The Road to Nowhere – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Ancient Places

That Might Have

Actually Existed

Myth and legend are full of wondrous places that capture the imagination and have inspired generations of adventurers to explore the world in search of their treasures. Often they come up empty-handed, but every once in a while there seems to be a sliver of truth to the tales of these mythical places. Let’s take a look at 10 that may have been based in some degree of reality.

Let us take you away…

10. Atlantis

The story of Atlantis can be traced to the Greek philosopher Plato. He spoke of the fabled land back in 360 BC. In Plato’s telling, Atlantis was a land of rich and powerful people who were technologically advanced. It was not a complimentary tale though, and his stories about it were meant to illustrate that their knowledge and might had corrupted them as a people.

For most of history these tales were regarded as allegorical, used by Plato to illustrate a point. There are no other writings of the time that ever mention anything like Atlantis, so it was generally considered just to be something he made up to be illustrative. Not everyone believes that was the case though.

In more recent years, the belief that Atlantis may have been based on Minoan society has achieved some notoriety. The Minoan kingdom, ruled by King Minos, was said to be remarkably wealthy and advanced and had spread across much of Ancient Greece.

Minoans had paved roads and were believed to have been the first Greek society to use a written language. And then one day they vanished. It’s believed that sometime around 1600 BC a massive earthquake set off the volcanoes on the Minoan island known as Thera, burying it and destroying the culture forever.

9. Norumbega

Norumbega was said to be a legendary land of riches, named for an Algonquin word for the area, discovered by the Vikings well before North America was settled by Europeans. It showed up on maps in the 1500s and was situated around modern-day New England.

Archaeological evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Vikings ever settled anywhere that far south, and there’s only one confirmed Viking settlement in North America that exists in Newfoundland. That doesn’t mean there weren’t others though, and there is some evidence to suggest that perhaps Vikings did in fact settle farther north in places.

So what about Norumbega? The people of Boston commissioned a statue of Leif Erikson in the 1870s, in honor of his discovery of this legendary land.

In Viking tales, North America was called Vinland, or at least that’s what some people believe. Other historians who have analyzed the often contradictory data presented in Viking sagas have determined that Vinland couldn’t be where the Vikings landed in Newfoundland because of the lack of certain features like salmon and grapes. It’s believed that those things were found farther south around Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps as far down as Boston, which would have lent itself to the Norumbega myth.

8. Shangri-La

The legendary city of Shangri-La traces its origins to the works of British author James Hilton. He wrote of the city in his 1933 novel “Lost Horizon.” According to Hilton, Shangri-La was essentially an earthly paradise hidden within the Kunlun Mountains. While many have dismissed the story as pure fantasy created by Hilton, others believe that there’s some truth to them. Especially because Tibetan myths hold that there were several such cities hidden within the mountains.

In 1998, explorers trekking through the area discovered an area that they believe may have actually inspired the Shangri-La story. To the best of their knowledge, no Western humans had ever set foot in this place. Called “The Hidden Falls of the Tsangpo,” this valley of lush greenery was hidden even from satellite imagery in the mountains.

7. El Dorado

The legendary city/kingdom/empire of El Dorado is arguably one of the most interesting in all of mythology. Conquistadors searched throughout South America to find this place, which was apparently a vast city made of solid gold. While some legendary places were based entirely in fiction, and other places like Xanadu turned out to actually be real, the truth about El Dorado is a complete sidestep from either of these things.

Perhaps the results of the same phenomena that happens during the telephone game, when you tell a story to one person and they tell it to another, and they tell it to another, and the details get muddled, the truth of El Dorado also changed over time.

The idea that El Dorado was a golden kingdom came from something a little less vast, but still pretty impressive. El Dorado was no kingdom, but a king. Archaeological evidence shows that El Dorado was a person who was, for all intents and purposes, golden. This Chieftain would be covered from head to toe in gold and every day would bathe in a sacred lake to wash the gold off before applying it again the next day.

Unlike most other legends, this makes El Dorado curiously true and false at the same time, sort of like Schrodinger’s cat: neither outcome was expected, but not entirely false either.

6. Camelot

The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a pretty fantastic one, especially when you consider it involves pulling a magical sword from a stone, and a wizard. These things are generally not found in real life history. Despite that, there’s some evidence that Arthur’s stomping grounds, better known as Camelot, was an actual real place at some point in time even if Arthur was never a real man, or perhaps a gestalt of several kings.

Retired British Professor Peter Field believed he stumbled upon the actual location of Camelot while doing some research. Based on his findings, he came to the conclusion that Camelot was a Roman fort at Slack, to the west of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire.

The Roman fort, called Camulodunum, was strategically placed but currently exists underneath a golf course, so any excavation is probably going to have to wait a few years.

