For centuries, Shicheng was a bustling city in China's Zhejiang province, some 224 miles (360 kilometers) southwest of Shanghai. But in 1959, Chinese officials decided a dam and hydroelectric station needed to be built in that locale, so after relocating Shicheng's 300,000 residents, the city was flooded. And forgotten. Then, in 2001, a local tourism official proposed using the ancient city as a means of luring diving clubs. Interest in this "Atlantis of the East" quickly grew, increasing in 2011 when underwater photos of the city were published [sources: Galloway, White].
If you'd like to see Shicheng, tours are available between April and November, although you need to be a diver with deep-water, night and buoyancy experience. (Shicheng lies under roughly 100 feet [30 meters] of water.) Those who meet the criteria are in for a treat. The ancient city, which covers about 62 football fields, features ornate stonework of lions, sneering dragons and phoenixes dating from the Ming to the Qing dynasties (1368-1912). Its city walls, built around the 16th century, sport five entrance gates, not the traditional four. Amazingly, the city is quite well-preserved; wooden staircases and beams are intact, for example, along with intricate drawings. That's thanks to its watery grave, which protects it from the erosive powers of wind, rain and sun [sources: Galloway, White].
Author's Note: 10 Eerie Abandoned Cities You Can Visit
I've never visited an abandoned city, but I've been fascinated with the notion ever since reading the book "The World Without Us," by Alan Weisman. The book goes into depth parsing out what the world would look like if all of the people disappeared. I read about how quickly plants and trees fill in abandoned spaces, sprouting up in the most unlikely spots, such as tiny cracks in concrete walls. And how the seas might dramatically change once no one was fishing them, pumping oil from their beds or chugging across them in boats and ships. It's quite fascinating how quickly the earth moves on without us.
This same thread runs through many of the places in this article. The ash in Plymouth, Monserrat, continues to erase all traces of the former city, as does the sand blowing around Kolmanskop, Namibia. And lush vegetation is slowly, relentlessly, overtaking buildings, vehicles and the like in places like Beichuan and Fordlândia.
More Great Links
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HowStuffWorks hikes El Caminito del Rey, a very dangerous hiking path in Spain that was closed to the public for 15 years after several deaths.