A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra withstood several invasions by the Romans thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The city fell to the Iranian Sassanid Empire of Shapur I in 241 AD and was destroyed. The ruins of Hatra in Iraq, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.
The Sanchi site has a building history of more than one thousand year, starting with the stupas of the 3rd century BC and concluding with a series of Buddhist temples and monasteries, now in ruins, that were build in the 10th or 11th centuries. In the 13th century, after the decline of Buddhism in India, Sanchi was abandoned and the jungle quickly moved in. The lost city was rediscovered in 1818 by a British officer.
Mesa Verde, in southwestern Colorado, is home to the famous cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi people. In the 12th century, the Anasazi start building houses in shallow caves and under rock overhangs along the canyon walls. Some of these houses were as large as 150 rooms. By 1300, all of the Anasazi had left the Mesa Verde area, but the ruins remain almost perfectly preserved. The reason for their sudden departure remains unexplained. Theories range from crop failures due to droughts to an intrusion of foreign tribes from the North.
Persepolis (Capital of Persia in Greek) was the center and ceremonial capital of the mighty Persian Empire. It was a beautiful city, adorned with precious artworks of which unfortunately very little survives today. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great, in the process of conquering the Persian Empire, burnt Persepolis to the ground as a revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens. Persepolis remained the capital of Persia as a province of the great Macedonian Empire but gradually declined in the course of time.
Leptis Magna or Lepcis Magna was a prominent city of the Roman Empire, located in present-day Libya. Its natural harbor facilitated the city’s growth as a major Mediterranean and Saharan trade centre, and it also became a market for agricultural production in the fertile coastland region. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus (193–211), who was born at Leptis, became a great patron of the city. Under his direction an ambitious building program was initiated. Over the following centuries, however, Leptis began to decline because of the increasing difficulties of the Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest of 642, the lost city fell into ruin and was buried by sand for centuries.
For centuries Palmyra (“city of palm trees”) was an important and wealthy city located along the caravan routes linking Persia with the Mediterranean ports of Roman Syria. Beginning in 212, Palmyra’s trade diminished as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Roman Emperor Diocletian built a wall and expanded the city in order to try and save it from the Sassanid threat. The city was captured by the Muslim Arabs in 634 but kept intact. The city declined under Ottoman rule, reducing to no more than an oasis village.
In the 6th century Ctesiphon was one of the largest city in the world and one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia. Because of its importance, Ctesiphon was a major military objective for the Roman Empire and was captured by Rome, and later the Byzantine Empire, five times. The city fell to the Muslims during the Islamic conquest of Persia in 637. After the founding of the Abbasid capital at Baghdad in the 8th century the city went into a rapid decline and soon became a ghost town. Ctesiphon is believed to be the basis for the city of Isbanir in the Thousand and One Nights. Located in Iraq, the only visible remain today is the great arch Taq-i Kisra.
Palenque in Mexico is much smaller than some of the other lost cities of the Mayan, but it contains some of the finest architecture and sculptures the Maya ever produced. Most structures in Palenque date from about 600 AD to 800 AD. The city declined during the 8th century.
Located near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, Tiwanaku is one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire. During the time period between 300 BC and 300 AD Tiwanaku is thought to have been a moral and cosmological center to which many people made pilgrimages.
On August 24, 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius erupted, covering the nearby town Pompeii with ash and soil, and subsequently preserving the city in its state from that fateful day. Everything from jars and tables to paintings and people were frozen in time. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum, were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten.
In the 2nd century BC a new civilization arose in the valley of Mexico. This civilization built the flourishing metropolis of Teotihuacán and it’s huge step pyramids. A decline in population in the 6th century AD has been correlated to lengthy droughts related to the climate changes. Seven centuries after the demise of the Teotihuacán empire the pyramids of the lost city were honored and utilized by the Aztecs and became a place of pilgrimage.
Petra, the fabled “rose red city, half as old as time”, was the ancient capital of the Nabataean kingdom. A vast, unique city, carved into the side of the Wadi Musa Canyon in southern Jordan centuries ago by the Nabataeans, who turned it into an important junction for the silk and spice routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Greece and Rome. After several earthquakes crippled the vital water management system the city was almost completely abandoned in the 6th century. After the Crusades, Petra was forgotten in the Western world until the lost city was rediscovered by the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
Between ca. 200 to 900 AD, Tikal was the largest Mayan city with an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. As Tikal reached peak population, the area around the city suffered deforestation and erosion followed by a rapid decline in population levels. Tikal lost the majority of its population during the period from 830 to 950 and central authority seems to have collapsed rapidly. After 950, Tikal was all but deserted, although a small population may have survived in huts among the ruins. Even these people abandoned the city in the 10th or 11th centuries and the Guatemalan rainforest claimed the ruins for the next thousand years.
Angkor is a vast temple city in Cambodia featuring the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century AD.
One of the most famous lost cities in the world, Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hawaiian historian Hiram after it lay hidden for centuries above the Urubamba Valley. The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs. Although known locally in Peru, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being rediscovered in 1911.