Nan Madol – Venice of the Pacific

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Early European explorers called Nan Madol the “Venice of the Pacific” because the ancient city was built upon a coral reef and is intersected by artificial water canals.

On the remote Micronesian island of Pohnpei is Nan Madol, one of the most bizarre lost cities on earth. Constructed of massive basalt slabs weighing 20 to 50 tons (18,140 to 45,350 kg), Nan Madol is a maze of stacked-rock structures along the tidal flats of a shallow coral reef. The immense megalithic stone city, 17 square miles (28 sq. km) in size, resides above and below the ocean’s surface. Next to Nan Madol on the southeast corner of Pohnpei is Madolinihmw Harbor, which is known to contain underwater columns in a straight row and assorted sunken ruins, including a so-called “castle,” in 200 feet (60 m) of murky water.

Most of the above water ruins lie upon the 90 to 100 artificial islets in “Nan Madol central,” an area of approximately a square mile (2.5 sq. km) bisected by canals and underwater tunnels. The ruins on the artificial islands are mostly square or rectangular in shape, each created out of stacked basalt logs, weighing up to an amazing 50 tons (45,350 kg)! The giant rock slabs are set together like Lincoln Logs, creating walls up to 30 feet (10 m) in height. Strangely, none of the native people on Pohnpei build in stone anymore — today they all live in grass huts, which indicates a regression of culture has taken place.

The largest building of Nan Madol is called Nan Dowas, a massive open-air complex with an inner sanctum. Underground tunnels connect Nan Dowas to several of the larger buildings. It is believed that some of these tunnels go beneath the reef and exit underwater to caves that can be seen while scuba diving. The walls of Nan Dowas are an impressive 33 feet (11 m) in height, and are constructed of huge stones expertly stacked. Some of the rocks are basalt logs 16 feet (5 m) long in a hexagonal shape, formed naturally through crystallization. Other stones are huge slabs, roughly cut and dressed, and are the largest of the rocks used. Contained within the rock basalt of Nan Madol are large crystals, which are highly magnetized. These heavy basalt crystals are so magnetized that compasses spin out of control when held near the walls.

Among the many mysteries of Nan Madol are the strange mineral findings. During the Japanese occupation preceding World War II, Japanese divers discovered platinum coffins near the underwater stone vaults, pillars and monoliths in Madolinihmw, the name meaning “City of the Gods.” Among the recorded Japanese exports of Pohnpei were copra, vanilla, sago, mother of pearl and platinum. Strangely, the rock on Pohnpei Island and surrounding islands contains no trace of platinum. Further adding mystery, the Japanese divers reported the source of the platinum were watertight tombs containing very large human bones. Giant people of a highly advanced civilization? Could this be evidence of a very old, sunken continent in the Pacific?

Getting to Nan Madol

Nan Madol is located on the southeast side of Pohnpei island, which lies about 9,920 miles (16,000 km) northeast of New Guinea. Pohnpei is the capital of the newly independent Federated States of Micronesia, and flights arrive daily from the U.S. territory of Guam and other Pacific Rim countries. Pohnpei is part of the Caroline Island chain, and the nearest island with a sizeable population is Guam.