Real Sunken Cities: We should learn a better architecture and urban planning for coastal cities.

in Architecture+Design7 months ago (edited)


Over the years, sea level rises that we eventually see metropolis near shorelines sunken into the depths. The sea level increases steadily over the past century, about 5 to 8 inches higher than the average in 1900. Climate change due to higher carbon emissions contributed to the speeding up of seawater level rising. Consequently, we can see coastal habitats sunken to the ocean depths. Many coastal cities planned to adopt measures to cope up with the unprecedented sea-level rise. People are building seawalls, rethinking roads, and planting mangroves to mitigate the effect.

We have myths and folklore that talk about sunken cities like the Atlantis and the French City of Ys that the sea swallowed. Due to the steady increase in sea level, we can't deny cities and structures now underwater. Atlantis always comes first into our mind when we talk about underwater cities, but in real-life there are several underwater cities, towns, and villages that we can find like Alexandria. These five underwater cities remind us that building homes on the coast can be a precarious undertaking and the architecture of that time.

Pavlopetri, Greece

In 1967, Nicholas Flemming identified the city remains near the islet of Pavlopetri on the south coast of Laconia, Greece. In 2009, archaeologists dated pottery retrieved from the site to about 3000 BCE. It is the oldest underwater city known to man, which the Minoan and Mycenaean people inhabited before the devastating earthquake that sent the city into the depths.

The documentary shows how scientists and archaeologists teamed up to create a realistic model of the architectures and structures in the underwater city in Pavlopetri, Greece. (University of Nottingham)

A 3D model of the sunken city in Pavlopetri, Greece. (source)

The Pavlopetri consisted of two-story houses with gardens, temples, a cemetery, and well-designed water channels and pipelines. It has well-designed roads that traverse through the city. It has a plaza at the center that has a space measuring 131 by 65 ft. Despite submerge for years, we can still see how well our ancestors build the city, which up to now, we can see the intricate placement of buildings around the underwater city. Dr. Jon Henderson shared that the Pavlopetri's well-planned town is above the other sunken cities in the world.

A 3D digital reconstruction of the suken city in Pavlopetri, Greece. (source)

A digital reconstruction of the buildings at Pavlopetri being submerged by the sea about 1100 BC. (source)

Phanagoria, Russia

Around 540 BCE, Phanagoria is one of the largest settlements in ancient Greece, located on the shore of the Black Sea. The underwater city is in Taman Gulf between the villages of Sennoi and Primorsky. It existed for more than 15 centuries. Archaeologist Vladimir Kuznetsov discovered coins depicting Mithridates and a marble gravestone bearing the name of Hypsikratia. The powerful and notorious king, Mithridates VI, and his wife, Hypsikratia have a fearsome reputation as they ruled modern-day Turkey from 119 to 63 BCE.

A 3D reconstruction of the border walls of Phanagoria, Russia. (source)

Modern-day Phagonaria, Russia (source)

The upper excavation site of Phagonaria, Russia (source)

A 3D reconstruction of edifices in ancient city of the Phagonaria, Russia (source)

In 1999, archaeologists started underwater excavations in the submerged part of Phanagoria. They discovered a log shell filled with stones resting at the bottom of the sea. It is the foundation for ports similar to underwater cribs in the newly-founded city of St. Petersburg. There are various crib-based structures build in the world from ancient times till modern times.

The underway expedition to uncover the city of Phaganoria (source)

A 3d reconstruction of the architectural structure of the Phaganoria's port (source)

Shicheng, China

In the depths of Lake Qiandao in China, there are ruins of cities and towns, part of Chun'an and Sui'an. Shicheng is an ancient city, existed about 1300 years ago and now lies at the 26-40 m depth underwater. In 1957, these towns submerged due to the government deciding to build a hydroelectric power station, which stopped generating electricity to date but serves as a tourist destination.

In China's Qiandao Lake, an ancient city lies hidden beneath the cold depths - this is Shi Cheng. It's China's very own version of Atlantis. Smithsonian

A buildings in the underwater city of Shicheng (source)

There were five city gates where we can find one city gate tower on each city gate. Altogether it has five towers. Besides, Shicheng City has six streets that connect every corner of the city as a whole. The city has a typical Chinese road made of tidily paved by flagstone and pebbles. Today, It is known as the Lake of the Thousand Islands, which resemble endless clusters of islets that are mountains submerged.

A Lion head sculpture in the underwater city of Shicheng (source)

A Lion head sculpture in the underwater city of Shicheng (source)

Baiae, Italy

It is a submerged archeological park still holds the wonders of a Roman Sodom, which was a luxurious Roman resort town of Baiae in 176 BCE. It has a therapeutic spring due to its natural vulcanic vents and described as an earthly paradise. The ancient civilazation were quite easy to build spas and luxurius villas over the area. However, the volcanic activity lead to the demise of the town. In a bradyseismic event, Baiae sink gradually due to a magma chamber that drained the area. Today, it exists half on land, half in the sea.

