Underwater Cities Actually Exist: 5 You Need to See to Believe

Updated 05/06/19

From honeymooning in Italy to touring Japan’s cherry blossoms to the best U.S. road trips for when you want to stay stateside, we want to make sure you’re always feeding your inner travel bug. Eerie destinations are not out of the ordinary for us—remember when we covered the top American ghost towns?—so this is the point where we introduce you to underwater cities. A new concept for some, an underwater city is a town that was once habitable, but for intentional (or unintentional) purposes, it found itself completely submerged in water.

When it comes to checking out some of the thousand-year-old underwater cities, you’ll have a better chance of seeing some more in-depth than others because of rules and regulations surrounding the sites and artifacts. (If you’re pretty adventurous, certain underwater dives let you fully explore the ruins.) Even if you can’t get a complete tour, it’s definitely worth checking out these five underwater cities—see why we think everyone should see at least one in their lifetime.

THE LION CITY

shi cheng
Nic Ma / 500px

Shi Cheng, China, also known as The Lion City, has been called a modern-day Atlantis. The city was first built during the Han Dynasty in 208 AD, but in 1959, the Chinese government decided to build a man-made lake for hydroelectric power, ultimately submerging Shi Cheng up to 100 feet underwater. Recently, a tourism official checked in on the state of the city, only to notice that after 50 years, it was completely preserved—temples, memorial arches, houses, and more.

Must-See: Big Blue, a dive shop out of Shanghai, organizes dive trips to Shi Cheng’s Qiandao Lake so you can see the sunken city up close and personal.

LAKE RESCHEN

Lake reschen
Stephan Rebernik / 500px

A church bell tower in Lake Reschen, Italy, is all that is visible to tourists of the underwater city of Graun. Similar to what happened to Shi Cheng, an electric company decided to flood the city in 1939 to create seasonal electricity (the project wasn’t officially completed until 1950 due to the war). In the process, a whopping 163 houses and 1290 acres of land were submerged, and residents were forced to relocate. It’s rumored that you can sometimes still hear the church bells ring in the ghostly town, although the bells themselves were removed years ago.

Must-See: Visit in the wintertime when the lake freezes, and you can walk out to the famous bell tower for a better view.

Thonis-Heracleion

underwater city
PHAS / Getty

This popular 8th-century trading port near Alexandria, Egypt, at the mouth of the Nile River wasn’t discovered again until 2000 when a team unearthed more than 64 shipwrecks, gold coins, weights from Athens, ancient Greek tablets, and more. Despite nearly 1000 years passing, the 16-foot sculptures and animal mummies remained all completely preserved on the sea floor. Although the exact cause of the city’s sinking is not known, researchers believe that the weight of Thonis-Heracleion’s buildings may have been the cause during an earthquake.

Must-See: Okay, so this site isn’t ready for commercial diving yet, but be sure to put it on your list for when it is.

PORT ROYAL

royal
Lechmoore Simms / 500px

Port Royal, Jamaica, was actually referred to as the “wickedest city on earth” at one point in time. When Europeans were first exploring the area, they realized it had no shortage of alcohol, prostitution, and pirates, and in June of 1692, a combined earthquake and tsunami plagued the pirate city, killing 2000 people, and leaving the town (and ships) just a few meters underwater.

Must-See: A special permit is needed to dive to see the remains, but many artifacts from the excavation are on display at The Museums of History and Ethnography in Kingston.

CLEOPATRA'S PALACE

Cleopatra kingdom
Rami Bittar / 500px

There’s just something about Queen Cleopatra that makes us want to learn more about her life as the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Her royal home was a mystery until a group of marine biologists started excavating this site in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1998. It’s believed that an earthquake is responsible for sinking the city more than 1500 years ago, leaving it untouched for more than a millennium. Researchers have found an estimated 140 artifacts, including what they believe to be Cleopatra’s tomb.

Must-See: Go scuba diving in this underwater city to see what’s believed to be the Queen’s palace, complete with a few sphinx statues, massive columns, and various aquatic species. Side note: Alexandra Dive actually helps facilitate underwater weddings on the same grounds where Cleopatra got married. Just saying.

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