Fourteen Lost European Cities Primarily Known from Myth and Folklore

Updated on May 7, 2018
Een zuiders landschap met een ruïne (A Southern Landscape with a Ruin) - Jan Both
Een zuiders landschap met een ruïne (A Southern Landscape with a Ruin) - Jan Both

In the mists of time not only knowledge has gone missing, but whole cities have too. Throughout years of archaeology, many of these have fortunately –or unfortunately, depending on your view on decay- been rediscovered, but some are so elusive that we wonder whether they might have actually existed at all.

Here is a list of cities that might have once graced the landscape of the misty isles and plains of medieval or archaic Europe. We know them from folklore and mythology. For now, at least. Patiently, they might lie waiting, until the right geomythologist finds them and brings their citadels back to the surface.

Plato's Utopia - Atlantis

Gibel Atlantidy (The Fall of Atlantis) - N. Roerich
Gibel Atlantidy (The Fall of Atlantis) - N. Roerich

Of course, this list would not be believable without Atlantis. That's why it is a good place to start. Atlantis is the original Utopia and because of this fact most likely just a myth. Indeed, Plato, the Greek philosopher who was the first and seemingly only ancient source, used the idea of the technologically advanced, but doomed island to make a point about hubris, the Greek's most popular vice to rail against.

However, Atlantis has felt to many, especially in the New Age movement, as a tale with a grain of truth at its centre. They believe that while not every detail of Plato's account might be true, there really was a place that was very advanced and successful for its time and that was destroyed in a natural disaster. Santorini, which suffered at the hands of volcanic eruption, around the time of the story, has been proposed as a possible inspiration, just like the land area between the coast of Africa and South-America before the breaking up of Pangaea. Nothing has at this point had been conclusively proven, though, which leaves some room for new searches.

The Invisible City - Kitesh

The Invisible Town of Kitezh - Konstantin Gorbatov
The Invisible Town of Kitezh - Konstantin Gorbatov

Another rich, but lost city is Greater Kitezh. Greater Kitezh, or "The Invisible City", was a medieval Russian monastic city. It was the pride of the region and protected by the civilians of Lesser Kitezh. From its legend, we know that it was located on the banks of Lake Svetloyar, even though its location, for its protection, was a secret.

When the Mongols arrived in the region, however, and heard about the treasures of Greater Kitezh, they concurred Lesser Kitezh and tortured its civilians until one of them, in agony, showed them the paths to Greater Kitezh. The prince, who had fought the Mongols in Lesser Kitezh and had fled to Greater Kitezh to save his city, had by this time thrown all the sacred treasures into the lake to save it from the sacrilege of pagan hands. When the Mongols arrived, however, nothing, not even the city could be found, as God had made the city invisible, at least according to the tales.

Later, the idea became popular that the city had sunk to the bottom of the lake, and there might be some evidence for this theory. Initial excavations at the site have unearthed some ancient pottery and the region is, apparently, capable of producing landslides that could help a city disappear into the lake. More archaeology might be necessary to prove anything conclusively though and therefore Kitezh remains a fruitful venture for any archaeologist wanting to make a name.

The Seat of the One True King - Camelot

L'apparition du Graal aux chevaliers de la Table ronde. (The Grail Appearing Before the Knights of the Round Table) - manuscript fragment
L'apparition du Graal aux chevaliers de la Table ronde. (The Grail Appearing Before the Knights of the Round Table) - manuscript fragment

Another important legendary location that cannot be left off of this list is Camelot. Camelot is the quintessential knightly court. It is King Arthur's castle and according to the tales, features the round table around which everyone is equal.

While most of King Arthur and, by extension, Camelot's lore is the product of medieval troubadour romances, the basis of his character has been speculated to lie in real life events. Some say he was a Roman general defending Britain and civilization in Britain at the time when Rome retreated from the isle under the pressure of political troubles and barbarian force. Other say, he was an early medieval Welsh king. A Welsh castle that is often associated with Arthur is Tintagel. However, conclusive proof for the claim that Tintagel is Camelot has not been found yet, which means that the quest to find King Arthur's castle is still open.

