China’s Atlantis City: 25 Strange Facts About Lion City

What many believe to be a mystery isn't actually so mysterious. Lion City, famed for sitting at the bottom of the Qiandao Lake, has a surprising history. The once thriving city, known for its powerful statue throughout all of China, now resides over 100 feet below the lake's surface. This was not due to a natural disaster or any type of destructive force unless you consider human nature to be one. The ancient city met its watery fate due to the hands of humans, specifically those who gave up the land the city once sat on to make way for modern machinery.

While there are many details surrounding the reasoning for this -- much of which we'll get into later on -- there's no denying that the fact that this city is fully preserved is a modern miracle. Although it sits deep under the water, all of its structures, statues, memorials, and archways all sit in perfect stature. Its rediscovery happened almost two decades ago and since then, divers have been repeatedly making trips below the surface to see what new aspects of the city they can explore. Inside these preserved walls lie the tale of several powerful dynasties, an ancient way of life, and some of the most stunning architectural features that are so indicative of China's history.

25 It Was Intentionally Flooded


The strange thing about the famed Lion City is that it was flooded intentionally. As opposed to other cities that were victims of natural disasters or man-made catastrophes, Shī chéng, as it's known in China, was intentionally flooded for a particular reason. In order to design and build a hydroelectric station and dam -- which would later be known as the Xin'an Dam --, the city was flooded to make way for a man-made lake. This lake would later be known as the Qiandao Lake.

24 The Remains Are In Pristine Condition To This Day


Since the water used in submerging the city did not contain anything corrosive and was not conducive to marine life growth, the city remains are still in perfect condition to this day. There are several reasons as to why every structure has remained perfectly intact that have allowed experienced divers to witness underwater history. Dating back to 621 AD, the city represents a completely different era and serves as a valuable source of research for scientists and historians. Dives are still conducted to this day in order to gain as much insight into this timeline as possible.

23 The City Is Submerged 131 Feet Underwater


The Qiandao Lake is surprisingly large for something that was man-made and relatively deep. The city itself is located roughly 131 feet underneath the surface, meaning that only experienced divers are able to reach it. While it's not the deepest depth at which city structures have been found, it still requires a thorough knowledge and adequate experience diving in order to reach. As it stands now, China will not let anyone explore the city without a history of deep sea diving.

22 Some Of Its Architecture And Sculptures Are Roughly 1,300 Years Old


Amazingly, many relics that have been found at the bottom of this man-made lake are still recognizable and have been easily identified. This has allowed researchers to make the determination that some of them are at least 1,300 years old. In its heyday, Lion City was bustling and full of life, complete with an advanced society which was also one of the most powerful in all of China. The city saw roads, horse-drawn carriages, homes, and elaborate buildings, all of which remain untouched by human or marine life.

21 Qiandao Lake Is Man-Made


If you hadn't guessed already, Qiandao Lake is entirely man-made. It was flooded in 1959 after the city decided to go forward with their hydroelectric station project. It was such a considerably valuable project for China that they chose this expansive land surrounding Five Lion Mountain to set up their construction. A city that had been representative of centuries of China's ancestry was flooded for the sake of advancement and it still being rediscovered under the surface to this day.

20 Even Its Wood Structures Are Perfectly Preserved


It's not often that wood survives the disintegration process that water subjects it to, however, the wooden structures in Lion City are still perfectly preserved. While many of the city's arches and statues are created from metal and stone, there are various wooden structures that have been observed in pristine condition. This is, once again, all due to the water conditions and lack of underwater wildlife and organisms adding to its decay. In a bizarre twist of fate, the water itself is what aided in preserving this priceless history.

19 Many Families Were Relocated


A total of almost 300,000 people, to be exact, faced a forced evacuation during the flooding of Lion City. The entire area was to be flooded in order to provide enough power and space for the city's hydroelectric project, which meant that many lost their homes. Families whose ancestors had called the area home for centuries were forced to leave and start over and it wasn't just ancient structures that were lost and forgotten during this time. The project displaced many that would not be able to return to their homes.

