Atlantis: The Lost Continent

The idea that the Canaries are the remnants of the lost continent of Atlantis has been fervently supported and equally fervently attacked over the centuries. The arguments and depth of conviction over the possible existence of the mysterious submerged continent have led to an estimated 25,000 volumes written on the subject.


Plato was convinced that Atlantis was no figment of the imagination. Aristotle, however, reckoned Plato himself had invented it. "Plato alone made Atlantis emerge from the waves," wrote Aristotle, "and then he submerged it again."

But references to Atlantis were made much earlier than the time of the two Greek philosophers. It seems the Ancient Egyptians knew of the existence of a splendid civilisation, inhabiting a continent in the middle of the ocean. One of Plato's disciples, Crantor, went to Egypt in an attempt to verify his master's narratives. Once there, Egyptian priests seemed to prove what Plato had said, showing Crantor ancient inscriptions describing the history of the people of Atlantis. (Plato had always claimed his accounts were based on Egyptian inscriptions and papyri).

In two of his dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, Plato described both the geography and the people of Atlantis.

"Atlantis stretched beyond the Pillars of Hercules and was larger than Libya and Africa together. The peoples who inhabited it came from the union between Poseidon and the mortal Cuto. The King who lived in a sumptuous palace adorned with golden statues and protected by alternate rings of water and earth, distributed the continent evenly among his ten sons. The central island was for his eldest son, although all were Fortunate Islands, enriched by extraordinary fruits and blessed by the Sun, with úvers and inexhaustible mines of precious metals." (Timaeus).

Plato writes in the same work that Solon was told by an Egyptian priest that travellers could go from the (central) island to the other islands, and from them they could "cross to that continent which stood on the other side of the sea". The priest added that "in just one day and night", the island of Atlantis was destroyed, covered by sea and disappeared. "This is why, even today, that ocean is difficult to sail and remains unexplored; the submerged island is a danger to seamen."

Map of Atlantis

In Critias Plato gives a fuller narrative:

"The on!y survivors were those who dwelt on the mountains who did not know how to write. They, and their descendants for many generations lacked ah the usual comforts and had to devote ah their energies and intelligence to satisfying their physical needs. Thus, it is not surprising that they forgot what had happened in ancient times. This, moreover, explains why only the names of our distant ancestors have reached us, while their deeds have been forgotten."

According to Plato, Atlantis was finally destroyed 12,000 years ago, as a punishment for man's wickedness. The inhabitants of Atlantis had 'fallen prey to the worst vices". Once an immensely prosperous people, they had lost divine inspiration through "practising the grossest indecencies" and had become "utterly vile, filled with boundIess greed and drunk with power." Zeus, said Plato, would teach them a lesson.

"The King of the Heavens, Zeus, reo Used how evil this breed of men had become, they who had been so excellent at first. So he desired to punish them and thus force them to reflection and induce them to mend their ways." (Critias).

So had Zeus wrecked Atlantis, in much the same way as God had caused the Great Flood? Mythology apart, how could Atlantis have really been sunk? The priest in Timaeus told Solon: "Sometimes those bodies revolving in space around the earth, divert from their usual course. Thus, at wide intervals in time, everything on earth is destroyed by fire.. .At other times, the gods purify the earth by means of water, flooding it."

This early astronomical assertion was to find validity in the 2Oth century. The Austrian astronomer Horbiger, who died in 1931, used the central idea to explain the sinking of Atiantis. He believed the continent was destroyed by the appearance of the Moon around 12,000 years ago, causing cataclysmic changes, tremendous volcanic activity and a rising of the level of tropical waters which ultimately led to the submergence of Atlantis.

Horbiger believed that when the Moon - there had been other, earlier and smaller satellites -entered the Earth's orbit, it exerted a powerful attractive force on the seas, flooding Atlantis and other lands in the southern hemisphere.

Aristotle, as noted, thought little of Plato's ideas on Atlantis. He believed them to be little more than purely poetic imaginings, although, on close inspection, there are sorne contradictions even in Aristotle's comments on the lost continent. In a passage in the Constitution of the Tegaeians, he wrote that the natives of Arcadia had based an ancient claim to their land on the belief that they came from Atíantis and had inhabited their country "even before there had been a Moon in the heavens".

However, Aristotle's general scoffing at the idea of Atlantis gained ground with later Greek and Roman writers who similarly doubted the theory. During the Middle Ages, Aristotle's influence remained strong and Atlantis was not even considered a serious subject for study. It was not until the Renaissance, with a rediscovery of the works of Plato, that an interest in Atlantis resurfaced.

Sylvain Bailly

By the latter half of the 18th century, the French astronomer Sylvain Bailly had fully revived the dormant theory. In 1778 he published his Ietters on Atiantis, written to Voltaire, who seemed to give his tacit support to the theories. Bailly believed a highly civilised nation had once existed which reached maturity and disappeared even before all known history had appeared, and that the inhabitants of Atlantis had exerted an influence on subsequent cultures.

More than a century later, the American writer, Ignatius Donnelly claimed that the Canaries, along with Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde Islands were the remaining peaks of the mountains of Atlantis. He believed the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mexico were colonies established by the earlier peoples of Atlantis, basing his assertion on the similarity between the cultures. Donnelly believed Atlantis had been the point of departure of known civilisation; the people of the lost continent, the fathers of the modern world.

"To them, we owe all that is basic in our ideas about life and the world. They were the first civilising force, the first sailors, the first tradesmen, the first colonisers and colonists on earth. Their civilisation was already oid when that of Egypt was young." (The Antediluvian World, 1882).

Donnelly believed that the gods, goddesses and heroes worshipped by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Hindus and Scandinavians were none other than the kings, queens and heroes of Atlantis. The feats and deeds ascribed to thern by mythology were, according to Donnelly, but vague memories of actual prehistoric events.

Following the terrible catastrophe of the "sinking" of Atlantis, a few men managed to survive, saving thernselves in boats or rafts. They carried news of the disaster to people settled along both eastern and western shores of the ocean, where the catastrophe has been passed down through the millenia as "The Flood".

The possible existence of the lost continent of Atlantis has fired the imagination of writers, historians, geologists and archaeologists down the centuries.

Standing among Lanzarote's Fire Mountains (Montanas del Fuego) you'll soon realise why so many spirits have been moved in such a way.