Five lost cities of the world

The most intriguing abandoned settlements, from ancient ruins to modern ghost towns

Angamuco, Mexico

Last week laser scanning revealed the true scale of the ancient city of Angamuco in western Mexico. The city, built around AD900, is thought to have had 100,000 residents and included pyramids, road systems, vegetable gardens and ball courts. It was a major centre for the Purépecha people, rivals to the Aztecs. Both cultures collapsed in the 16th century when Europeans introduced typhoid-like diseases to which they had no immunity.

the ruins of the grand palace at gedi in kenya
Gedi: the settlement had running water and flushing toilets. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Gedi, Kenya

Located on the Indian Ocean coast, 65 miles north of Mombasa among verdant forests, this settlement is thought to have been founded in the 12th century. Gedi had advanced features such as running water and flushing toilets. Archaeologists have found Ming Chinese vases and Venetian glass on the site, suggesting it was an important trading centre. Its abandonment five centuries later remains a mystery.

the amphitheatre at termessos turkey
The height of civilisation: the amphitheatre at Termessos. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Termessos, Turkey

Alexander the Great likened this city – located 1,000 metres up a mountain – to an eagle’s nest and, despite surrounding it in 333BC, failed to conquer it. Its most notable feature is a Roman-style theatre, which seated 4-5,000 spectators. The city was abandoned around AD200 when its aqueduct was destroyed by an earthquake.

a view of the ruins of mohenjo-daro in pakistan
Mohenjo-daro: founded c 2500BC in the Indus valley. Photograph: Alamy

Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan

Founded around 2500BC, this Indus valley conurbation featured a street grid and a complex drainage system, and appears to have been without palaces, temples or monuments. The city prospered, with up to 40,000 inhabitants living off the fertile floodplain and trade with Mesopotamia, but the causes of its decline from 1900BC remain a mystery.

the amusement park in pripyat ukraine
Ghost town: the amusement park in Pripyat. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Pripyat, Ukraine

After reactor No 4 at Chernobyl exploded in April 1986 releasing deadly concentrations of radioactivity into the atmosphere, several nearby settlements were evacuated, among them Pripyat, once a city of 49,000 people built to house nuclear workers. Three decades later, this relic of Soviet culture has been repopulated by deer, elk, boar, moose, wolves and lynx. You can now take a tour of the town, complete with radiation screening when you leave.


Ian Tucker

The GuardianTramp

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