For as long as humankind has existed, civilisations have risen and fallen. Some ruins of past societies have been discovered on the top of mountain peaks, while others have slipped below the waves, their once great statues and temples reduced to rubble on the seabed. As divers, we know the remains of lost civilisations are some of the most exciting wonders one can witness below the waves. We bring you five of the top ancient underwater cities to discover:

Baiae, Italy

The remains of an ancient Roman city that catered for the rich and powerful of the Roman elite. Located over natural volcanic vents, the city was famous for its healing medicinal hot springs that enabled the building of spa resorts, and attracted emperors and generals to its hedonistic streets. Unfortunately, the good times did not last and the city was sacked by Saracens in the eighth century. By 1500, the remains of the seaside resort city were abandoned, and rising waters slowly drowned the ruins under the shallow waters of the bay. Today the submerged remains have opened up an alternative underwater museum for divers, allowing them to get up close to history.

An artist's impression of the landscape of Baiae before it drowned below the waves.

An artist’s impression of the landscape of Baiae before it drowned below the waves. © Wikimedia Commons

Yonaguni-Jima, Japan

Discovered by a wayward diver who noticed a peculiar underwater rock formation, Yonaguni became one of the most hotly debated underwater discoveries in decades. The debate, which still continues to this day, is whether these incredible structures are man-made or a quirk of Nature. Swimming around the site, it’s hard not to imagine that it was something crafted by human hands. The huge pyramid with carved steps is believed to have been constructed during the last Ice Age, 10,000 BC, when the sea level was much lower than it is today. This supposed city of a lost civilisation could have housed an empire that extended to the Americas, only to now be hidden below the waves.

Divers explore the supposed manmade pyramid of Yonaguni © Wikimedia Commons

Divers explore the supposed manmade pyramid of Yonaguni © Wikimedia Commons

Gulf of Cambay, India

The year 2002 saw the discovery of an incredible ancient city in India’s Gulf of Cambay, an inlet of the Arabian Sea along the country’s west coast, in the state of Gujarat. Sitting beneath almost 40 metres of water, it was accidentally discovered by an organisation conducting a study of water pollution. The city, which is still being researched by archaeologists and scientists, is believed to predate everything that’s currently known for archaeological ruins – by 5,000 years. Pieces of pottery, beads and sculptures have been excavated and even human bones and teeth. Carbon dating has put the age of the human remains at nearly 9,500 years old. Built in a time when ocean water levels were lower than at present, the ancient city would have been a coastal settlement.

Lion City of Qiandao Lake, China

The “Atlantis of the East”, the underwater city of Shi Cheng is a mysterious time capsule of Imperial China. Some of the stone architecture dates back to the old Ming and Qing dynasties (which ruled from 1368 to 1912) and stands perfectly preserved 40 metres under Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang province. The Lion City was purposely flooded in 1959 to make way for the Xin’an Dam and its adjoining hydroelectric station. The project resulted in 300,000 people being relocated, some whose family trees had been firmly rooted in the city for centuries. The underwater ruin was rediscovered in 2001, and more ancient features like city gates, archways and carved dragons were later discovered when people began to dive there more frequently.


Close up of a ruin from the Ancient city in Quiandao lake.

Cleopatra’s Palace Alexandria, Egypt

What is thought to be the palace of Cleopatra is located just off the shores of Alexandria. The once-upon-a-time home of the ancient Egyptian queen was believed to be cast into the sea by an earthquake over 1,500 years ago and lay undiscovered until recent years. Unfortunately for divers, all the well-preserved remains have been removed from the water to tour the world’s museums. But there are still some interesting artefacts for divers to see and the site hasn’t lost its eerie, historical ambience.