10 Drowned Towns You Can Visit

The drowned belfry in Kalyazin, Russia
The drowned belfry in Kalyazin, Russia
michael clarke stuff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)

There are so many places lost beneath the waves around the world, you could create an alternate atlas of watery wreckages. But during the 20th century, the number of towns underwater increased exponentially as hydroelectricity projects submerged some to create power for many. These drowned towns were intentionally flooded behind new dams, their buildings removed or dismantled, and their residents displaced.

In recent years, droughts have allowed some of these towns to re-emerge. Others remain underwater. Here are 10 haunting waterworlds.

1. Villa Epecuén, Argentina

It’s now a haunting stretch of pale rubble and skeletal trees, but in the middle of the 20th century Villa Epecuén was one of Argentina’s most popular tourist spots. The once-charming village was developed in the 1920s to take advantage of the therapeutic salt waters of Lago Epecuén, some 340 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, and the population peaked in the 1970s at some 5,000 people. But in 1985, tragedy struck: heavy rains broke a nearby earthen dam, inundating the town and its hundreds of businesses.

The salty waters covered the town for about 25 years, until they began to recede as part of a long-term weather pattern, revealing salt-encrusted trees and the carcasses of vehicles and buildings. (The well-preserved town slaughterhouse is particularly eerie-looking.) In recent years, the remains of the town have been subject to a tourism push from local officials, who say it feels a bit like Pompeii. Villa Epecuén even has a single resident: the octogenarian Pablo Novak, who moved inland when the town was flooded but never entirely abandoned the place. (You can see a documentary about his amazing determination here.)

2. Shi Cheng, China

Beneath the waters of Lake Qiando in China's Zhejiang province lies the 600-year-old "Lion City" of Shi Cheng. Flooded in 1959 to create a reservoir and hydroelectric station for the nearby city of Hangzhou, its beautiful ruins have been surprisingly well-preserved by the water, which reportedly protects the buildings better than if they were exposed to sun, wind, and rain.

The ruins were relatively unknown until a Chinese government expedition in 2001, which found a small city of wide streets, five entrance gates, and 265 archways featuring ornate stonework carvings of lions, dragons, and phoenixes, as well as historical inscriptions dating back to 1777. But although Shi Cheng gets most of the attention, it's just one of the towns flooded to create Hangzhou’s reservoir: the even more ancient He Cheng was established in 208, and also disappeared beneath the waves in 1959.

Local diving companies regularly offer tours of the Shi Cheng ruins, although since they’re not well-mapped, they dives are recommended for advanced divers only. Now’s a good time to visit the flooded jewels beneath Lake Qiando, which could see more traffic after a proposed tunnel through the lake is completed. There are rumors of other proposed developments aimed at helping tourists see the ruins. The $6.4 million submarine built for exploring the lake was completed in 2004 but has never been used, thanks to opposition from local officials.

3. Vilarinho das Furnas, Portugal

Benkeboy, Wikimedia // CC BY SA-3.0

It's like something out of a short story: a tiny but vibrant village, known for its remarkably democratic way of life, is flooded by the local power company to create hydroelectricity for the region. As they prepare for the end, villagers gather up stories, artifacts, and memories to create a museum memorializing their old town and its communal way of life.

That's what happened at the 2000-year-old town of Vilarinho da Furna in Portugal’s Minho region. According to oral accounts, the village is said to have been founded by Romans in the 1st century CE, and flourished for two millennia before being flooded by the Portuguese Electricity Company in 1972. In 1981, a museum dedicated to the submerged town opened in São João do Campo; the building was constructed using stones from some of the village’s old houses, and displays artifacts from the town. But that’s not all: remnants from the town can be seen during dry periods in the spring and fall, when water levels in the reservoir recede, and the remnants of walls, windows, and doors of the town re-emerge.

4. St. Thomas, Nevada

Located 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, St. Thomas was established in 1865 as a Mormon outpost before becoming an agricultural community briefly known for producing cantaloupes and asparagus. In the 1930s, after the creation of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead flooded, washing over the entire town. Today, during times of drought, the foundations of St. Thomas reappear—although each time they re-emerge, more of the structures have disappeared. In 2005, parts of 40 buildings were visible, including remnants of an old school and ice cream parlor. According to the National Park Service, much of the town is visible right now due to the current drought.

