14 Sacred Facts About Machu Picchu


Built high into the Peruvian Andes on the western edge of the Amazon Basin, the Inca stronghold of Machu Picchu has astounded and confounded visitors since it was unveiled more than 100 years ago by an ambitious Yale professor.


Emerging from the Cusco region of Peru in the 13th century, the Inca dynasty came to dominate a huge swath of South America and was once the largest kingdom in the Americas. Ruled by an emperor, or Sapa Inca, who represented (and was descended from) the sun god, the Incas assimilated multiple regional tribes in a 300,000-square-mile area to produce a complex empire with a population estimated between 3 and 12 million. The realm, which they called Tahuantinsuyu, or “the Four Corners Together,” had 20,000 miles of roads, provincial governors, granaries and storehouses, high-altitude agriculture, and an economic system called mit'a, where citizens provided labor, goods, or military service to the state in exchange for food and protection.


Alternately defined as a sanctuary and a citadel, Machu Picchu was constructed sometime in the mid 15th century, possibly by Pachacuti, the Sapa Inca who defeated the Chancay tribe and expanded the Kingdom of Cusco into the vast Inca Empire. For more than a century, researchers, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have postulated myriad reasons behind the site’s construction. Some believe it was a royal retreat for Pachacuti (whose name meant “He Who Shakes the Earth”), a theory supported by the discovery in Cusco’s archives of a 16th-century lawsuit by Pachacuti’s descendants to get back lands, one of which was a retreat known as Picchu, which was in a broadly similar location to Machu Picchu.

Others think it was a pilgrimage site to honor the founding of the Inca religion, or likely some combination of a spiritual and official estate built in a sacred landscape. Due to the discovery of nearby graves, there was even speculation that Machu Picchu was a nunnery for the Virgins of the Sun, a group of girls selected from villages to serve in temples and possibly offered as human sacrifices. However, this last theory has been largely discounted, as later analysis of the skeletons found them to be equal numbers of male and female, who were likely workers at the site.


The arrival of Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro in 1532 forever altered the Inca empire, a kingdom he described as “so beautiful and has such fine buildings it would be remarkable even back in Spain.” Pizarro and his forces ambushed, kidnapped, and later executed Inca leader Atahualpa, plundered much of the kingdom’s riches, and destroyed many of the empire's temples and estates. The Inca launched guerrilla attacks from hidden fortresses for years, but after quelling the last of the rebellion in 1572, conquistadors failed to find Machu Picchu, which was abandoned by the Inca just a century after it was constructed and remained hidden and untouched for more than 200 years.


In 1911, Yale history Professor Hiram Bingham III set out to find the fabled city where Manco Inca led a rebellion against Pizarro and the Spanish. Manco's fighters first settled in the fortress city Ollantaytambo before moving on to retreats unknown to the Spanish, first at Vitcos and then Vilcabamba. In his search, Bingham first visited the ruins at Ollantaytambo, then found those at Vitcos and Vilcabamba, before searching for the “Lost City” established by Manco Inca—not knowing he had in fact seen the real lost city of Vilcabamba, which was overrun by the jungle and called Espiritu Pampa.

With the help of a local man named Melchor Arteaga and a young boy, Bingham searched the mountains above the Urubamba River valley and found the ruins of Machu Picchu, which means “Old Peak” in the local Quechua language and was almost completely unknown to outsiders. Bingham, however, argued for decades that Machu Picchu and Vilcabamba were one and the same. He was finally disproven by writer and explorer Gene Savoy’s discovery of the real Vilcabamba in the 1960s.


Bingham on Machu Picchu in 1912,Wikimedia Commons

Bingham returned to explore and excavate Machu Picchu in 1912, 1914, and 1915 with funding from Yale and the National Geographic Society. The 1913 publication of “In the Wonderland of Peru,” which consumed an entire issue of National Geographic, helped catapult him and Machu Picchu to worldwide recognition. He later published Inca Land (1922) and his most famous tome, Lost City of the Incas, which became a bestseller upon its release in 1948 and may have helped inspire the character of Indiana Jones. The road from Cusco to Machu Picchu, first opened in 1948, is called the Hiram Bingham Highway, and a plaque dedicated to Bingham sits outside the entrance to the site. Following his career as a professor and adventurer, Bingham served as an aviator during World War I, and was elected governor of Connecticut in 1924. He resigned after just one day to fill a senate seat left vacant by a legislator who had committed suicide. He was elected to a full term in 1926.