18 The Underwater City Was Not Found Again Until 2001


For decades, Lion City was forgotten underwater, left to sit in silence until its rediscovery in 2001. The city was discovered by a diving excursion but up until that point in time, very few people were aware of what lay just beneath the surface. The lake has seen various resorts and boating excursions but is now open to experienced divers who want to see what's left of Zhejiang's ancient history. There are plans to eventually open the water up to tourists, but nothing has been decided on as of yet.

17 Some Of Its Walls Date Back To The 16th Century


There is a tremendous amount of history hidden away under the waters of Qiandao Lake, much of which we can learn from if diving projects continue. Many of the structures from Lion City's walls date back to the 16th century and was estimated to have come into full existence around 208 AD. However, the city's first construction dates all the way back to 25 AD, making it unbelievably valuable to the history of Zhejiang. Many have referred to the city as a "time capsule", since many of its temples, archways, homes, and even paved roads have been left intact.

16 Many Of The Architecture Contains Mythology


China's dynasty holds the key to understanding what life was like for those living in 208 AD. Much of the architecture surrounding the city is depictive of its resident's beliefs, providing valuable information for researchers as to how their temples were used. Although the colors of the city have faded, its statues and memorial archways still remain untouched, allowing a glimpse into an ancient time when China was powerful and highly celebrated. Before it was flooded, Lion City served as a monument to the days when  Zhejiang was the most powerful city in the country.

15 It's Open To Experienced Divers


As of now, the city is only opened to divers who have a vast experience in diving. While lake diving varies from ocean or sea diving, the city does sit at a significant depth that should only be attempted by those with experience doing so. Eventually,  Zhejiang has plans to open diving up to the public and has even proposed plans to build some type of underwater structure in tribute to it. The area is also protected land, making it even more challenging for those with no viable credibility to explore the sunken city.

14 It Still Has Not Been Completely Mapped Out


Although the city is not the largest in the world, its underwater remnants have still not been fully mapped out. This will likely take years, as divers need to slowly cover each area of the city and note each building, structure, archway, road, and home. The vast expanse of this city has been preserved in full, meaning there are a seemingly endless number of buildings and structures to explore and investigate. Although there are artist renditions of what the city looked like prior to its flooding, divers will need to create a realistic rendition based on what has survived.

13 The City Itself Dates Back To 208 AD


While the city's construction started well before then, Lion City was thriving by 208 AD. However, from 25 to 200 AD, it was known as one of the most powerful ruling cities in all of China, known at that time by the name of Shī chéng. Specific structures have been discovered and noted as belonging to both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Not surprisingly, the city is also referred to by the name "Atlantis of the East" even though it was intentionally flooded rather than subject to a cruel force of nature.

12 Hydroelectricity Is The Reason For Its Flooding


As China advanced and became drawn to new and necessary technology, it was decided by the government that a hydroelectric dam was necessary for the Zhejiang province. This was obviously the worst decision for the somewhat 300,000 people who were relocated due to the project, but it was decided that the area where Lion City once stood would make for the perfect location. This was understandably a sad moment for those families, many of whom had ancestors who once called Lion City their home.

11 The City Is Relatively Small In Radius


Surprisingly, the city is not as vast and expansive as many would think it to be. Although it was once the most powerful province in all of China, the city itself expands no more than half a square kilometer. To take this into perspective, that's only just under one square mile, making it a very small city compared to others that we know today. However, during the 16th century, this was seen as a thriving, well-off, and successful. The city was home to a respectable number of people, many related to those who were relocated during its flooding.

10 Water Temperatures And Full Submersion Are Responsible For Preservation


While it wasn't the greatest move to sink an entire city that was so rich with history, the brilliance behind using a man-made water source to do it may have been what saved these structures. Since the water temperature is always constant and never fluctuates between extremes, there's no fear of structures weakening. Additionally, a lack of marine and aquatic plant life have attributed to its underwater life, leaving no reason for rapid decay or the disintegration of building materials.

