Atlas Obscura's 20 Most Astonishing Discoveries of 2013 - Atlas Obscura
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Atlas Obscura’s 20 Most Astonishing Discoveries of 2013

It has been an incredible year in curious places — from lost cities, to a cat island, to the unsettling details of Icelandic magic — and we are looking forward to the year ahead in uncovering more of the world’s hidden wonders.

Below are the 20 most astonishing new additions to the Atlas Obscura from 2013:

THE LOST CITY OF HERACLEION
Al Maadeyah, Egypt

article-imagevia Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photograph by Christoph Gerigk 

This year, a long lost ancient Egyptian city was discovered in the depths off the coast of Alexandria:

It was only a legend. Appearing in a few rare inscriptions and ancient texts, the city of Thonis-Heracleion was not something anyone expected to find, and no one was looking for it. So it was something of a shock when French archaeologist Franck Goddio, looking for 18th century French warships, saw a colossal face emerge from the watery shadows.
Read more >

BLACK AND BLUE LAGOON OF BUXTON
Derbyshire, England

article-imagephotograph by Simon Harrod

This “lagoon” is actually a toxic soup filled with cars, carcasses, and trash. But it was still so beautiful that people couldn’t resist going for a swim, so the town dyed it black:

In June 2013, the council took the drastic measure of pouring black dye into the water to lessen its appeal. So far the plan seems to be working — according to locals, disappointed weekend road trippers have been turning back when they spot the newly inky lagoon.
Read more>

TASHIROJIMA - CAT ISLAND
Ishinomaki, Japan

article-imagephotograph by Fubirai

On the island of Tashirojima in Japan, the cats outnumber people, and the people like it that way:

Cats have long been thought by the locals to represent luck and good fortune, and doubly so if you feed and care for them. Thus, the cats are treated like kings, and although most are feral because keeping them as “pets” is generally considered inappropriate, they are well-fed and well-cared-for. Read more >

SHANTY TOWN AT EMOYA ESTATES
Bloemfontein, South Africa

article-imagevia emoya.co

A shanty town-themed luxury hotel in South Africa that should be too outrageous to be true provides the bohemian chic of extreme poverty… without all the hardship and hunger:

The lodgings are far from uncomfortable. Each reinforced shanty features fully-furnished interiors and the website is proud to proclaim, “This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access!” A poverty theme park of sorts. Read more >

ATLANTIC OCEAN ROAD
Averøy, Norway

article-imagephotograph by wallpaperswa 

The Atlantic Ocean Road is a serpentine highway that twists and turns over the treacherous Norwegian Sea:

Driving along the Atlantic Road is like teetering on the edge of the sea. The road’s roller coaster-feel, curvy bridges, and phenomenal views have made it a favorite of road trippers and motorcyclists. Read more >

HONGHE HANI RICE TERRACES
Honghe, China

article-imagephotograph by Jialiang Gao

A complex and beautiful system of rice terraces covers a million acres over the Ailao Mountains in China. This year they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, so hopefully the painting-like landscape will be with us for years to come:

The 1,200-year-old elaborate red rice terraces were created to bring water down from the forests to allow for farming on the slopes. The system of terraces stretches over four counties — Yuanyang, Honghe, Jinpin, and Lvchun — although the main area is in Yuanyang. Read more >

SMITH MANSION
Cody, Wyoming

article-imagevia smithmansion.org

One man’s construction obsession spawned this psychedelic log home in Wyoming:

Wyoming’s dizzying Smith Mansion is rumored to be built over a mine shaft or by the hands of a madman or as a perverse joke, but the truth is that it is simply the work of a man who could not stop building. Read more >

AKODESSEWA FETISH MARKET
Lomé, Togo

article-imagephotograph by Dominik Schwarz

This Togo market is the Voodoo superstore of the world:

Togo’s capital city of Lomé is the birthplace of the largest Voodoo market in the world — a kind of super supply store for fetishes, charms, and anything else one might need for a ritual. The Akodessewa Fetish Market, or Marché des Féticheurs, is a place where you can find anything from leopard heads and human skulls to Voodoo priests who bless and create fetishes or predict the future and make medicines to heal whatever ails you. Read more >

LUKLA AIRPORT
Chaurikharka, Nepal

article-imagephotograph by canucksfan604/Flickr user

This Nepal airport is the jumping-off point for a climb to Mount Everest, but it’s a hard start as it’s also the most dangerous airport in the world: 

There is no safety net at Lukla Airport. The 1500-foot runway abruptly drops off into a river valley below, and if you don’t take off successfully your plane will hurtle to a violent end thousands of feet up in the Himalayas. Read more >

PLUTO’S GATE
Denizli Merkez, Turkey

article-imageInscription to the gods of the underworld at Pluto’s Gate (photograph by Francesco D’Andria/Discovery News)

This long lost legendary gate to hell in Turkey was rediscovered this year

Tourists to the portal to the underworld were able to buy small birds or other animals (the sale of which supported the temple) and test out the toxic air that blew out of the mysterious cavern, which was connected to a temple with a pool. Only the priests, high and hallucinating on the fumes, could stand on the steps by the opening to hell, and would sometimes lead sacrificial bulls inside, only to pull out their dead bodies dramatically.
Read more >

