Deep inside the Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Province of China, 400 km (250 miles) south of Shanghai, lies the ancient submerged city of Shi Cheng (Lion City). The city was built during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–200) and was first set up as a county in AD 208. The city was named Chi Cheng from the nearby Wu Shi Mountain, located just behind the city.
The valley surrounding the city was flooded in 1959 to create the Qiandao lake (also known as Thousand Island lake) for the Xin’an River Dam project. Nearly 300,000 people had to relocate for the project, some of whom had families that had lived in the area for centuries.
The Lion City was rediscovered in 2001 when the Chinese government organised an expedition to find the remains of the ancient metropolis. In 2011, the Chinese National Geography published some never-before-seen photographs and illustrations which raised international interest for the lost city, with many calling it “the Atlantis of the East”.
Today, Shi Cheng remains submerged at a depth of 26-40 meters (85- 131 feet) and measures about half a square kilometer (123 acres). Expeditions have revealed that the city had five entrance gates, as opposed to the traditional four – with two western-facing gates as well as gates in the other cardinal directions. The city’s wide streets also have 265 archways, featuring preserved stonework of lions, dragons, phoenixes and historical inscriptions, some of which date back as far as 1777.
Even though it is submerged, Shi Cheng has remained well preserved as the water actually protects the ruins from wind, rain and sun erosion. The city isn’t yet fully mapped so the diving into it is considered exploratory and limited to only advanced divers who can visit it between April and November.