5 Places That Inspired Legends

Today’s guest post by writer Gregory Hogan takes us on a journey not only off the beaten track but a journey into the realms of mythology as he shows us 5 places from historical legends across the world that we can actually visit.

Throughout human history, legends have emerged about spectacular or even magical places. Sometimes they’re cities that belong to long lost kingdoms; sometimes they’re remote getaways overflowing with valuable natural resources; and sometimes they’re simply said to have been unspeakably beautiful.

In some cases, these legendary places are actually real, or were at one point or another.

And in others, they’re merely stories. All of them though, tend to be inspired by one thing or another from the real world.

Here are five of those real places that, either directly or indirectly, inspired legends.

Troy

The ancient Trojan War has been highly fictionalised, first by the Greek poet Homer and more recently by Hollywood (in a thrilling but somewhat ridiculous 2004 film). The legend tells of a Greek princess named Helen who was beautiful beyond compare.

Engaged to a Greek king named Menelaus, Helen fell in love with a visiting foreigner – Paris of Troy – and ultimately ran away with him. This led Menelaus and his brother, the great king Agamemnon, to cross the sea and lay siege to Troy in what some believe was one of the great battles of the ancient world.

As it happens, Troy is a real archaeological site, located in the northwest of modern day Turkey near the sea. Whether or not the Trojan War took place is up for debate, though the closest thing to an accurate answer may well be that there was indeed a conflict, but it was massively exaggerated by storytellers over the years. We do know for certain though that the place existed, and you can visit it in some form today at a place the Turks call Hisarlik.

Hunza Valley

One of the most intoxicating fictional places ever imagined on Earth may well be Shangri-La. This is an idyllic paradise of a valley that was written about in James Hilton’s adventurous 1933 novel Lost Horizon, and readers have long wondered whether or not it’s based on a real place.

Truth be told we don’t know the answer to that question. We do however know that Hilton travelled extensively in Southeast Asia, and trekked through areas that resemble his Shangri-La at least in part. Hilton himself said he also drew inspiration from Tibetan artefacts at the British Museum.

But over time many have come to recognise Pakistan’s Hunza Valley as the real Shangri-La. While not quite as sensational as Hilton’s imagined paradise, it’s an incredibly beautiful area, and one he almost certainly travelled through.

Caerleon

Modern day Caerleon is a small but pretty suburban town in Wales. Surrounded largely by open grasslands, it actually fits a lot of people’s ideal image of the less populated regions of the UK. Its real claim to fame, however, is that some historians believe it’s the closest thing we have to a real life location for the fictional kingdom of Camelot.

The Camelot we all know from storybooks and films is a fairy tale sort of place – a towering, bright castle with colourful flags, happy peasants, and heroes coming to and fro. It’s almost certain that no such place ever existed.

However, the legend of King Arthur within which the myth of Camelot lives may well have some basis in truth. The most common belief is that tales of Arthur were inspired by a Roman commander operating in Britain, and very possibly at the site of modern day Caerleon (where there are Roman ruins).

Lake Guatavita

The legend of El Dorado has inspired everything from transatlantic migration to popular fiction over the years. Back in the age of exploration, the alluring idea of a city of gold was at least part of the inspiration for ships full of men to travel to the “New World” from Europe.

In modern times, El Dorado has been the foundation for works of fiction from a popular animated film to a smash hit video game online. This game, known as Gonzo’s Quest, even references the history specifically, setting the stage in 1541 in Peru, with a search for the city of gold.

Needless to say, as far as we know there was never any such city. However, there’s some compelling evidence to suggest that tales of a city of gold came from the ancient Muisca people who occupied (and still live) in present day Colombia.

These people had ceremonies that involved a great deal of gold ornamentation, and specifically would bury their rulers on Lake Guatavita, doused in gold dust. The people would organise gold rafts, dust the bodies, and send the rafts out to the lake as a gift to their gods. So in a way, travelling to Lake Guatavita today means locating the city that so many explorers sought for 500 years ago.

Carthage

Carthage is the least mythological place on this list, and yet many don’t realise that it more or less still exists. Like Troy, the city is best known for having been one of the locations in a massive and significant ancient conflict – the Punic Wars between the Romans and Carthaginians.

Unlike the Trojan War, however, we know for a fact that the Punic Wars happened, that Carthage was the capital for a civilisation that challenged Rome’s greatness, and that the city itself was ultimately sacked by Rome.

Now, Carthage is one of several communes within the Tunis Governorate in Tunisia, right on the Mediterranean. You can visit some of the ruins of the ancient city there, and also enjoy a little bit of relaxation by the sea, where there are actually some resort areas close by.

Gregory Hogan

Gregory Hogan is a freelance writer, photographer, and occasional world traveller. He contributes to a range of publications and hopes to combine his interests in a quarterly online magazine in the near future.