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Ruins somewhere in Pacific
This rather moody picture shows the remains of a reinforced concrete structure somewhere in the Pacific (note the Japanese writing in the bottom left). This may have been something destroyed by the 30th Bombardment Group, but is more likely to be a ruin near one of their wartime bases.
Many thanks to Robert Hall for sending us these pictures, which came from his father-in-law Lt. Col John Marie Robert Audette, an intelligence officer in the Pacific, serving with the 38th Bombardment Squadron, 30th Bombardment Group.
Built in 1896, the Sutro Baths was located north of Ocean Beach, the Cliff House, Seal Rocks, and west of Sutro Heights Park.  The structure burned down to its concrete foundation in June 1966 its ruins are located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Sutro Historic District. 
A tourist takes a picture inside the Naours underground city. (Credit: FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images)
Located in northern France, the underground city of Naours includes two miles of tunnels and more than 300 man-made rooms𠅊ll of them hidden some 100 feet beneath a forested plateau. The site began its life around the third century A.D. as part of a Roman quarry, but it was later expanded into a subterranean village after locals began using it as a hiding place during the wars and invasions of the Middle Ages. At its peak, it had enough room for 3,000 inhabitants and included its own chapels, stables, wells and bakeries. The Naours caves were later sealed off for decades before being reopened in the 19th century as a tourist attraction. They became a popular sightseeing spot during World War I, and modern visitors can still see more than 2,000 pieces of graffiti left behind by Allied soldiers, many of whom fought nearby at the Battle of the Somme.
Nan Madol: The City Built on Coral Reefs
We zigzag slowly in our skiff around the shallow coral heads surrounding Pohnpei. The island, a little smaller than New York City, is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. It is nestled in a vast tapestry of coral reefs. Beyond the breakers, the Pacific stretches 5,578 miles to California. A stingray dashes in front of us, flying underwater like a butterfly alongside our bow.
Our destination is Nan Madol, near the southern side of the island, the only ancient city ever built atop of a coral reef. Its imposing yet graceful ruins are made of stones and columns so heavy that no one has figured out how it was built. Besides the elegance of the walls and platforms, there is no carving, no art – nothing except legend to remember the people, called the Saudeleur, who ruled the island for more than a millennium. They were deeply religious and sometimes cruel, and modern Pohnpeians view the ruins as a sacred and scary place where spirits own the night.
Abandoned centuries ago and now mostly covered with jungle, Nan Madol may soon be getting a makeover. Before I explore it, I stop to discuss its future with the man who holds sway over this part of Pohnpei.
We nuzzle up to land and jump onto the remnants of a sea wall. I follow Rufino Mauricio, Pohnpei’s only archaeologist, along a path and up a hill to what appears to be a warehouse, painted white with a corrugated metal roof. It’s known here as the Tin Palace. There is a small house tacked on the end, with flowering bushes here and there. A gaggle of dogs welcome us noisily. This is the residence of the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw, the primus inter pares among the five traditional paramount chiefs who preside over a delightfully complex social structure that underpins Pohnpei's vibrant native culture.
Aside from Easter Island, Nan Madol is the main archaeological site in Oceania that is made up of huge rocks. But while Easter Island gets 50,000 visitors a year, Nan Madol sees fewer than 1,000. Before I left on this trip, Jeff Morgan, director of the Global Heritage Fund of Palo Alto, California, had told me he wanted to fund a rehabilitation program. But before anything can be done, ownership issues that blocked previous rehabilitation efforts would have to be resolved—the state government and the Nahnmwarki both claim sovereignty over the ruins. A resolution would pave the way for Nan Madol to become a Unesco World Heritage site, increasing the flow of visitors and grants.
“Nan Madol is one of the most significant sites not yet on the World Heritage List,” says Richard Engelhart, an archaeologist and former Unesco adviser for Asia and the Pacific.
Mauricio and I are a bit nervous: an audience with the Nahnmwarki is best arranged through Pohnpei’s governor, John Ehsa. A day earlier, Ehsa had pledged to support the Global Heritage Fund’s idea and promised to arrange an audience with the Nahnmwarki so that I could interview him about the plan—but then Ehsa didn’t come through on his promise. Ehsa had noted that a previous attempt to clean up the ruins had foundered because the Japanese donors had not followed proper protocol with the Nahnmwarki.
Sadly, neither do I. It’s unthinkable to arrive without a tribute, but the bottle of Tasmanian wine I brought for the occasion slipped out of my hand and shattered on the rocks as I got off the boat. Mauricio, who holds a lesser traditional title, is mortified: he didn’t know we were stopping to see the chief on our way to the ruins, so he is empty-handed too.
Arriving empty-handed without an appointment is the height of rudeness, he grumbles.
Mauricio, who, as I am, is dripping with sweat in Ponhpei’s steamy equatorial heat, informs the chief’s wife of our arrival.
The Nahnmwarki agrees to see us and we walk back to the other end of the building so we can make our entry from the visitors’ side. Mauricio, who earned a PhD from the University of Oregon with a thesis on Nan Madol, kneels. He addresses the chief, a former teacher and school bus driver, who finishes buttoning up a russet aloha shirt and tan shorts and sits at the head of a small staircase. He has short, thick hair and, like most people in Pohnpei, his teeth are stained by betel nut, which he chews during out meeting, occasionally walking over to the door to spit.