5. Hy-Brasil

Said to be located off the coast of Ireland, the island of Brasil, sometimes called Hy-Brasil so as to not confuse it with the South American country, is supposedly hidden except for one day every seven years. You don’t need to have a degree in geography to know that’s not a realistic feature of most islands, which is why it’s generally considered to be purely fictitious.

Despite the mysterious nature of the island, there have been accounts of people discovering similar places over the years. The island appeared on maps as early as the year 1325 and continued to appear on maps all the way up to the year 1800.

Several explorers and sailors claimed to have either seen, or even visited the island, though most who went in search of it came back empty-handed. It’s been theorized that the Porcupine Bank might be the actual source of the story — a raised shoal in the general vicinity where Hy-Brasil was said to exist.

4. Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Constructed in the 6th century BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II, the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were supposed to be quite the sight to behold. Cascading gardens that reached 75 feet in height and featured flowers, herbs and all manner of exotic plant life to such an extravagant degree they became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And as far as anyone knew in modern times, they had never existed at all.

In order for such a garden to have existed, an impressive irrigation system had to have been constructed to bring enough water into the desert for all the plants to thrive. No evidence in modern times has ever been found to indicate such a massive undertaking ever existed around Babylon. It doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t exist though.

According to research by Dr. Stephanie Dalley, the reason we never found any evidence of the Hanging Gardens in Babylon was that they were never in Babylon in the first place. She believes she discovered evidence of their existence and the ancient city of Nineveh, part of the Assyrian Empire.

Dalley’s research shows Assyrian King Sennacherib was responsible for an extravagant garden about a century before the supposed Babylonian version. His writings describe such a thing, including irrigation technology thought to not exist until four centuries later.

3. Zerzura

West of the Nile, somewhere in the desert in Egypt or Libya, was said to be the legendary oasis of Zerzura. Written accounts of it can be traced back to the 13th century, mentioning a city that was as white as a dove. It was said that it is ruled by a sleeping king and queen; it was guarded by black giants, and it was full of treasures.

Numerous European explorers set out to discover the location of Zerzura in more modern times, some as late as the 1930s. It was in 1932 when Hungarian Explorer Laszlo Almasy led an expedition through the desert and discovered a series of wadis. Though there was no shining white city with a sleeping king, the truth was that they did discover some oases in the desert that had been clearly visited by the local Tebu nomads who had built huts around the area.

It’s worth noting that in the recounting of Almasy’s tale, he started his day of discovery by dusting the desert sand off of his plane. Had there been something in that area in the past it’s just as likely that the desert had swallowed it and only the vegetation remained. Regardless of whether there was a real city or not, the oasis does seem to exist and it’s possible something else may have once been there as well.

2. Thule

In ancient Greek and Roman writings, the farthest north you could get was a land called Thule. It was in the 4th century BC when Greek explorer Pytheas came to Athens with stories of this land where the sun never set and the land and ocean came together in a sort of jelly-like substance. So that was weird.

In later years some people came to believe that perhaps what Pytheas was describing was Iceland or even Greenland, but the details didn’t always line up. In time people came to believe that perhaps Pytheas had just made up the entire story. The only problem was he had been consistently reliable with what he had written about in the past. And the fact remains that his description of the Arctic summer was accurate. When you go far enough north, you will reach places where the sun stays up for days at a time. It would be a remarkable thing for him to have just guessed that.

Pytheas claims to have discovered the land six days across the sea from the Orkney islands. The people there were said to be fair skinned and with light hair, and barbarians by his description. In later years the Nazis would latch onto this story and mount their own expedition to find Thule, believing it to be the birthplace of the Aryan race.

Obviously the Nazis never found this mythical land of Aryan supremacy, but there were enough details of a land that clearly existed somewhere in the Arctic to confirm that wherever Pytheas had gone, it was likely a real place.

1. Sodom and Gomorrah

In the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God told Abraham that the two cities were going to be destroyed because of how wicked the inhabitants were. Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in one of those towns and Abraham didn’t really want to see him destroyed. Only Lot and his family were worthy enough to live, so they were told they could flee just as long as they didn’t look back. But as they left, Lot’s wife took a peek and was turned into a pillar of salt. As for everyone else in town? Nothing remained.

You’d think the historical evidence for two cities destroyed by God himself would be pretty thin. But there is a belief that the two cities did exist and the ruins are currently near a former peninsula of the Dead Sea in Israel. As for God’s wrath, it took the form of an earthquake that was believed to hit the region around 1900 BCE, and naturally occurring petroleum and other gases in the area may have actually exploded and rained fire at the time.


