The Lost Cities of Egypt: Ancient Vanished Lands Along the Nile

For everything that still exists from the glories of ancient Egypt, there are a handful of sites, the lost cities of Egypt, that have vanished into the mists of time. The Nile, a river that has changed its course over and over again throughout the millennia, is responsible for many of these disappearances. But others of these cities were destroyed or sunk below the sands of the Sahara or the ocean. 

If you are a fan of Egyptology, the study of ancient Egypt, it’s an incredible experience to learn about these lost treasures of Egypt, but unfortunately, there’s not much to see with your own two eyes if you go on a trip to the country. Luckily, there are some great alternatives to these lost cities if you want to explore. An ancient Egypt tour which hits a few of these spots can be a convenient option to pack a lot into a short period of time, all while being sure you don’t miss any of these historic locations. 

Amarna – The Rebel Pharaoh’s Lost Desert Kingdom

lost egypt pharaoh
Akhenaten’s coffin lid in the Egyptian Museum. Cairo, Egypt. Source: npp_studio /

King Tutankamun, also known as King Tut, is perhaps one of Egypt’s best known Pharaoh’s. He inherited the throne from his somewhat rebellious father. When Akhenaten, King Tut’s father, decided that he wanted to do away with the practice of worshiping multiple gods, he ran into some opposition from the establishment. He dealt with this by creating a new capital on the East Bank of the Nile called Amarna, one of the best-known lost cities of the world and certainly one of the lost treasures of Egypt. 

After the pharoah’s death, the site was abandoned, dismantled due to its association with the heretic king, and Egypt quickly returned to worshiping multiple gods. King Tutankhamun moved the religious capital back to Thebes as well, where it had been before. Luckily, Thebes (modern-day Luxor) is in a lot better shape than Amarna is. The tombs and temples in the city, which some people call the largest open-air museum in the world, still feature eye-popping paintings and carvings, and you can even visit King Tut’s tomb. 

To ensure that you don’t miss any of the best attractions in Luxor, it’s a good idea to consider a group tour. It’s not exactly a walkable city, and many of the most famous sites are miles from each other with the mighty Nile, beautiful if inconvenient, in between them. A tour will transport you quickly and efficiently between the sites, ensuring that you don’t get too sweaty and don’t miss anything either.

Visit Luxor

Naukratis, Egypt’s Ancient Port, Lies Beneath the Nile

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Seated sphinx plate, 6th century BC, from Naukratis By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006), Public Domain, (x)

Naukratis was one of the most important cities on the ancient Egyptian map when the region was ruled by the ancient Greeks. It was a crossroads for goods from across the region and was well known as an established port. However, it sank into relative obscurity once the Greeks established Alexandria, which surpassed it as a port and Naukratis was abandoned. After that, the Nile swallowed it up and it became yet another lost city of Egypt. While you can’t lay eyes on Naukratis, it’s possible to enjoy the sights such as the catacombs and the Citadel of Qaitbay in its port city successor, Alexandria. It’s easy to pair with Cairo, as well as a good place to base yourself for a few nights if you really want to soak in Egypt’s most cosmopolitan city, close to where Naukratis once stood.

Tanis – One of Ancient Egypt’s Lost Cities of the World

The city of Tanis, located northeast of Cairo in the Nile Delta, was the capital of ancient Egypt during the 21st Dynasty (from 1077 BCE to 943 BCE). In the Old Testament, Tanis was known as Zoan, and was reportedly a city where Moses performed miracles. However, the shifty Nile changed course once again and with the help of a potential earthquake during the Byzantine period, another ancient Egyptian city vanished underneath the sands.

lost city egypt near memphis
Sphinx Statue of Queen Hatshepsut in the ancient city of Memphis, Egypt

However, if seeing ancient capitals is your kind of thing, you can still tour the ruins of ancient Memphis. This city served as the capital of ancient Egypt for eight consecutive dynasties and is within easy reach of Cairo. The site features a lovely open-air museum featuring a colossal statue of Ramses II, which can be paired with other highlights of old Cairo.

Heracleion, a Truly Lost City of Egypt – Until Recently

egypt lost city heracleion
Rediscovered Stele of Heracleion ©Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Christoph Gerigk

While some cities were swallowed up by the Nile or vanished under the shifting sands, Heracleion was gulped up by the Mediterranean. Today, the city, which dates back to the 12th century BCE, lies under the ocean a few kilometers off the coast, not too far from Alexandria. In 2000, French archaeologist Franck Goddio rediscovered the city after a five-year search in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Since then, many of its lost treasures have been uncovered, including coins, stelae, and even an ancient Nile river boat. Many of these archaeological finds are on tour to the world’s best museums, but if you want to see artifacts from a similar period, look no farther than the Grand Egyptian Museum which is slated to open later this year in Cairo, and will certainly be at the top of things to do in the capital.

Lose Yourself in the Land of the Pharaohs

There are plenty of vanished cities in Egypt, but there are quite a few well preserved ancient ones as well. The top sights in Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo stand their ground against any other ancient attraction in terms of preservation, largely due to Egypt’s hot, dry desert air. And of course, the Pyramids of Giza are the sole survivors from the list of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.

Whether your interest is tombs and temples, museums, or the seaside attractions of Alexandria, an ancient Egypt tour will help to ensure that you are able to make the most of your trip. With a carefully planned itinerary and a guide to explain how the ancient Egyptians would have experienced the same sites, you’re sure to lose yourself in history. 

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