Aside from Easter Island, Nan Madol is the main archaeological site in Oceania that is made up of huge rocks. But while Easter Island gets 50,000 visitors a year, Nan Madol sees fewer than 1,000. (Christopher Pala) From atop the outside walls of Nandowas, one can see the ruins of breakwaters and the vast reef flats beyond. (Christopher Pala) The Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw is among the five traditional paramount chiefs who preside over a delightfully complex social structure. The state government and the Nahnmwarki both claim sovereignty over the Nan Madol ruins. (Christopher Pala) Rufino Mauricio is Pohnpei's only archaeologist. He is also the director of the national archives. (Christopher Pala) The inner courtyards at Nandowas, the most visited place in the city, have been kept clear of intrusive vegetation. (Christopher Pala) The mortuary at Nandowas is where kings were laid in state before being buried on other islands. (Christopher Pala) Beyond easily accessible Nandowas, kayak is the best way to discover the rest of the city. (Christopher Pala) The cornerstone Nandowas is believed to weigh up to 60 tons. (Christopher Pala) It remains a mystery how the Nan Madol civilization was able to build Nandowas without pulleys, levers or metal. (Christopher Pala) The walls at Nandowas remain in excellent condition. (Christopher Pala)
Through Mauricio, who translates, I inquire: Would the Nahnmwarki be interested in setting aside old grievances and cooperating with the state and other stakeholders in order to take advantage of this opportunity?
“I would love to see Nan Madol rehabilitated, but it has to be under my supervision,” he replies, later adding, “All funding should go through the Madolenihmw municipal government, not the Pohnpei state government.” The municipal government is the heir to the Nahnmwarki’s rule.
On the way back, Mauricio, who is director of the national archives, says thoughtfully, “It’s a reasonable request. Certainly, the national government [of the Federated States of Micronesia] would have no objection.”
Back on the skiff, Augustine Kohler, the state historical preservation officer and himself the son of another of Pohnpei’s five Nahnmwarkis, says, “It could work.”
We head for the ruins in the boat to take a look at what kind of rehabilitation would be appropriate. On the way, Mauricio explains that Nan Madol is composed of 92 artificial islands spread over 200 acres abutting Pohnpei’s mangrove-covered shore. Most of it was built from the 13th to the 17th centuries by the Saudeleurs, descendants of two brothers of unknown provenance who founded a religious community in the sixth century focused on the adoration of the sea. On their third attempt to build their political, religious and residential center, they settled on this patch of coral flats. They and their successors brought from the other side of the island columns of black lava rock up to 20 feet long that are naturally pentagonal or hexagonal and straight. They used them in a log cabin formation to build outer walls as well as foundations filled in with lumps of coral to create elevated platforms where traditional thatched structures were used as lodgings. Even with all the sunshine in the world washing over the thick green jungle and aquamarine water beyond, the unadorned black architecture is intimidating.
The tyrannical last Saudeleur ruler was overthrown by an outsider named Isohkelekel who instituted the system of multiple chiefs that remains today. The Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw is directly descended from him. Because of this bloodline, most Pohnpeians feel he is the legitimate supervisor of the ruins.
As we approach the first building, Mauricio observes, “We don’t know how they brought the columns here and we don’t know how they lifted them up to build the walls. Most Pohnpeians are content to believe they used magic to fly them.”
The easiest way to see Nan Madol is to take a cab from Kolonia, the little capital of Pohnpei, park on an unmarked spot and walk for nearly a mile through a primitive jungle path. When you arrive, only a channel separates you from the main building, the Nandawas. Representatives of the Nahnmwarki with a boat are on hand to collect $3 and take you across. The odds are good that you will have the place to yourself.
Having your own boat at high tide allows you to go much farther. We glide though the channel, the outboard purring. The islands are covered with almost impenetrable jungle. A large component of the rehabilitation effort, if it happens, will be to clear brush to make the buildings accessible. The other component would be dredging the main channels so the ruins are accessible to boats at all times.
Many of the outer walls, usually just a few feet high, are intact. Mauricio points out the little island of Idehd, where priests fed turtle innards to an eel, the sea deity, kept in a well, before sharing among themselves the rest of the turtle as a sacrament. To this day eels are considered holy and never eaten. Then we pass Peikapw, where Isohkelekel resided after he overthrew the last Saudeleur. He eventually committed suicide there after discovering how old he looked when he saw his reflection in a pool, according to the oral history. After he died, Nan Madol was largely abandoned, though religious ceremonies were occasionally held there until the late 19th century.
As we continue, the channel gets narrower and shallower. We turn back to explore the city’s outer walls, still strong, and continue to the islet of Pahnwi, whose wall of huge, flat-sided stone rises 58 feet and encloses a tomb.
Our final stop is Nandowas, by far the most elaborate building. It’s the royal mortuary, with two sets of 25-foot-high walls whose gracefully up-swept corners cover an area greater than a football field. One cornerstone is estimated to weigh 50 tons. I step down into the moss-encrusted tomb. Eight columns form the basis of a roof that lets in shards of sunlight. I’m glad I’m not alone. The bodies of kings were placed here and later buried elsewhere.
