Lost cities have long been the subject of fascination. Places like Atlantis, El Dorado, or the Lost City Of Z have stirred all sorts of wild theories and deadly expeditions but to no avail. Others like Troy, Petra, Memphis, or Machu Pichu have since been rediscovered. When it comes to lost cities, we tend to think of mysterious faraway places. Yet too, the Old Continent has its fair share. Some of these long-lost European cities were only recently discovered by accident, others still remain missing, while some have since entered the realm of myth and legend.
10. Jomsborg (Poland or Germany)
Made recently popular by the second season of Vikings: Valhalla TV show, Jomsborg was a fortified settlement and home of the Jomsvikings. Located somewhere on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, most likely in what is now northwestern Poland, Jomsborg is believed to have existed between around 960 and 1043 AD.
Its inhabitants, the Jomsvikings, were a group of Viking warriors who, although strongly believed in the old Norse gods, were mercenaries and fought for whoever paid better. Some have claimed the Jomsvikings were an elite group of men 18 to 50 years old who adhered to a strict code of conduct. They were allowed to join only after defeating another member in single combat. They were also forbidden to quarrel among themselves, show fear, flee in the face of an equal or inferior enemy, or badmouth their brothers in arms, among other things.
The exact location of Jomsborg, however, remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. In fact, some scholars aren’t even convinced it ever existed, dismissing it as mere legend. The most comprehensive mentions of the fortress and its warriors are in the Icelandic sagas, particularly The Saga of the Jomsvikings from the 13th century. After a couple of serious defeats on the field of battle, the Jomsvikings’ power and influence began to wane, culminating with the siege and destruction of Jomsborg in 1043 by the King of Norway, Magnus Olafsson, also known as “the Good”.
One possible location for Jomsborg is in or around the present-day town of Wolin, in present-day northwestern Poland, on the island with the same name. Although historical sources seem to indicate this area, archeological evidence doesn’t completely corroborate it. Another possible location would be on Usedom Island next to Wolin, on the German side of the Oder River, on land that is now submerged.
9. Seuthopolis (Bulgaria)
Founded sometime during the last quarter of the 4th century BC by King Seuthes III, Seuthopolis was the capital city of the Odrysian Kingdom. This was a Thracian kingdom that came into existence due, in large part, to the retreat of the Persians from Europe as a result of their failed invasion of Greece in 479 BC and the power vacuum they left behind. A longtime ally of Athens, the Odrysian Kingdom became the largest political entity in the eastern Balkans, encompassing much of today’s Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and European Turkey. However, before the foundation of Seuthopolis, there was no fixed capital.
Lost for centuries, Seuthopolis was only discovered in 1948 during the construction of the Koprinka Reservoir in the Rose Valley, central Bulgaria. Archeological digs uncovered Seuthopolis as an elite Thracian settlement with numerous Greek-Hellenistic influences. Although different enough not to be equated to a true Hellenic polis, Seuthopolis had Greek-style houses and buildings. It also had two main roads that intersected in the center of the settlement, creating an agora. Most of the streets were paved, had underground drains, and were built in a grid pattern to create rectangular insulae.
But unlike typical Greek-Hellenistic towns, the common people of Seuthopolis lived outside the city walls. Its buildings were typically spacious and luxurious and had ample space between them. The king’s palace was also separated from the rest of the town by walls and watchtowers. This points to a lack of “national unity” within the Odrysian Kingdom, with the king being more of an overlord over other tribal leaders. Another distinctive feature is that every house had its own altar, known as eschar, common in the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Other similar archeological and historical evidence points to Seuthopolis being a religious center and Seuthes a priest-king.
8. Noreia (Austria)
Located somewhere on the eastern slopes of the Alps in present-day southern Austria, Noreia was described by Julius Caesar as the capital city of the Kingdom of Noricum. Known to the Romans as regnum Noricum, this was a Celtic kingdom comprised predominantly of the Taurisci; the largest of the Norici tribes. At its largest extent, Noricum was comprised of modern central Austria, parts of southern Bavaria, and northern Slovenia.
As early as 500 BC, the Celts discovered that the iron ore mined in the area produced high-quality steel and established a major industry around it. Starting from around 200 BC, Noricum became a strong ally to the Roman Republic, providing it with superior weapons and tools in exchange for military support. In fact, the Romans came to the aid of the Norici when a large host of two Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutones, descended upon their territory. Although the Battle of Noreia in 112 BC resulted in a resounding defeat for the Romans, they would go on to win the Cimbric War that followed.
