Whether or not you’re an avid watcher of the current BBC fantasy drama Atlantis, you can’t fail to have heard of the mythical island, the legends and theories which surround it and above all, the on-going debate and investigation as to where exactly it is. The truth is, it is possible for you to get a little closer to Atlantis than you may have thought and by cruise ship too.
Where did it start?
The theory of Atlantis is something which has been in the public psyche for thousands of years, ever since Plato first mentioned it in 360BC, in his dialogue, Timaeus:“In front of the mouth which you Greeks call ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, … now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent.”
OK, as well as using a dramatic font, I edited him down a little there, as it’s fair to say that Plato was fond of the odd word or three, but there it is in essence, from one of the greatest philosophers in history. Indeed, Plato certainly knew a thing or two about a thing or two, so why was he so adamant about the existence of what we generally think of these days as a mythical place? Well, these days many academics believe he used it as a concept for his vision of the ideal state and invented it purely to make a point, while there are others who maintain that it was an actual place, swamped by a catastrophic tsunami and lost forever to the depths.
So where is it?
Well, let’s start with Plato’s original writings. He pretty much tells us where he believes it was, so it’s fair to say that’s where most people originally started looking. ‘The pillars of Hercules’ refers to the rocky land masses which historically marked the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. One is the rock of Gibraltar; the other is most likely Jebel Musa on the Moroccan coast. A number of Mediterranean cruises are available which explore this region and take you through the ‘Pillars of Hercules’. Throughout history, many theorists have maintained that this was the location and as recently as 2005 there were cases for the area, including the region which is now Spain’s coastal Dona Ana Marshes and south-west Morocco’s Souss-Massa plain, which contains an elevated region which it is believed was once and island with the land around it submerged.
However, despite what Plato said, it’s believed that he picked up what he learned from Egyptian scholars, which would place Atlantis much more centrally in the Mediterranean. This led some theorists to link it to the Minoan civilization on the Greek island of Crete, after archaeological digs on the island revealed that the Minoans were highly advanced. A Greek island cruise is a great way to visit Crete and also the beautiful island of Santorini, which some theorists believe was in fact Atlantis and that it looked very different before being reshaped by a massive volcanic eruption.
Could we be missing the obvious though? Look at the name – ‘Atlantis’. Sounds a bit like ‘Atlantic’ doesn’t it? Well, this didn’t go unnoticed by some theorists either, who believed that when Plato mentioned the Sea of Atlantis, he meant the Atlantic Sea. In the Western Atlantic, you’ve got the Azores, another popular cruising destination and indeed some believe that these islands are in fact the mountaintops of Atlantis, as was. Also in the Western Atlantic are the Canary Islands, which are believed by some to be the ‘remains’ of Atlantis, left behind after it broke up. Looking to the Eastern Atlantic brings us a lot closer to home and amazingly, there’s quite a few theories knocking around that Atlantis was in fact Britainitself, most recently in 1997, when a group of Russian scientists declared that they’d found Atlantis 100 miles off Land’s End in the shallow Little Sole Bank area. Others propose Ireland as a location, owing to the large numbers of Neolithic tombs and some, the North Sea, which contains land which was above water thousands of years ago.
Have we finally found it?
Yes, well, sort of. In 2011, a team of scientists were involved in a National Geographic TV special which declared that ‘Atlantis’ had finally been found. Where? Under mud flats close to Cadiz, in southern Spain. This takes us right back to where we started – Plato’s original writings and those subsequent theories of the Dona Ana marshes. During the investigation, scientists used deep-ground radar and digital mapping to uncover a suspected submerged city which had previously showed up on a satellite photo of the area. What they discovered was a number of ‘memorial cities’ built further inland, in the image of Atlantis, by those who fled and survived the tsunami which has long been believed to have swamped it. The scientists stated that these memorials were the most convincing evidence yet that Atlantis itself also lay in the mud flats. The good news if you’re on the Atlantis trail is that Cadiz is a favourite port of call on a number of cruise lines’ Mediterranean itineraries and it’s possible to visit Dona Ana National Park while you’re there.
By Simon Brotherton