On the way back, Mauricio remarks that, given Pohnpei’s population at the time was less than 30,000, the building of Nan Madol represented a much larger effort than the pyramids were for the Egyptians. The total weight of the black rocks moved is estimated at 750,000 metric tons, an average of 1,850 tons a year over four centuries. “Not bad for people who had no pulleys, no levers and no metal,” said Mauricio. Waving at the brush, he adds, “We need to clear all this out in at least some of the islands so we can appreciate the extraordinary effort that was put into this construction.”
A Grand Old Ship
It took four and a half days to sink the U.S.S. Nevada. The 575-foot-long battleship, painted bright orange from its earlier role as a nuclear test target, was towed out of Pearl Harbor to sea, where a classified explosive was detonated in its hull. Then it was pummeled with shells launched from cruisers and bombs from planes during a multi-day naval exercise. Finally, on July 31, 1948, a single torpedo dropped by an American plane allegedly did what the Germans and Japanese could not: send Nevada to the bottom of the sea.
But despite all of the witness to Nevada’s demise (“She was a grand old ship,” the commander of the Pacific Fleet told an AP reporter as the battleship went down), only relative bearings of the wreck site were reported by the navigators on the ships present. This required operators aboard the Ocean Infinity vessel Pacific Constructor to deploy an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to survey a 100-square-mile area of the seafloor that included all of the bearings provided by eyewitnesses to the Nevada’s sinking. Once the wreck was located, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) tethered to the vessel sent images back in real time to SEARCH Inc.’s Florida office, where they are currently being reviewed by archaeologists.
Based on a preliminary inspection of the footage, Delgado believes that there is evidence for a second torpedo that may have brought the U.S.S. Nevada down. “We found a whole section of the hull just blasted open, exposing the armor, but with the outer skin just peeled back and torn.” The 13.5-inch plates of nickel chromium steel battleship armor, Delgado marveled, still shone in the lights of the ROV.
"They should not have sunk that ship," says Ramsey on the day he learned the resting place of the Nevada was found, noting that it was the only battleship present both at Pearl Harbor and Normandy. "In my opinion it should be tied up next to the Missouri," he adds, referencing the battleship—now a memorial—on which the surrender of Japan was signed. Ramsey notes that Nevada was not even invited for the surrender ceremony.
"We figured that was really an insult to the ship. We could have signed the surrender on board."
Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944, 2008
Peleliu is a small island that forms part of the nation of Palau in the Pacific. It’s about five hours flying time south of Japan and three hours east of the Philippines. It’s now, like the rest of Palau, beautiful, peaceful and home to more shades of blue in the sea and sky than you or your camera lens would ever have thought possible.
Blue wasn’t always the colour.
Between September and November 1944, it was the site of an incredibly fierce battle between US and Japanese armed forces. Peleliu island is about 14 square miles of terrain during the three months of fighting, the casualty rate worked out at just under 1,000 men killed per square mile of island. Close to 1,800 American servicemen died of the 11,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island, only 202 were captured alive.
The battle was fought over the fact Peleliu had an airfield, and was within range of the Philippines, from where the US planned to eventually launch strikes against the Japanese mainland. The plan to attack Peleliu was a contentious one – not all of the US high command thought Peleliu was strategically important, and after the battle, the US found the airfield was barely operational, and posed almost no threat to US forces elsewhere in the Pacific.
I’m from the UK, and visited Palau in October 2008. I took a day trip to Peleliu with a Japanese tour group. I took some photos, and made some notes. The photos are all hosted on Flickr. You can see the images as a slideshow on Flickr, check out the full set, or read the rest of this post to see what I saw.
This shallow stretch of idyllic Pacific ocean is where US forces first landed on Peleliu called ‘Orange beach’, the US Marines arrived here at half eight in the morning on September 15th, 1944. This map of Peleliu shows the landing beaches quite clearly, all grouped together at the south of the island, near the Japanese airfield.
Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese opted not to put all their effort into defending the perimeter of the island, so while the marines faced resistance when they landed, it was only going to get worse when they advanced into the island’s interior. Below is a picture from Google’s archive of images from Life magazine which shows what it was like for the US forces approaching Peleliu. Here’s how Time Magazine’s Robert Martin described it:
‘Peleliu is a horrible place. The heat is stifling and rain falls intermittently — the muggy rain that brings no relief, only greater misery. The coral rocks soak up the heat during the day and it is only slightly cooler at night… Peleliu is incomparably worse than Guam in its bloodiness, terror, climate and the incomprehensible tenacity of the Japs. For sheer brutality and fatigue, I think it surpasses anything yet seen in the Pacific, certainly from the standpoint of numbers of troops involved and the time taken to make the island secure.’
When you arrive on Peleliu, it doesn’t take long to start spotting the remains of the war. This is partly because while the US helped rebuild Peleliu (and Palau as a whole – the country only become fully independent in 1994), they just moved the civilian population from the south of the island to the north and started afresh. The south of the island and its thick jungle still contain plenty of WW2 relics.
While the Japanese tactics were different to the ones they had used previously, the US relied on a similar approach to previous Pacific island battles, pounding Peleliu with tonnes of heavy shells fired from battleships before landing troops. They were confident they had destroyed most of the Japanese garrison and that when the Marines landed there would be little resistance.
Despite the damage done to the island (seen above, in another image from Life), the Japanese troops survived by sheltering in their caves. When the marines landed, they found Peleliu extremely tough going – no surprises when they were being shot at from well concealed sniper positions such as this one.