Upon returning to the United States and Yale University for the last time, Bingham and his team brought back thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu, including statues, pottery, jewelry, and even human remains. But when Yale announced a touring exhibition in 2003, it reignited debate surrounding the artifacts, that in 2008 culminated in a lawsuit against the university. Peruvian President Alan Garcia and the Peruvian people pled their case with everyone from President Obama to the Vatican before the two sides agreed to a memorandum of understanding in 2010, with the first pieces being returned in 2011. The last of the artifacts were returned to South America in 2012, and a joint venture between the two sides established the UNSAAC-Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture in Cusco.


Long before Bingham entered Machu Picchu, researchers believe a German businessman named Augusto Berns explored the area with the permission of the Peruvian government. Berns allegedly purchased land in the 1860s and set up a sawmill in the area to obtain gold and wood, but later sought only to loot treasure from Machu Picchu. In addition, a British missionary named Thomas Payne and another German supposedly found the site prior to Bingham, and an 1874 map with references to Machu Picchu (the hill, not necessarily the ruins) may have been seen by Bingham and given him clues to the existence and whereabouts of the Inca city. And three centuries earlier, in 1565, Diego Rodriguez de Figueroa mentioned that there used to be a bridge at a site he was staying in that allowed travel to “Picho”— probably one of the first accounts of the site, although there is no indication in the text that he himself visited.


Despite its precarious position in a seismically unstable region, Machu Picchu has not fallen victim to the types of earthquakes that have devastated cities like Lima and Cusco. One reason is the craftsmanship of the stonemasons and engineers who designed and built the city. Deep foundations and a sophisticated drainage system prevented landslides, while precise stone carving allowed blocks to be placed tightly to one another without requiring mortar. The white granite blocks, cut by direct hammering with primitive hand tools, are said to “dance” during tremors and fall safely back into place, leaving the citadel largely undamaged over a 500-year period.


The Inca not only revered the Sun but many other natural elements, including the Moon, rivers, and mountains. Mountains, called apus, were especially important given their proximity to so many Inca cities and settlements, and the peaks of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu (meaning “New Peak”), and Mount Salcantay were each directionally connected to the sacred Intihuatana Stone, a 6-foot granite stone set near the main square of the city that may have functioned as a solar clock or calendar. Other imposing structures built for religious or ceremonial purposes include the Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple of the Sun, which features a window that lines up perfectly on the summer solstice.


Atop the peak of Huayna Picchu, which can only be visited by 400 people per day, lies an unseen cave known as Templo de la Luna, or the Temple of the Moon. Thought to be a ceremonial shrine that once held mummies, the Temple can be found off a trail that curls around the 679-foot high peak and features intricate stonework, vaulted niches carved into the rock, six levels, and a stone throne.


Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders in 2007, and its popularity has continually skyrocketed, reaching a peak of more than 1 million visitors in 2014. Technically, no more than 2,500 tourists are allowed onto the site per day, a number agreed to by the government of Peru and UNESCO, but estimates put the number at around 5,000 per day during peak season. The country plans to spend nearly $30 million to help with overcrowding by adding security cameras, guards, guides, ramps, bathrooms, and a visitor center.


The recent trend of streaking or posing naked at Machu Picchu has alarmed Peruvian officials. Eight tourists were cited for nudity at the site in just one week in 2014, including four Americans, despite the explicit warning on tickets that prohibits such activity. The Ministry of Culture called the acts “unfortunate events that threaten cultural heritage.” Foreign visitors are now required to hire a guide and stick to a pre-determined route through the site.


Perhaps unbeknownst to then Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who took a prospecting flight around Machu Picchu this past May, the area has been off-limits to aircraft for nearly a decade. In 2006, the government granted licenses to tourist companies who offered helicopter flights around the citadel, but concerns from environmentalists, who believed species like the Andean condor, spectacled bear, and vicuna would be adversely affected by the flights, caused the Transport and Communications Ministry to reverse their decision just a week later.


