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The Venice of the Pacific

August 19, 2010

Seawall and buildings built of basalt "logs" at Nan Madol. NOAA

Nan Madol, known as the Venice of the Pacific, is a 321-acre central, core complex of man-made basalt islands and architectural remains built atop an atoll (a ring shaped coral island and reef that encloses a lagoon) on Pohnpei’s eastern coast. The larger Nan Madol area encompasses approximately 14.7 square miles and includes a reef flat, lagoon and Madolenihwmw Bay.

In prehistoric times, the remains of the Nan Madol residential complexes, ritual structures, and tombs formed the seat of Pohnpei’s pre-eminent political and religious center during the rule of the Sau Deleur dynasty. Prior to being this powerful center, Nan Madol was part of a small, regional political entity called Dallier consisting of Temwen Island, adjacent reef islets, and part of the main island coast, and later expanded to include all of Pohnpei. According to oral tradition, Nan Madol later became the seat of the Sat Dallier dynasty of paramount chiefs which united all of Pohnpei’s estimated 25,000 people. The ruling line was overthrown by invaders led by the cultural hero Isokelekel after Nan Madol had been fully built by the legendary brothers Olosohpa and Olosihpa.

Transportation to Nan Madol. Black rocks are basalt "logs" carried to the prehistoric city. (NOAA)

Nan Madol’s position and centralized system appears to have collapsed circa 1500 AD Ongoing archeological research is conducted at the site to trace the development of the island’s multi-ranked chiefly hierarchy, one of the most complex in the Pacific islands. The Nan Madol site offers an exceptional opportunity to examine the relationship between architecture and sociopolitical organization because its history spans nearly 1500 years during a period when political integration of large island segments was occurring.

Around 1700 AD it was largely abandoned, although a few people still lived there until 1945. A fitting tribute to the sophisticated technology of its Pohnpeian builders, Nan Madol has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is on the World Heritage List.

For more information about Nan Madol, visit the State of Pohnpei Visitors Center!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 23, 2011 6:36 pm

    I read about Nan Madol in a book of fiction by Clive Cussler called Medusa. I though the location was fictional as well until I looked it up. Boy was I surprised that such a place actually existed. Where have you been hiding the history , Archeology and beauty of this Island paradise all these years. I was absolutely blown away with the Basalt rock structures these people built back in 1700 BC.Thank you for sharing such a beautiful chunk of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

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