The ruins of a city found at the bottom of Fuxian Lake in China raise big questions about the country's history with extra-terrestrials in this collection of scenes from "The Hidden Empire."

The upper part of the The Ancient Sunken City of Baia, Italy. (source)

Several finer buildings are in the park. They named the city after after the helmsman of Odysseus’s ship in Homer’s Odyssey. Interestingly, he was buried close by. There were a few temples in the city that is buried underwater too like the Temple of Mercury, the Temple of Diana and the Temple of Venus. It have domes and a typical roman architecture.

A road pavement at the sunken city of Baia. (source)

A well-preserved mosiac tiles at the sunken city of Baia. (source)

The Temple of Mercury were only the dome is above the sea.(source)

It was a prominent resort city in the ancient, which caters to the powerful Roman elite. It is famous with its healing hot springs due to its medicinal and therapeutic benefits. The cities sculpture and structures are preserved beneath the sea. Today, It is a popular tourist destination and a diving spot.

image.pngA well-preserved tiles in the sunken city of Baia (source)

A well-preserved sculptures in the sunken city of Baia (source)

Port Royal, Jamaica

In the 17th century, Port Royal served as the seat of the British government in Jamaica. Port Royal’s population boomed in the late 1600s due to its ideal location for trade between Britain and the Caribbean. The Port Royals was known as the wickedest city on Earth due to its taverns, brothels, and carousing population. In June 7, 1692, a violent earthquake hit the town and tore it apart, which submerging two-thirds underwater. It caused a casualty of 2,000 people, and injury killed another 3,000. The city submerged due to a tsunami from the 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

A documentary showing how the dive team finally uncovers the underwater ruins of a Port Royal tavern. National Geographic

Several divers explored the submerged city since the 1950’s. In recent years, diving and exploration needs special access from the government for restricted ruins. Divers shared that there are several buildings intact which is an achitectural and archaeological wonders. One building is well-built brick building that measures 53 ft. wide and 47 ft. deep. It has six ground-floor rooms, which appear to have housed a distinct operation or activity. Several fallen bricks on the floors suggest that its is a stariwell component and there are at least one upper storey. It has full of pieces of history that tell stories of the early days of the Caribbean and Jamaica.


The underwater pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica (source)

The underwater pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica (source)

Again, sea level rises that we eventually see metropolis near shorelines sunken into the depths. Sunken cities is not myth or folklore, but real. Architects and urban planners can learned what caused these cities to sink into the seas. It can help effectively design coastal cities that are resilient to sea level rise.

Note: The cover image is created by the author using Canva.


  1. Sea Level Rise
  2. Sea level rise, explained
  3. The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming
  4. Pavlopetri: 5,000-Year-Old Town Discovered Underwater in Greece
  5. Phaganoria by Archaelogist V.D. Kuznetsov
  6. The Flooded City of Shicheng: Before and After Picture Comparison
  7. Sunken City of Sin: Submerged Ruins of a Roman Playground for the Rich
  8. The Sunken City of Baia

This is really interesting. It made me think if there are undiscovered sunken cities here in the Philippines. This made me search a bit and something else struck me, this video

of part of Bulacan getting submerged. I hope that we won't reach a point that a whole City here will be submerged.

Thanks for sharing this and stay safe always!

I watched a documentary before about Bulacan. It is not due to sea level rise but due to over pumping of ground water. It result to land to sink every year. I also watched a GMA documentary about year ago on a place in Luzon that sunk.

Thanks for pointing this out to me. I'm just really thankful that we don't have to go through floods. Though the City that I live in is prone to earthquakes and landslides.

I think I learned about the rising sea levels when I saw a review of the existing problem in Florida. The poorer group of immigrants were being slowly pushed out so the wealthy could move more closer inland. The erosion of the structures was a huge problem and it was no longer safe for the wealthy.

It sure is interesting to see all the sunken cities. I didn't realize there were so many of them so thanks for sharing the pictures and documentaries.

I watched a documentary about the situation in Florida. I agree that the poor immigrants are at a disadvantage.

I love to watch documentaries of this kind, especially about Atlantis. It is great to know that there are more sunken cities than I thought. I think within 500 years more and more cities will be submerged by rising seas.

I love it too. I like watching documentaries that are intriguing and peculiar. I also agree that there are more cities to be submerge into the seas if we can't find ways to minimize sea level rise.

wow thats a very insightful article with all the relevant photos and videos. couldn't agree more with your view that we need better planning while planning a huge city . do you see any examples of such coastal cities in shrilanka and india? would love to learn more from you

Wow that's really fascinating but sad too that rising water level has submerged those cities and palaces inside deep waters. That is such an interesting subject bought by you, keep flourishing!

Yeah, it is so sad to see former glory sunk into the deeps. I really wonder if there are people attempted to build structures underwater (intentionally).

Oh! May be.

Oh very interesting. Can you imagine how skilled were people in the past that they build those majestic structures which later on sadly got submerged. I really like your creative content.
Hope you have a lovely weekend:)

People in that era maybe master craftsman and builder. They are able to build great structures that to date, even submerged, it is still has the details of its former glory.