Bingham, of course, did not find an empty mountain palace on his trek, but a set of ruins occupied in part by three families who farmed on the site’s terraces. Almost 100 years later, Roxana Abrill Nuñez, a museum curator in Cusco, believes her great-grandfather Mariano Ignacio Ferro owned the land where Machu Picchu sits. Roxana and her sister Gloria have filed several suits against Peru seeking $100 million in compensation and a cut of future tourism profits. The state has denied the family’s accusations, despite the presence of a deed indicating the family purchased the land in 1910.

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40 Years Later: Watch The Johnny Cash Christmas Show
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Johnny Cash made a series of Christmas TV specials and recorded a string of Christmas records. In this 1977 TV performance, Cash is in great form. He brings special guests Roy Clark, June Carter Cash, The Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison ("Pretty Woman" starts around 23:50), Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers. Tune in for Christmas as we celebrated it 40 years ago—with gigantic shirt collars, wavy hair, and bow ties. So many bow ties.

30 Cities Around the World That No Longer Exist

An old Norwegian legend tells of a village that was left utterly depopulated by the Black Death, forgotten, and soon overgrown by moss and trees. Years later, a hunter missed a shot and his arrow hit the bell of what is now known as Hedal Stave Church, rediscovering this abandoned village.

Whatever the truth (or otherwise) of this legend, history is filled with cities that emerged and then were abandoned or forgotten. Some have been rediscovered, and others are still out there, waiting to be found.


Mount Vesuvius
Paull Young, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Vesuvius exploded in 79 CE, its most famous victims were the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but other towns and villas were buried as well, places such as Boscoreale or Oplontis. The one with the oddest story though is Stabiae. Pliny the Elder recorded that the town had been destroyed by Sulla during the Social War in 89 BCE so completely that only a single farmhouse remained. At some point afterwards, the area was turned into luxury villas—that is, until the eruption of Vesuvius, which destroyed it once again.

In the mid-18th century, archaeologists discovered the ruins of both Pompeii and Stabiae. After some initial excavation work, focus was concentrated on Pompeii, and Stabiae was reburied to protect it. Eventually, the site was forgotten—until the 1950s, when a local high school principal decided to rediscover it. Working with the school’s janitor and a mechanic, they found several archaeological sites, and excavation continues today.


Dead Cities, Syria

The Dead Cities are a group of around 40 villages in northern Syria that date to the 1st through 7th centuries CE. According to UNESCO, "the relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity." They were abandoned quickly, either due to shifting trade routes, weather changes, or a pattern of invasion between the Byzantines and the Umayyads.

But people are returning to the Dead Cities. In 2013, an NPR report described modern smokestacks on the landscape, as refugees began moving into the area.


The walls of Chan Chan, Peru.

Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, and is believed to have been the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas. The kingdom lasted from circa 900 to 1470, when it was conquered by the Inca. The city began a rapid decline afterwards, to the point that when the Spanish arrived the city had already been effectively abandoned.


Hashima Island, Japan

Also known as Gunkanjima or Battleship Island, this small island off the coast of Japan is thought to have been the most densely populated place on the planet in the 1950s, with over 5000 people crammed onto a 16-acre island (that works out to a population density of 200,000 people per square mile; Manhattan is around a third of that). Made famous as the location of the villainous lair in the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall, Hashima Island was operated for years by Mitsubishi as a coal mine. But when the mine closed in 1974, the island was abandoned.


An abandoned home in Bannack, Montana.
Edward Mitchell, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannack is generally listed as the first boomtown in Montana: The population rose from a few hundred to thousands of individuals in just a few years after gold was discovered in a nearby creek in 1862. Sadly, by the time it was made Montana’s first territorial capital, the city was already in decline due to crime and other gold deposits being discovered elsewhere in the territory. Less than a year later the territorial capital was moved to Virginia City. In 1954 the state of Montana acquired most of the land, and today it's Bannack State Park.


Eastern coast of Greenland.
Mariusz Kluzniak, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Founded by Norse explorers around 986 CE, it's estimated that at its largest, the Eastern Settlement in Greenland had around 5000 people living in the area. By the late 15th century the community had disappeared, leaving only ruins, with the last record of life there being a 1408 marriage between Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Björnsdottir. By the time Hans Egede arrived in the 1720s to convert the long-lost colonists to Lutheranism, the Norse Greenlanders had disappeared.

