Assuming there is a kernel of truth in the writings of ancient Greek philosopher Plato about Atlantis, where might have Atlantis – or the place the story was based on – have been located?
This is a question that has exercised many minds for over 2000 years. Here we feature some of the most popular locations being talked about today.
But first of all…
Wasn’t Atlantis just made up by Plato?
Yes, that’s the prevailing consensus. Just check out the Wikipedia entry for Atlantis: “Atlantis is a fictional island mentioned in Plato’s works Timaeus and Critias as part of an allegory on the hubris of nations”. However, Atlantis seems to have taken on a life of its own – and many serious researchers over the years believe Plato was describing a place that actually existed.
Why might Atlantis be based on a real place?
Here are three possible (but far from conclusive) reasons…
- Plato’s dialogues indicate that the tale of Atlantis is true. For example, in Timaeus, one of the participants (Critias) states: “Then listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages”. All in all, there are 22 instances in the dialogues where it is stated – directly or indirectly – that the Atlantis account is true (as attested by Tony O’Connell, author of Joining the Dots and founder of Atlantipedia website).
- Plato’s dialogues appear to contain verifiable information. For example, in Critias, Plato refers to dwellings for warriors on the north of the Acropolis, which were discovered in the earlier part of the 20th century. There is also reference to a fountain or spring at the Acropolis, which was reduced to small tricklings after an earthquake. A former spring has since been found on the Acropolis (and dated to 1200 BC). These suggest Plato knew about the ancient history of Athens. This doesn’t mean that his information about Atlantis is equally reliable, but it is noteworthy nonetheless.
- There is evidence of ancient cataclysms and flooding. Atlantis was said to have sunk beneath the waves in a single day and night. And there is evidence of cataclysms taking place over the last 15,000 years (see Cycles of disaster and renewal). There are also ancient flood legends and stories from around the world. Some of these may have derived from rising sea levels, which have risen by around 130 metres since the Last Glacial Maximum. This means that many ancient settlements – including in the Mediterranean – would have succumbed to the seas.
What are the location clues?
According Plato’s dialogues, the Athenian statesman Solon heard about Atlantis from Egyptian priests at Sais, in the Nile delta. Solon was an ancestor (six generations removed) of Plato. So what information can be gleaned from the dialogues?
Here are some of the main clues…
- Atlantis was said to have been located in the ‘Atlantic Sea’ (not Ocean), beyond the Pillars of Heracles or Hercules (these are commonly associated with the Strait of Gibraltar, although anciently other places may have borne this moniker).
- The Atlantean navy was said to have attacked Athens and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean. (Admittedly this was said to have taken place around 9600 BC, long before the time of Athens, but that’s the information we have).
- The kings of Atlantis ruled over the island, many other islands and part of a continent. The lands under Atlantean control were said to have extended to Libya in North Africa and Tyrrhenia (modern day Tuscany) in Europe.
- The capital city of Atlantis featured concentric rings of land and water, and was sheltered by mountains in the north, and open to the south. The island had a vast central plain, and an abundance of metals including gold.
- And finally, Plato depicted Atlantis as a place with a warm climate, lush vegetation and a multitude of animals, including elephants.
The top 5 locations
So what are the top 5 contenders for the location of Plato’s Atlantis?
Given the preponderance of Atlantis location theories, we’ve grouped some of them together, so this is more like the top 5 broad locations (or regions).
Starting from the Aegean Sea. Here goes…
1. The Minoan hypothesis
The Minoan Hypothesis is the longstanding idea that the Minoan civilisation, and the islands of Thera/Santorini and Crete, formed the basis of Plato’s Atlantis. In the 2nd millennium BC a catastrophic volcanic eruption – one of the largest in human history – devastated this part of the Aegean. A combination of airborne ejecta and tidal waves were unleashed on nearby coastal settlements and islands. The Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri was covered with volcanic ash, whilst the northern coast of Crete – the location of many Minoan settlements – was hit by a tsunami.
Could this provide an origin story for Plato’s Atlantis? Some researchers, including academics, have embraced the idea. But the fact that Thera/Santorini lies to the south-east of Athens (not in the ‘Atlantic Sea’ to the west), and that the Minoans appear to have been traders rather than warmongers, make the hypothesis an imperfect fit.
