Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Helike, A Lost City Found?

is for the Lost City of Helike.

Helike was a city in Greece, off the Gulf of Corinth. During the heyday of Greece, when they were at their highest point, a massive earthquake and resulting tsunami destroyed the city, burying it under the sea. Or so it was thought. In 373 B.C., Helike disappeared, along with the people, and their cultural riches and architecture.

Helike possessed a temple to the god Poseidon, who ruled over both the sea and earthquakes. Did they anger him? They were also one of the twelve cities of the Achaean League, and was in fact claimed to be the capital of these twelve cities.

Rescue attempts were made, but by the time people from neighboring villages arrived, the city was submerged, the people dead.

Helike Coin. Moneda d'Hèlike,
imatge editada de la
"revista d'arqueologia" {{PD}};
user Jolla; Wikimedia Commons 
The city was written about for ages, parts of it still visible in the sea until the silt overcame it, and the shifting earth took it from sight. Aelian claimed that the people watched creatures flee the land for four days before the earthquake hit, as if they'd known it was coming. Stravo and Ovid spoke of it, and Homer said they were represented under Agamemnon. These are but a few examples.

Tales of it were passed along for so long that it has been hypothesized that Helike is actually the lost city of Atlantis. A place of riches and happiness. A thriving city on the coast. Important in government and trade. In short, quite like descriptions of Atlantis.

Long a place that has lived in the imagination of Gulf locals, many have tried to find it, searching in the sea for any sign of the lost city. It wasn't until 1988 that two people took it on as a determined mission and had a breakthrough that would lead them to not only Helike, but another, older, city as well. Dora Katsonopoulou, a local, and Steven Soter began their search, determined that they would be the ones to close this mystery.

In studying the earth in this seismically active region (there is, in fact, a fault line now called the Helike Fault), it was discovered that beach-side houses had now moved inland. In addition, it was hypothesized that instead of sinking into the sea, the city may actually have been buried under an inland lagoon, created by ground liquefaction during the quake, as well as the influx of sea water from the tsunami. They began searching inland, rather than below the water's surface.

In 2001, these theories paid off. They discovered walls of buildings, cobbled roads, gold coins, pottery (some of which actually had organic remains in them of the produce that had been stored there), idols, and more. As rarely happens with ruins, they found a well-preserved example of life from this time. These ruins had been instantly buried, so they were never looted, as so many historical places have been. The archaeologists can actually study exactly how things were. The only other example I'm aware of that has such well-preserved remains is Pompeii, as it was buried under ash, then built over repeatedly in coming years.

The excavation of Helike. By Drekis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Before they found Helike, they also found a far more ancient city, as well as a Roman city built nearby which was made in honor of Helike years later. Thanks to the seismic activity in the area, and the influx of waters, three different time periods are available for study.

The mystery here is not what happened to this city, as that question has now been answered (though it WAS a mystery for centuries). No, the question that remains to be answers is whether this city was, in fact, the inspiration for tales of Atlantis. If so, two mysteries have now been solved, and there is much to learn from these discoveries.

As far as Atlantis, Plato first spoke of it in 360 B.C., thirteen years after Helike sunk into the earth. He claimed it was an island and a military power (which Helike certainly was, but it was not an island). At this time, Helike's remains lie between two rivers. Is it possible it was similarly arranged, therefore appearing like an island, of sorts? One thing that contradicts Helike being Atlantis is that Plato claimed it existed in 9600 B.C., or thereabouts. However, he was the only one to take its existence seriously during his lifetime, while Helike was a known entity. Many made fun of him. Could he have misheard or twisted the tale of Helike?

Do you think this city may have been Atlantis, or do you feel there is still another city out there, yet to be discovered?

May you find your Muse.

Letter H courtesy of Dan, clker.com.


  1. Ohhhh, great post! I love history mysteries. Still not sure if this is the root of Atlantis, but it's fun to ponder!

  2. I'm loving each of your posts. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the root of the Atlantis tale. After all, how would Plato know that Atlantis was around thousands of years before his time?
    We Are Adventure

  3. Sounds like it could be Atlantis...the mystery surrounding lost cities is so interesting :)

  4. Very cool story! I love history's mysteries. And while it's satisfying to answer those age-old questions, I'm pleased by the riddles we can't unravel. It's the dark places in the forest that make the exploring worthwhile, yes?

    Thanks for the awesome post!

    Herald Angel

  5. I like to think that Atlantis is still out there, somewhere, waiting to be found :)

  6. Archeology is so interesting. It would not be uncommon for it to be found inland. Ephesus, in Turkey was on the sea centuries ago but you drive a ways inland now.
    Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

  7. Plato was speaking about a known legend, even if people didn't believe in it, which means that whatever Atlantis was was long gone before Helike.