What happened to the settlement has long been debated, but recent archaeology has indicated that Greenland’s exports had ceased being in demand, and as the community became more and more remote, people began migrating back to more centralized communities in Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.


Consonno, Italy
Spline Splinson, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Consonno was originally a medieval town that survived for centuries with a small population of around 300. But in 1962, an entrepreneur named Mario Bagno arrived to convert the community into a Las Vegas-style resort town. Years of construction and demolition followed, until 1976, when a landslide isolated Consonno and ended Bagno's dream of a "City of Toys." The area remained abandoned until 2016, when it hosted an Italian hide-and-seek championship.


Waterway in the Everglades.
Mike Mahaffie, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to South Florida's Sun-Sentinel, deep in the Everglades there was a place called Lost City, and archaeologists have found evidence of human activity, from Seminoles to hiding Confederate soldiers, stretching back hundreds of years. For some reason though, activity spiked in the early 1900s when local legend says that Al Capone had a bootlegging operation there, thanks to the area's high ground and remote location.


Location of Fort Mose.
Waters.Justin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Florida was an area of Spanish land next to several English colonies. In order to help protect against English encroachment and weaken the nearby colonies, the Spanish in Florida offered a form of asylum to escaped slaves in exchange for converting to Catholicism and serving Spain. This gave rise to Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, otherwise known as Fort Mose, on the outskirts of St. Augustine. While it was largely established to protect St. Augustine from British attack, the site is also the earliest known European-sanctioned free black community in the modern United States. The fort was destroyed in 1740 [PDF] and rebuilt, but lost much of its importance. After the Spanish gave Florida to Britain in 1763, the community moved to Cuba.


The abandoned town of Kolmanskop, Namibia.

In the early 20th century, Kolmanskop played host to European opera companies, an orchestra, and even the southern hemisphere's first X-ray unit. The city was built on an extremely productive diamond field (the BBC estimates that it produced a million carats of diamond in 1912, 12 percent of the world’s production that year). Eventually, World War I and the discovery of larger deposits further south led to the abandonment of the city.


Smoke coming up from cracked concrete in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

In 1960, the population of Centralia, Pennsylvania was 1435 people. By 2010 it was 10. Although the city was already on the decline, it was a decades-long coal fire that killed the city. Although there are some dissenters, it's generally agreed that in 1962, some trash was set on fire and the fire spread to a coal seam. The fire continued to burn and, among other scary events, in 1981 a 13-year-old boy narrowly escaped falling into a hole that opened up in the ground. The government bought most of the remaining citizens out, but a few residents fought to be able to live out their lives there.


Aerial view of Antarctica.
Eli Duke, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

There were five Little Americas over the course of several decades. One of them even featured an American post office and had a newspaper documenting the goings-on. In fact, the only odd part was that it was in Antarctica. Robert Byrd set up the first Little America in 1928, expanded it in 1933-'35, and started a new Little America further north in 1940; two more would eventually follow.

As part of the 1933 Little America, Charles Anderson was sent to run a post office (the Smithsonian has his safe, labeled "U.S. Post Office, Little America, South Pole"). The purpose of this post office was entirely so that philatelists could get a cancellation mark from Antarctica. To get it they had to pay three cents for the stamp and 50 cents to the Byrd Antarctic Expedition; it was a success—anywhere from 150,000 to 240,000 [PDF] letters were stamped before the post office was discontinued in 1935.

As for the Little Americas, they've drifted out to sea on icebergs and have disappeared.


Area around Trellech.
Andy Walker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

According to ancient tax rolls, the second largest town in 13th century Wales was likely Trellech, which comprised about 400 buildings before being destroyed, most likely due to a combination of attacks, fire, and disease.

In early 2017, newspapers around the world reported the discovery of Trellech. The story is that in 2002 archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson, working at a tollbooth, learned of a farmer who found pottery shards kicked up by moles. Years later, the property came up for sale and Wilson bought it, hoping to find Trellech, which he claims that he did. Meanwhile, other researchers have criticized the results saying that they're overblown and archaeological work was being done in the broad area before. As for Wilson, he hopes to start a campsite at the area and continues digging.