The exact location of the battle and the capital city of the Kingdom of Noricum are still debated today. Even Pliny the Elder, who lived during the 1st century AD, already referred to Noreia as a lost city during his lifetime. To confuse matters further, Noriea was also the name of the national goddess of Noricum. For this reason, the name could have been given to more than one place.
7. Castro (Italy)
Located in modern-day Lazio on the western side of Lake Bolsena, Castro was an ancient city founded during prehistoric times. It was later inhabited by the Etruscans, probably being their own lost city of Statonia. In 1537, Pope Paul III created the Dutchy of Castro, made the city of Castro its capital, and installed his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, as its Duke.
The Farnese Family remained in charge of both the Dutchy and the city until 1649 when they came to butt heads with Pope Innocent X over past grievances. The Pope also accused Ranuccio II Farnese of assassinating the newly appointed bishop of Castro and marched the Papal armies to battle. In August, the Duke lost the war and on September 2, 1649, the city was completely leveled on the Pope’s orders.
In a final act of revenge, the Pope also raised a column among the smoldering ruins with the inscription Quì fu Castro (Here stood Castro). The city was never resettled and is now an overgrown ruin in an, otherwise, picturesque location overlooking the countryside.
6. Evonium (Scotland)
First mentioned in the 16th century by the Scottish humanist and historian Hector Boece, Evonium was the coronation site and seat of power of forty Scottish kings. Evonium was supposedly built by the 12th king, Evenus I (98-79 BC) who named it after himself. Being heavily intertwined with myth and legend, however, Boece’s writings, as well as the list of ancient Scottish kings going back to 330 BC, should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, the genealogy of these semi-mythical monarchs was in place at least as early as the 13th century AD.
Evonium is believed by many to be at Dunstaffnage, close to the town of Oban in western Scotland. Yet, Scottish historian AJ Morton argues that if Evonium ever truly existed, it would have probably been at Irvine further to the south. Among his other arguments, Morton points to Irvine’s significant strategic importance as both an administrative and military center during the Middle Ages compared to Dunstaffnage’s remote location. He also points to Irvine’s surrounding lands being known historically as Cunninghame, which could be translated as “king’s home,” as well as the many old Scottish rulers who either came from or lived in the area.
In any case, given the unreliable nature of the available evidence, Evonium could be somewhat seen as the Scottish version of the English Camelot; a legendary and romanticized seat of power instead of an actual historical location.
5. Pavlopetri (Greece)
In 1967, on the southern tip of the Peloponnese Peninsula in Greece, marine geo-archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Flemming uncovered the ancient ruins of a long-lost settlement. Pavlopetri (Paul’s Stone) is considered to be the oldest underwater city in the Mediterranean and among the oldest in the world.
Initially believed to date back to the Mycenaean period (between 1600 to 1100 BC), further investigations revealed that it was inhabited as early as the Final Neolithic around 3500 BC. Archeological studies have also shown that the settlement was a major trade port and had a significant textile industry. Cist graves and chamber tombs were also found, indicating a stratification of social classes within the city. The ruins still hold their original layout since they were never built over or were affected by centuries of agriculture.
The ancient Greek settlement is believed to have slowly gone beneath the waves after a series of several earthquakes spanning many centuries. Researchers hypothesize that back when it was first founded, Pavlopetri stood roughly seven to ten feet above sea level. By 1200 BC, it was only about three feet above the shoreline. Further tectonic activity finally pushed it down some 13 feet below sea level sometime around 480 to 650 AD.
4. Vicina (Romania)
Located somewhere on the Lower Danube in present-day southeastern Romania, the town of Vicina was once the most flourishing trading hub in the region. Its main advantage, but what scholars also believe led to its eventual demise was the specific geopolitical circumstances in the region at the time. Vicina was built by the Genovese as an Emporia (tradepost) sometime during the 10th century. The town reached its peak during the 13th century, went into decline during the mid-14th century, and eventually disappeared from records by the end of the 15th.
At the time, the Danube Delta was the meeting point between the Byzantine Empire, the Golden Horde, and the West. And being located on a major navigable river, Vicina was strategically placed to conduct trade between them. The Mongol conquest of the surrounding region during the 13th century also led to a relatively peaceful time for the inhabitants known as the Pax Mongolica, which further facilitated commerce. Vicina was ruled at different times by either the Genovese, the Pechenegs, Byzantines, Mongols, Turks, or Tatars yet trade was never interrupted – quite the contrary – as all parties benefited.
