated archeological sites in the Americas.

Of the six square miles uncovered as of yet, over 3000 ruins have been found including palaces, temples, steam baths, ball courts and roads. Some of the ruins have been restored and the area is now part of Tikal National Park.

An interesting fact about the pyramids at Tikal: They are all built facing each other and the rooms at the top of the pyramids have depressions in the stones that work as voice amplifiers. When speaking into one in a normal voice, the sound is amplified and broadcast in all directions allowing someone at the top another pyramid to hear them clearly.


The Treasury, Petra Jordan
Photo of The Treasury, Petra Jordan © Argenberg

Located on Mount Hor in Jordan, Petra was an important trade junction linking Asia and India with the Middle East, Greece and Rome. It was settled by the Nabataens in the 6th century BCE and remained mostly under their rule until 100 CE when it was taken by the Roman Empire. The decline of this once thriving city was, in part, due to the Roman’s sea based trade routes.

Petra is most famous for its huge structures carved into sandstone walls. The Treasury is Petra’s most elaborate and well known site and has been featured in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The city also holds more than 1000 tombs as well as a 4000 seat auditorium carved from rock.

Petra was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.


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