PROJECT HARP SPACE GUN
Barbados

article-imagephotograph by LesPaulSupreme/Flickr user

This relic of a giant gun barrel in Barbados once was part of a project to shoot outer space with science: 

In lay terms, the project was established to create a cartoonishly large gun to shoot things into space. The sole fruit of this partnership, a massive toppled gun barrel, still remains on the Barbados test site. Designed by mad ballistic engineer Gerald Bull, the gun itself was originally built from a 50-caliber naval cannon, like what might be seen on a battleship, and was later doubled to 100 caliber, making the gun too big for effective military application, but seemingly perfect for satellite delivery. Read more >

BULLET BABA SHRINE
Bandai, India

article-imagephotograph by Sentiments777/Wikimedia

Liquor and flowers mark this holy site for Indian motorcycle riders: 

On his way from Pali to Chotila, Om Singh Rathore crashed his motorcycle into a tree, allegedly while driving drunk. According to local legend, after the police hauled the bike away to the station, it was mysteriously discovered back at the site of the accident the next morning. Thinking this was a prank, the police took the bike, emptied the gas tank, and chained it up. The very next day the chains were found broken and the bike was once again found at the site of the accident. Read more >

THE MUSEUM OF ICELANDIC SORCERY & WITCHCRAFT 
Hólmavík, Iceland

article-imageNecropants (photograph by Bernard McManus)

Staves, storm-calling, and necropants, are all in one Icelandic witchcraft museum:

The collection features a number of artfully displayed artifacts and displays such as rune-carved pieces of wood, animal skulls, and a number of Icelandic magical staves. However the most shocking and remarkable piece is easily the so-called “necropants” which is the dried skin of a man from the waist down. These horrifying leggings were used in a spell that would supposedly bring the caster more money. Read more >

GOATS OF THE CINGINO DAM
Noasca, Italy

article-imagephotograph by brunvit on Panaramio

This Italian dam is covered in salt-hungry goats who manage to scale its almost vertical face:

On the otherwise unremarkable Cingino Dam in the midst of Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park, visitors can see a number of hopping, moving specks that are actually goats climbing along the impossibly small brick outcroppings in the dam wall. Read more >

KOCHIA HILL
Hitachinaka, Japan

article-imagephotograph by ms_gracias/Flickr user

Every autumn, this hillside in Japan is stunningly ablaze with red summer cypress:

The scrubby little kochia plants, otherwise known as summer cypress, are not much to look at for most of the year, but at the end of the wet season they take on an extraordinary brilliant red color, lending them the name “burning bush.” Read more >

MENDENHALL ICE CAVES
Juneau, Alaska

article-imagephotograph by AER Wilmington DE

In the Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska, water runs over rocks under blue ceilings inside a partially hollow glacier: 

The Ice Caves are inside the glacier, accessible only to those willing to kayak to, and then ice climb over the glacier. However, the glacier is retreating increasingly fast as global warming heats the oceans and temperatures rise. Read more >

THE LINKED HEADSTONES OF HET OUDE KERKHOF
Roermond, The Netherlands

article-imagephotograph by Frank Janssen

These two gravestones clasp hands over a religious boundary in the Netherlands:

Despite the religious divide of the lives and cemeteries, the gravestones of Colonel J.C.P.H. of Aeffderson and noblewoman J.W.C. Van Gorkum clasp hands across the divide. In the 19th century, the Dutch lived with Pillarisation, a policy which seperated public establishments by religious and political affiliations. Yet Colonel Aeffderson was a Protestant, and Van Gorkum was a Catholic. Read more >

WISTERIA TUNNEL
Yahatahigashi Ward, Japan

article-imagephotograph by Binarycse/Flickr user

At the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu, Japan, is a pastel-colored passageway of wisteria flowers:

Make sure to visit in late April or Early May, during the “Fuji Matsuri,” or “Wisteria Festival,” when the magical tunnel is in full bloom. Arrive at any other time of year, and its appearance will be a disheartening mass of lifeless, twisted branches. Read more >

UTA FLIGHT 772 MEMORIAL
Nguigmi, Niger
 

article-imagevia Aviation Sans Frontières & Sahara Conservation Fund

The world’s most remote memorial is in the Niger desert, and remembers the victims of the UTA Flight 772 disaster: 

Due to the remote resting place of the wreck, the wreckage is still scattered around the area, a glaring but out-of-sight reminder of the tragedy that happened there. After 18 years of it being nothing but a desert filled with debris, the families of the victims came together and decided to build a monument in one of the most remote places on the globe.
Read more >

SUNKEN CEMETERY
Municipality of Concepcion, Philippines

article-imagephotograph by Shubert Cienica 

This cemetery and the town it served in the Philippines sinks beneath the sea during the volcanic birth of Mt. Vulcan:

There are no flowers or gravestones to mark the resting places of the lost citizens of Camiguin — only a giant cross rising up out of the water to mark where this place of rest once was. Read more >