Here are selected some of the most impressive and interesting abandoned cities and towns of the the world, arranged by the part of the world and in an alphabetic order.
Abydos - Egypt, Sohag. Ancient city, established more than 5000 years ago. One of the most important ancient metropolises in Upper Egypt, important cult centre. Contains ruins of numerous magnificent buildings, such as the temple of Seti I.
Ancient Carthage - Tunisia, Tunis. Once very important, legendary city, established as Phoenician colony in 9th century BC. Carthage as the capital of Punic culture was the main rival of emerging Rome and finally was destroyed by Romans in 146 BC. Then it was reestablished by Romans and destroyed by Muslims in 698 AD.
Dougga - Tunisia, Béja. Extensive ruins of magnificent Punic, Roman and Byzantine city, one of the best preserved Roman cities. Contains ruins of many buildings, notably, a mausoleum, capitol, theatre, temples of Saturn and Juno Caelestis.
Leptis Magna - Libya, Murqub. Some of the best preserved Roman ruins. This city was founded by Phoenicians circa 1000 BC and in 1st century AD was incorporated into Roman Empire. Abandoned circa 650 AD.
Memphis - Egypt, Cairo. The first capital of Lower Egypt in the times of Old Kingdom. Established circa 3000 BC and declined circa 1300 BC, was one of the first metropolises in the world. Contains remnants of numerous valuable structures, including several Temples of Ptah and many other temples, Saqqara necropolis, royal palaces.
Meroë - Sudan, River Nile. Ruins of ancient city, former capital of the kingdom of Kush in 800 BC - 350 AD. Most amazing monuments are more than 200 pyramids, mostly in ruined state - an ancient necropolis. Once important metallurgical centre.
Thebes - Egypt, Luxor. Former capital of Egypt in the times of Middle and New Kingdoms, one of the earliest metropolises in the world. Inhabited circa 3200 BC - 84 BC. City contains ruins of numerous buildings of world importance, including the Temple of Ramses III, Ramesseum, Luxor Temple, Temple of Hatschepsut, Columns of Memnon.
Other parts of Africa
Great Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe, Manicaland. Capital city of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, inhabited circa 1100 - 1400 AD. There could be up to 18,000 inhabitants in the city at its peak. Today remain impressive ruins of dry stone. Walls are more than 5 m tall, the architecture is monumental and highly distinct.
Merv - Turkmenistan, Mary. Once magnificent oasis city on Silk Road. Settlement established in 3rd millenium BC, but flourished in 8th century - 1221, when it briefly was one of the largest cities worldwide. Today are seen remnants of four walled cities close to each other.
Khara-Khoto - China, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Ghostly medieval Tangut city. Founded in 1032 and abandoned after 1272 AD. There have been preserved ruins of the city, including city wall. Here was found ancient library of Tangut writings.
Angkor - Cambodia, Siem Reap. The ancient Khmer capital city, once largest city in the world with an area of at least 1,000 km². Flourished in 8 - 15th century AD. City has ruins of numerous masterpieces of ancient architecture including the largest religious complex in the world - Angkor Wat and 71 other large religious complexes.
Bagan - Burma, Mandalay. Ruins of magnificent, enormous city. Bagan served as a capital of several ancient kingdoms. City flourished in 11th - 13th centuries AD. Here were built more than 5000 pagodas, now 2217 remain. These numerous high and beautiful buildings create a unique skyline.
Anuradhapura - Sri Lanka, North Central Province. Capital of Sri Lanka in 4th century BC - early 11th century AD. Anuradhapura was one of the largest urban centres in the world, it was considered to be sacred by Buddhists. Contains ruins of many magnificent structures, such as Ruwanwelisaya - 91 m tall stupa, built in 2nd century BC and Jetavanaramaya - one of the largest structures in the world, 122 m high, built in 3rd - 4th century AD.
Lothal - India, Gujarat. One of most important cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Built circa 2400 BC as trading city with its dock - the oldest known in the world. Numerous discoveries of world importance have been made here including the oldest known realistic sculptures in world. Novadays remain lover parts of buildings.
