7 most famous mythical places

Throughout history, mankind has often been enthralled by stories of mythical places, cities, and paradises shrouded in secrets and lost to the sands of time. Here are the 7 most famous mythical places in the world.

7 most famous mythical places
Shangri-La concept art, Far Cry 4, Wikimedia Commons


Throughout history, mankind has often been enthralled by stories of mythical places, cities, and paradises shrouded in secrets and lost to the sands of time. These legendary locations pervade all great cultural histories. Some have served as allegories for more prosperous and peaceful times, others as places to find and conquer!

While philosophers weaved tales about lost cities, ancients also dreamt of places that once gave rise to utopian golden ages. A journey through the history of these fabled lands has captivated many. Some people might even be inspired to believe in them all over again.  

Here are the 7 most famous mythical places in the world.    

Artists depiction of Atlantis, Werner Brigette, Pixabay.

Atlantis

Unlike many stories whose appearance have been lost to the historical record, we know exactly when and who invented the story of Atlantis. The story was first told by Plato around 330 BCE, in two of his dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias.” It’s been established that there was no record of Atlantis before these texts and that Plato created this place as a plot device in his stories.  

The Sunken City of Atlantis was supposed to be an incredibly powerful civilization that was sophisticated, wealthy and founded by demigods. It was made up of many concentric islands with exotic plants and animals aplenty. He used these people as an example of what befalls a nation when they succumb to hubris.

Despite this story's origin in pure fiction, many people over the millennia have sought out this mythical place. A lot of the speculations were inspired by a book written by a Minnesota politician, Ignatius L. Donnelly, in 1882. He believed that Plato considered Atlantis a real place. He went on to explain its histories and supposed rule over large swathes of the world, his theory being that all ancient civilizations descended from this one land.

The Last Sleep of Arthur, Wikimedia Commons. Supposedly, the background is Avalon. 

Avalon

Glastonbury, a town in England, well known for its neo-pagan beliefs and local Arthurian legends was once thought of the location for the legendary, idyllic and lost paradise of Avalon. The first mention of Avalon was in 1136 through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. According to Arthurian legend, the island was ruled by Morgan le Fay, an enchantress who nursed King Arthur back to health after a battle.     

The mystical land was sometimes referred to as the Island of Apples because it was supposedly covered in wild grapevines and apple forests. Its inhabitants were immortals as well. This was the place that the great sword Excalibur was forged. This magical place is where King Arthur was laid to rest and laid on a bed of gold.  

 Thomas Cole's 'The Arcadian', Public domain. 

Arcadia

A couple of hundred years before Plato's time, the Ancient Greeks imagined a place called Arcadia. This early vision utopia is also the name of a region in modern-day Greece. In ancient mythology, Arcadia was a pastoral back-to-nature place. The wilderness housed Pan, a woodlands God who resided with his nymphs and satyrs as his guards of a never-ending hedonistic paradise. This was a place where beings greater than humans ascended to and lived in prosperous delight for hundreds of years. It was an Eden where spirits and gods gallivanted in ecstasy and longevity.     

Arcadia has remained a popular muse for artists from antiquities onwards. Virgil and Ovid set many of their poems in these primeval forests. Medieval European writers and Renaissance painters all tried to capture the spirit of this golden age land. Arcadia is the archetypical view of a place untouched by civilization where humans live as gods.    

 Hessel Gerritsz from 1625, depicting the city of Manoa / El Dorado on the left of the lake.

El Dorado

Conquistadors riding through 16th century South America scoured the land for a mythical city of gold. El Dorado started out as a story about a king named “The Gilded One.” He was said to be a native king who powdered his body with gold and tossed ornate jewels into a lake as part of his coronation. These stories eventually would morph into a tale of a kingdom rather than an individual man.

The legends grew over the years as the Europeans spread and discovered more of South America. The golden city was a place of untold prestige and wealth, which captivated plenty of adventurers. El Dorado was said to be next to Lake Guatavita – a real space they'd eventually find. When explorers found the lake, they lowered the level of the water and found hundreds of gold pieces. But the fabled city remained out of their grasp until all swathes of South American land were eventually covered and the myth was no more.

Map of Lemuria according to William Scott-Elliott.

Lemuria

This hidden land was told through stories many ages before Atlantis. There are many origins to Lemuria, some occult writings, pseudo-histories and even scientific musings of a lost continent as well. Many texts from the east talk about a land called ‘Ra-Mu.’ In some sacred Tibetan texts, this land is also known as Muri or Lemuria.  

Madame Blavatsky, a Russian occultist who co-founded the Theosophical society in 1875, wrote a thrilling fiction about this secret land. Blavatsky claims in her “The Secret Doctrine” text that Lemuria contained a third race of Lemurians, she also posited that Atlantis also existed. Her Lemurians were described as having four arms and a psychic eye on the back of their head, which they used to communicate with one another through telepathy. This is a definite favorite amongst occultists and esoteric conspiracists.

Far Cry 4 concept art, apparently of Shangri-La. 

Shambala/Shangri-La

Shambhala is a Sanskrit word that means “place of peace.” This is an ancient mythical paradise that predates Tibetan Buddhism. The name was first seen in the scriptures of Zhang Zhung in western Tibet. According to the legend, it’s a kind of heaven where only the purest can live in a place bountiful with love and wisdom. There is no old age or suffering here in this mythical kingdom.

Also known as Shangri-la, this place has been called by many names throughout the years. Sometimes called the Forbidden Land, Land of Radiant Spirits and Land of the Living Gods. Many westerners believed it to be a real place for some time, hidden deep within the Tibetan mountains. In Buddhist traditions it's said to be ruled over by a future Buddha named Maitreya and when the world declines into abject war and degeneracy, a great war will come as the Shambhala Kings ride out to defeat "dark forces" It is after this time in which the world will be ushered into a new Golden Age.

Thule

A place of intrigue for many explorers, poets, and even Nazi occultists, Thule was a territory that was said to be located in the frozen north near the Arctic. The tale dates back to 4th century BCE when a Greek explorer named Pytheas claimed to have traveled to an icy island north of Scotland.

Many of Pytheas’ fellow explorers doubted the validity of his claims, but the Thule legend would live on through the ages. Eventually, the original location was most likely a mistaken Norway or Iceland. The myth of the island is most famously connected to the Thule Society, a post World War I organization that believed Thule to be the ancestral home of an Aryan race.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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