A Daughter's Wish - Ys

La Fuite du Roi Gradlon (The Flight of King Gradlon) - Évariste-Vital Luminais
La Fuite du Roi Gradlon (The Flight of King Gradlon) - Évariste-Vital Luminais

Ys, also called Ker-Is in Breton (Ker meaning city) or Caer Ys is the name of a legendary medieval French city on the coast of Brittany. According to the tale, the city has sunken into the sea because of the sins of its inhabitants. Especially the vices of the king's daughter, princess Dahut, feature predominantly in the demise of the city.

In most versions of the story, princess Dahut was the spoiled daughter of the good king Gradlon of Ys. Because she liked the sea, the city was in fact build as close to the ocean as possible, with a dyke holding the water back and a key to a sluice door to let ships in when the water was low. To admit a lover, in some tales, the devil, Dahut apparently stole the key from her father during high tide and opened the door, accidently flooding the city. According to some accounts, Gradlon was saved by a saint who had a vision of the troubles to come, but when he tried to save his daughter as well, he was commanded to "cast of the demon" and let her die in the ruination she had caused.

The place where Ys supposedly once existed has remained rather constant as “the most western point of Brittany". Where specifically this point is, however, has not been agreed on, with some saying that the city most have existed near Tonquédec and other saying that it is the bay of Douarnenez or the bay of Audierne in which people should look. One thing is clear though, Ys still provides a fruitful ground for speculation and investigation.

Origins of Foreign Fae - Glorias, Fineas, Murias and Falias

Riders of the Sidhe - John Duncan
Riders of the Sidhe - John Duncan

According to the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gaballa Erenn), the Tuatha Dé Danann, the legendary people of the goddess Danu, arrived in Ireland in a cloud of smoke from four northern islands. These islands where Glorias Fineas, Murias and Falias and are of particular interest to many mythology lovers and other enthusiasts due to the peculiarity of their exploring natives.

Indeed, while the tuatha Dé Danann later evolved into the fae or fairies of Irish folklore after they came to an agreement with humanity and retreated into the mounts and hills, they were already quite magical when they came here. Apart from the superhuman qualities they themselves showed, they also brought some items showing their advanced understanding of technology and magick with them from their mystical islands. These were the stone of Fál, a coronation stone that would cry out when a legitimate king of Ireland sat on it, the cauldron of the Dagda, a vessel that never ran empty, the spear of Lug, a weapon that could not be defeated and the sword of Nùadu, which meant certain death to those who it was drawn against.

With this in mind, the four northern isles which originated the Tuatha Dé Dannan certainly warrant some interest. If you believe that the tales of the tuatha could have some basis in reality, whether you think them Atlantis-like advanced humans, fae or even aliens, finding out more about their supposed lands of origin could only give you more of interest to think about. The descriptor of 'northern islands’ might be rather vague, but it leaves the door open for many interpretations.

Sunken Sinfulness - Vineta

Wikingerschiffe vor Felsenküste (Viking Ships Before Rocky Shore) - Michael Zeno Diemer
Wikingerschiffe vor Felsenküste (Viking Ships Before Rocky Shore) - Michael Zeno Diemer

Another island lost to the waves is the Nordic twin of Atlantis, Vineta. Vineta, according to sources that go back as early as the 10th century, was a powerful emporium on an island in the Baltic Sea, near Poland and Lithuania, that was destroyed by the Gods because of their blasphemous and excessive ways. Some say that parts of the city sometimes reappear above sea level to warn others of likewise displeasing heavenly rulers. In the records, this city also appeared under the name of Jumne, Jomsborg, Julin and Wineta.

In Wolin, Poland, there is a reconstructed village called Vineta, which shows the way of living of the time in which Vineta purportedly was a superpower. The real site where Vineta was, however, has not been found yet. Some say Vineta is Wolin, while others remain convinced that Vineta was a sunken island near Ruden or Barth. One thing is clear though, unlike some other myths of this least, people generally seem convinced that there is a based for the myth and that there is a real potential of finding the lost city.

Currently in Hell - Vijvere

Heide bij avond (Moor in the Evening) - Cornelis Lieste
Heide bij avond (Moor in the Evening) - Cornelis Lieste

Belgium has its own version of the sinful city story as well. In Limburg, the easternmost province of the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, called Flanders, there allegedly once was a city named Vijvere. The people of this city were so sinful - they stole from each other, were vain and cursed constantly - that the devil came and dragged the whole city to hell. Apparently, according to locals from Kessenich and Thorn, the people of Vijvere can sometimes be heard lamenting or pulling the bell in their church tower. Moreover, according to the records, people find horseshoes in the turf from a nearby plain, proving that there once had to have been horses.

