Vanishing Cities Around the World

Our goal is to bring the problems with gentrification in New York state to the foreground, and we offer resources to help people understand and join our movement. In our journey to make the world a better place, we always like to give examples of events in history that affected cities and regions. We talk about vanishing cities in terms of gentrification, but here are some cities that literally disappeared for one reason or another.


Pompeii is a city located near the Bay of Naples in Italy, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, that has a very famous past. In 79 A.D., the people of Pompeii were caught off guard when Mount Vesuvius erupted and spewed hot ash and lava into the air. Within minutes, the city was being coated with a thick layer of ash that preserved victims like statues. Reminders of the tragedy still exist to this day, and excavation work is still going on there.

Roanoke Island

In May 1587, a group of 117 settlers from England made their way to the New World. The group of men, women, and children was excited to capitalize on the stories of opportunity and bounty that they had heard from others who had visited the New World previously. When the weather got bad, the settlers and their leader, John White, had to settle on Roanoke Island, which is just off the coast of what is now North Carolina.

The group created the first settlement by Europeans in the New World, but it did not last long. In August of that year, White sailed back to England for supplies. When he returned three years later, the entire population of the settlement was gone. There were no bodies and no indication of what happened. Scientists believe that the colonists died during one of the worst droughts that the area had ever seen. But what happened to the bodies? Perhaps a combination of drought and attacks by the natives sealed the fate of the first settlement on Roanoke Island, but we may never know.

Easter Island

Easter Island is a very small island in the South Pacific that was once home to a thriving community of as many as 20,000 people. One of the things that makes the people of Easter Island stand out is the huge statues they left behind of what look like the faces of their gods. How did they make and move these statues? While scientists still don’t have answers to that question, the fate of the people of Easter Island was uncovered in recent years. Over time, the society on Easter Island cleared away all of the trees to make way for crops, but this had a devastating effect. Since the people of Easter Island did not plant new trees to replace the existing ones, every tree on the island was eventually cut down and used. With the trees gone, the wildlife started to disappear and the amount of rainfall dropped as well. The sun scorched the land, and the people disappeared.

The Maya

The Maya were a civilization of people that completely dominated the interior of Central America. From what we know today, Maya technology was extremely advanced for its time. It included roads, complete cities, and public services that required innovative engineering processes to create. Over time, the Maya felt that they had created a society that would exist forever. But the Maya made mistakes that cost them their civilization, and eventually, the Maya disappeared forever.

The Maya suffered a fate that was very similar to that of the people of Easter Island. Toward the end of their civilization, the Maya were stripping away all of the natural resources around them for frivolous reasons, and the consequences were devastating. The Maya deforested huge regions of their land for farming and to help build their huge cities. With the trees gone, the temperatures in the area went up by approximately five degrees on average, and rainfall dropped by 30 percent. Drought and famine eventually caused the Maya to almost completely disappear.