Haunting photos of 'China's Atlantis,' a 600-year-old city that sank underwater

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Jul 30, 2014, 2:36 PM EDT

It’s not exactly the lost city of Atlantis, but it's pretty darn close.

Some new photographs of the underwater city of Shicheng, sometimes called the “Atlantis of the East,” have popped up, revealing the stunning remains of gorgeous stone architecture dating back as far as the late 1300s to the Ming and Quing dynasties.

Though it shares some underwater heritage with the mythical Atlantis, the tale of how Shicheng sank more than 130 feet underwater is a bit more pedestrian. The city,  located approximately 400 kilometers south of Shanghai, was flooded on purpose — as part of the Xin’an Dam project and to accommodate an adjoining hydroelectric station. The government relocated 300,000 people from the city before the water started flowing in 1959. It now rests below Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang province.

Though the once-great metropolis was largely forgotten for the next few decades, the Chinese government started sending down expeditions in 2001 to see what was left of the city, and some photos from a 2011 mission have surfaced showing the awe-inspiring relic in all its sunken glory. According to a BBC report, the city featured five large entrance gates, 265 archways and a ton of original stonework featuring lions, dragons and phoenixes.

Even cooler? If you happen to be in that neck of the woods, local dive operators host underwater tours of the city to give folks an up-close look at Shicheng.

(Via BBC, photos via Chinese National Geography)