Mehrgarh - Pakistan, Balochistan. One of the most important Neolithic monuments in the world - a precursor of Indus Valley Civilization. A settlement existed here in 7000 - 5500 BC.
Mohenjo-daro - Pakistan, Sindh. Remnants of one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization and one of the earliest known cities in the world with up to 35,000 inhabitants. Developed since 2600 BC and abandoned circa 1800 BC. City exhibits great skills of ancient urban planners.
Polonnaruwa - Sri Lanka, North Central Province. Second most ancient capital of Sri Lanka, declared as capital in 1070 AD. Polonnaruwa was developed as a planned garden city with magnificent buildings and artworks. Declined in the end of 13th century AD.
Sigiriya - Sri Lanka, Central Province. One of the most interesting monuments of urban planning worldwide. Sigirya was developed around and on the top of 370 m high rock peak. The construction took place in 477 - 495 AD. Later, until 13th or 14th century this city was used for Buddhist monastery. This complex includes several unique monuments - including a giant lion whose mouth serves as the entrance to rock fortress and beautiful frescoes - a masterpiece of world importance.
Taxila - Pakistan, Punjab. Important urban centre of ancient India, established circa 6th century BC. City has survived three periods of development under different cultures. Early centre of higher education. Today in the area of city are located ruins of different structures.
Vijayanagara - India, northern Karnataka. Former enormous capital city of Vijayanagara Empire, flourished in 14th - 16th centuries. Now ruins extend over an area of 40 km². Contains unique and highly original architecture.
Baalbek - Lebanon, Beqaa. Very old settlement, inhabited for some 9000 years. Especially impressive are the ruins of Roman times, when this was an important regional city. For the construction of Roman temples here were used some of the largest stone blocks ever moved around - up to 1,242 t heavy.
Beidha - Jordan, Ma'an. One of the oldest known settlements in the world. First occupied by the people of Natufian culture in 11 millenium BC, but in 7th millenium BC it was a fortified settlement, enclosed with a wall and with circular buildings inside. Houses had subterranean floors. Circa 6650 BC destroyed by fire and rebuilt with rectangular buildings. Abandoned circa 6500 BC.
Çatalhöyük - Turkey, Konya. One of the earliest towns in the world, this Neolithic settlement had some 1000 inhabitants already circa 7000 BC and, possibly, up to 10000 circa 6500 BC. During the excavations have been found multiple valuable items - sculptures, frescoes, home utensils.
Hatra - Iraq, Nineveh. Ancient Parthian capital, founded in 3rd century BC, flourished in 2nd - 1st century BC. Later it became a capital of Arab Kingdom. The best preserved Parthian city, with numerous amazing structures, influenced by Greek and Roman architecture styles.
Hattusa (Hattusha) - Turkey, Çorum. Ancient Hittite city, established as urban centre in the Late Bronze Age before 2000 BC, although inhabited since at least 6000 BC. Flourished in 14th century BC, when here were living some 40 - 50 thousand inhabitants. Destroyed circa 1200 BC.
Jericho - Tell es-Sultan - Palestine. The lowest inhabited place and possibly - the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Already at 9400 BC here lived more than 1000 people, city was fortified with more than 3.6 m tall wall and there was a stone watchtower with stone stairway. Since then city has been several times abandoned and resettled - also today there is a city next to the old mound.
Mada'in Saleh (Al-Hijr) - Saudi Arabia, Al Madinah. Ancient Lihyan and Nabatean city with 131 monumental rock-cut structures, mostly tombs. City developed since approximately 6th century BC, flourished in 1st - 2nd century AD.
Mari - Syria, Deir ez-Zor. Under a hill are remnants of very old city. Mari was inhabited since 5th millenium BC, flourished in 2900 -1759 BC. The city had a strict circular form (diameter - 1.9 km) with fortification wall around it. The placement of palaces and shrines in the centre of the city testify that this city was strictly planned.
Ma'rib - Yemen, Ma'rib. Ruins of the former Saabean capital city, flourishing in the first millenium BC. A distinct culture developed here, including a specific writing.
Nineveh - Iraq, Nineveh. Ancient Assyrian capital city with comparatively well preserved remnants of structures. Nineveh has been one of the most important urban centres in Mesopotamia, established circa 6000 BC and abandoned circa 600 AD. City was enclosed with approximately 12 km long wall, excavated city gates and royal palace, many other structures and sculptures.
