We’ve all heard the legends of Atlantis, Camelot, and El Dorado. Yet there are other fabled locations and mythical places that continue to captivate the public and attract explorers from around the world...
As if the Scottish Highlands weren’t difficult enough to navigate, some tourists set themselves the impossible goal of locating the legendary, enchanted village of Brigadoon, hidden deep in northern Scotland. The village is said to be visible to outsiders for only one day every one hundred years.
According to the legend, if, upon this day, a visiting couple is to discover the village, then they can be invited to stay if their love is true enough that they are willing to give up the outside world and live there together forever. However, the village and everything in it will disappear for good if any resident leaves it.
Some believe that Brigadoon did once exist, but disappeared in 1754 when it fell under a magical curse designed to protect it from the English during the Jacobite Rebellion.
The name itself may be after Brigid, a Celtic goddess associated with the spring and fertility, or after Brig o’ Doon, a late medieval bridge in Ayrshire, Scotland, which is referenced in Robert Burns’s poem “Tam o’ Shanter.”
The most popular representation of the legendary village is in the 1947 Broadway musical, Brigadoon, in which it is discovered by two American tourists, one of whom falls in love with a resident.
Legend says that the village becomes visible on February 22, but we may need to wait a while to find out ...
While Atlantis may be the most well known sunken civilization, the lavish and beautiful city of Ys has its own mysterious history found in Breton tradition. The city’s legend was used as a foundation for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Jingo, Poul and Karen Anderson’s tetralogy, King of Ys, and even a Japanese videogame.
The oldest version of the legend says that Ys was built on the coast of Brittany by King Gradlon the Great, a fifth-century king who may or may not have really existed. King Gradlon constructed the island as a gift for his daughter, Dahut, who was obsessed with the sea. Gradlon had a dike with a gate built to protect the city and held the one key that could open it. However, according to the legend, Dahut was a troublemaker. One night, she got drunk with her lover, stole the key and opened the gate, submerging the city under water. Classic spoiled princess.
The city is said to have disappeared beneath the waves in the Bay of Douarnenez in France. Supposedly, the bells of the city’s church can still be heard ringing under the water. This ringing inspired Claude Debussy’s overture La Cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral).
According to another version of the legend, Dahut became a mermaid after she flooded the city; she now haunts the bay of the submerged city. So, next time you’re at the beach in Brittany, maybe stay close to the shore.
Before Glastonbury’s rise to fame for its music festival, the city was best known as the possible location of Avalon, a legendary, idyllic, and lost island in Celtic mythology.
Avalon was first referred to in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written in 1136. It was said to be ruled by Morgan le Fay, an enchantress from Arthurian legend. Morgan’s sisters were healers who nursed King Arthur back to health from what should have been fatal wounds after the Battle of Camlann. The island itself was said to have healing powers, and its inhabitants, according to legend, lived long and peaceful lives.
The mystical island is sometimes referred to as the Insula Pomorum (Island of Apples) not only because it was naturally covered in wild apples and grapevines, but also because of the purity and immortality that its residents enjoyed.
It is also said to be the place where King Arthur’s Excalibur was forged. According to one version of the legend, King Arthur died on the island and was laid on a bed of gold where Morgana could watch over his body for all eternity.
In addition to Glastonbury, historians have also posited that Avalon may have been located on an island near France or the Spanish island of Mallorca. So, if a magical utopia that may also be the gravesite of King Arthur piques your interest, you may want to head to western Europe.
4. The Lost City of Kalahari
While some cities get lost under water, others, like the Lost City of the Kalahari, get lost under sand. Supposedly located somewhere in the 350,000-square-mile Kalahari Desert, the city is a somewhat recently discovered archeological mystery.
The first “sighting” of this lost city was by a magician called the Great Farini in 1885. He claimed that, while crossing a previously unexplored part of the desert, he happened upon rock formations that he believed to be the remains of an ancient civilization. Knowing he’d found something that could bring him fame and fortune, Farini documented the site with photograhs and a poem:
“A relic, may be, of a glorious past,
A city once grand and sublime,
Destroyed by earthquake, defaced by the blast,
Swept away by the hand of time.”
Farini said that part of the city was buried under the sand but the part that was exposed resembled the Great Wall of China.
Farini’s “discovery” prompted several expeditions intended to locate the ancient city in the heart of the Kalahari. However, in 1964, a professor discovered that Farini had not gone the way explorers had been assuming. With this information in mind, he was able to locate natural rock formations near the area Farini described that resembled buildings and walls.
Did dehydration and heat exhaustion lead Farini to imagine something much grander than a big pile of rocks? Or has the great city now been completely buried in sand, never to be found again?
5. The Fountain of Youth
Many of us depend on Lush bath bombs to maintain our youthful glow, but for thousands of years people have sought out a permanent solution in the form of the Fountain of Youth. Simply drinking from or swimming in this magical fountain will grant its visitors everlasting youth, legend says.
The first rumored location of the fountain was in Ethiopia as noted by ancient Greek historian Herodotus. However, the Fountain was supposedly discovered in 1512 by the explorer Ponce de León when he settled an island in the Caribbean called Bimini, after which the fountain is sometimes called. Gossip at the time said that Ponce de León was looking for the fountain in order to cure his sexual impotence.
Today, historians think that Ponce de León probably actually landed in Florida rather than an island and identified a natural spring there as the Fountain of Youth. There is a tourist attraction at this location in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., but so far, no reports of eternal youth have surfaced.
Another report of the Fountain of Youth, during the 12th century, was in a land ruled by legendary Christian king Prester John. The city was said to include a river that ran with gold and, as in most great cities, a fountain of youth.
6. Mount Penglai
If island-hopping and immortality are your thing, consider a search for Mount Penglai. This mountain island is said to be in the Bohai sea, off the Chinese coast. The island, according to Chinese and Japanese mythology, is one of five islands on which a legendary group of Eight Immortals lived—or, perhaps, still lives.
The Eight Immortals were said to have been born in the Tang or Song dynasty, any time between 618 and 1279. In addition to their immortality, the immortals were said to have the power to destroy evil.
Other than its gold and platinum palaces, the mountain is described as being completely white. The island also has magical trees that grow fruit with the power to bring dead people back to the world of the living, bestow eternal life, and heal any who eat the fruit. A painting called “Mt. Penglai (Mountain of Immortals)” by Japanese artist Tomioka Tessai depicts the mountain as a beautiful paradise with blooming plum blossoms.
In the Japanese version of the legend, the atmosphere of the mountain consists of souls, not air. When visitors inhale, they may take in all of the knowledge the souls possess. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh perspective, this is the mountain for you.
Featured photo of The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, by Edward Burne-Jones: Wikimedia Commons