Abandoned town of Humberstone, Chile.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, saltpeter was huge business as a fertilizer, and much of it came from the Atacama Desert in South America. One of these mining towns was Humberstone, but the modern UNESCO area contained over 200 saltpeter works and dozens of towns popped up. When synthetic fertilizers began appearing, however, saltpeter lost its importance and the cities faded away.


Excavation of Akrotiri, Greece
Bruno Vanbesien, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Today, Santorini is a picturesque tourist spot, but many visitors don't realize it is located on the remnants of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history. Called the Thera or Minoan eruption, it was likely around 4 times the size of Krakatoa. One of the settlements on the island at the time of the eruption nearly 3600 years ago was Akrotiri. Like Pompeii, it was buried by the volcano, but unlike that famed excavation site, there's a noticeable lack of bodies at Akrotiri, indicating that the population had enough warning to escape before the eruption occurred.


Monastery ruins in Taxila, Pakistan.

Taxila is a complex that spans 6th century BCE Achaemenian ruins. The city was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and was a major center of Buddhism. In the 5th century CE, the Ephthalites invaded and destroyed much of the city while simultaneously lessening the presence and influence of Buddhism in the region. When the Ephthalites were defeated, the city wasn't restored, and a century later a chronicler noted that the city was still desolate, soon to be abandoned.


A sign for the abandoned town of Pyramiden, Norway.

Svalbard is an archipelago in the far north Arctic Ocean. Before 1920, it existed as an international Wild West, with no nation having ownership. This changed with the Svalbard Treaty that gave the archipelago to Norway on the condition that Norway not unduly interfere with certain rights of other signatories, such as mining activities, based on nationality.

The Norwegians had already attempted to mine coal in the area, but abandoned it, and the Soviet Union stepped in to work the land. According to Bloomberg, as an effectively Western city, Pyramiden had a very high standard of living, recruited the best minds, and served as a display for Communism to the rest of the world. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Pyramiden stopped being economically viable, and after a 1996 plane crash that killed 141 people and destroyed morale in the community, it was abandoned in 1998.


Camels grazing near ruins in Merv, Turkmenistan.
David Stanley, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It's possible that Merv in modern Turkmenistan was the largest city in the world for a few years in the 12th century, with a population around 200,000 people. Merv's wealth came from a strategic position for trade routes and dams that provided the city with water.

In the 13th century, one of Genghis Khan's sons, Tolui, attacked, destroying the city. Although modern historians think it's exaggerated, the chronicler Ibn al-Athir claimed that 700,000 people were killed. The city never recovered, although other towns would be built in the surrounding area.


Cahokia mounds.
Steve Moses, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Cahokia, located just outside present day St. Louis, was the largest pre-Columbian settlement in the Americas north of modern Mexico. As the main bed of the Mississippian culture, the city grew quickly—some estimates indicate that between 1050 and 1100 CE the city grew from around 2000 people to 15,000 people, which at the time was the same population as London [PDF]. For reasons that are still debated, the population soon declined and Cahokia was abandoned circa 1350. It may not have been all bad though—some historians suspect that the population decline is what helped spread the Mississippian culture across much of North America.


Ruins at Nan Madol.
NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Nan Madol, off the shore of Pohnpei, is best known as the only existing ancient city built on top of a coral reef. Comprising 92 artificial islands, the city served as the center of the Saudeleur dynasty who ruled the island. According to the National Park Service, Nan Madol was built around 1200 CE. Four hundred years later, a warrior-hero named Isokelekel helped overthrow the Saudeleur, leading to the abandonment of the site.


Church ruins in the Rybinsk Reservoir.
Ylliab Photo, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When the Soviets decided to create the Rybinsk Reservoir on the Volga River in the 1930s, there was only one problem: Mologa and over 600 smaller villages, with a population of around 130,000 people. The residents were forced out, although there is evidence that around 300 people refused to leave and were drowned when the city was flooded in 1940. In 2014, the weather caused the reservoir to drop dramatically, re-exposing parts of the city to the world.


The Neversink Reservoir circa 2012.
rabbit57i, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Another set of flooded towns exist in New York, condemned in the 1940s to give New York City more drinking water. Among these towns are Bittersweet and the either ironically or aptly named Neversink, which was relocated.

