Mysterious and forbidding, these underwater cities have laid, mostly intact, under the sea for 50 years to more than a century. Regardless of how old they are, they are significant archaeological findings that give us a rare glimpse of how things used to be:

Sunken Ruins of Cleopatra’s Palace, Alexandria, Egypt

In 1998, a team of marine archeologists chanced upon the ruins of the ancient Alexandria off the shores of the present-day Alexandria. It is likely to have been taken to sea as a result of earthquakes, but fortunately the general structure of Cleopatra’s palace such as statues, temples and columns did not suffer any devastating damages to it.

Considered to be the richest archeological site in the world, containing complete stone monuments, coins and everyday objects, the location and treasures found matched with a 2,000 year old city once described by Greek historians. One of the memorable findings was a stone head which is believed to be Caesarion, son of  Cleopatra and her lover, Julius Caesar, as well as statues of Cleopatra’s father and son, shedding light onto the scandalous lives of the royalty behind closed doors.

Plans to build an immersed fibre-glass tunnel leading down to the submerged palace are underway, it will be built near the New Library of Alexandria, the famed site where Cleopatra was rumoured to have hid with one of her other lovers, Marc Antony before both committed suicide.

USS Arizona Memorial Battleship Wreckage, Pearl Harbour

USS Arizona is the resting place of 1,177 sailors who lost their lives on seventh December 1941, due to the events at Pearl Harbour in World War II. It was a deliberate decision from the Navy to leave the bodies there, because it would be extremely troublesome to remove the bodies in a respectful manner. Out of all the battleships deployed, USS Arizona sustained the most severe damage, where she suffered four direct-hits from 800-kilogram bombs. The last bomb that penetrated her deck detonated a powder magazine, splitting the ship in two.

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a memorial was built above the spot where the shipwreck is to honour the valiant servicemen who tragically lost their lives, and a flagpole was erected over the sunken battleship. Currently, Pearl Harbour is open to visitors from all over the world, to reflect on the past sacrifices of the previous generations during World War II.

"The USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning during the attack on Pearl Harbour, 7 December 1941" © Wikimedia Commons

“The USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning during the attack on Pearl Harbour, 7 December 1941” © Wikimedia Commons

Submerged Shore Temples of Mahabalipuram, India

An ancient legend tells of the seven temples of Mahabalipuram that were so dazzling that Indra, the Hindu deity of rain and storm, became jealous. Bearing a grudge, he chose to submerge all but one temple, leaving that single Shore Temple companionless. During the tsunami of December 2004, eagle-eyed tourists spotted a long row of granite boulders pushing through the waves. A little more than a decade later, scientists and archaeologists found out that the “boulders” were actually remains of an ancient port – from one of the six shore temples that went underwater.

After extensive exploration along the coast of Mahabalipuram, the structures are said to be around 1,100 to 1,500 years old. The general structure was still intact, but many details were rubbed away by years of water erosions and covered by thick algae growth. It was possible that the building complex could be part of a submerged township. The rising of sea levels – over a period of 2,000 years – was believed to have engulfed several hundred metres of the Indian coastline, including the temples. There was also evidence of a tsunami-like event in 952AD which may well have drowned the temples.

Yonaguni-Jima Ruins & Pyramid, Japan

Much controversy surrounds whether the Yonaguni-Jima structures are man-made or just natural stone formations. The world’s largest recorded tsunami struck Yonaguni-Jima in April 1771, with waves believed to be over 40-metres, it apparently drowned the ancient Mu civilisation (a mysterious civilisation that was thought to have resided in this region). 

The origin of this ancient civilisation is unknown, and much speculation remains around whether it even existed – some believe that the eroded ruins are hard-evidence of the missing Continent of Mu. Masaaki Kimura, a marine ecologist at the University of the Ryukyus in Japan is strongly convinced that although these ruins might not be the remains of the Mu civilisation, this 5,000 year-old structure was inhabited by people and they are man-made structures. Especially the largest structure: A complicated, stepped pyramid that resides at a depth of 25-metres. Holding a different view, Robert Schoch, Professor of science and mathematics from Boston University deduced that it is basic geology that caused these sandstones structures to evolve naturally.

To date, the site has not been selected for extensive conservation efforts or research; instead it is left to those who wish to examine in greater detail.

A diver explores the Yonaguni Monument © Wikimedia Commons

A diver explores the Yonaguni Monument © Wikimedia Commons

Underwater Lion City of Qiandao Lake: China’s Atlantis

An Oriental Atlantis has been located 40-metres below water, showcasing a maze of white temples, paved roads and houses. Situated in the eastern province of Zhejiang, this city of Shi Cheng, or “Lion City”, is located in a man-made lake formed by the Chinese government in 1959 due to a need for a new hydroelectric power station. This grand-scale project displaced nearly 300,000 citizens, some of whose families have stayed there for centuries.

Ultimately, grand plans failed to bear fruit and the Lion City was forgotten for 53 years. Despite many years in the lake, Shi Cheng has been well-preserved from the natural weather elements because of the water.

This underwater city is being utilised as a tourist attraction for diving trips, but it is limited to advanced divers with deep water, night and buoyancy experience because the ruins have not been fully mapped out and explored.

Underwater Archaeology Park of Baia, Pozzuoli, Italy

During the Roman times, Baia was a resort city that played hosts to the Roman elites. The city was above natural volcanic vents, famous for its effective medicinal hot springs and large spas. Many important people like Nero, Caesar and Cicero built permanent vacation villas there. Unfortunately, Baia city was overpowered by the Saracens in the 8th century and by 1500, the remains of the luxurious town were abandoned.  Rising sea levels swallowed the ancient ruins, and much of the coastline sunk into the shallow bay.

Currently, visitors can explore the crumbled structures around this underwater archaeological park while riding in glass-bottomed boats. Opportunities to scuba-dive and snorkel give visitors a thrill of a lifetime to come in close and personal with one of Europe’s historical wonders.