Nan Madol, the mysterious lost city in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

Nan Madol a Mysterious City in the Pacific

Nan Madol, a site lost in the middle of the Pacific, in Micronesia, smells of mystery and archeology

The mystery of “Atlantis” found from the Pacific
What makes it so special? For starters, Nan Madol, which means “intervals”, is located on the island of Pohnpei, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This island is 2,500 kilometers (1553 miles) from Australia and more than 4,000 kilometers (2485 miles) from the US coast. In other words, the end of the world.

Yet research and carbon-14 dating show that Nan Madol was inhabited as early as the 2nd century AD. “Who would build a city in the middle of the ocean? Why in this precise place, so far from any other known civilization?

Indeed, little is known about the island, discovered in 1828 by the Irish navigator James O’Connell, except that it was occupied as early as the 13th century and that the ruined islets were the capital of the dynasty of Saudeleur until around 1500.

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Thanks to satellite images, Mark McCoy, a researcher at Texas Southern Methodist University, was able to count around 100 artificial islands built on an area approximately 1.5 km long by 0.5 km wide. The stone walls of the ruins form structures of astonishing precision. But it is not known where they came from, as some are over 12 meters high and over 5 meters wide. Much of the ruined city is submerged under the ocean.

Micronesia has its own tourist mecca, rich in history, these are the ruins of the once beautiful and wealthy town of Nan Madol, founded between 1285 and 1485, which existed until the early 16th century

Nan Madol’s heyday is in the 14th century, when the Saudeler dynasty reigned. At that time, the city’s population was, by these standards, quite large, around 1000 people. Workers from neighboring islands were urged to build the expanding complex. A true architectural masterpiece has been created here, based on the coral reefs.

As a result, squares, palaces, mausoleums, temples, tombs, public buildings were built in the city, there was even its own prison.

Remarkable fact: Nan Madol was a town for the rich: there was no production, no fields, not even a source of fresh water, everything came from the island of Pohnpei. And Nan Madol was the home of priests, rulers, and upper castes.

Legends claim that there was once a crystal clear lake in the center of one of the temples, in whose reflection the priestesses saw what was happening from afar, and also predicted the future.

But gradually their power weakened, the city became poor and decayed. And in the 16th century, it was completely deserted. The inhabitants of the other islands were afraid to come here, considering that the place was cursed.

The first research on the site of the ruins was undertaken by the Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century. After World War II, the islands fell under the influence of the United States, scientists began to take an active interest in and study this new archaeological wonder. It was they who discovered that beneath the city lies a complex system of tunnels connecting the islands. As if it was a second underwater city.

In addition, during the research, it turned out that all the city walls have an abnormal magnetic activity: next to them, the arrow of the compass turns without stopping.

It is not known how many other mysteries and treasures this city holds. One thing is clear: for many years to come, it will attract large numbers of tourists who will want to touch on ancient history.

Interesting facts

Since the ancient city was established on man-made islands, which number more than 90, and which are linked together by a complex network of canals, modern inhabitants have called it “the Venice of the Pacific”. Indeed, the principle of building a city is very similar. Unfortunately, now that many parts of the city have passed underwater, they can only be seen by tourists who dive. But the part that remains on earth is no less majestic and attractive.

Many locals don’t like this city in ruins. They claim that evil forces have settled here. And whoever spends the night in the ruins will surely die soon.

Outstanding Universal Value by UNESCO

The megalithic basalt stone structures of the more than 100 islets that form Nan Madol off the coast of Pohnpei Island include the remains of palaces, temples, burials and residential estates. These remains represent the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty, a dynamic era of Pacific island culture that experienced dramatic changes in settlement and social organization in AD 1200-1500. Through these archaeological remains, Nan Madol is materially linked to the still current ceremonial and social traditions and to the authority of the nahnmwarki.

Criterion (i): The exceptional monumental megalithic architecture of Nan Madol is manifested by the construction of the walls using massive basalt columns from quarries located elsewhere on the island and laid out according to a distinctive “tile and header” technique .

Criterion (iii): Nan Madol bears exceptional testimony to the development of chiefdom societies in the Pacific Islands. Nan Madol’s colossal scale, technical sophistication, and concentration of elaborate megalithic structures testify to the complex social and religious practices of island societies.

Criterion (iv): The remains of chiefdom dwellings, ritual / ceremonial sites, mortuary structures and associated residential sites form an example of an exceptional ceremonial center which illustrates the period of development of chiefdom societies for around 1000 years, associated the increase in the island population and the intensification of agriculture.

Criterion (vi): Nan Madol is an expression of the original development of traditional chiefdom institutions and systems of governance in the Pacific Islands which endure to this day in the form of the nahnmwarki system under which Nan Madol is traditionally held and managed.


Nan Madol includes all the elements necessary to express its exceptional value and is appropriately sized to ensure the full representation of the characteristics and processes that convey the significance of the property. There are no intrusive elements resulting from alterations or modifications, nor from reconstructions of the original elements. Due to the cessation of residential use of the site in the 1820s, and although the site retains religious and traditional importance, the property suffers from an overgrowth of vegetation, storm surge effects. and collapses of stone structures. The state of conservation of the stone structures is currently of great concern, making the integrity vulnerable.


The property is authentic in terms of location and setting, intangible culture, spirit and feel, materials, form and design. The proliferation of vegetation on the stone structures and the state of conservation of the latter make many of them invisible, making the authenticity vulnerable.

Nan Madol megalithic site, Pohnpei
Nan Madol megalithic site, Pohnpei. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Protection and management requirements

Nan Madol is legally protected by the federal government and administered by the National Archives, Culture and Historical Preservation Service (NACH) through the Federated States of Micronesia Historical Preservation Office (EFM). It is protected by the Pohnpei State Government under the Pohnpei Historical and Cultural Preservation Act (2002) and is administered by the Pohnpei Historical Conservation Office. The FSM Constitution recognizes the customary interests of traditional chiefs and the property is protected by the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw.

A management committee has been set up, which involves all stakeholders including traditional owners, and this collaboration will be reinforced by the passage of Bill LB 392 (which should be adopted in October 2016) aimed at creating a Fund for the historic preservation of Nan Madol, the ownership and management of which will be under the traditional control of the Nahnmwarki Chief. The management plan is expected to be finalized with international financial and technical assistance by mid-2017. This will result in the appointment of a property administrator trained in cultural resource management and risk preparedness strategies, conservation and tourism as well as routine maintenance and monitoring programs.

Sources: PinterPandai, National Park Service

Photo credit (main photo,

Nan Madol ruins in Pohnpei): Wikimedia Commons

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