Its decline began in the aftermath of the Genovese-Byzantine War of 1351-1352 when the Byzantines lost their foothold in the Lower Danube. The power vacuum and increased instability in the region led to the rearrangement of the regional trade routes with the West through the port in Braila on the more peaceful Wallachian side of the river. Some scholars also believe Vicina’s complete disappearance resulted from a natural phenomenon not simply geopolitical factors. Based on some maps and descriptions at the time, they believe this once mighty trade center was located on an island that eventually sank beneath the river.
3. The Ring (Hungary)
After the death of Attila de Hun, aka the Scourge of God, and the dissolution of the Hunnic Empire in 469 AD, Europe was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Yet, this was not to last as another group of warmongering horse lords from the Mongolian Steppes, the Avars, was to take their place soon after.
In 567 AD, Under King Bayan I the Avars defeated the Gepids in the Pannonian Plain and made it their home. Incidentally, the Gepids were the same people who drove out the Huns from there roughly 100 years prior. Some accounts even say that Bayan killed the Gepid king Cunimund and turned his skull into a wine cup. Over the coming years, the Avars under Bayan I would expand their newly-formed Khaganate in all directions, subjugating the local populace and using them as “cannon fodder” in their future wars.
According to historian Erik Hildinger, “The Avars established their headquarters near Attila’s old capital of a hundred years before and fortified it. It was known as The Ring.” The name probably comes from its circular shape but not much else is known about it. Over the coming centuries, they would conduct many raids, particularly against the Byzantines in the Balkans’ even laying siege to Constantinople at one point.
It was with Charlemagne of the Franks, who rose to power in 768 AD, that the Avars finally met their match. He led several successful campaigns that eventually pushed the Avars into a disastrous civil war in 794 AD. Charlemagne was then able to easily capture The Ring the next year, which was laden with centuries’ worth of plundered treasure. It’s said that fifteen wagons, pulled by four oxen each, were needed to haul this hoard back to Paris. The exact location of The Avar Ring is unknown but it’s believed to be somewhere in Hungary between the Danube and Tisza Rivers.
2. Rungholt (Germany)
Long believed to be a local legend and dubbed by some as the “Northern Atlantis,” the city of Rungholt in present-day northern Germany was very likely a real place. Although the exact location still remains unconfirmed, this once-flourishing trade port sank beneath the waves of the Wadden Sea in the second half of the 14th century AD. This was a period of extreme storm events in the North Sea area that caused many land losses by turning arable marshlands into tidal flats. This was the same fate that befell the medieval Uthland region of present-day North Frisia where Rungholt once stood.
In mid-January 1362 a particularly devastating storm surge known as the Second Grote Mandrenke (2nd St. Marcellus’ flood) destroyed over 30 settlements and killed roughly 10,000 people in the area out of a total of roughly 25,000 across other parts of the North Sea coast, Britain, and Ireland. The storm also pushed the shoreline by many miles to roughly its present-day location. Rungholt was the largest of these settlements in the region and an important commercial node between Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Flanders, and England. Historians estimate that around 2,000 people (a third of the population of Hamburg at the time) lived in the city when the storm hit.
1. Tartessos (Spain)
Even as early as the first millennium BC, Tartessos was known all across the Mediterranean as one of, if not the wealthiest city of its time. It was seen by many as a sort of “El Dorado” of the ancient world. Located on the southern coast of modern Andalusia in Spain, Tartessos was the name of both the region and the supposed harbor city. The Tartessian culture was a mix of Phoenician and Paleohispanic people who took great advantage of the rich metal ore deposits such as copper, tin, lead, silver, and gold.
Thanks to these precious commodities, Tartessos’ wealth and fame even made it into the Bible in several chapters. One example is in the “Book of Kings 10:20” of the Old Testament, where it says that “For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish [Tartessos] with the navy of Hiram: once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.”
And speaking of kings, Arganthonios (Argantonio in Spanish) was the most important leader of Tartessos who ruled from 630 BC to 550 BC. His name loosely translates to “King of Silver” or “The Silver One” which made some speculate that this was more of a title than an actual name.
Given the semi-legendary nature of historical sources surrounding Tartessos, scholars long believed it to be a myth. In fact, due to Herodotus’ description of it being beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar), some have even gone as far as saying that Tartessos was actually the mythical Atlantis. To further give credence to this idea, the city of Tartessos is believed to have sunken somewhere in the present-day marshes of the Guadalquivir River, southwest of Seville, which at the time formed a navigable estuary that led into the Atlantic.