The Lost Continent:
capital of Atlantis as described by Plato.
(Copyright Lee Krystek 2006)
The idea of a lost, but highly advanced civilization
has captured the interest of people for centuries. Perhaps the
most compelling of these tales is the story of Atlantis. The story
appears again and again in books, television shows and movies.
Where did the story originate and is any of it true?
The story of the lost continent of Atlantis starts
in 355 B.C. with the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato had
planned to write a trilogy of books discussing the nature of man,
the creation of the world, and the story of Atlantis, as well
as other subjects. Only the first book was ever completed. The
second book was abandoned part way through, and the final book
was never even started.
Plato used dialogues to express his ideas. In this
type of writing, the author's thoughts are explored in a series
of arguments and debates between various characters in the story.
Plato often used real people in his dialogues, such as his teacher,
Socrates, but the words he gave them were his own.
In Plato's book, Timaeus, a character named
Kritias tells an account of Atlantis that has been in his family
for generations. According to the character, the story was originally
told to his ancestor, Solon, by a priest during Solon's visit
There had been a powerful empire located to the
west of the "Pillars of Hercules" (what we now call the Straight
of Gibraltar) on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. The nation there
had been established by Poseidon, the God of the Sea. Poseidon
fathered five sets of twins on the island. The firstborn, Atlas,
had the continent and the surrounding ocean named for him. Poseidon
divided the land into ten sections, each to be ruled by a son,
or his heirs.
The capital city of Atlantis was a marvel of architecture
and engineering. The city was composed of a series of concentric
walls and canals. At the very center was a hill, and on top of
the hill a temple to Poseidon. Inside was a gold statue of the
God of the Sea showing him driving six winged horses.
About 9000 years before the time of Plato, after
the people of Atlantis became corrupt and greedy, the gods decided
to destroy them. A violent earthquake shook the land, giant waves
rolled over the shores, and the island sank into the sea, never
to be seen again.
So, is the story of Atlantis just a fable used by
Plato to make a point? Or is there some reason to think he was
referring to a real place? Well, at numerous points in the dialogues,
Plato's characters refer to the story of Atlantis as "genuine
history" and it being within "the realm of fact." Plato also seems
to put into the story a lot of detail about Atlantis that would
be unnecessary if he had intended to use it only as a literary
the other hand according to the writings of the historian Strabo,
Plato's student Aristotle remarked that Atlantis was simply created
by Plato to illustrate a point. Unfortunately, Aristotle's writings
on this subject, which might have cleared the mystery up, have
been lost eons ago.
If we make the assumption that Atlantis was a real
place, it seems logical that it could be found west of the Straight
of Gibraltar near the Azores Islands. In 1882 a man named Ignatius
Donnelly published a book titled Atlantis, the Antediluvian
World. Donnelly, an American politician, had come to the belief
that Plato's story represented actual historical fact. He located
Atlantis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting the Azores
Islands represented what remained of the highest mountain peaks.
Donnelly said he had studied zoology and geology and had come
to the conclusion that civilization itself had begun with the
Atlantians and had spread out throughout the world as the Atlantians
established colonies in places like ancient Egypt and Peru. Donnelly's
book became a world-wide best seller, but researchers could not
take Donnelly's theories seriously as he offered no proof for
As time went on it became obvious that Donnelly's
theories were faulty. Modern scientific surveys of the bottom
of the Atlantic Ocean shows it is covered with a blanket of sediment
that must have taken millions of years to accumulate. There is
no sign of a sunken island continent.
Pyramids a Clue?
Spence, a Scottish writer, published several books on Atlantis
in the early 20th century. He was fascinated by the pyramids
constructed by ancient races in different parts of the globe.
Spence wondered if the creation of pyramids in diverse areas
such as South America and Egypt indicated that these places
had all been colonies of the Atlantis and if the Atlantians
were the original pyramid makers. While the idea is interesting,
most historians today believe the trend toward building
pyramids occurred independently in different locations.
Are there any other candidates for the location
of Atlantis? People have made cases for places as diverse as Switzerland,
in the middle of Europe, and New Zealand, in the Pacific Ocean.
The explorer, Percy Fawcett, thought
that it might be located in Brazil.