Not a lot of research has been done around the myth about Vijvere. In Belgium, the story is not well-known and with the dying off of the older generation, believers are disappearing. The plain mentioned by the records is a good starting point for an investigation, but the name of the city might give a clue as well. "Vijver" is Dutch for pond, so, like many others on this list "Vijvere" might lie undiscovered under water too.

No Man's Islands - Themyscira and Hydramardia

Greek Warriors Fighting Amazons - A detail from a frieze on the Temple of Apollo, Bassae
Greek Warriors Fighting Amazons - A detail from a frieze on the Temple of Apollo, Bassae

Ancient Greece appears to be the home of the proto-radical feminist wet dream as at least two of its myths tell of cities dominated by dangerous women. Themyscira was the legendary home of the Amazons, fierce women warriors who had a city of their own. Tales of their battle-lust tell that they would cut of their right breasts to be able to shoot arrows better and that they were the equals of the best warriors of Greek myth. Hydramardia is more grim than inspiring. This mythical city, according to the tale, was also an isle mainly populated by women. These women were pretty and could speak Greek fluently. However, when male adventures ventured forth into Hydramardia, they would also discover bones and skulls lying in the streets. The women of Hydramardia, though more inviting than Amazons were at least as dangerous, as they had the habit of turning against their male guests and cooking them for their meals.

Themyscira is purported to have existed on a plain north of Pontus, near the mouth of the river Terme. Hydramardia lay on an island called Caballusa. While there are more clues for the location of Themyscira, the city has not been found yet. Hydramardia also remains trapped in the veneer of myth. Every decennium, the idea of them having been real becomes less and less accepted. If these cities were found, though, they would leave the finder world famous, as they have become symbols for a lot of opinions and ideas.

Fool's Paradise - Schildburg

De strijd tussen Carnaval en Vasten (The Battle Between Carnival and Lent) - Pieter Breughel the Elder
De strijd tussen Carnaval en Vasten (The Battle Between Carnival and Lent) - Pieter Breughel the Elder

Schildburg is a town in German folklore famous for the stupidity of its inhabitants. According to ordinary Germans, who know the tale, the people of Schildburg were so stupid that they refused to believe cats existed, because they had never seen a cat in their town before. Another story tells of the inhabitants shovelling sunlight into bags to illuminate their windowless town hall. Many of these stories have a similarity to the mythical Jewish town of Chelm. This is because Schildburgh might be the inspiration for this famous Jewish town of fools.

The idea of the town, according to Professor Ruth von Bernuth, derives from a series of stories by an unknown medieval author, which became known as "The Schildburg Tales". The legendary site might therefore just be a literary device used as an outlet for the author's creativity. We cannot be sure that it is, however, as Schildburg might be the product of city rivalry and therefore be based on a real city as well.

The Dragon's Den - Dinas Affaraon

Dinas Emrys and Lake - Moses Griffith
Dinas Emrys and Lake - Moses Griffith

Dinas Affaraon is a city from Welsh mythology that occurs so often in Welsh tales that scholars are convinced it has a real life basis. Dinas Affaraon can be translated as "The Palace of Higher Powers", but according to some it could also be translated as "The Fortress of the Pharaoh". This might link it to the Scottish-Irish myth about an Egyptian princess named Scota who came to the British Isles and became the first queen of the Milesians there. Another interesting aspect to the city is that according to tales, two dragons were trapped and buried there.

Sources have been discovered that state that Dinas Affaraon's name was later on changed into Dinas Emrys, which is a place still in existence. Of course, the sources in question could have linked the two cities to enhance the attractiveness of Emrys. Some archaeology had already occurred at the site, but more could still be done.

Which mythical place would you wish to discover?

See results

© 2018 Douglas Redant

What do you think about this list and the legendary sites on this list?

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    • Douglas Redant profile imageAUTHOR

      Douglas Redant 

      3 months ago from Europe

      Indeed! Even though most of these are not the most idyllic places, just the thought of them existing gives some magic to life, I feel. :) Thanks for commenting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The places that you've described sound very interesting. It's intriguing to think about the real places that might lie behind popular legends or at least be linked to them.

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