Like the rest of the Palau islands, Peleliu is made mostly from extremely tough volcanic limestone. Its toughness made it ideal for turning into defensive fortifications, and once stripped of its vegetation, it was razor sharp on the feet and extremely hostile to navigate.
Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese didn’t place the entire emphasis of their strategy on defending the beaches – they fortified the island, in particular a mountain called Umurbrogol. The Japanese riddled Umurbrogol with a huge network of caves and tunnels from which to operate (this image shows a plan of one complex). Once they had completed their work, they evacuated the civilians, and waited for the Americans.
Below you scan see the entrance to one of the Japanese caves, and beneath that, a shot from inside, looking back to the entrance. The entrance itself probably isn’t more than 3 or 4 foot high inside the cave ceilings are slightly higher, although very uneven – but it’s not a great place to be when, like me, you’re 6 foot 2. It was a horrible place to spend 15 minutes, but caves like these were where the Japanese forces lived for the duration of the battle. Inside, you can still see discarded boots, bottles and bullets.
Peleliu has several Japanese graveyards/memorials, of which this is one. If I remember rightly, this shrine was built by a Japanese soldier who survived the battle (one of only 200 of the original garrison of 11,000 who did), who then went on to become a successful businessman running book shops in Shibuya. The man in the blue shirt on the right was our guide, Kikuchi-san.
Peleliu takes an hour or so to get to via boat from Koror, Palau’s capital, so while we’d set off early in the day, after seeing the landing beaches and the first set of caves, it getting towards lunch time, and really warming up. In the sun, the temperature was comfortably over 30 degrees Celsius, and once you got away from the sea, the humidity really started to rise. Everyone on the tour group clutched their bottle of chilled water and regularly took new ones from the chiller box in the back of the tour’s Toyota minivan.
Once we’d finished at the graveyard, our small group piled back into the Toyota and hit the road, throwing the windows open and glad of the breeze. Next stop: what was once the HQ of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Peleliu. A two level concrete structure built in the 1920s, it’s now a beautiful, quiet run that is gradually becoming part of the jungle. We were free to explore – even up the crumbling staircase. Spookily, it was, when we visited, decorated with brightly coloured chains of paper cranes, hanging still in both sunlight and shadow. It’s a common custom in Japan for children to make these for ceremonial occasions – and I think Kikuchi-san told us they were brought by school children on a history trip.
Peleliu’s climate is exhausting hot and humid, it pulls the energy out of you. The suffering of the soldiers – both Japanese and US – from combat was compounded by the climate. It also exacts a real toll on buildings and equipment, as you can see from this shot of a concrete bunker. I’ve never seen concrete rot before:
Once we left the naval HQ, we drove towards Umurbrogol mountain, the site of the fiercest fighting on Peleliu. Initial aerial photos made it look to US planners like a relatively simple mountain that the Marines would have little trouble capturing. They were wrong:
“Instead of a gently rounded hill, the Umurbrogol area was in fact a complex system of sharply uplifted coral ridges, knobs, valleys, and sinkholes. It rose above the level remainder of the island from 50 to 300 feet, and provided excellent emplacements for cave and tunnel defenses.” Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC, 1
Even now, backed up by bottles of chilled water and carrying only a few pieces of camera equipment, it’s not easy to climb. The path leads on a very circuitous route, framed on each side by steep drops, cliffs of sheer stone and thick foliage. The heat hangs in clusters, the sunlight waiting for you to pass through, baking on your skin when you do.
This huge Japanese gun remains in a hollow, looking out over the island:
While these ferns proved nature’s tenacity…
By growing in this US landing craft’s engine bay.
This Japanese tank was much smaller than the American one. Though it has been abandoned, it makes a nice memorial nature is reclaiming it.
There are many memorial plaques on the mountain, some in English, some in Japanese, some in both. This one was placed outside a cave where several Japanese officers committed ritual suicide. As the Americans advanced slowly up the mountain 2 – taking horrendous casualties as they did, and causing the troops to name it, with typical Marine corps black humour, ‘Bloody Nose ridge’ – they resorted to using flamethrowers to clear the caves. Today, you can still see the scorch marks on the wall.
The group paused here while our guide, Kikuchi-san spoke about the battles.
As with most of the tour, it was in Japanese (which I don’t speak well), but he kindly translated for me. After Kikuchi-san had finished his talk, the Japanese on the group were silent and offered prayers to the soldiers. It was a very sad moment, and difficult to know what to think. Part of me was flattened by how useless the whole fight was – how strange that something people were willing to fight to the death for has faded in sixty years to the point that I can visit the battlefield as a tourist, on a tour with the ‘other side’ – yet you can’t help but be moved by the bravery and tenacity displayed by both sides. Perhaps what you feel most keenly on Peleliu is the passage of time how powerful the process of the minutes moving onwards is.
This is the view from the top of Umurbrogol.
We also stopped briefly at the airfield that was the stated aim of the US assault on the island. Rusting nearby in the jungle was a Mitsubishi Zero fighter.
The battle on Peleliu became the inspiration for the phrase ‘thousand yard stare’, after the title of a painting by a war correspondent there, Tom Lea. Previously known for jingoistic, ‘Go America’ images, Peleliu altered Lea’s approach.
According to Wikipedia, Lea said about the marine who was the subject of the painting:
“He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?”
