share Bookmark & Share

Shi Cheng City: China's Atlantis


Qiandao Lake (Thousand Island Lake) is a sprawling blue expanse covering 573km2 with a depth of 120m. Considered a man-made lake after it was formed when the Xin'an River hydroelectric dam was completed in 1959, Qiandao is now home to 1,078 large islands and a few thousand smaller ones scattered throughout.

For added perspective, the total surface area of the entire lake is about 143km2 less than Singapore, making it only slightly larger.

Well-known for its lush forests and clear, drinkable water, Qiandao Lake is home to several popular tourist islands such as Bird Island and Monkey Island.

In the near distance looms the Wu Shi Mountains (Five Lion Mountain), a towering behemoth that has weathered the centuries and bore witness to the flooding of what was once an impressive valley. 


But beneath its sparkling and gentle waters lies an enigma that is far more riveting than the islands that now dot the surface; an underwater city.

Shi Cheng City (Lion City/City of Lions) was built during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-200). It was set up as a county in AD 208 and had gone on to become a centre of politics, economics and culture in the Chun'an County of Zhejiang.

Taking its name from the Wu Shi Mountains which it laid at the foot of, the ancient city was once home to 290,000 people.  The city and generations of its inhabitants survived for over 1,300 years before the dam project in 1959 forced them to relocate from their ancestral home.

Since then, the city had languished beneath the lake, where wind, rain and sun could do little to erode it. Resting between 26 and 40 meters deep and untouched for over 53 years since it was first flooded. The city has stood the test of time, undisturbed by the world beyond it, and known only by the marine life living in the lake.


Its decades long slumber would come to an end though when it was discovered in 2001.

The drowned city became the object of interest when a diving team launched the first underwater exploration of its grounds. Not knowing what they'd find, their discovery of the 265 arches in the perfectly preserved city was startling.

That is, until they discovered the city to be about the size of 62 football fields.

Several expeditions to Shi Cheng would only reveal ancient houses, walls, memorial arches and much more that have been preserved perfectly.

After several rounds of explorations and with the help of a restored map of Shi Cheng, archaeologists discovered that there were five city gates and atop each gate was a tower. Six streets flowed throughout the city, connected every corner and the roads were paved by flagstone and pebbles.


Over time, a tourist venture called Big Blue began running expeditions to the historical site for a price, twice a month. The company has also explored the site and have found and added more discoveries of the submerged city to the records.

Despite being underwater, Shi Cheng city looks very much like a working city if it were to only rise to the surface again. Of course, there is little chance of that happening and Shi Cheng is fast becoming a sort of underwater museum for tourists and researchers alike.   

Stil, its continued existence is crucial, given its historical significance and size.

A city as massive as Shi Cheng deserves a place in history. While the western nations clamour for Atlantis - a city mentioned briefly by Pluto- here lays a true ancient and submerged city in the very real Qiandao Lake.   

And for a price, you can descend to its depths and swim through the city that was once full of life.

Written by: Christopher Chitty

Other stories you might like:

Underwater hotel: Manta Resort

Beijing: A villa in the sky

Centralia: The real Silent Hill



    share Bookmark & Share