These cities are not alone. Communities being destroyed by reservoirs are so common there's a genre of fiction called “reservoir noir” that deals with intentionally flooded towns.


Abandoned church in San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico.
Matthew Fuentes, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

San Juan Parangaricutiro used to be the principal town in its region of Mexico, a thriving city of 4000 people centered by an 18th century church. But on February 20, 1943, around two kilometers away, a volcano started forming on a farmer's land. After a day it was 150 feet high, and by the end of that year it was over a thousand feet.

Ash began covering nearby villages, and everyone was evacuated. There were only three recorded fatalities, all due to lightning from the eruption. Eventually, the lava reached San Juan Parangaricutiro and the church was partially buried. Today, it's a tourist site.


The remnants of Hallsands, UK.
steve p2008, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

On the night of January 26, 1917, the fishing village of Hallsands in Devon fell into the sea. Amazingly, no one died, but the majority of the town's 128 people were left homeless (only one house survived the storm). And the cause was entirely human.

Twenty years earlier, the British government had decided to expand a nearby naval dockyard, and in 1897 began dredging the area for sand and gravel—the same material that was protecting Hallsands from the rough waters. In 1900, part of the sea wall was destroyed by a storm, and dredging was soon stopped. But in 1917, a combination of gales and high tides destroyed the city. While the government strenuously denied responsibility, recent research has uncovered a report that showed the dredging conclusively caused the collapse.


A burned house and bicycle in South Sudan.
Arsenie Coseac, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Lukangol was a city of 20,000 in South Sudan that was completely destroyed in late 2011 due to ethnic clashes. According to an MSF spokesperson in the area, the town had been reduced to ashes, thought most of the population was able to escape before the attack.


Old war memorial in an abandoned town in Belarus.
Ilya Kuzniatsou, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Much of the discussion of abandoned cities following the Chernobyl disaster is focused on Pripyat in Ukraine, but across the border, 70 percent of the radioactive fallout fell on Belarus, causing an estimated 470 villages and towns to be evacuated. Today, these communities, such as Aravichy and Dronki, exist in the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve, which has turned into a large scale nature preserve.


Sign prohibiting entrance into Plymouth, Montserrat.
Chuck Stanley, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano began erupting, and in 1997 a pyroclastic flow destroyed the city of Plymouth, once home to 4000 people, and the surrounding area of Montserrat, a British territory in the Caribbean. Today, around 60 percent of the island is an exclusion zone that can only be visited with special permission, including Plymouth. What makes Montserrat odd is that Plymouth is still technically the capital of the island, although in reality the capital is Brades.


A building built to test a nuclear reaction in Survival Town, Nevada.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Only a nickname, Survival Town is an odd city because no one ever actually lived there. It was built expressly to test the damage resulting from the Apple-2 nuclear test in 1955. According to Archaeology, the town was fitted with utilities, industrial buildings, cars, fully stocked kitchens, and even a propane tank farm alongside dozens of mannequins. Today, a few buildings survive from the site, but according to Colleen Beck of the Desert Research Institute, something more fashionable may also have survived. She told Archaeology in 2014 "There’s a J.C. Penney page—it must be from this test—that shows mannequins before and after…You have this 'before' picture of the dressed mannequin, and afterwards sometimes an arm's gone, or whatever. But the J.C. Penney clothes survive fine."


Map of Akkadian Empire.
Patrick Gray, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The Akkadian Empire took its name from the capital city, Akkad (or Agade). And apart from that, very little is known of the city. Legend says that Sargon built the city (or possibly restored it) and created an empire in the 24th century BCE. The Akkadian Empire lasted around two centuries before collapsing over reasons that historians still debate. Today, the location of the capital city of the empire remains unknown, as do many of the details of its rise and fall.


The Andes Mountains.
icelight, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Paititi is a legendary lost city somewhere in the Andes said to be rich with gold. Some scholars dispute its existence, saying that it was a metaphor instead of a city, or that it was created to distract invading Spaniards. Other scholars insist that it's real, and in 2008 officials in a Peruvian town announced that they discovered it along a heavily forested section of the mountains. Soon after, experts denounced their find as a natural formation, meaning the real Paititi remains lost.


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