This image shows our guide, Kikuchi-san, at one of the memorials to Japanese and American soldiers. It looks out over the beautiful Pacific and blue is the colour.
1 Taken from BLOODY BEACHES: The Marines at Peleliu, by Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC (Ret)
2 Gayle’s write up is is very detailed when it comes to the action on the mountain.
The Unsolved Mystery of the Tunnels at Baiae
Baiae and the Bay of Naples, painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1823, well before modernization of the area obliterated most traces of its Roman past. Image: Wikicommons.
There is nothing remotely Elysian about the Phlegræan Fields, which lie on the north shore of the Bay of Naples nothing sylvan, nothing green. The Fields are part of the caldera of a volcano that is the twin of Mount Vesuvius, a few miles to the east, the destroyer of Pompeii. The volcano is still active–it last erupted in 1538, and once possessed a crater that measured eight miles across–but most of it is underwater now. The portion that is still accessible on land consists of a barren, rubble-strewn plateau. Fire bursts from the rocks in places, and clouds of sulfurous gas snake out of vents leading up from deep underground.
The Fields, in short, are hellish, and it is no surprise that in Greek and Roman myth they were associated with all manner of strange tales. Most interesting, perhaps, is the legend of the Cumæan sibyl, who took her name from the nearby town of Cumæ, a Greek colony dating to about 500 B.C.– a time when the Etruscans still held sway much of central Italy and Rome was nothing but a city-state ruled over by a line of tyrannical kings.
A Renaissance-era depiction of a young Cumæan sibyl by Andrea del Catagno. The painting can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery. Image: Wikicommons.
The sibyl, so the story goes, was a woman named Amalthaea who lurked in a cave on the Phlegræan Fields. She had once been young and beautiful–beautiful enough to attract the attentions of the sun god, Apollo, who offered her one wish in exchange for her virginity. Pointing to a heap of dust, Amalthaea asked for a year of life for each particle in the pile, but (as is usually the way in such old tales) failed to allow for the vindictiveness of the gods. Ovid, in Metamorphoses, has her lament that “like a fool, I did not ask that all those years should come with ageless youth, as well.” Instead, she aged but could not die. Virgil depicts her scribbling the future on oak leaves that lay scattered about the entrance to her cave, and states that the cave itself concealed an entrance to the underworld.
The best-known–and from our perspective the most interesting–of all the tales associated with the sibyl is supposed to date to the reign of Tarquinius Superbus–Tarquin the Proud. He was the last of the mythic kings of Rome, and some historians, at least, concede that he really did live and rule in the sixth century B.C. According to legend, the sibyl traveled to Tarquin’s palace bearing nine books of prophecy that set out the whole of the future of Rome. She offered the set to the king for a price so enormous that he summarily declined–at which the prophetess went away, burned the first three of the books, and returned, offering the remaining six to Tarquin at the same price. Once again, the king refused, though less arrogantly this time, and the sibyl burned three more of the precious volumes. The third time she approached the king, he thought it wise to accede to her demands. Rome purchased the three remaining books of prophecy at the original steep price.
What makes this story of interest to historians as well as folklorists is that there is good evidence that three Greek scrolls, known collectively as the Sibylline Books, really were kept, closely guarded, for hundreds of years after the time of Tarquin the Proud. Secreted in a stone chest in a vault beneath the Temple of Jupiter, the scrolls were brought out at times of crisis and used, not as a detailed guide to the future of Rome, but as a manual that set out the rituals required to avert looming disasters. They served the Republic well until the temple burned down in 83 B.C., and so vital were they thought to be that huge efforts were made to reassemble the lost prophecies by sending envoys to all the great towns of the known world to look for fragments that might have come from the same source. These reassembled prophecies were pressed back into service and not finally destroyed until 405, when they are thought to have been burned by a noted general by the name of Flavius Stilicho.
Sulfur drifts from a vent on the barren volcanic plateau known as the Phlegraean Fields, a harsh moonscape associated with legends of prophecy. Photo: Wikicommons.
The existence of the Sibylline Books certainly suggests that Rome took the legend of the Cumæan sibyl seriously, and indeed the geographer Strabo, writing at about the time of Christ, clearly states that there actually was “an Oracle of the Dead” somewhere in the Phlegræan Fields. So it is scarcely surprising that archaeologists and scholars of romantic bent have from time to time gone in search of a cave or tunnel that might be identified as the real home of a real sibyl–nor that some have hoped that they would discover an entrance, if not to Hades, then at least to some spectacular subterranean caverns.
Over the years several spots, the best known of which lies close to Lake Avernus, have been identified as the antro della sibilla–the cave of the sibyl. None, though, leads to anywhere that might reasonably be confused with an entrance to the underworld. Because of this, the quest continued, and gradually the remaining searchers focused their attentions on the old Roman resort of Baiæ (Baia), which lies on Bay of Naples at a spot where the Phlegræan Fields vanish beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. Two thousand years ago, Baiæ was a flourishing spa, noted both for its mineral cures and for the scandalous immorality that flourished there. Today, it is little more than a collection of picturesque ruins–but it was there, in the 1950s, that the entrance to a hitherto unknown antrum was discovered by the Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri. It had been concealed for years beneath a vineyard Maiuri’s workers had to clear a 15-foot-thick accumulation of earth and vines.
