For centuries, historians around the world have been trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the lost city of Rhapta. We know that it was one of the first metropolises in Africa. Its fame spread across the entire Old World. The city flourished 2000 years ago, with the great geographer Claudius Ptolemy describing it as the "pearl of Africa".
The settlement was an important trade center, with exceptionally well developed infrastructure. Metal weapons, tortoise shells and elephant tusks were the main goods traded there. Having survived the invasions of the surrounding kingdoms and empires for hundreds of years, Rhapta mysteriously disappeared 1600 years ago.
Since then, scientists and adventurers have been trying to find it, all without success until recently. This all changed at the beginning of this year. While flying in a helicopter off the shores of Tanzania, scuba diver Alan Sutton noticed unusual stone formations sticking out from the ocean during low tide. The archaeologists that arrived at the spot believe that these ancient ruins around the Zanzibar Archipelago are of Rhapta.
Scientists are still not fully convinced that they've found the the city that mysteriously vanished. But the discoverer of the ruins, Sutton, is of a different opinion. After he noticed the stone formations protruding from beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean, he completed a number of dives in the area.
"What our team saw was much larger than what we had expected. The city had a huge area. Beneath the waves around Zanzibar there are thousands of square and rectangular blocks arranged parallel to each other, with squares and the ruins of massive buildings evident. If there was some other city in this part of Africa, it would have been known to science, " shares Sutton.
"The fact is that the ruins look ancient. They most likely date to Roman times. This was probably the city of Rhapta, which Ptolemy wrote about. Right now, we're looking for any surviving artifacts that might provide a clue as to what kind of people once inhabited the city and what exactly happened to it, " says Felix Chami, director of the Tanzanian Museum in the University of Dar es Salaam. "First we have to find out what caused Rhapta's destruction and whether it was related to its sinking or if the cataclysm occurred after, " he adds.