‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?’ might be a lot tougher if the game was set in these 10 cities. Some were abandoned due to colonial conquests, others fell to the power of Mother Nature and and still others were deserted for as-yet unknown reasons. Stretching from southwestern Colorado to northwestern Turkey, these lost cities are excellent travel destinations. Read on to decide which city will jump start your outlook on history, and your next holiday plans.
Before the Punic Wars destroyed this thriving city, Carthage, located on the tip of what is now Tunisia, served as a vital crossroads for maritime trade. The Roman empire did not look kindly upon Carthage siding with the Phoenicians, and in 146 BC, they not only captured, raped and enslaved the city’s residents, but set the place on fire and plowed the land with salt to prevent natural growth. It didn’t take long for the Romans to change their minds, though, and after they re-founded the city, Carthage prospered till the Muslim conquests of 698 AD.
Renowned for its hanging gardens (originally built by King Nebuchadnezzar), the city of Babylon benefited from its prime location on the Euphrates River. Sadly, not much of the city survives to the present day – just a few crumbly buildings, and the uber-fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq. That last bit alone is enough to postpone a trip here for just a tiny bit longer.
This city was on the world’s earliest urban areas – its perfectly gridded layout is still in excellent shape. Mohenjo-Daro was probably never a very large city – 40,000 residents, tops – but building materials were sturdy, and have held up to the advances of time. But Indus Valley civilization disappeared around 1700 BC (no one knows why), and was only discovered in the 1920s.
Home to some of the world’s best medieval architecture, the city of Ani only lost its mercantile strength when the Mongols invaded in the 13th century. Combine that with a devastating earthquake (1939) and rapidly changing trade routes led to the city’s demise. Ani’s ruins stand today in Turkey.
The last written documentation of Hvalsey’s existence is a marriage certificated, recorded in the city’s church in 1408, but all traces of the civilization disappear after it. Historians date the settlement to 985 AD, and its original inhabitants as Norse farmers from Iceland. The city’s ruins are located in Greenland.
Bigger and more famous cities than Urgench get all the Silk Road-related glory, but this little town, situated on the Amu-Darya River, prospered as a center of east-west trade. Urgench paid for its success, though – Genghis Khan destroyed the city in 1221, and didn’t stop there. Young women and children were rewarded to Mongol soldiers as slaves, and everyone else was murdered.
History’s first example of urban sprawl, Timgad, founded by the Roman (who else) Emperor Trajan, was meant to sustain livelihoods of 15,000. The city’s grid never recovered from the rampant population growth. But as is custom with any settlement associated with the Romans, Timgad was sacked, first by the Vandals, and then, 200 years later, by the Berbers. History lost track of Timgad until it was excavated in 1881.
Rock n’roll’s original empire, that of the Hittites (bad joke, I know), used Hattusa as their capital til 1200 BC, when the entire civilization collapsed during the Bronze Age. Dwellings have disappeared completely, and only the ruins of stone-built temples and palaces remain. A German archaeological team came upon the city at the start of the 20th century. In an interesting twist, Hattusa’s ruins are home to clay tablets, which consist of legal codes and procedures – a tradition previously attributed only to Babylonians, their king Hammurabi and his eponymous Code.
This lost city in the Supe Valley of Peru is said to be extraordinarily old – it was likely inhabited between 2600 BC and 2000 BC, making it one of the best-preserved cities of the Norte Chico civilization. Like many Central American cultures and their ancient cities, Caral has a central public area with six large platform mounds arranged around a huge plaza.
Everyone’s favorite myth pivots on this city’s role in the eponymous war. After Paris stole Helen from her husband Menelaus, the Spartans launched the proverbial “thousand ships” to bring her back from Troy. (Why Helen agreed to go with Paris, and then return with Menelaus, is anyone’s guess.) The Trojan Horse trick was instrumental in implementing Menelaus’ battle strategy, and the Spartans showed no mercy in destroying every inch of the Troy thereafter. The city’s ruins, located in northwestern Turkey, have been dated to the mid-late 13th century BC.
Honorable Mention: Atlantis
(Photo, for obvious reasons, not available)
Yes, we don’t know if Atlantis ever really existed. But Plato wrote about it, so it can’t be all bunk, right? There is wide disagreement about the geographical location of the potential island – estimates range from Ireland to Antarctica, from a body of land near Cuba to Kumari Kandam, a now-sunken landmass off the southern tip of India. Ancient historians – Strabo, Posidonius and Hellanicus among them – seem to have believed in Atlantis’ existence, but aside from that ignored 2001 Disney film, we have no other evidence that Atlantis was real. (If you find otherwise, let us know!)