Architecture can define a place in terms of the lifestyle and routines of people. We can guess a timeline of the architecture of a specific region with the architectural features and style employed there. It gives us a reason to commemorate people who lived during that era. This introduces us to the term preservation in architecture. Rehabilitating historic property adds value and character to the place and can also help in improving the economic aspect of tourism. Nan Madol is a historic site located in Pohnpei Islands, Federated States of Micronesia in the Western Pacific Ocean. It was untouched and is now a remote island that is in ruins today.

Lost In Time: Nan Madol, Federated States Of Micronesia - Sheet1
Nan Madol_©

Venice of the Pacific | Nan Madol

The ruined city  in Pohnpei Island dates back to the 13th century, being the capital of the Saudeleur Dynasty and a noble residence and ceremonial center for royalty. It was home to not more than 1000 people having the commoners more in number serving the privileged. With the predominance of islet construction, the site core is enclosed by basaltic stone walls stacked with strips of stone blocks in a crisscross and then filled up with smaller stones in narrow gaps to stabilize. This floating city was constructed over coral reef platforms and consists of artificial islands connected by canals. The construction theory on how Nan Madol got built remains unanswered. Some legends by the locals and stories of haunted and extraterrestrial origins are futile to listen to. With a population of just a thousand and the material sourcing from another island adds more questions to this mystery.

During the city’s outstanding period, the city had a profound image with gardens and stone walls painting a contrasting green and grey. The source of food for the people of Nan Madol can be from fishing and whatever could be harvested on the island. Some sources say it could have been bought from the neighboring islands. Nan Madol was also said to be a religious center with seasonal ceremonies and offerings to god being prominent. The latest research also predicted that Nan Madol could have had an irrigation system for the gardens. It could have also been for providing fresh water which raises a question for the possibility of indoor plumbing.

Lost In Time: Nan Madol, Federated States Of Micronesia - Sheet2
Nan Madol Golden Age_©earthlymission

Abandoned Islets

Nan Madol was built on Temwen island as an isolated capital by Saudeleur rulers who were away from their home districts to have control over their potential rivals in case of revolts. Nan Madol was said to have reigned for 500 years and continued to expand with additional structures and tombs of kings. However, the ruthlessness of predecessors on the locals and the supposition of being invaded by a foreign army could have led the city to ruins. The outbreak by the “Isokelekel”, ruler of the neighboring island, is said to have conquered the faith of locals and liberated them with the defeat of the Saudeleur dynasty. He was throned and said to have lived in Nan Madol, but to maintain the beautiful city took a toll on his successors leaving the city untouched and forgotten for centuries. The site is presently accessible by foot, boat, and vehicle, but the canals ensure you wet your feet while you explore. The current state of ruins is swarmed by mangroves and is difficult to lay out the plan.

Lost In Time: Nan Madol, Federated States Of Micronesia - Sheet3
Basalt Stone Walls_©wondersofthepast-quora

Studying and Preserving Nan Madol | Nan Madol

Nan Madol remained a mystery even to the locals and the first investigation began in the 19th century by Europeans. John Stanislaw Kubary was a Polish naturalist and ethnographer who was the first to study and draft a detailed description of Nan Madol. Radiocarbon dating shows that the human influence in this land has been there since AD 80 – 200 but little to no evidence on its earliest settlement. It is now registered under the Pohnpei state of historic properties as an archaeological district and was declared a National Historic Landmark. Efforts are currently being made to clear the jungle that engulfs the property, canals being altered with little restoration to route boats and convenience for people to visit. Nan Madol became protected under the Pohnpei historic and cultural preservation act in 2002, thanks to archaeologist Rufino Mauricio, Nan Madol is now recognized as a world heritage site in danger by UNESCO. This could help Nan Madol gain familiarity and increase its visit count.

Nan Madol Aerial View_©wondersofthepast-quora
Nan Madol Aerial View_©Alvarez Photography

The megalith construction in Nan Madol is an unknown theory that every architect would desire to know. Other megalithic sites throughout the Pacific region show the scale of construction that the natives were capable of creating. They used rope scaffolding log rollers and immense manpower for such stone constructions. The basalt logs of Nan Madol could have been transported by several rafts but it failed to prove the same. Another theory says that the basalt strips were quarried in the North of the island and were moved with ropes and log rollers with more labor. The study of the abandoned city is an eye-opener for all architects explaining the importance of Rehabilitation of old buildings. Archaeological sites in danger must be restored and preserved for future generations to come and visit. The need to preserve them is to not have a lost civilization unexplored.


Rohini M is an Assistant Architect in Atkins, Bangalore. She is also certified LEED Green Associate and COA registered Architect. Moreover, she also contributes articles to Building Design Journal in Atkins UK. She is a go-to person for hand made cards for any event or wall arts in the firm.