The narrow entrance to the tunnel complex at Baiae is easy to miss amid the ruins of a Greek temple and a large Roman bath complex.
The antrum at Baiæ proved difficult to explore. A sliver of tunnel, obviously ancient and manmade, disappeared into a hillside close to the ruins of a temple. The first curious onlookers who pressed their heads into its cramped entrance discovered a pitch-black passageway that was uncomfortably hot and wreathed in fumes they penetrated only a few feet into the interior before beating a hasty retreat. There the mystery rested, and it was not revived until the site came to the attention of Robert Paget in the early 1960s.
Paget was not a professional archaeologist. He was a Briton who worked at a nearby NATO airbase, lived in Baiæ, and excavated mostly as a hobby. As such, his theories need to be viewed with caution, and it is worth noting that when the academic Papers of the British School at Rome agreed to publish the results of the decade or more that he and an American colleague named Keith Jones spent digging in the tunnel, a firm distinction was drawn between the School’s endorsement of a straightforward description of the findings and its refusal to pass comment on the theories Paget had come up with to explain his perplexing discoveries. These theories eventually made their appearance in book form but attracted little attention–surprisingly, because the pair claimed to have stumbled across nothing less than a real-life “entrance to the underworld.”
Paget was one of the handful of men who still hoped to locate the “cave of the sibyl” described by Virgil, and it was this obsession that made him willing to risk the inhospitable interior. He and Jones pressed their way though the narrow opening and found themselves inside a high but narrow tunnel, eight feet tall but just 21 inches wide. The temperature inside was uncomfortable but bearable, and although the airless interior was still tinged with volcanic fumes, the two men pressed on into a passage that, they claimed, had probably not been entered for 2,000 years.
A plan of Baiae’s mysterious “Oracle of the Dead,” showing the complex layout of the tunnels and their depth below ground level.
Following the tunnel downward, Paget and Jones calculated that it fell only around 10 feet in the first 400 feet of its length before terminating in a solid wall of rubble that blocked the way. But even the scanty evidence the two men had managed to gather during this early phase of their investigation persuaded them that it was worth pressing on. For one thing, the sheer amount of spoil that had been hauled into the depths suggested a considerable degree of organization–years later, when the excavation of the tunnel was complete, it would be estimated that 700 cubic yards of rubble, and 30,000 man-journeys, had been required to fill it. For another, using a compass, Paget determined that the terrace where the tunnel system began was oriented towards the midsummer sunrise, and hence the solstice, while the mysterious passage itself ran exactly east-west and was, thus, on the equinoctial sunrise line. This suggested that it served some ritual purpose.
It took Paget and Jones, working in difficult conditions with a small group of volunteers, the beter part of a decade to clear and explore what turned out to be a highly ambitious tunnel system. Its ceremonial function seemed to be confirmed by the existence of huge numbers of niches for oil lamps–they occurred every yard in the tunnels’ lower levels, far more frequently than would have been required merely to provide illumination. The builders had also given great thought to the layout of the complex, which seemed to have been designed to conceal its mysteries.
The “River Styx”–an underground stream, heated almost to boiling point in places, which runs through at the deepest portions of the tunnel complex. It was the discovery of this stream that led Paget to formulate his daring hypothesis that the Great Antrum was intended as a representation of the mythic underground passageways to Hades.
Within the portion of the tunnels choked by rubble, Paget and Jones found, hidden behind an S-bend, a second blockage. This, the explorers discovered, marked the place where two tunnels diverged. Basing his thinking on the remains of some ancient pivots, Paget suggested that the spot had at one time harbored a concealed door. Swung closed, this would have masked the entrance to a second tunnel that acted as a short-cut to the lower levels. Opened partially, it could have been used (the explorer suggested) as a remarkably effective ventilation system hot, vitiated air would be sucked out of the tunnel complex at ceiling level, while currents of cooler air from the surface were constantly drawn in along the floor.
But only when the men went deeper into the hillside did the greatest mystery of the tunnels revealed itself. There, hidden at the bottom of a much steeper passage, and behind a second S-bend that prevented anyone approaching from seeing it until the final moment, ran an underground stream. A small “landing stage” projected out into the sulfurous waters, which ran from left to right across the tunnel and disappeared into the darkness. And the river itself was hot to the touch–in places it approached boiling point.
Conditions at this low point in the tunnel complex certainly were stygian. The temperature had risen to 120 degrees Fahrenheit the air stank of sulfur. It was a relief to force a way across the stream and up a steep ascending passage on the other side, which eventually opened into an antechamber, oriented this time to the helical sunset, that Paget dubbed the “hidden sanctuary.” From there, more hidden staircases ascended to the surface to emerge behind the ruins of water tanks that had fed the spas at the ancient temple complex.
The Phlegræan Fields (left) and Mount Vesuvius, after Scipione Breislak’s map of 1801. Baiae lies at the northeastern tip of the peninsula of Bacoli, at the extreme westerly end of the Fields.
What was this “Great Antrum,” as Paget dubbed it? Who had built it–and for what purpose? And who had stopped it up? After a decade of exploration, he and Jones had formulated answers to those questions.
