Hands on History : The Atlantis of the East

By Shani Asokan | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 24 2021
Scribbler Hands on History :  The Atlantis of the East

By Shani Asokan   Ceylon Today Features

In 1959, the Chinese city of Shicheng was flooded and then forgotten. In 2001, this 600-year-old city was rediscovered, perfectly preserved in its underwater grave. Now, divers can explore the remains of this ancient city that has remained hidden beneath the waters of the Qiandao Lake. 

Now I’m sure that was a lot of new information, and you’re likely to have a ton of follow-up questions. In this article on China’s forgotten city of Shicheng, we’ll uncover all the facts around this mysterious city together. 

A city of old

Often referred to as the ‘Atlantis of the East’ by travellers, the underwater city of Shicheng, meaning Lion City in Mandarin, is a perfectly preserved time capsule of Imperial China. This means that the structures of the city, like its buildings, date back several hundreds of years, giving us evidence and information about cultures and civilizations of long ago.

The stone architecture of Shicheng dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties which ruled China from 1386 to 1912. It still stands perfectly preserved, around 40 metres below the surface of Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang Provice, around 400 kilometres south of Shanghai. 

The flooding

Unlike the Atlantis most of us know about from Greek mythology, Shicheng, was purposely flooded in 1959 to make way for the Xin’an Dam and hydroelectric station. Nearly 300 people who lived in Shicheng were relocated for this project. That is, they were moved out of the city and given new homes elsewhere. 

Most of these families had lived in the city for hundreds of years. 

Water was allowed to flow into the city, covering it entirely. The newly made lake was called Qiandao Lake. Shicheng was now no longer visible above water, it now had a new home in the depths of the lake.


In 2001, the Chinese Government organised an expedition to see what might remain of the lost city. Ten years later, in 2011, a magazine published never before seen pictures and illustrations of what the city might have looked like in the days before the flooding.

The city as it is today is also well documented. Divers have captured magnificent pictures of the stone architecture of the city walls, and its five entrance gates. The stonework of lions, dragons, phoenixes and historical inscriptions too are well captured on film and photo. Some of this stonework date back to 1777, while the city walls date back to the 16th century.     

Perfectly preserved 

Despite being underwater for over 60 years, the city of Shicheng remains well preserved. This is because the water shields it from the wind, rain and sun erosion, all of which would have worn out the stone the city is built out of. 

Today, if you are an experienced diver, you can dive down and get a close up look of the ruins yourself. However, because the ruins have not been fully mapped out yet, the dive is restricted to those with deep water, night and buoyancy experience. Maybe someday soon, the lost city of Shicheng will be fully mapped out and documented for the world to see. 

By Shani Asokan | Published: 2:00 AM Apr 24 2021

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