The Road to Nowhere

WIF 10 Cent Travel

Legends Are Made of These – WIF Mythical Travel Edition

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Ancient Places of Legend

That May Never

Have Existed

History books tell us of ancient places with amazing architecture, and world wonders long past. Archeological discovery has learned much about the world before us. The idea of many of these locations has inspired imaginations for many years. However, the truth is that history gets distorted over time both through constant retellings and sometimes through historical records that were actually just fanciful stories written after the fact. Many of the most famous locations may not have existed at all. Many of those that did, were much different than most people usually imagine.

Editor’s Note: Anything relating to The Bible is probably true (despite these explanations)

10. The Legend of El Dorado Didn’t Start Out About a City

el-dorado

The City of El Dorado, also known as the City of Gold, was popularized in myth. Fairly recently, it was retold in a very shiny and colorful Disney movie. The myth claims that there was a city of gold, told of by the South American natives. Many explorers went searching for it in the hopes of finding amazing riches. However, the original legend was actually about a person, not a city. It morphed into a city that needed to be searched for, because many of the natives were happy to lead the explorers on a wild chase.

The original legend told of an ancient leader who was so rich, that every morning he would be doused in gold dust. Then every evening, he would bathe in sacred waters, washing the dust off again. This was an example of his absolutely ridiculous wealth. However, while the legend is based on this, it isn’t actually true either. Archeologists have discovered that the original story began because of the Musica people who would perform a similar ritual when anointing a new king. But they certainly weren’t wasting that kind of gold every day. It was for very special occasions.

 9. The City of Troy May Not Be At All Like People Think

troy

The City of Troy has captured people’s imaginations ever since The Iliad and The Odyssey. More recently, there have been very visually stunning movies that have helped rekindle modern interest in the ancient city. Many people assume the city and the famous siege that took place may have been similar to how it was described in Homer’s work, or in the movies. But the issue of Troy is extremely complicated.

To begin with, much of Homer’s original work that would complete the two famous stories is missing, and may never be found. This makes it difficult to understand how much of his work was fact, and how much was fiction. Also, for some time historians weren’t sure the city of Troy existed at all. Now they have found an archeological site that they believe may contain the city, but that has only made the problem even more complicated. The site has several layers built on top of each other, which means that even if Troy was once there, figuring out which layer was the Troy described in Homer’s epic would be incredibly difficult.

Archeologists also have good reason to believe at this point that the siege described in Homer’s work actually took place over the course of many years. There also may have actually been more than one siege, of more than one Troy, over the course of history — all on the same spot. For this reason, trying to get a historically accurate picture of Troy may be next to impossible.

8. The Lost City of Atlantis Was Probably a Myth, Or Just a Regular Destroyed Island

atlantis

 The Lost City of Atlantis has been popularized in myth for millennia. The idea of a lost city of prosperous people, who perhaps had interesting knowledge or technology is a fascinating idea. Some myths even go so far as to suggest that the people of Atlantis somehow continued to survive underneath the ocean. Wilder myths even suggest they are responsible for the Bermuda triangle — bringing down anything that gets too close to the truth of their hidden existence.

However, in all likelihood if Atlantis did exist, it was just an ordinary island struck by natural disaster. The first references to such a place were in an allegory by Plato about the suddenness that something could disappear, and about the hubris of not being prepared for danger. Many people are convinced this is the truth, and that there was no Atlantis. But, people often write about what they know. There is evidence that a prosperous island fairly near Plato was swallowed up almost instantly by a volcano, so he could have been making a reference to that event. Either way, there was nothing particularly special about the city Plato was referencing.

7. The Fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon Were Probably Not That Advanced

hanging-gardens

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the wonders of the ancient world. They also probably never existed at all. Many people have an idea from artwork of a huge city of mostly sandstone, with beautiful terraced gardens throughout, despite being in the middle of the desert. It certainly captures the imagination, but the first references to such a place were not written until hundreds of years after the city of Babylon was gone, greatly calling into doubt their existence.

The site of Babylon was only recently found, and wasn’t exactly where archeologists expected, either. It turns out it was closer to a neighboring city known as Nineveh. The people of Nineveh had taken over the Babylonian culture through war. But they liked to assimilate the enemies’ names into their own cities, making archeological identification difficult at first.

 Archeologists have not yet been able to prove the existence of any kind of hanging gardens or super advanced irrigation system. But even if they had, it wouldn’t have been that impressive to begin with. It turns out that the actual site of Babylon is not particularly arid, and would be quite useable for growing vegetation.

6. The Bermuda Triangle Is A Modern Myth, Not An Ancient Danger For Mariners

bermuda triangle

The Bermuda Triangle is a place that will cause many people to short circuit the logic part of their brain. They’ll start talking about the silliest paranoid conspiracy theories imaginable. Nearly everyone knows a mysterious story or two about the area. While most people would agree it is a natural phenomenon, the average person is convinced that something is going on there.