  8. I never heard of this before either! I'm learning so much thanks to your mysteries. So interesting.

  9. There is probably more than one lost city still waiting to be found! There is a lost Mayan city too!

  10. Hmmm...don't know what I think. Haven't studied much about Atlantis, but this seems like a separate deal. How cool that Helike was found using a completely different theory and that scientists are able to study it! GREAT post.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  11. That's cool they found some of it still intact. I have a feeling Atlantis has yet to be discovered.

  12. We are surrounded by mysteries from our past and these make life more interesting. Now I'm really wondering about Atlantis, El Dorado.

  13. Very cool. You're level of knowledge on the mysteries you write about daily is pretty impressive. I've been saving your blog to read last for this reason.

  14. wow, what a great theory, it could be, given as you said there were two rivers around it, but given the time periods of plato speaking about Atlantis and the other city sinking, maybe there is yet another city to be found...Loving your posts.

  15. interesting idea! I don't think Helike is Atlantis but who knows for sure? And I agree with everyone else, yours are some of the most interesting posts :)

  16. This is the most interesting post I've read today! I don't think it's Atlantis, but there's really no way to know. That's part of the fun of life though: there's always an unsolvable history mystery that can serve as inspiration for all sorts of art. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com

  17. As I read your post, I kept thinking that it did sound like Atlantis.

    Very interesting...

  18. I think this must be Atlantis. So much has been invested in the search for same, that it surely would have been discovered.

  19. This was fascinating! Atlantis is one of those mysteries I obsess with on occasion. I love the tales about it.

    It makes for a compelling source for Atlantis, but I don't think it is. I believe Atlantis is still out there waiting to be discovered.

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

  20. Great tale! And all this time it was under foot! Since I'm currently submerged up to, and beyond, my eyeballs in ancient Greece research - I'm gonna say there's still an "Atlantis" to be found out there:)

  21. This is an amazing story. I've never heard of Helike before, and the story of it being found, well, lost cities don't seem to be very fond of being found most of the time.

    I like to think that maybe Atlantis is still out there, a mysterious city that is still hiding, but Helike does certainly sound like a good basis for the legend of it. They are very similar by the sounds of things.

  22. I don't know if this is Atlantis, but it'd be pretty neat if it was. The idea of a secret, uncovered city could be a premise for a story.

  23. I like the story of Atlantis, but I think it's just that. A story.

    If it hadn't been, more of it would have been recorded.

  24. Fascinating stuff. I was always a big fan of Greek mythology and such. I had heard this name before but never heard the story.

    I thought that Atlantis was supposed to be in the Caribbean some where?

    Chuck at Apocalypse Now

  25. It's great that Helike was so well preserved. I'm fascinated by how people lived in ancient days. A big part of me hopes the mystery of Atlantis remains unsolved--it has inspired so many stories.
    Jagoda from http://www.conflicttango.com

  26. I think its quite possible that both cities are real. After all, how could we possibly know? However, looking at it logically, it would make sense that the two cities are one in the same. But if three cities disappeared so easily because of the area they were built in, who's to say that it couldn't happen on an island too?

  27. Jen, probably not, but it would be fun if it were!

    Elliot, that is an excellent point and question.

    Maple, it's always fascinated me. When I was briefly looking at going on a cruise for a senior trip (I got married instead, lol), there was a Caribbean cruise that included diving in an underwater city. That sounded so cool (yet so creepy).

    Joe, I completely agree! I like looking at it, analyzing it, trying to figure out the answers. But it's fun not having them.

    Laura, that's a good thought.

    Katie, I didn't know that about Ephesus. Interesting, thank you!

    Miss Uncertain, you just earned your name, LOL!

    Andrew, gah, you're no fun!

    Julie, I'm learning, too!

    Beth, heck, I'm intrigued by the ones they already know of! What about the lost city of gold?

    Tina, it's very cool that they found it! Imagine how many old cities are underneath other ones, or just underneath the ground.

  28. Alex, any big find is a cool find, right!?

    Adriana, yes, El Dorado! That's the name I was trying to remember!

    David, what a compliment, thank you!

    Wicked, the time frames do make it sound like that's probable.

    Marcy, thank you so much!

    Kristen, I was certainly inspired during all my research!

    Mark, it was certainly a place of riches, and it sounded like a happy place for the residents. Even if not Atlantis, it was a place much celebrated.

    Susan, a lot has definitely been invested. I wonder if they'd be disappointed to discover it wasn't Atlantis, or still just excited to have made the discovery?

    Jak, do you have theories for where you think it might be?

    Sam, you definitely bring some expertise into it!

    Imogen, they sure don't give up their secrets easily, do they?

    Cynthia, oh, you betcha'! Imagine what all could come of it.

    Misha, aw, sad. It's fun to believe in it, no matter how unrealistic it might be. I figure there's always a basis of truth to tales that stick around a long time. Sometime inspired it.

    Chuck, I've heard so many possible locations for Atlantis, I couldn't tell ya'!

    Jagoda, I have to agree. I think that sometimes the truth can be so much more disappointing than the stories we invented.

    Rachel, sort of scary how easily an entire city can disappear, isn't it? No matter where it is.