Palmyra - Syria, Homs. Important ancient city - caravan stop. Existing since at least 2nd thousand years BC, abandoned after the 16th century AD. Now impressive ruins remain - temple of Ba'al (1st - 2nd century AD), decumanus with arch, theater and others.
Persepolis - Iran, Fars. Ceremonial capital of Achaemenid Empire, developed since 521 BC on an enormous, partly artificially made terrace. Contains ruins of numerous architecturally impressive buildings such as Apadana Palace, Throne Hall and numerous others. Contains also numerous valuable sculptures and reliefs. Destroyed by troops of Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
Petra – Jordan, Ma'an. Ancient capital city of Nabateans, established circa 6th c. BC in the site of ancient sanctuary. Contains some of the most beautiful and intricate rock-cut architecture in the world, available after walking through some 1.2 km long, narrow gorge.
Qal’at al-Bahrain - Bahrain. Former capital of Dilmun civilization, inhabited from 2300 BC up to the 18th century AD. The site has 7 settlement layers which have rised the area by 12 m.
Shahr-e Sukhteh (Burnt City) - Iran, Sistan and Baluchistan. Remnants of Bronze Age city, one of the largest cities in the world at the dawn of city development era, area 151 ha. Developed circa 3200 BC and burnt down circa 2100 BC. Includes large cemetery with more than 25,000 graves. Created by the little known Jiroft culture - possible inventors of writing.
Susa (Shush) - Iran, Khuzestan. One of the oldest true cities in the world founded by Sumerians circa 4200 BC, although the site is inhabited since 7000 BC. Initially it was some 18 ha large, with 6 m thick walls. Once important city, literary centre circa 2240 BC and important political centre for several thousands of years, gradually looosing its importance circa 3rd century BC but existing up to this day. Ruins nowadays take 350 ha.
Roman Forum and other Roman monuments in Rome - Italy, Lazio, Rome. The ancient centre of Roman civilisation with ruins of numerous important buildings.
Pompeii - Italy, Campania. The best preserved ancient Roman town eliminated by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD. The town has been excavated and now represents an amazing display of Roman life.
Herculaneum - Italy, Campania. This Roman town was eliminated by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD. It has been unearthed and contains numerous valuable monuments of Roman art and architecture.
Acropolis of Athens - Greece, Attica, Athens. One of the most important European heritage monuments - citadel of the city of Athens. Contains ruins of numerous Greek temples which have left huge impact on world architecture. Most buildings were built in 460 - 430 BC, but the history of the citadel goes back to the late Bronze Age.
Mycenae - Greece, Argos-Mykines. One of the major centres of Greek civilization, this city flourished in 1600 - 1100 BC. Citadel of Mycenae is built of enormous stone blocks, interesting feature is the Lion Gate.
Calakmul – Mexico, Campeche. One of the largest cities of ancient Maya with remnants of nearly 7000 structures still existing. Largest building – 55 m high pyramid. 117 stelae and numerous other important monuments of history and art.
Chichen Itza – Mexico, Yucatán. Major urban centre of lowland Maya culture with numerous monuments of world importance and fame. Chichen Itza became important centre circa 600 AD and remained such centre until its fall circa 1000 AD. Some of the best known monuments are El Castillo pyramid, the Great Ball Court, Temple de los Guerreros, El Caracol observatory, Ossario pyramid. The unique Sacred Cenote is natural sinkhole - human sacrifice site. In deposits of cenote have been discovered huge amounts of gold and jade artefacts as well as human remains.
Copán – Honduras, Copán. Remnants of Maya city which flourished in 5th – 9th centuries AD, when Copán was a capital city. City was located on the south-eastern border of Maya realm, surrounded by non-Maya peoples. City covered area of more than 250 km² and had population of more than 20,000 people. Abandoned around 10th century AD. Here have been preserved stelas of high artistic quality, as well as the Rosalila temple and numerous other structures and artwork.