However, the truth is that there is no such thing as the Bermuda Triangle in the first place. What we mean by this is that there is no map in the world that has ever considered that particular region to be anything special to avoid or not. The entire idea of the triangle was made up by folklore.

Statistics show that there are no more accidents or disappearances of boats and planes in the triangle than anywhere else in the ocean. In other words, you could draw a triangle anywhere in the ocean and you would be just as likely to find a similar set of mysterious disappearances. This is because weather can cause ships and boats to go under, and the ocean is incredibly vast. Any part of the ocean can be dangerous. But there’s no evidence that particular area is any more dangerous than any other.

5. The Garden Of Eden Was Probably Philosophical, Not Physical

eden

 The Garden of Eden is a subject that has caused some controversy for many years. Certain Christians are convinced that the Garden of Eden was once a physical location somewhere on the globe, and have done a lot of research to suggest various possible locations. Most of them are somewhere in the Middle East, fairly near the locations mentioned in the early days of the bible.

Interestingly though, the Jewish faith never believed in the Garden of Eden as a physical place to begin with, but as a state of being. When men were first created, in their view, they were in a state of perfect harmony. The sin of man broke that harmony and they were no longer in the Garden of Eden, but harshly viewing the world as it actually was — alone, in the desert to fend for themselves. Many Christian scholars have increasingly taken up a similar viewpoint over the years.

4. The Tower of Babel was Probably Just an Unfinished Building

babel

The legend in the bible says that after the great flood, many people who spoke the same language came together and arrogantly forgot about God. They planned to build a tower to reach the heavens. Partway through their building, God struck them with confusion. Now, they had many languages, and they scattered across the globe. Some people dismiss the entire thing as just a story, and some people have looked for archeological evidence. The truth is a little more complicated.

 There is no evidence to support the biblical story itself. However, there is evidence of a great Ziggurat that could fit the description of the tower that existed in the Babylonian Empire while the Hebrews were their slaves. The Ziggurat was unfinished during that time. Despite being quite grand, multiple attempts had been made to finish it. Some historians believe that the Jewish writers of the time, looking for allegories to teach important lessons, were inspired by the unfinished Ziggurat nearby.

3. Ponce De Leon was Probably Never Actually Searching for a Fountain Of Youth

fountain-of-youth

We already know there was no actual fountain of youth. The idea of a magical fountain that could restore the vitality to anyone who bathed in it is quite ridiculous. However, while no one today really believes the story, some assume that the people of a few hundred years ago would have been stupid enough to believe it.

The legends claim that Ponce De Leon wasted years of his time in Florida searching for this mythical fountain. A fountain, it turned out, that was a trick allegedly played on him by the natives. However, there is no evidence in his writings he was searching for any such thing. The only source for his alleged search was a fanciful account written by a suspect source, trying to gain political favor with his views. It is more than likely the entire legend was a complete fabrication from beginning to end.

2. Jericho Was Probably Just Built on a Fault Line

jericho

Many people have heard the story of the fabled Wall of Jericho. Jericho was an ancient city in biblical days, held under siege. God was to help bring down the city, but needed the help of His chosen. The army was to blow their trumpets and march around the city continuously, and He would bring the city walls down for them. After several days, the walls came down, and the people of God were victorious.

 Now, while the city of Jericho was real, many historians believe this story was far stranger than many people first realized. The city was actually in an area that would have been prone to earthquake activity. With armies using up nearby waters during a siege, it could increase the risk. Some historians would say that the army got lucky. Or, that someone knew the earthquake activity in the area and hoped to use it to their advantage. Believers would suggest that perhaps God chose that moment to activate an earthquake along that particular fault-line. No one will ever know.

1. Roswell is Really Just Home to an Old, Unused Air Force Base

roswell

We know the military presence at Roswell was hardly anything ancient. But with the belief many people have in ancient aliens, and their connection to Area 51 and the US government, it brings the entire thing full circle. Now, we aren’t saying that the town of Roswell, New Mexico doesn’t exist. But we are saying that there is a lot of confusion over what exactly Roswell is. Most people know that it’s the town where there was an alleged crash of a UFO. The Air Force would later claim it was just a weather balloon. Over time, most secret government projects have been associated with Area 51. Somehow the two places — Roswell and Area 51 — have often become conflated in the popular mindset.

While there was an Air Force Base located at Roswell, it has not been functioning for many years now. And it was never used for highly secret projects. In fact, Walker Air Force Base was a fairly generic and unimportant military post. When budget cuts came near the end of Vietnam, it was one of the first bases to close up shop. There’s a museum celebrating the legacy of the base, but what is left now serves commercial purposes. And no, there are no aliens there.


Legends Are Made of These

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– WIF Mythical Travel Edition