Ancient city uncovered beneath Chinese lake
At the bottom of Qiandao Lake in Hangzhou, eastern China, a mysterious sunken city sits perfectly preserved.
Stone temples sit almost as they were thousands of years ago, each carved with ancient script.
They offer a brief glimpse into China’s imperial past, something the modern-day government in Beijing has tried hard to forget.
Known as She Cheng, it is buried beneath 140 feet of water and was built during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Some of the buildings date back to at least the 2nd century.
The name of the city loosely translates to ‘Lion City’, and was once a bustling hub of commerce, but was intentionally drowned in the mid-20th century, and thereafter forgotten.
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Only recently have researchers and the public been able to rediscover its ancient splendours, much of which was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary ‘China from above: Mountain and rivers’.
Here, the documentary’s narrator noted that the islands within the newly formed lake are in fact the tops of hills, whose bases touch the bottom water’s bed.
In 1959, fuelled by industrialisation and the country’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, the Chinese government chose the site of the city for its first hydropower plant.
Around 300,000 people were relocated, these residents connected to the city through ancestry and culture. On flooding, an environment containing over 1,000 islands was created, and a large dam was erected on its banks upstream.
The city has only in recent years reopened to the public, with Lou Shanliang, a diver, one of the first people to plunge into the lake and find the city.
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He told the documentary how he used to swim in the waters as a child, and how finding out what was beneath was like discovering “another world”.
Partnering up with Wu Lixin, a cameraman, they used 3D scanning technology in order to bring the city back to life through digitisation.
Built somewhere between 25 AD and 200 AD, the Lion City was once China’s most powerful city, and one of the country’s best-preserved ancient metropolises before it was drowned.
In 2014, authorities found that the city was still intact, and decided to allow tourists to visit it.
Explaining that their efforts were the first time the city has been captured three-dimensionally, Mr Wu said: “If we want to get a comprehensive set of data, we have to revolve around the object and take many photos from different angles. Then, we input those photos into a computer programme.”
A set of 3D images were produced, revealing majestic statues of lions and other figures that were almost invisible underwater.
They also found the old city walls, along with some streets and over 200 archways, five entry gates and six main streets. The team believe the city would have been around the same size as 62 football fields.
“I hope that through our filming and exploration more submerged historic relics and the stories behind them can be brought to light again,” Mr Wu said.
The stonework largely dates back to the 16th century and is considered some of the best examples of Chinese architecture.
It is thought that the Lion City reached its peak between 1368 and 1644 when the Ming Dynasty ruled over China.
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