Nan Madol, Micronesia

Nan Madol is a ruined city that lies off the eastern shore of the island of Pohnpei (presently one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia) and used to be the capital of the Saudeleur dynasty until about AD 1500.[2] The city consists of a series of small artificial islands linked by a network of canals and is often called the Venice of the Pacific. The name Nan Madol means “spaces between” and is a reference to the canals that criss-cross the ruins.
Nan Madol was the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty, which united Pohnpei’s estimated 25,000 people.[2] Set apart on the main island of Pohnpei, it was a scene of human activity as early as the first or second century AD. By the 8th or 9th century islet construction had started, but the distinctive megalithic architecture was probably not begun until perhaps the 12th or early 13th century.





Little can be verified about the megalithic construction. Pohnpeian tradition claims that the builders of the Lelu complex on Kosrae (likewise composed of huge stone buildings) migrated to Pohnpei, where they used their skills and experience to build the even more impressive Nan Madol complex. Like Lelu, one major purpose of constructing a separate city was to insulate the nobility from the common people.

A local story holds that when Nan Madol was being built a powerful magician living in the well inhabited region on the northwest of the island was solicited, and that his help was a major factor in completing the building. In particular, he was responsible for supplying the huge stone “logs” used in much of Nan Madol by “flying” them from their source to the construction site. Although treated as legend rather than history by archaeologists, the story does at least account for the facts that the major population center was on the opposite side of the island from Nan Madol, and that the type of stone used in its construction is not found nearby.
The elite centre was a special place of residence for the nobility and of mortuary activities presided over by priests. Its population almost certainly did not exceed 1,000, and may have been less than half that. Although many of the residents were chiefs, the majority were commoners. Nan Madol served, in part, as a means by which the ruling Saudeleur chiefs both organized and controlled potential rivals by requiring them to live in the city rather than in their home districts, where their activities were difficult to monitor.

Madol Powe, the mortuary sector, contains 58 islets in the northeastern area of Nan Madol. Most islets were once occupied by the dwellings of priests. Some islets served special purpose, like food preparation on Usennamw, canoe construction on Dapahu, and coconut oil preparation on Peinering. High walls surrounding tombs are located on Peinkitel, Karian, and Lemenkou, but the crowning achievement is the royal mortuary islet of Nandauwas, where walls of 18 to 25 feet high surround a central tomb enclosure within the main courtyard.

Supposedly there was an escape tunnel beginning the center of Nan Madol and boring down through the reef to exit into the ocean. Scuba divers continue to look for this “secret” route, but so far a complete tunnel has yet to be discovered.
Today Nan Madol forms an archaeological district covering more than 18 kmĀ² and includes the stone architecture built up on a coral reef flat along the shore of Temwen Island, several other artificial islets, and the adjacent Pohnpei main island coastline. The site core with its stone walls encloses an area approximately 1.5 km long by 0.5 km wide and it contains nearly 100 artificial islets - stone and coral fill platforms - bordered by tidal canals.

Carbon dating indicates that the construction of Nan Madol began around AD 1200, while excavations show that the area may have been occupied as early as 200 BC. Some probable quarry sites around the island have been identified, but the exact origin of the stones of Nan Madol is yet undetermined. None of the proposed quarry sites exist in Madolenihmw, meaning that the stones must have been transported to their current location. It has been suggested that they might have been floated via raft from the quarry, but no one has successfully demonstrated the process. Archaeologists have yet to unravel the mystery, and some modern Pohnpeians believe the stones were flown to the island by use of black magic. However, a short dive between the island and the quarries shows a trail of dropped stones.

In 1985, the ruins of Nan Madol were declared a National Historical Landmark. Currently, a greater effort is being made to preserve them. Permission for a visit is necessary and a small fee is charged. While it is quite easy to get access to the site, be sure to ask about site etiquette and take care to follow it.
[Source: Wikipedia]

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