Tag Archives: Islam

Atlantis of the Sands: The Legendary Land of Riches

Atlantis of the Sands is the legendary lost city of Southern Arabia. Wikimedia commons. Public domain.

Atlantis of the Sands is the legendary lost city of Southern Arabia. Wikimedia commons. Public domain.

Atlantis of the Sands is a fabled lost city that supposedly existed once long ago along a busy trade route in Arabia. Laden with riches of red silver ore, splendors of large markets, and frankincense as valuable as gold, it may have been a huge emporium and stopping point for merchants. Grand legends told over the years have inspired searches that led to interesting discoveries. It now appears the lost city may have been more than just a legend after all.

Over the last several centuries, this mysterious place has attracted scholars and archaeologists who have attempted to discover its true location. Atlantis of the Sands acquired its nickname because, like its counterpart of the sea, there have been so many grand stories and people who have tried to find it. The original names for the legendary place are Ubar, Wabar or Iram.

Atlantis of the Sands is presumed to have been founded circa 3000 B.C. Located on the banks of a river that no longer exists, the city was a popular destination due to its vast trade markets, availability of resources and abundance of water. Legends describe large walls that boasted towering pillars. This “many towered city,” as described in the Koran, contained palaces and impressive temples. The Koran also attested to the uniqueness of the pillared city: “[Iram]…whose like had not been built in the entire land.”

Ranulph Fiennes wrote and published the book “Atlantis of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar” in 1992, which helped to make it quite famous. Bedouin people who live in the deserts say that this city was lost in the Arabian sands when a huge catastrophic disaster occurred.


In Search of Atlantis of the Sands

Archaeological site of Ubar. Source: http://zagadki-istorii.ru/artefakt-43.html

Archaeological site of Ubar. Source: http://zagadki-istorii.ru/artefakt-43.html

Archaeologists have attempted to locate the city of Ubar using ancient maps and descriptions from legendary tales. Several inconclusive sightings only served to further the mystery of whether or not the Atlantis of the Sands really existed.

Research into the city of Ubar places the time of its destruction at somewhere around 100 C.E. Many experts think that the people there may have discovered how to farm frankincense, which was highly valuable and produced in the southern Arabian Desert. This theory is supported by the idea that the supposed location for Ubar is along one of the well-known trade routes of the time.


Bertram Thomas and T.E. Lawrence

Remains of Ubar. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

Remains of Ubar. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

There have been a number of explorers who have attempted to find the city, including Bertram Thomas, an Englishman. He embarked on an expedition in 1930 to locate Ubar, based on previous research by other explorers. It was Thomas’ notes and research in large part that had an influence on the research of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. He was an archaeologist, military officer, and diplomat in the near east region. It may have been Lawrence who first described Ubar as Atlantis of the Sands. He had dreams of finding it, but he died unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident.

As Thomas began his exploration, he was told many stories about the area by Bedouin guides. They emphasized that it was dangerous to venture there. Additionally, they stated that the city had been destroyed because of the immorality of the people who had lived there, and that if they continued on their journey they would bring evil upon themselves. Thomas was not deterred by these stories, but he died before he could find the city of Ubar. He did, however, find old camel tracks.


The Nicholas Clapp Team

Depiction of the Atlantis of the Sands. Source: Pixabay, public domain.

Depiction of the Atlantis of the Sands. Source: Pixabay, public domain.

In the late 1980s the film-maker and amateur archaeologist, Nicholas Clapp, led an expedition to find Ubar based on the work of Bertram Thomas. He utilized the latest research, NASA satellite images, and ancient maps created by previous explorers. Among the members of the Clapp expedition was Ranulph Fiennes, who subsequently wrote the Atlantis of the Sands book.

The NASA images of the Rub ‘al Khali desert were able to see below the surface sand to identify well-worn roads that merchants on camelback had used for trade long ago. Interestingly, the tracks led to one place now called Shisr. The Clapp team decided to investigate and they discovered an ancient structure underneath a 300 year old building. They determined that this was some type of fortress that stood at the heart of a settlement. Pottery, coins, and evidence of many ancient fire pits dotted the area. Research indicates the artifacts date back to at least 2800 BC.

