Lost cities obsess us because they are a reminder of our civilization’s mortality. Empty or lost cities are also a great plot device for writers of action movies, television shows, and adventure stories.
Unfortunately, true lost cities are rare because most abandoned cities are underneath a modern city. The lost city of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra; Alexandria is buried under modern Alexandria, Egypt, for example.
Hence, we will never find many ancient wonders will never because archaeologists will never dig up a public park, a busy freeway, somebody’s backyard, a factory, or a shopping center. Instead, most lost cities will remain lost because somebody is living or working or farming on top of them.
Conversely, there are some real lost cities out there. These true lost cities are communities that are lost or sitting empty. Some of the True Lost Cities include:
The fortress of Mabila is the ultimate lost city because nobody knows its location or name. Five possible names for the fortress include; Mabila, Mavila, Mavilla, Maubila, or Mauvilla.
All we know about Mabila is that conquistador Hernando De Soto destroyed it in one of the bloodiest battles of American history. In 1540, De Soto was leading a force of several hundred conquistadors through the Southeastern US.
On 18 October 1540, the Native American Chief Tuskaloosa ambushed De Soto’s army at Mablia. Tuskaloosa realized he could not defeat the Spanish in a pitched. Instead, he lured the Conquistadors into the town of Mabilia hoping to defeat them in urban warfare.
Tuskaloosa’s trap failed because the Spanish were experts at close quarter combat. Moreover, the Spanish made their swords and pikes of steel, which meant one Spaniard could hack dozens of natives to death.
The battle was so bloody that water in a nearby pond turned red. Disgustingly, one chronicler claims thirsty Spanish soldiers drank from the bloody pond.
Mabila was the deadliest battle fought in North America before the Revolutionary War. Spanish participants estimated they killed 2,000 to 3,000 Native American soldiers. The natives also killed up to 400 hogs in an attempt to destroy the Spanish food supply.
Mabila itself was a substantial town surrounded by a 16.5 foot (five meter) high wall thick log walls. The town’s Mississippian inhabitants coated the walls with stucco to make them look solid.
All we know about Mabila’s location is that it is in central Alabama, probably near Selma. We lost the location because the Mississippian Civilization collapsed when a pandemic depopulated the region. Ironically, the pandemic began because De Soto brought pigs which spread European diseases to the natives.
An intriguing location for Mabila is Cahaba, or Old Cahawba. Cahaba was the site of enormous amounts of history. The ghost town of Cahaba was the first permanent state capitol of Alabama and an important cotton shipping point. During the Civil War, Cahaba was the location of Castle Morgan, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.
They abandoned Cahaba in the late 19th Century when cotton shipments moved to the rails. Today, Cahaba is the location of one of two ruined state capitols in the United States.
Although De Soto’s assault devastated the Southeastern US, the Spanish did not follow up with a permanent conquest. The Conquistadors were seeking gold and found none. Instead, they left but destroyed the Mississippian Civilization.
Kaskaskia: The Lost Capitol of Illinois
Old Cahaba is not America’s only lost state capitol. The first capitol of Illinois Kaskaskia was lost beneath the Mississippi.
Jesuit priests, Kaskaskia natives, and French settlers founded the town around 1703. The town fell under British rule in 1765 after the French and Indian War. In 1778, George Rogers Clark’s small army conquered Kaskaskia for the United States during the Revolutionary War.
During the 1790s, Kaskaskia became an important river port. When they organized the Illinois Territory in 1809, Kaskaskia became the territorial capitol. In 1818, Kaskaskia became the first capitol of the state of Illinois.
Decline began soon after as they moved the state capitol to Vandalia. Disasters including a flood and an epidemic crippled Kaskaskia.
The Great Flood of 1844 forced Kaskaskia’s inhabitants to move the town for the first time to the south. The original location of Kaskaskia became an island in the Mississippi that was covered with ruins.
The major cause of Kaskaskia’s destruction was the steamboat. During the 19th Century, steamboats burned wood harvested from forests on the riverbanks. The steamboats burned enormous amounts of wood, which led to deforestation.
The deforestation led to flooding which raised the Mississippi’s level. The rising river washed much of Kaskaskia, which was built on, filled in swamp land away.
The Great Flood of 1881 destroyed the original town of Kaskaskia and devastated the new town. By that time, the original site of Kaskaskia had become part of Missouri, because of the shifting of the river. So yes, the former state capitol of Illinois became part of Missouri.
Another cause of the decline was the railroads, which diverted commerce, traffic, and population to new cities such as Chicago. No railroad came to Kaskaskia, which doomed the town. One reason the railroads never came was the fear that river could wash the tracks away.
At its height in 1818, Kaskaskia had 7,267 residents. By 1950, Kaskaskia’s population had shrunk to 112 people. By 1970, there were 79 people in the town, and 33 by 1980, the population grew to 33 and fell to nine people in 2000. In 2010, the US Census found there were only 14 people in Kaskaskia. The former state capitol was the least populous incorporated community in the state of Illinois.
Today, all that remains of Kaskaskia are four households, a monument containing the “Liberty Bell of the West” a church bell donated to the town by French King Louis XV in 1741, and the Kaskaskia Church built from materials salvaged from the original town.
The Mississippi has washed away most of Kaskaskia. Hence, Kaskaskia is a true lost city because the river swept it away.