El Mirador - Guatemala, Petén. Possibly the largest Maya city, early centre of this civilization which flourished in 2nd century BC - 150 AD. In the city is one of the largest pyramids in the world - La Danta, 70 - 72 m tall, volume 2.8 million m³.
Palenque – Mexico, Chiapas. Ruins of Mayan city which flourished in seventh century AD. City is important nowadays due to several reasons. One is magnificent, romantic location in the middle of jungle, on the hill overlooking the coastal plains. Another is the fact that Palenque contains some of the finest known Mayan architecture and artwork. Most interesting structures are Palace of Palenque and Temple of the Inscriptions with important records of the history of the city and sarcophagus of Pakal – ruler of the city.
Tikal - Guatemala, El Petén. One of the largest and most important cities of Maya civilization. City flourished in 3rd - 10th century AD. City contains impressive complex of ruined structures, including a 47 m high pyramid. Numerous art values - stelae, burials.
Uxmal – Mexico, Yucatán. Important centre of ancient Maya culture with exceptionally well preserved structures. Possibly founded in 500 AD and inhabited until 1550ies, flourishing in 700 –1100 AD. Architecture of Uxmal is considered to be of very high quality visually and structurally and belongs to the best achievements of Puuc style. Impressive buildings are The Governor’s Palace with the longest façade in ancient Mesoamerica, the Adivino – surprising pyramid with ovate sides and Nunnery Quadrangle – governor's residence with interesting façades.
Other Mesoamerican cultures
El Tajín – Mexico, Veracruz. One of the most important ancient cities of Mesoamerica. Flourished in 600 – 1200 AD, inhabited by people of diverse nationality. Impressive monuments are Pyramid of the Niches, Building 5 (also a pyramid) and other pyramid shaped temples.
La Venta – Mexico, Tabasco. Impressive achievement of ancient urban planning, art and architecture, one of the important centres of the ancient Olmec culture. Occupied since 1200 BC and becoming important centre 900 – 400 BC. Complex of clay buildings extending for some 20 km, includes 33 m tall pyramid. Renowned monuments of ancient art – four colossal sculptures of heads.
Monte Albán – Mexico, Oaxaca. One of the earliest urban centres in Mesoamerica, centre of Zapotec culture for nearly 1000 years. Founded circa 500 BC and inhabited until 750 AD. Contains remnants of many impressive structures such as Main Plaza, Ballgame Court, numerous stone carvings.
Teotihuacan – Mexico, México. One of the largest ancient cities in the world containing numerous monuments of architecture and art. Established circa 200 BC and was abandoned in 7th - 8th centuries AD. Hugely impressive monument of urban planning is Avenue of the Dead. Exceptional structure is Pyramid of the Sun – third largest ancient pyramid in the world. Height – 71,2 m. Pyramid of the Moon is an older pyramid from 200 – 450 AD, 42 m high. Site contains numerous valuable murals.
Tula, Tollan – Mexico, Hidalgo. Largest ancient city in central Mexico in 9th – 10th centuries AD. Capital of Toltecs circa 980 AD, destroyed somewhere in 1168 – 1179. Nowadays preserved complexes of ceremonial buildings in two sites including pyramids, famous columns in form of Toltec warriors.
Other ancient settlements in North America
Cliff Palace and Gila Cliff Dwellings - United States, Colorado. Cliff dwelling cities developed by the ancient Pueblo People in 12th - 13th century and Gila Cliff Dwelling - by Mogollan people in 13th century. Located in dramatic natural setting - under an enormous cliff overhang.
Guayabo de Turrialba - Costa Rica, Cartago. Most impressive archaeological monument in Costa Rica: a 218 ha large city (or ceremonial centre?) which was inhabited in 1000 BC - 1400 AD. It is estimated that circa 800 AD here lived some 10,000 poeople. Site contains remnants of stone structures, paved streets and plazas, complex aqueducts, bridges. Here are located also the mysterious round stone balls characteristic for this region. Here have been found numerous petroglyphs which show animals, geometric figures and possible conceptual signs of proto-writing. Found also numerous golden items.
Las de Paquimé – Mexico, Chihuahua. The most impressive ruins of the so called Casas Grandes monuments. Remnants of ancient settlement from 1130 – 1300 AD. Gradually evolved into multi-storied single structure which housed up to 2500 people.
