The past is added to the present in our cities like a collage of detailed engravings of objects overladen with ornaments in an old catalogue; they are enthroned over a sketch, done with the tip of the pen, of a street full of traffic. And the only image we can form of the future is marked by the visual mortgages that city planners and comic strips, cubo-futuro-constructivism and science fiction have deposited on it, which give a face to our anguish at what lies in store for us.
The mythical city of Ys, France (pronounced eess) was built below sea level by King Gradlon for his daughter Dahut, who loved the sea. To protect the city from flooding, a bronze dike and a huge gate were built. The gate could be opened at low tide for ships to enter. Its only key was kept safe by the king himself.
Ys was the most beautiful city in the world, but Dahut’s orgies (after which she would often kill her lovers) soon won the city a reputation for sin. Saint Winwaloe warned of god’s wrath, but was ignored by Dahut and the populace.
One day, a red knight came to Ys. In the middle of the night, as a storm raged outside, he and Dahut celebrated together. When the princess was full with wine, the knight suggested she steal the key from her sleeping father. The knight then revealed himself to be the devil and opened the gate, allowing a wave as big as a mountain to crash down on the city.
The king took his daughter on his magical horse Morvarc’h, and they made their escape. Before they could leave Ys, however, Saint Winwaloe found them and cried, “Push back the demon sitting behind you!” The king reluctantly pushed Dahut from his horse and she was swallowed by the sea, where she became a mermaid.
It is said that when Paris is flooded, the city of Ys will rise up from under the waves.
The Lost City of Z is the name Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (above) gave to the ancient city he believed existed somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. Fawcett died while searching for it, and perhaps 100 more have disappeared looking for him.
The Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro’s Manuscript 512, a document responsible for numerous archaeological fables, contains a reference to the mysterious city. Portguese explorer João da Silva Guimarães writes that in 1753 he made an amazing discovery. He described symmetrical adjoined buildings and a square with a huge black column in its centre. Atop the column stood a statue of a man wearing a crown of laurels and pointing to the north pole. The location of this find, however, was not included.
In 1925, Fawcett set out from Cuiabá with two horses, eight mules, a pair of dogs and a team of able men. With them, they carried canned foods, powdered milk, guns, flares and a sextant and chronometer for gathering latitude and longitude.
Their last communique was a telegraph from Dead Horse Camp, in which Fawcett described the hardships they had faced to his wife.
Years later, contact was made with the Kalapalo tribe, whose oral legends spoke of a white man who visited them and shared Christian rituals. The Kalapalo people warned the explorers about a violent tribe further into the forest. After five days, they noticed that the explorers no longer made campfires.
The anthropologist Michael Heckenberger believes his recently discovered site Kuhikugu, where as many as 50,000 people may have lived spread over 7,700 square miles, is Fawcett’s Lost City of Z. Of Kuhikugu, he said, “All these settlements were laid out with a complicated plan, with a sense of engineering and mathematics that rivalled anything that was happening in much of Europe at the time.”
Aoudaghost, Saharan oasis town. The water ran out.
Balanjar, medieval Causica. Massacred by Arabs.
Chernobyl, Russia. Nuclear disaster.
Dunwich, England. Eroded away.
El Dorado, lost city of gold. Never found.
Farran’s Point, Canada. One of the ten Lost Villages.
Gomorrah, wrath of God.
Hashima Island, Japan. Tiny mining island, now a ghost island.
Indianola, Texas. Hurricane.
Jerusalem, destroyed by Romans. Later rebuilt.
Kuelap, walled city of Peru. Now covered in jungle.
Leptis Magna, Roman city. The river once diverted by the emperor returned to bury the city.
Memphis, capital of Ancient Egypt. Little remains.
Nan Madol, built on 100 small islands. Abandoned.
Otrar, on the Silk Road. Sacked by Genghis Khan.
Plymouth, capital of the Carribbean island Monserrat. Overwhelmed by volcano.
Quiriga, Latin America. Collapse of the Mayan civilisation.
Roanoke, pilgrim colony. A mystery.
Soddom, wrath of god.
Troy, deceived by a wooden horse.
Ubar, Arabian city. Sank into a sinkhole.
Vineta, further wrath of god.
Warsaw, Poland. Razed to the ground by Nazis.
Xanadu, China, summer capital of Kublai Khan. Put to the torch.
Ys, the folly of a decadent Princess. Swallowed by the sea.
Lost City of Z, in the Amazon rainforest. 100 people disappeared or died searching for it.
Trading Cities 3 by Italo Calvino
When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveller sees not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over avast, rolling plateau. Eutropia is not one, but all these cities together; only one is inhabited at a time, the others are empty; and this process is carried out in rotation. Now I shall tell you how. On the day when Eutropia’s inhabitants feel the grip of weariness and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his house and his life, debts, the people he must greet or who greet him, then the whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them, empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will see another landscape on opening his window, and will spend his time with different pastimes, friends, gossip. So their life is renewed from move to move, among cities whose exposure or declivity or streams or winds make each site somehow different from the others. Since their society is ordered without great distinctions of wealth or authority, the passage from one function to another takes place almost without jolts; variety is guaranteed by the multiple assignments, so that in the span of a lifetime a man rarely returns to a job that has already been his.
Thus the city repeats its life, identical, shifting up and down on its empty chessboard. The inhabitants repeat the same scenes, with the actors changed; they repeat the same speeches with variously combined accents; they open alternate mouths in identical yawns. Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia remains always the same. Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred, worked this ambiguous miracle.
Thin Cities 5 by Italo Calvino
If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spiderweb city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed. This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope-ladders,hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes-hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable-cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants. Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.
In 1997 Plymouth, the capital of Caribbean island Monserrat, was overwhelmed by volcanic eruptions and abandoned. Two-thirds of the population went abroad and never returned. The eruption continues today, and although visitors are not allowed into the ‘exclusion zone’, the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the top of Garibaldi Hill in Isles Bay.