Qiandao Lake, a manmade body of water in Chun’an County of the Zhejiang Province in China is widely known for a number of things. Its waters are clean, clear, and damn near drinkable, and are used to produce the locally famous Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water. It is home to a large hydroelectric power station that provides electricity to a broad section of the country. There are over a thousand manmade islands that dot its surface, many boasting lush forests and adorable names like Monkey Island, Lock Island (a place that supposedly boasts the world’s largest lock) and the very specifically monikered Island To Remind You Of Your Childhood. It is an important and lucrative tourist attraction in the area, and many housing developments have sprung up along its shores since the 1990s to provide affordable lakeside residences for thousands of people. However, one of its most historic and mysterious attractions is most certainly the Lost City of Shi Cheng, a centuries old city that lies quietly a hundred feet beneath the surface of the lake.
Sometimes called “The Atlantis of the East” by locals and travelers alike, Shi Cheng was built as part of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-200) at the foot of Wu Shi Mountain. When the Xin’an River hydroelectric station was completed in 1959, the city was submerged by the creation of the dam and resulting reservoir. Over 290,000 people had to be relocated from the area, and it is believed that this segment of the population had ancestors living there for more than a thousand years. It remained virtually undisturbed in its new watery home for over 40 years, when the Chinese National Geography organization started exploring the area in 2001 and then 2011 to see what might remain.
Shi Cheng is about half a square kilometer in size, and boasts an intricate inner network of carved archways, staircases, streets, and city gates topped with towers to mark its edges. The city has been called a time capsule, and has remained protected from the erosive powers of the sun, rain and wind due to its unique location. The city has remained somewhat accessible to tourists, although it is still very much an E-ticket ride if you decide to get anywhere close to it. Only experienced scuba divers are allowed to explore the area, and strictly under the supervision of a few local dive companies in the area. A submerged pedestrian tunnel was once planned for greater viewing access, but later cancelled by the Chinese government in order to avoid damaging the delicate and historic underwater structures.