For more info: Atlantipedia entry for Minoan Hypothesis
2. The central Mediterranean
Given that the Atlanteans were said to have ruled over territory extending to Libya in North Africa and Tyrrhenia (Tuscany) in Europe, it makes sense to look for clues in the central Mediterranean. This means setting aside the Strait of Gibraltar as the likely location for the Pillars of Heracles referred to in Plato’s dialogues, and adopting an alternative location for them, elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
In doing so, various locations come into play, including the islands of Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, which have all been linked to Plato’s Atlantis. The coastal waters of these islands, and those of nearby Tunisia, are also of interest for Atlantis researchers. Could the remains of Atlantis lie beneath the waves of the central Med?
3. South western Iberia
The coastal lands of Andalusia in Spain have been of increasing interest to archaeologists and Atlantis researchers over many years. Assuming the Strait of Gibraltar has been correctly identified as the location for the Pillars of Heracles of Plato’s dialogues, then the Spanish coast beyond the Strait is certainly worthy of consideration. (It’s also where some believe the ancient civilisation of Tartessos was located). Submerged islands within the Strait have also been of interest to Atlantis researchers.
See ASLAN Hub article: Citadels of Mystery, featuring Atlantis and the Silver City
4. An African Atlantis
We already mentioned the coastal waters of Tunisia – and there are also theories about Atlantis linked with its (former) inland seas. However, the most visually compelling location is in Mauritania: the Richat Structure, also known as the Eye of the Sahara. This geological feature possesses concentric rings/ridges of land, similar to the description of Atlantis, but sadly no rings of water (in modern times at least). In addition, various locations in Morocco – including near Agadir and Rabat – have been proposed for Atlantis.
See ASLAN Hub article: Atlantis in the Sahara? The amazing Richat Structure
See Andrew Gough’s article: Was Atlantis in Morocco?
5. The Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean has been an obvious location to search for Atlantis, as it lies beyond the Strait of Gibraltar (widely understood to be Plato’s Pillars of Heracles). Immediately on leaving the Strait, the submerged ‘island’ of Spartel has gained some interest. However, the most interest is in the Azores and the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Could it be the site of a (now submerged) Atlantean civilisation? Other possible locations in the Atlantic Ocean including the Canary Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde islands and various submerged sea mounts have also come under consideration.
Close to Athens – Plato wrote Timaeus and Critias in around 360 BC. Not long before, in 373 BC, the ancient Greek city of Helike was submerged by a tsunami. Located near to the Corinthian Gulf, and around 100 miles from Athens, could Helike have inspired Plato’s writings about Atlantis?
To the east – Given the clues in Plato’s dialogues, the logical direction to look for Atlantis is further west in the Mediterranean, but that hasn’t stopped some researchers looking the other way. Locations on the Turkish mainland, the seas around Cyprus, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, and in now submerged parts of the Black Sea (or the Sea of Azov) have all been proposed as locations for Atlantis.
To the north – Some researchers have associated the megalithic culture of north-western Europe with Atlantis – including Ireland, Britain and France. Underwater locations – in the Irish Sea and North Sea (the submerged Doggerland) – have also been considered. Going further north, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have all been linked to Atlantis.
See ASLAN Hub article: (The shadow of) Atlantis in Ireland
To the west – Head west from the Strait of Gibraltar and you eventually reach the Americas. Various parts of North, Central and South America have been proposed as the location for Atlantis, including Bolivia and the Caribbean islands. Perhaps the Caribbean islands are the stepping stones to the opposite continent referred to in Plato’s dialogues?
Link to Andrew Collins’ website: Where was Atlantis? (he favours the Caribbean)
Further to the east – Heading further eastwards, the following have all been linked to Atlantis: the Vedic civilisation of the Indian subcontinent, the mythical continent of Kumari Kandam in the Indian Ocean, and the partially sunken landmass of Sundaland in South East Asia.
To the ends of the Earth – Lastly, Atlantis has been placed in Antarctica – perhaps its remains are hidden under the ice? And the North Pole has been associated with most things: the Garden of Eden, Mount Meru, Avalon, Hyperborea… and Atlantis.
[With apologies if your favoured location for Atlantis hasn’t been mentioned. There are so many possible locations! Check out Atlantipedia for pretty much all of them].
We don’t know for certain that an island of Atlantis ever existed – perhaps it was invented (or substantially embellished) by Plato to add interest to his writings. Or perhaps we should believe the content of Plato’s dialogues, where it is insisted that the story of Atlantis is a true account. Whatever the case, there are many locations that have been linked to Atlantis. You’re welcome take your pick!