The fortress may have served as the king’s palace and a processing facility for frankincense. It may have also provided protection in times of danger. Eight walls circled the central building and a tower about 30 feet high stood at each corner. Clapp determined that this must be the ancient city of Ubar.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the fortress had fallen into a limestone sinkhole, and they were unable to excavate the rest of it. Fiennes surmised in his book that Ubar was really once a place called “Omanum Emporium” shown on ancient maps of Southern Arabia.

Like so many ancient legends, there are still more questions than answers. Has Atlantis of the Sands been found? Rather than having been smitten by God, did it fall into a giant sinkhole? For now, the legend is still alive, and only the sands of time will tell whether the vast desert will be relinquishing its secrets of this magnificent fabled city.

For more strange mysteries from the past, visit Historicmysteries.com.


Atlantis of the Sands




The Unusual Tomb of Chiltan Mountain

A 12th century Koran on display in the British Museum. "IslamicGalleryBritishMuseum3" by LordHarris - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IslamicGalleryBritishMuseum3.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

A 12th century Koran on display in the British Museum. “IslamicGalleryBritishMuseum3” by LordHarris – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IslamicGalleryBritishMuseum3.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

A lone prayer, lilting and melodic, dances on the arid wind. The sound wraps Chiltan Mountain near Quetta, Pakistan. The baritone praise and wishes bounces through the 30 caves. It caresses those that forever rest, shrouded, silent and forgotten.  The holy mountain tomb offers forgiveness from sins for those who care for it.

The tomb contains no skeletons of bone.  These skeletons are of ink, paper, and parchment.

The written word is sacred to the people of the book: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Like the Torah, the Koran is too sacred to throw away. Allah’s book is a part of his personality. But what to do when a Torah or Koran is overused? What do you do when the binding no longer holds?

You have a funeral.

The Koran is considered too sacred for anything but a formal burial.

Chiltan Mountain became a tomb of these well loved books. After some 30 years of digging through the mountain’s caves, about 50,000 Koran’s have been found. The books molder in their white shrouds, still out lasting the people that laid them to rest.  Some of the pages discovered date to the first 200 years of Islam. Many of these pages contained text that is accepted as the standard version of the Koran today. The mountain is a gold mine for archeology and scholars interested in how the Korans text became standardized.

Other book tombs have been found. Although none have matched the number of books buried int the Chiltan Mountain. In 1972, laborers working on the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen found a room long forgotten. In the room, were piles of damaged books and pages of Arabic text.  The room contained nearly one thousand different books of the Koran. Some of these texts also dated to the dawn of Islam.

In 1890, a Jewish book tomb was also found. Unlike the Chiltan Mountain and the Great Mosque, this tomb contained children’s books, poems, biblical texts, letters, bills, lists, calendars, medical texts, and Arabic texts.

Both Jews and Muslims believe in the importance of the written word. Muslims focus on the Koran. Jews venerate the written word in general. As the rabbi Solomon Schechter states:

When the spirit is gone, we put the corpse out of sight to protect it from abuse. In like manner, when the writing is worn out, we hide the book to preserve it from profanation. The contents of the book go up to heaven like the soul.

Chiltan Mountain, unlike our Western cemeteries, sees frequent visitors. People visit the mountain to pray among the thousands of Korans that are laid to rest. At the base of the mountain, a more traditional cemetery stands. People wanted to be buried as close to their beloved book as they could be.  Mountains have a long history in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief. It brought the person closer to God and lifted them away from the concerns of society below. What more fitting place to lay a Holy Book to its final rest? What better place than to be suspended between earth and heaven, just as the message contained in its pages is suspended between earth and heaven.



Battles, M (2003). Library: An Unquiet History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Lester, T. (1999). What is the Koran? (Cover story). Atlantic, 283(1), 43.

Tasgola Karla, B. (n.d). Mountain full of Qur’ans becomes holy site. Toronto Star (Canada).