9 China Had Plans For Submarine Tours


At one point, China's government was on-board (no pun intended) with the idea of providing guided submarine tours. These tours would have been open to the general public for viewing purposes only. This also would have created a safe and relatively simple way to explore more of the city's structures while providing a decent viewing range. However, this plan was squashed when fears of damage arose due to the frequency at which these tours would occur. With higher underwater traffic rates would come to a higher rate of destruction to the already fragile structure.

8 An Underwater Tunnel May Be In The Works


The newest and most recent project on Zhejiang's radar is the idea of an underwater tunnel. These innovative tunnels have been used in other places around the world and have proven to be an efficient way of allowing the general public to view certain historical structures. While it seems futuristic, if the project is successful, it would allow many the chance to once again see the famed Lion City in all of its preserved glory. This would also lessen diving traffic and prevent human interaction in order to preserve the city as long as possible.

7 Surprisingly, Visibility In The Water Is Low


While marine life is rare in Qiandao Lake, the water itself is not the clearest water for diving. This is likely due to the dirt and ground composition that existed prior to flooding, as this lake floor was never intended to be submerged underwater. Additionally, dust and debris from these ancient structures are likely contributing to the cloudiness of the water. It's partially for this reason that only experienced divers are allowed at those depths, since it can be incredibly disorienting to swim, let alone dive, in murky waters.

6 The City Was Once The Most Powerful In All Of China


From roughly 25 up until 200 AD, Shī chéng was well-known as the most powerful empire in all of China. It's due to this reason that its eventual flooding is such a historical tragedy because centuries of history were sunken along with it. While its intentional sinking may have been what saved it -- since it was not exposed to the elements or air -- it's still a sad story for those whose families had personal ties to the city. Additionally, history from both the Ming and Qing dynasties was sunken along with it.

5 It Has Been Compared To The Mysterious City Of Atlantis


There is obviously no scientific or historical merit to this other than the fact that Lion City is an underwater city. The famed city of Atlantis has still yet to be discovered and it's questionable as to whether or not it even exists. It's rumored to sit in depths that divers can't reach, but even that has no evidence to firmly back up its claims. Lion City's history is well-known and the reason for its underwater dwelling is also known, keeping it from being a true Atlantis. The only reason the two are compared is due to the fact that Lion City is now an "underwater city".

4 The City Has Five Gates Rather Than Four


This was a rebellious move on the part of the architect responsible for the design of Lion City. Most structures in China have only four major archway entrances, as they correspond with each of the four compass coordinates. However, Lion City was built with a total of five entrances, with two facing the west. This broke ancient Chinese tradition and makes the city even more unique, along with the fact that each of these entrances has been perfectly preserved underwater.

3 Divers Have Found At Least 265 Arches In Its Construction


The architecture of what once was Lion City is truly stunning. Along with elaborate statues and adorned archways, it's the sheer number of these that make it so fascinating. The city is known for its widened streets, likely to allow for foot traffic as well as carriage traffic. Adorning these streets are 265 archways which are significant considering the city's small size. Each of these archways contains nods to the traditional beliefs of ancient China, including lion, phoenix, dragon, and other ancient inscriptions.

2 The Lake Itself Has Over 1,000 Man-Made Islands


This isn't hard to believe when the landscape on which Lion City once stood is taken into consideration. The city sat at the base of the Five Lion Mountain (which is also where its name comes from) which, of course, entails elevated land. When the city itself was flooded, it's these high points which stuck out above the lake's surface, lending themselves to become islands rather than hills or mountain summits. These discernible land masses make up what is so characteristic of Qiandao Lake, lending themselves to make up over 1,000 tiny "islands".

1 Wildlife Is Far And Few Between


Claims from divers imply that diving to the city's depths is an "eery" experience, due to the lack of life under the water's surface. Everything is scarily calm since nothing is around to disturb the lake floor or the water itself. At most, a fish sighting is incredibly rare and divers will occasionally run into a crab or two. Since the lake was man-made, there's no reason for any marine life to take up residence there and it shows. At over 100 feet below the surface, the empty empire is all that remains of this once powerful city.

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