L'Anse aux Meadows - Canada, Newfoundland. Remnants of the only known village of Pre-Columbian Europeans in America. Possibly established by Norse around 1003. Found remains of eight buildings. Site has traces of additional five - six occupation periods by native people.
Caral - Peru, Barranca. The oldest known city in Americas, inhabited somewhere between 2600 -2000 BC. The pyramids in this city were built at the same time when pyramids were built in Egypt. The largest pyramid here though is 18 m tall. It is considered that this was a sacred city.
Chan Chan - Peru, La Libertad. The capital of Chimor, the largest known Pre-Columbian city in South America, with some 6 km² large urban core. City was built from adobe, it flourished in 850 -1470 AD. Chan Chan consists of 10 walled citadels and has many interesting features, including intricate ornamentation of adobe walls.
Chavín de Huántar - Peru, Ancash. The former capital of Chavín culture, a place of high spiritual importance. Occupied since at least 3000 BC, sacred site since the end of 2nd millenium BC. Site contains numerous diverse temple structures and amazing artworks including the sculpture of the Lanzón, created some 3000 years ago.
Ciudad Perdida (Buritaca 200) - Colombia, Magdalena. One of the most interesting Pre-Columbian sites in South America - ruins of mountain-top city built circa 800 AD. City was built on 169 terraces, which were cut in the mountainside and contains numerous amazing artefacts, including a possible map of surroundings cut in stone.
Kuelap - Peru, Amazonas. Massive Pre-Columbian fortress with more than 400 buildings in it. This circa 600 m long and 110 m wide fortress has up to 19 m tall walls. Constructed and inhabited from 6th to 16th century AD by Chachapoyas culture.
Machu Picchu - Peru, Cusco. One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world, an Inca town. Machu Picchu is located on rugged cliff peak and consists of extensive ruins of stone structures. It is believed that the town was built circa 1450 as a shelter and centre for Inca rulers - and abandoned circa 1572. Especially interesting monument here is Intihuatana - a sculpted stone, possible astronomic clock or calendar.
Tiwanaku - Bolivia, La Paz. A capital of the pre-cursor of Inca Empire, developed in 300 -1000 AD. Ancient pilgrimage center of high spiritual importance. Remnants of monumental, megalithic stone architecture with carved sculptures.
Nan Madol – Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei. Unique archaeological monument in this part of the world – ruins of prehistoric city. Consists of nearly 100 artificial islets with massive stone walls, with the largest stones weighing up to 50 tons. A capital of Saudeleur dynasty. The megalithic structures were built in 12th – 13th century and inhabited until the early 14th century.
The main impression created by an abandoned city is intimate. This is a mixed feeling of sadness, unclear anxiety ("my city will not be eternal either") and at the same time - inspiration by the abilities of our ancestors. Long ago, without the electricity, paper or different mechanisms they managed to create magnificent structures, which covered many square kilometres.
But, in spite of their splendour and beauty, these cities were abandoned.
Why were they abandoned?
Development of a city and successive abandonment of it is an event of major importance. But surprisingly - often it is not entirely clear why the cities were abandoned.
In many cases there are understandable reasons. Many cities overused the surrounding resources and finally could not sustain themselves. Many cities suffered heavily in warfare or earthquakes and no one wanted to come back in these fields of ruins - sites of mass tragedy. Often the political situation changed and no one needed the former splendid capital cities, built upon the ambitions and whims of kings.
Often (Cliff Palace in Colorado, Mohenjo-daro, Palenque) the reasons behind the abandonment are less clear.
Some cities barely survive. One such example is Rome - it was the first city where the number of inhabitants exceeded 1 million some 2000 years ago. Some six centuries later this huge city turned into endless fields of ruins, with smaller groups of people living here and there - in total only some 35,000 people lived here. Rome though managed to redefine itself and to adjust to modern times - now here live nearly 3 million people.
Nevertheless it is weird to see the endless fields of ruins in Bagan, Chichen Itza, Angkor, Mohenjo-daro. How could the people leave these once splendid and lively cities? Will our own beloved cities face the same fate? Yes... inevitably.