Often referred to by travellers as the “Atlantis of the East”, the underwater city of Shicheng is a spectacular, surreal time capsule of Imperial China. Situated in the eastern Zhejiang Province, the city was submerged in 1959 to give way for the construction of the Xin’an River Hydro-electric Station. Named after Wu Shi (Five Lion) Mountain, Shicheng literally means ‘Lion City’.
The city’s beautiful stone architecture, which dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (ruling from 1368 to 1912), stands perfectly preserved 40m under Qiandao Lake, 400km south of Shanghai. Unlike the fabled Atlantis, Shicheng was purposely flooded by the Chinese government to make way for the dam and its adjoining power station. Nearly 300,000 people were relocated to accommodate the project – of which some families had lived there for centuries.
In 2001, the Chinese government organized an expedition to discover what remained of the drowned metropolis. Chinese National Geography – similar to National Geographic Magazine – further sparked public interest in 2011 by publishing a series of exquisite, never-before-seen photographs of the sunk city, along with illustrations hypothesizing what the small city might have looked like in its prime.
Results revealed the small city, which measures about half a square kilometre, has five entrance gates, as opposed to the traditional four, with two west-facing gates as well as gates in each of the other cardinal directions. The city’s wide streets has 265 archways, featuring preserved stonework of lions, dragons, phoenixes and historical inscriptions, some of which dates back as far as 1777; the city walls are believed to date back to the 16th Century.
Despite being underwater, Shicheng has remained well-preserved as the water actually protects it from wind, rain and sun erosion. Dive operators with deep water, night and buoyancy experience can get up close to the ruins. Since the ruins have yet to be fully mapped, the dives are still considered ‘Exploratory’. If you’re a skilled diver, who happens to be in, or is planning a trip to China, don’t forget to check out this genuine Atlantis.