The tunnel system, the two men proposed, had been constructed by priests to mimic a visit to the Greeks’ mythical underworld. In this interpretation, the stream represented the fabled River Styx, which the dead had to cross to enter Hades a small boat, the explorers speculated, would have been waiting at the landing stage to ferry visitors across. On the far side these initiates would have climbed the stairs to the hidden sanctuary, and it was there they would have met… who? One possibility, Paget thought, was a priestess posing as the Cumæan sibyl, and for this reason he took to calling the complex the “Antrum of Initiation.”
The tunnels, then, in Paget’s view, might have been constructed to allow priests to persuade their patrons–or perhaps simply wealthy travelers–that they had traveled through the underworld. The scorching temperatures below ground and the thick drifts of volcanic vapor would certainly have given that impression. And if visitors were tired, befuddled or perhaps simply drugged, it would have been possible to create a powerfully otherworldly experience capable of persuading even the skeptical.
A general plan of the tunnel complex, drawn by Robert Paget. Click twice to view in higher resolution.
In favor of this argument, Paget went on, was the careful planning of the tunnels. The “dividing of the ways,” with its hidden door, would have allowed a party of priests–and the “Cumæan sibyl” too, perhaps–quick access to the hidden sanctuary, and the encounter with the “River Styx” would have been enhanced by the way the tunnels’ S-bend construction concealed its presence from new initiates. The system, furthermore, closely matched ancient myths relating visits to the underworld. In Virgil’s Aeniad, for instance, the hero, Aeneas, crosses the Styx only once on his journey underground, emerging from Hades by an alternate route. The tunnel complex at Baiæ seemed to have been constructed to allow just such a journey–and Virgil, in Paget’s argument, had lived nearby and might himself have been an initiate in Baiæ’s mysteries.
Dating the construction of the complex was a greater challenge. The explorers found little evidence inside the tunnels that might point to the identity of the builders–just a mason’s plumb bob in one of the niches and some ancient graffiti. But, working on the assumption that the passages had formed part of the surrounding temple complex, they concluded that they could best be dated to the late archaic period around 550 B.C.–at pretty much the time, that is, that the Cumæan sibyl was said to have lived. If so, the complex was was almost certainly the work of the Greek colonists of Cumæ itself. As for when the tunnels had been blocked up, that–Paget thought–must have taken place after Virgil’s time, during the early Imperial period of Roman history. But who exactly ordered the work, or why, he could not say.
In time, Paget and Jones solved at least some of the Great Antrum’s mysteries. In 1965 they persuaded a friend, Colonel David Lewis of the U.S. Army, and his son to investigate the Styx for them using scuba apparatus. The two divers followed the stream into a tunnel that dramatically deepened and discovered the source of its mysterious heat: two springs of boiling water, superheated by the volcanic chambers of the Phlegræan Fields.
One of the two boiling springs that feed the “Styx,” photographed in 1965, 250 feet beneath the surface, by Colonel David Lewis, U.S. Army.
Whether Paget and Jones’s elaborate theories are correct remains a matter of debate. That the tunnel complex served some ritual purpose can hardly be doubted if the explorers’ compass bearings are correct, and the specifics of its remarkable construction seem to support much of what Paget says. Of alternative explanations, only one–that the tunnels were once part of a system designed to supply hot mineral-rich waters to bathhouses above–feels plausible, though it certainly does not explain features such as S-bends designed to hide the wonders ahead from approaching visitors. The central question may well be whether it is possible to see Paget’s channel of boiling water deep underground as anything other than a deliberate representation of one of the fabled rivers that girdled Hades–if not the Styx itself, then perhaps the Phlegethon, the mythic “river of fire” that, in Dante’s Inferno, boils the souls of the departed. Historians of the ancient world do not dispute that powerful priests were fully capable of mounting elaborate deceptions–and a recent geological report on the far better known Greek oracle site at Delphi demonstrated that fissures in the rocks nearby brought intoxicating and anaesthetic gases to the surface at that spot, suggesting that it may have been selected and used for a purpose much like the one Paget proposed at Baiæ.
Yet much remains mysterious about the Great Antrum–not least the vexed question of how ancient builders, working with primitive tools at the end of the Bronze Age, could possibly have known of the existence of the “River Styx,” much less excavated a tunnel that so neatly intercepted it. There is no trace of the boiling river at the surface–and it was not until the 1970s, after Paget’s death, that his collaborators finally discovered, by injecting colored dyes into its waters, that it flows into the sea miles away, on the northern side of Cape Miseno.
Paget found one foot-high fragment of roughly painted graffiti close to the entrance of the tunnels. He interpreted the first line to read “Illius” (“of that”), and the second as a shorthand symbol representing a prayer to the Greek goddess Hera.
Little seems to have changed at Baiæ since Paget’s day. His discoveries have made remarkably little impact on tourism at the ancient resort, and even today the network of passages he worked so long to clear remain locked and barely visited. A local guide can be hired, but the complex remains difficult, hot and uncomfortable to visit. Little attempt is made to exploit the idea that it was once thought to be an entrance to the underworld, and, pending reinvestigation by trained archaeologists, not much more can be said about the tunnels’ origin and purpose. But even among the many mysteries of the ancient world, the Great Antrum on the Bay of Naples surely remains among the most intriguing.
Satellite images reveal the ruins of a long-lost civilization in the Pacific
The ancient ruins of a massive city located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean have been spotted by satellite images.
The ruined city is one of today’s great archaeological enigmas and is referred to as “Atlantis,” the “eighth wonder of the world,” or the “Venice of the Pacific.”
