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Mysterious sites, regions and structures fill our world, exciting the imagination and leading us to speculate about their origins and purposes. The mysterious lost continent of Atlantis is one such place. Places such as these that are unseen lead us to wonder if perhaps they exist only in the minds of believers. Even those which are quite visible remain inscrutable to the questioning mind.

Atlantis was first accounted for by the great Greek thinker Plato, who lived from about 428 to 348 B. C. Plato was a student of the philosopher Socrates who had formed his own school of philosophy in the groves of Academe in Athens. A student of Plato's named Critias insisted that a story of a privileged locale had been passed down to him from his relatives by word of mouth. This information and a few notes written by the Greek statesman Solon, who had heard this story a century and a half earlier from Egyptian priests, brought about the tale of the lost continent of Atlantis.

The Egyptians believed the place was Athens of a much earlier time, some 9,000 years before. Their belief was that Athena, the goddess of wisdom, had established a city for the sole purpose of producing men of the greatest wisdom and courage. Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which we know as the Strait of Gibraltar, there was an island larger than northern Africa and Asia Minor combined. This continent was believed to be equal in size to most of the known world in Plato's day. It was on the island continent a great and marvelous power had arisen, creating Atlantis, and its kings had extended their influence into the Mediterranean as far as central Italy and Egypt. The plan of the Atlanteans was to control the world. Before long, Athenian warriors defeated the armies of Atlantis in a great battle. It was then that the cities' leaders liberated all those east of the Pillars of Hercules. But following this glorious victory came violent earthquakes and floods that destroyed the early Athenians and sank the entire continent of Atlantis under the sea. According to the story all of this occurred in a devastating period of one day and one night. According to the Egyptian priest who had informed Solon, such catastrophes were certainly common enough in the world. It was due to this the Greeks had lost the early records of their history. But in Egypt, thanks to the valve action of its regularly flooding Nile River, the people were protected from such disasters, and thus still retained knowledge of ancient cataclysms.

Suddenly, Atlantis became a tantalizing part of the historical record. According to Critias, in the earliest times when the gods were dividing the earth among themselves, Poseidon, the Greek sea god, chose the fair and bounteous continent and subsidiary islands that would come to be known as Atlantis. With a woman named Cleito he sired five sets of twin sons for who the continent and the surround ocean were named. Atlantis was divided into ten parts and Poseidon made his sons rulers, with Atlas, his oldest son, being given sovereign over his brothers.

Atlantis was said to be a land of fruitful plains, extensive timber, rich flora and fauna, and great herds of elephants. According to the story, the ground was seamed with gold, silver and other metals including a mysterious one called orichalcum. This was a copper that sparkled like fire, according to Plato. The kings built a city at the southern end of the continent, magnificence enough to match the great power that so rich a land soon achieved. The city consisted on concentric rings of land and waterways. In the center, on a hill. the Atlanteans raised a great temple to Poseidon. In the city there were both hot and cold springs, some for the use of the kings and others for citizens. There were even springs for beast of burden. The outer rings held a racecourse and housing for the citizens. The inner waterways were harbors were filled with vessels of war.

Atlantis, gifted with wealth, strength and internal harmony, began to extend its power outward. But during this same time it was noted that the divine and virtuous character of the population had begun to weaken. According to Critias, "Human nature got the upper hand." It was then that Zeus summoned the gods to determine what punishment to inflict on Atlantis. At this point Critias breaks off and Plato ended his chronicle of Atlantis before he had given the details. This area was only touched on by Timaeus when he spoke of the war, earthquake, floods and sinking of the great continent into the depths of the sea.
It was simple enough to believe that a mysterious land might once have existed in the vastness of the Atlantic during a time when the seas beyond the Strait of Gibraltar remained unexplored and were believed to be perilously laced with reefs and shallows. Corroborative stories about other Atlantic land forms by Homer and others lent credence to the account of the lost continent. Here and there old texts made mention of Atlantis and became circumstantial evidence for those who wanted to believe the continent.
For a time it was believed that the New World was Atlantis. As time passed and geographical knowledge grew it was believed that none of the known continents showed the profound effects that would have followed the cataclysmic disappearance of an Atlantis size land mass. Nor could shallows be found in the area where Atlantis was believed to be. Finally, in 1831 Ignatius Loyola Donnelly who had been a voracious reader since he was in high school, developed an abiding fascination for the lost continent. In mid January of 1881 he announced he was working on a book about Atlantis. After voluminous studies of history, geography, mythology and world literature he became more convinced than ever that Plato's Atlantis had existed. His book, entitled Atlantis went on sale in early 1882.
Donnelly's vision of the lost continent found an immense audience. It is believed that the reason for the interest was related to a great wave of spiritualism which was under way at that time both in America and Europe. Information concerning other lost continents began to surface. Mu, which Charles Etienne Brasseur and le Plongeon located in the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean, bore a striking resemblance to Atlantis. Reports of yet another land mass were inspired by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. English zoologist Philip Sclater, believing there had once been a continent size land mass bridging Madagascar and Africa, called this lost land Lemuria.
Edgar Cayce, known as the sleeping prophet, spoke of Atlantis while in a trance telling of the life and death of the continent and predicting that the western region of the long submerged continent would reappear near Bimini. In 1968 divers found in the waters off Bimini what appeared to be a long roadway paved with rectangular blocks of stone that date back some 12,000 years. Today, the search for Atlantis continues.