Recently a research team led by Professor Richard
Freund at the University of Hartford, has claimed that they have
found evidence that the city may be buried not under the ocean,
but along the coast of Spain in marshlands of the Doņana National
Park. Geological studies have shown that at one time this marsh
was a huge bay connected to the Atlantic Ocean. The team, using
radar technology, digital mapping and satellite imagery believes
that they can see signs of a ringed city that once occupied the
bay with canals similar to those described by Plato. There is
evidence that a number of tsunamis have swept this area over the
centuries and Freund thinks that it is one of these destroyed
the city. After the disaster survivors may have moved inland and
created a number of what Freund thinks are memorial sites to Atlantis.
Other scientists that have explored the area do
not agree with Freund's conclusion, though they admit that a city
by the name of Tartessos occupied the area around the 4th century
B.C.. Freund believes that Tartessos and Atlantis may just be
different names for the same city. As far back as the 1920's historian
Adolf Schulten had suggested that Plato had used the real city
of Tartessos as the source for his Atlantis legend.
The strongest evidence for a real Atlantis, however,
is not in Spain, but closer to Plato's home in Greece. This idea
started with K.T. Frost, a professor of history at the
Queen's University in Belfast. Later, Spyridon Marinatos,
an archaeologist, and A.G. Galanopoulos, a seismologist,
added evidence to Frost's ideas.
Frost suggested that instead of being west of the
Pillars of Hercules, Atlantis was east. He also thought that the
catastrophic end of the island had come not 9000 years before
Plato's time, but only 900. If this was true, the land of Atlantis
might already be a well-known place even in Plato's time: the
island of Crete.
Crete is now a part of modern Greece and lies just
south of Athens across part of the Mediterranean Sea. Before 1500
B.C. it was the seat of the Minoan Empire. The Minoans dominated
the eastern Mediterranean with a powerful navy and probably extracted
tribute from other surrounding nations. Archaeological excavations
have shown that Minoan Crete was probably one of the most sophisticated
cultures of its time. It had splendid architecture and art. A
code of laws gave women equal legal status to men. Agriculture
was highly developed and an extensive irrigation system existed.
island of Santorini in a satellite photo that clearly shows
the ring left by the volcanos explosion.
Then, seemingly in a blink of an eye, the Minoan
Civilization disappeared. Geological studies have shown that on
an island we now know as Santorinas, located just eighty miles
to the north of Crete, a disaster occurred that was very capable
of toppling the Minoan state.
Santorinas today is a lush Mediterranean paradise
consisting of several islands in a ring shape. Twenty-five hundred
years ago, though, it was a single large island with a volcano
in the center. The volcano blew itself apart in a massive explosion
around 1500 B.C.
To understand the effect of such an explosion, scientists
have compared it with the most powerful volcanic explosion in
historic times. This occurred on the Island of Krakatoa in 1883.
There a giant wave, or tsunami,
120 feet high raced across the sea and hit neighboring islands,
killing 36,000 people. Ash thrown up into the air blackened the
skies for three days. The sound of the explosion was heard as
far away as 3,000 miles.
The explosion at Santorinas was four times as powerful
The tsunami that hit Crete must have traveled
inland for over half a mile, destroying any coastal towns or cities.
The great Minoan fleet of ships were all sunk in a few seconds.
Overnight the powerful Minoan Empire was crushed and Crete changed
to a political backwater. One can hardly imagine a catastrophe
more like Plato's description of Atlantis' fate than the destruction
fresco from the Minoan palace at Knossos showing the sport
of "bull leaping." The Minoan civilization is
also the source of the legend of the haf man/half bull Minotaur.
Many of the details of the Atlantis story fit with
what is now known about Crete. Women had a relatively high political
status, both cultures were peaceful, and both enjoyed the unusual
sport of ritualistic "bull leaping" (where an unarmed
man wrestled and jumped over a bull).
If the fall of the Minoans is the story of Atlantis,
how did Plato get the location and time wrong? Galanopoulos suggested
there was a mistake during translation of some of the figures
from Egyptian to Greek and an extra zero added. This would mean
900 years ago became 9000, and the distance from Egypt to "Atlantis"
went from 250 miles to 2,500. If this is true, Plato (knowing
the layout of the Mediterranean Sea) would have been forced to
assume the location of the island continent to be squarely in
the Atlantic Ocean.
Not everyone accepts the Minoan Crete theory of
the story of Atlantis, but until a convincing case can be made
for some other place, it, perhaps, remains science's best guess.
to Plato the temple in the center of Atlantis was dominated by
a statue of Poseidon driving six winged horses (Copyright
Lee Krystek, 2006).
Copyright Lee Krystek
1997-2006. All Rights Reserved.