Archaeologists astounded by 1,000-year-old ‘Lion City’ under Chinese lake

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The legend of the sunken city of Atlantis is a universal tale. Mentioned in ancient texts throughout history, it has been more recently fictionalised in books and films. Its story was told in two of Plato’s dialogues, the ‘Timaeus’ and the ‘Critias’ written about 360 BC.

While many refuse to believe that Atlantis is a fiction, no evidence for it has ever been found.

However, they may yet find solace in China’s ancient and lost underwater civilisation, the ‘Lion City’.

Even after centuries, the city remains fully intact, despite having been submerged under water since the late Fifties.

The forced flooding was carried out as part of the Chinese Government’s Great Leap Forward programme, making way for the country’s first hydropower plant.

A beautiful landscape was created, a waterway containing over 1,000 islands, each of them the top of a hill sprouting from deep below.

It sits at the bottom of the reservoir close to the Qiandao Lake near the picturesque Wu Shi Mountain.

Lou Shanliang was one of the first people ever to dive into the lake and explore what lay beneath it, having swam in the waters as a child, telling the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘China from above: Mountain and rivers’, that it is like “another world” below — the narrator describing it as “China’s Atlantis”.

Teaming up with cameraman Wu Lixin, the pair used cutting edge 3D scanning technology to bring the ancient Lion City back to life.

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Thought to have been built somewhere between 25 and 200 AD, the city was at one point one of China’s most powerful cities and kept this status for centuries.

In 2014, after the authorities realised the city was still intact, they started to allow tourists to visit the area by diving.

The work of Mr Lou and Mr Wu marks the first time the city has been captured three dimensionally.

Mr Wu said: “If we want to get a comprehensive set of data, we have to revolve around the object and take many photos from different angles.

“Then, we input those photos into a computer programme.”

They created beautiful 3D images of some of the ancient stonework found underwater — great statues of lions and other figures.

Mr Wu said: “I hope that through our filming and exploration more submerged historic relics and the stories behind them can be brought to light again.”


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Much of the architecture that marvels in the lake dates to the 16th century, and is considered one of the gems of Chinese architecture.

Its existing city walls also date from this period, among the notable landmarks wide streets and 265 archways.

The ‘Lion City’, or ‘Shi Cheng’, reached its zenith between 1368 and 1644 when the Ming dynasty ruled China.

Its opulence is clear: five entry gates with an area of 62 football fields, with six main streets paved with stones all connected to each other.

Despite holding clues of China’s rich historical and cultural past, the Lion City was flooded in 1959.

At the flick of a switch, the metropolis was slowly submerged.

It now sits, at its deepest point, 130 feet below the surface.

History buffs and diving enthusiasts alike can now visit the city themselves.

However, they must be a professional diver in order to take in its splendours.

In 2014, Qiu Feng, an excited local tourism official, recalled the team’s mission to see whether the lake was safe to dive in or not.

He said: “We were lucky. As soon as we dived into the lake, we found the outside wall of the town and even picked up a brick to prove it.”

Protected from wind, rain, and sun, the entire city has been branded a “time capsule” as almost every structure remains completely intact, including wooden beams and stairs.

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