5. Potosi, Venezuela

Junctions, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In what remains of Potosi, Venezuela, the mildewed ruins of a gothic church sit alone in a giant field. At one point, the church was part of a vibrant Andean village with 1200 inhabitants, but in 1985 the town was flooded when a nearby river was dammed to create a hydroelectric plant. For about 20 years, only the cross of the church's steeple was visible above the waters, as if marking the grave of the entire city. In 2008 the waters of the reservoir began to recede due to a severe drought linked to El Nino. By 2010 the church had been completely uncovered, joining the ruins of local houses, the town square, and a cemetery, all of which can now be seen.

6. Port Royal, Jamaica

They used to call it the "Wickedest City on Earth." For decades in the 17th century, Port Royal was known for its rum, prostitutes, and pirates, who used the town's strategic location in the middle of the Caribbean as their base for plundering Spanish treasure fleets. But in 1692 the city was hit with a massive earthquake, which destroyed some buildings and sucked others into the sand. The tsunami that followed drenched the town, swallowing up 33 acres for good. In all, at least 2000 people were killed. Today, much of the once-scandalous city lies 40 feet below water. Since the 1950s, divers have been exploring the ruins, which are said to be remarkably complete. As Atlas Obscura notes, access from the government is required to dive. For those who don’t want to get wet, many of the artifacts recovered over the years can be seen at the Museums of History and Ethnography at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston.

7. Catskills, New York

New York may have the highest concentration of drowned towns in the U.S., thanks to the number that were submerged to supply thirsty New York City. Between 1910 and 1928, dozens of farm villages in the Catskills were flooded to create reservoirs for the Big Apple. The creation of the Ashokan Reservoir, which began operating in 1915, required the abandonment and flooding of about a dozen hamlets alone. On the cusp of being displaced, thousands of residents were asked to help clear out their homes and businesses, and in some cases even dig up their relatives and move their bodies. Today, some claim that when water levels are low, the tops of the churches, schools, barns, and orchards drowned by the creation of Ashokan can still be seen. During a major drought in 2002, building foundations and old wells were revealed. Direct access to the reservoir has been limited since 9/11, but you can still catch a glimpse of the structures from nearby bridges.

The Catskills are also home to perhaps the most ironically named drowned town of them all: Neversink. The town was one of two flooded in 1953 for the creation of the Neversink reservoir. The other town displaced to create the new water supply was named Bittersweet.

8. Monument City, Indiana

In 2012, a severe drought in the Midwest revealed the remnants of Monument City, including the foundations of houses and bricks from the old schoolhouse, long since demolished. The tiny town (estimated population: 30), established in 1875, was one of three flooded to create the Salamonie reservoir in 1965. After water levels fell by 12 feet in 2012, locals began flocking to the area to take remnants of the tiny town, before the Department of Natural Resources finally stepped in to offer supervised tours. The reservoir was originally created to help prevent the flooding of other towns. When water levels in the reservoir are low, the remnants of the town can again be seen.

9. Flooded Belfry, Kalyazin, Russia

In 1939, Joseph Stalin gave orders to flood the 12th-century town of Kalyazin, Russia to build the Uglich reservoir. The waters submerged several medieval buildings, including two monasteries, but the Kalyazin Bell Tower, also known as the "Flooded Belfry," is still looming above the Volga. At 244 feet high, the 19th-century campanile is one of the tallest Orthodox Christian structures in the world. (It looks a bit like a many-layered wedding cake.) Authorities have reinforced the tower and built a small artificial island around it, turning it into a popular spot for swimmers and tourists. Amazingly, Orthodox Christian services are still held inside the tower several time a year.

10. Church of Mediano, Spain


Juan R. Lascorz, Wikimedia // CC BY SA-3.0

Spain has a number of drowned towns, but one of the most notable sights is the Church of Mediano (above) in La Fueva, Huesca. The church, which dates to the late 16th century, was submerged in 1974 to create the Mediano Reservoir. The tip of the steeple is always visible, even when the reservoir's levels are full. Intrepid divers used to be able to explore both the inside and out, but the inside has been boarded up for safety reasons. Elsewhere in the country, in Catalonia, the ruins of the 1000-year-old village of Sant Romà de Sau (below) are also visible when water levels in a nearby reservoir drop, and include their own atmospheric church.

Joan ggk, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

Amazon
Amazon

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Black Friday is finally here, and Amazon is offering great deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

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Instant Pot/Amazon

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Sony

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Microsoft/Amazon

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Apple/Amazon

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The Trailblazing Story of Alexandrine Tinné, the Victorian Explorer Who Attempted to Cross the Sahara Desert

Alexandrine Tinné was an avid explorer.
Alexandrine Tinné was an avid explorer.
Haags Historisch Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A well-chaperoned Grand Tour of Europe offered wealthy Victorian women a way to safely admire civilization’s wonders, but such travel held little interest for Dutch heiress Alexine Tinné. Having studied books on geography, archaeology, and botany at the Royal Library in the Hague, Tinné longed to explore uncharted regions. Her travels would bring her along the White Nile and later, deep within the Sahara Desert.

