The Stories Of 13 Incredible Sunken Cities From History — And What’s Left Of Them Today

Published May 14, 2024
Updated June 14, 2024

From Cleopatra's kingdom to "Japan's Atlantis," these cities sank beneath the water long ago, but the ruins they left behind continue to provide insight into what life was like for the people who lived in them.

Sunken Cities

Wikimedia CommonsThe gates to the Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast Key Biscayne, Florida.

While Atlantis may be the world’s most well-known lost city, the simple fact of the matter is that the nature of its very existence is a hotly debated topic — and most experts don’t think Atlantis was real. That said, there are numerous real sunken cities from around the world whose stories are every bit as captivating as the tale of Atlantis.

From the ruins of the “Las Vegas of the Roman Empire” to the submerged Lion City of Quindao Lake in China, these sunken cities offer a glimpse into the forgotten past, and their watery graves serve as reminders of long-lost civilizations and bygone eras.

Dive into 13 of the world’s most captivating sunken cities below.

Cleopatra’s Kingdom Off The Coast Of Alexandria, Egypt

Divers Observing Underwater Alexandria

Christoph Gerigk / Franck Goddio / Hilti FoundationA team of divers from Franck Goddio’s team observing underwater sphinx statues, and a statue of Osiris-Canopus.

Lost for 1,600 years, the royal palace of Cleopatra was discovered off the shores of Alexandria. A team of marine archaeologists led by Franck Goddio, began excavating the sunken city in 1998.

When the last Queen of Egypt was alive, she’d kept a great palace on the island of Antirhodos. The island was said to have been a land of luxury, and any sailor who docked on its shores would be greeted by a great column of pillars, each adorned with a crown, leading their way to the queen’s massive, beautiful palace.

Cleopatra’s palace was surrounded by sphinxes and statues of goddesses — a pleasure island so beautiful that it was said to rival Rhodes, the greatest of the Greek islands.

But 400 years after she died, Cleopatra’s palace was wracked by earthquakes and tsunamis that submerged the entire island under the sea. And there, buried underwater, it lay hidden for 1,600 years.

When it was finally uncovered just over two decades ago, some of the most incredible artifacts were still intact. Marine archaeologists found the red granite columns that had once welcomed new visitors, great statues and art, and even the foundation of Cleopatra’s lost palace.

Today, much of what remained of Cleopatra’s ancient palace has been recovered from the ocean. In all, more than 20,000 relics and ancient artifacts were excavated, most of which now sit on display in various museums.

As for the city itself, the Egyptian government plans to bring the sunken city back to life — in a way. The plan is not, of course, to raise the city from the ocean floor and turn it into a livable city. Rather, they announced plans to construct an underwater museum of sorts, allowing visitors to the city to tour the ancient palace of Egypt’s last queen. However, since that announcement in 2015, that plan has yet to come to fruition.

Still, should it ever come to be, it would be a unique opportunity to view, essentially, a “real-life Atlantis” — an ancient city that once represented the peak of ancient civilization.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Oliver, Mark. "The Stories Of 13 Incredible Sunken Cities From History — And What’s Left Of Them Today.", May 14, 2024, Accessed June 14, 2024.