According to experts, we could be looking at the remnants of a long lost ancient civilization or at least one we’ve not heard much about.
Some even say it was one of the many cities belonging to the mythical Lemurian empire.
The Science channel has revealed new images of an ancient city composed of hundreds of islands separated by water channels near the city of Nan Madol, on Pohnpei Island, Micronesia.
It was inhabited by a civilization of which hardly anything is known.
Some even ventured out as far as to call this long-lost civilization, the remains of Atlantis, although the lost Lemurian empire would be a more suitable guess. Anyway, both of them are a myth, so it’s likely that the ancient city—Nan Madol—was the capital of the Saudeleur Dynasty.
The Saudeleur Dynasty was the first organized government that managed to unite the people of Pohnpei island.
The island where the discovery took place is one of the most remote in the Pacific Ocean and is located 2,500 km from Australia.
According to researchers, the name ‘Nan Madol’ means ‘space in the middle’, which could refer to the structure by which the city is divided: water channels separated by totally geometric blocks.
It’s a wonder of ancient engineering and terraforming.
Thousands of years ago, the island was inhabited by an ancient Asian civilization of which hardly anything is known.
“Why would someone build a city in the middle of the ocean so far from any other civilization?” Asks archaeologist Patrick Hunt.
“When we looked at the blocks from the air we were impressed, but we were even more impressed when we saw them on the ground. The blocks have a height of 7 meters and a width of 5”, adds archaeologist Karen Bellinger.
Last year Mark McCoy, an anthropologist and associate professor at the Southern Methodist University in Texas, led an investigation to determine the origin of the mysterious city.
Fin order to understand everything possible about the ancient site, researchers analyzed a piece of coral found in the tomb of the first chief of the city, which allowed scientists to date the construction between 1800-1200 AD.
According to McCoy, the structures at Nan Madol are at least a hundred years older than the rest of similar buildings on the Pacific islands.
The study also revealed that Nan Madol was an old administrative center on the island of Pohnpei. Built on 83 hectares of lagoon with artificial islands, its architecture is based on basalt and coral columns.
“For me, at its best, Nan Madol was the capital of the island,” McCoy said. “It was the seat of political power, the center of the most important religious rituals and the place where the old rulers of the island were buried,” he explains.
Kash Khan is the founder of Educate Inspire Change(EIC). 2019 has been the most transformative for his life and is now focusing on creating video and audio content with the purpose to educate and inspire. He founded EIC in 2015 to help keep people informed, to encourage people to expand their consciousness and to inspire people to reach for their dreams.
Palenque is one of the best ruins in Mexico because of its historical significance. It has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site . It is located in the state of Chiapas and close to the modern town of Palenque. There are many intricately carved inscriptions and hieroglyphics on display and the city is thought to have been a center of trade and knowledge at its peak between 500AD and 700AD. The location itself is a part of the ruins’ appeal as the site has both rivers and wildlife to captivate visitors. One of the site’s popular attractions is the Temple of Inscriptions. It was built by King Pakal’s first son and features over 180 years worth of records of the city’s history.
Chichen Itza was a massive pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people. It is one of the largest Maya cities and is located in the Tinum Municipality of Yucatan State, Mexico. The Mayan civilization flourished from roughly 250AD to somewhere around 900AD. They created a sophisticated written language and left behind many magnificent works of architecture. The Mayan people made a number of notable achievements in Astronomy and built monuments that commemorated celestial happenings. Examples of these monuments can be found right in the Chichen Itza ruins. Chichen Itza is the most popular and most visited ruins in Mexico and covers almost two square miles. Here you can see temples, ball courts, and the impressive 75-foot tall Kukulkan Pyramid.Author: Clarissa Vanner Posted in Nature
There was a continent where the Pacific Ocean is now situated. It was roughly triangular in shape with the northern tip of the triangle being in the Bering Sea. Japan, Philipine Islands and Sulawesi form part of the former western coastline, the remaining parts of the southern coastline are formed by the islands of Papua and Fiji. The south eastern and eastern coastlines are totally submerged. All of the Pacific islands situated north of the tropic of Capricorn are mountain ranges or individual mountain peaks that did not sink below sea level. The story of the sinking of Pan has been kept alive in the ancient stories of nearly all the peoples of the world, including (in simplified form) the story of Noah in the Ezra bible. A few thousand years ago when the Greeks learned of this ancient cataclysm, they called the submerged continent Atlantis. In modern times the name Atlantis has been confused with the Atlantic Ocean and for that reason people have been looking in the wrong place for evidence. Ancient submerged ruins that pre-date the pyramids on all continents have been discoved at Okinawa and many other Pacific islands. There were many boatloads of people that escaped the submerging of Pan and they drifted in all directions, hence the cultural memories of the great flood all over the globe. The Ezra bible only describes one boat (Noah) that drifted to the middle east, but there were many more boats and they drifted in all directions until they reached land.
Seems like we have 'lost lands' in the North Sea between Britain and the main continent, we have a land bridge in India, we have all sorts of goodies found underwater around various areas of the world, why not a lost Pacific land area? The sea level has bounced up and down since *forever* and is currently going back up [a reputed 3.3 meters/10 feet last I heard] which will make our Florida Keys mostly lost lands, as with much of our coastal area.