lion-city_china, underwater city, shi checn, archaeological site underwter water,(Blue Ocean – April 2, 2014) — An ancient Chinese city, left to ruin after a dam flooded the valley it lay in, has become a paradise for divers, after an ingenious idea from a local tourist official.

Founded more than 1300 years ago during the Tang Dynasty, the ancient city of Shi Cheng stood at the foot of the Wu Shi mountain (Five Lion Mountain) and was a cultural, political and economic hub of the region.

But in September 1959,  the Chinese government had decided that it needed a new hydroelectric power station and a reservoir to feed the ever growing population in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.  Shi Cheng was deliberately sacrificed in the construction of the nearby Xin’an River Dam project, along with another 28 towns, 1,377 villages, almost 50,000 acres of farmland, with about 290,000 people having to be relocated.

Shi Cheng remained forgotten underwater for 40 years until Qiu Feng, a local official in charge of tourism, discussed ways to provide entertainment on gorgeous man-made Qiandao Lake with a Beijing-based diving club. The dive group began exploring the area in September 2001.

Once lost beneath the rising waters, the city of Shi Chen was found to be the size of 62 football fields and included as many as 265 well-preserved stone arches. As more research was conducted, it was discovered that the entire town, submerged for decades, was intact. Even the wooden beams and stairs were preserved. Shi Chen, also known as Lion City, is unique in that it ‘defied’ the Chinese norm since 5 gates and 5 towers were built into the city instead of the customary four.

Now the entire drowned city has become the world’s most mind-boggling scuba-diving attraction.  Resting undisturbed at a depth of about 85 – 131 feet (26-40 meters) beneath the surface,  Lion City has been described as an underwater ‘time capsule’ and China’s “Atlantis Discovered” by international archeologists.

Qiandao Lake or the Thousand Island Lake is located in Zhejiang, China, about 150 kilometers from the city of Hangzhou. The lake is so called because it is dotted with 1,078 large islands and a few thousand smaller ones across it.

Qiandao Lake, known for its clear, and sometimes drinkable water, is used to produce the renowned Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water. It is also home to lush forests (over 90%), and exotic islands. In recent times, it’s been turned into a tourist spot with themed islands that include Bird Island, Snake Island, Monkey Island, Lock Island (featuring supposedly the world’s biggest lock), and the Island to Remind You of Your Childhood.

At one point, tt was then suggested that the submerged towns be opened up for tourists. A 23.6 meters high, 3.8 meters tall submarine with a seating capacity of 48 seats was built at a cost of 40 million yuan ($6.36 million) for underwater visits. But since it was finished in 2004, the submarine was never used. Local officials said laws did not allow submarines to dive into inland waters. Further, no rules regulate civil submarines. Even if officially approved, the submarine might cause strong water flows under the water, which may damage the buildings.

So far, the only way to see the ancient city is by scuba diving. Big Blue Scuba Diving International, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center, in Shanghai offers trips to Qiandao Lake April – November. The bottom temperature is chilly at 8-10 degrees Celsius, (topside it can be up to 32 degrees C.) requiring a dry or semi-dry suit. Visability is 3-8 metres and maximum depth is 25 metres. This dive is suggested for Advanced Openwater Divers experienced in deep, night and buoyancy. Big Blue has group leaders who speak English, Japanese and Chinese.  Visit Big Blue for more details.