An Escape From Victorian Life

Alexandrine Tinné, circa 1855–1860.Robert Jefferson Bingham, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the mid-19th century, exploration was considered a gentleman’s pursuit. The Royal Geographic Society had never financed an expedition led by a woman (and wouldn't until 1904). But Tinné didn't need anyone to authorize or fund her trip, having inherited a fortune when she was 9 years old after the death of her father, Philip Frederik Tinné, a wealthy Anglo-Dutch sugar merchant and shipbuilder [PDF]. She could afford to travel in luxury with her mother, Baroness Henriette van Capellen, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Sophie of Württemberg. When Tinné was 19, she and her mother traveled Europe and Scandinavia before heading to Egypt to enjoy pleasure cruises on the Nile.

According to Mylinka Kilgore Cardona, a history professor at Texas A&M University who is reworking her dissertation The Six Lives Of Alexine Tinné [PDF] into a book, Tinné’s travels offered a chance to escape the narrow confines of Victorian life. “She got to be her authentic self when she was outside of Europe,” Cardona tells Mental Floss. “She got rid of the corsetry and the crinolines and dressed like a local, albeit a wealthy local. Had she gone back to Europe she would have most likely been forced back into those expectations and highly encouraged to marry.”

Eventful Expeditions

Tinné was so intrigued by Africa, she launched an 1863 expedition to what is now Sudan to discover the source of the Nile, something European explorers had sought since Roman times. Ornithologist Theodor von Heugelin and botanist Hermann Steudner joined Tinné’s 1863 expedition, which required a flotilla of boats to ferry her entourage of soldiers, maids, porters, and clerks, as well as the required camels and donkeys. Tinné’s five dogs, carried in panniers by porters, also accompanied the group.

Though she didn't find the source of the Nile, her adventures were still fruitful. Tinné documented her travels along the region’s waterways and settlements, compiling photographs and drawings now housed in museums. The plants she collected and pressed became the basis for Plantae Tinneanae, a book on the botany of Bahr el-Ghazal, and her letters, sent home by dispatch, described experiences that included traders promising to proclaim her Queen of the Sudan and receiving a marriage proposal from a sultan. 

To a niece, Tinné wrote of her intention to travel beyond Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan. “When you look at the map you will see there is at the SouthWest of the Equator, a large space empty of names, it’s there we want to go to.”

Accounts of her travels not only thrilled newspaper readers of the day, but also were presented at The Royal Geographic Society. Yet some critics called Tinné a dilettante and claimed women were ill-suited to risky endeavors. “Exploration was this very macho masculine thing in the 19th century,” Cardona says. “To be out exploring and facing your fears. Then you have this 20-something-year-old woman doing it. How manly can it be if she is doing it too?”

Troubled Travels

Alexandrine Tinné's travels were far from solitary.Die Gartenlaube, 1869, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tinné’s excursions were far from a leisurely holiday. Her entourage grew as she traveled, straining their resources. When food supplies ran low, her soldiers threatened to mutiny. In self-taught Arabic, the heiress persuaded them to continue, but she soon had to reverse course: While in Bahr el Ghazal, several members of her expedition became severely ill. Tinné and von Heugelin survived, but her mother, Steudner, and two maids died.

Tinné returned to Khartoum, where Adriana van Cappellen, an aunt who had previously left the expedition, had remained. Only weeks after Tinné arrived in Khartoum, Van Cappellen died unexpectedly. Despite suffering yet another devastating loss, the young explorer chose not to return to the Hague. “And now you will probably ask yourself what I am going to do,” she wrote to her niece. “And I don’t think you will be very astonished when I tell you I am going to stay in the East.”

For the next four years, Tinné lived in Alexandria, Tunis, and Tripoli, sailing the Mediterranean, but still longing to explore uncharted regions. In late 1868, she launched another expedition, aiming to be the first European woman to cross the Sahara. It would be her last.

The expedition began in Tripoli, but ended before ever leaving the country. In August 1869, at the age of 33, Tinné was killed during a fight between her camel drivers and guides while traveling between Murzuq and Ghat [PDF]. She knew the dangers inherent in exploration, at one point expressing her preference for an interesting life: “If you hear today or tomorrow that I have been sent to the other world, then don’t think my last moments were lived in bitterness.”