A sort of opposite to Shangri-La (a work of fiction based on years of mythology), Utopia was originally a work of fiction, but years of mythology have built up around it. It originally appeared as an island in Thomas More’s 1516 novel “Utopia” and was a simple society that revolved around agriculture and tolerance. The idea took hold and has appeared in several different guises since – from the forced utopic societies of “Brave New World” and “1984” to untouched rainforest civilizations in films like “Avatar”. Utopia is meant to be a perfect place, but even in Thomas More’s original, there were elements that feel uncomfortable to our modern minds (slavery, lack of privacy, wives confessing their sins to their husbands) and every utopic society since then has either had a hidden dark side (e.g. people being euthanized at 30 in “Logan’s Run”) or has been incredibly boring. Goes to show there’s no such thing as a perfect society!
This is a legendary city with a difference – it’s at the Earth’s core. Rumors have abounded throughout history of civilizations below our feet, but science would say that the layers of molten rock probably aren’t very conducive to pleasant living. That doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists trying to find the entrance to the subterranean city of Agartha, which they think might be in Antarctica. The first known use of the name “Agartha” was by 19th Century French occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves, but his account of a Tibetan secret society sounds more like Shambala/Shangri-La than a hidden city below the ground. A more likely source of the myth is from the Buddhist Agharti, which is a subterranean kingdom. It’s all pretty unlikely, but that doesn’t stop people looking for it!
Next, the legendary homeland of the Aztec people, thought to be located somewhere around modern-day Mexico. The Aztecs were supposed to have come from the Chicomoztoc (land of seven caves) and settled in Aztlan, but after that there is some dispute on what Aztlan was like. Some accounts paint it as a kind of paradise, whereas others describe the people as being terrorised by the ruling elite there. In modern times, the name has been adopted by a radical hispanic group known as MECha, who believe that Aztlan covered some of the states of the USA as well (California, Colorado and 7 others). MECha also believes that these states rightfully belong to Mexico and they should be taken back. If they ever do get them back, they may well find it’s not quite the paradise they imagined, as the Aztecs did before them.
The unromantic country of England doesn’t have many mythical places – Milton Keynes and Birmingham are hardly on the same plane of fantasy as Patagonia and Tibet. But there were legends, back before there even was an England to speak of, and many of them concern King Arthur. As with much of the history in this list, there is debate over whether Arthur was real or just a legend, but his court of Camelot continues to fascinate scholars. If there was a Camelot, where was it? If there wasn’t, what was it based on? There have been plenty of contenders for the title of “real Camelot”, including Glastonbury, Winchester and even Colchester. But the romance of the city is in the story, rather than fact and the soaring towers and castles of Camelot exist mainly in the imagination.
And the number one slot goes to the most sought after mythical civilization of all….Atlantis! First described by Plato, Atlantis is a sunken continent, lost when the waters rose around it. It was said to be a great seat of learning and culture and a rival to Athens. The location of Atlantis has never been fully determined, but ideas that it was in the Atlantic (to match its name) have been thoroughly debunked. Recently, one scholar claims to have located it under the South China Sea but the theory hasn’t been verified by any other Atlantis “experts”. Wherever it is, it’s unlikely to be populated by a race of super-intelligent fish people, as the popular imagination has it. But there may just be ruins of an ancient culture somewhere beneath the waters. Then again, it might all just be a myth…