Tartessos or Tartessus is generally accepted to have existed along the valley of the Guadalquivir River where the rich deposits of copper and silver led to the development of a powerful native civilisation, which traded with the Phoenicians, who had colonies along the south coast of Spain(k).
It is assumed by most commentators that Tartessos was identical with the wealthy city of Tarshish that is mentioned in the Bible. There have been persistent attempts over the past century to link Tartessos with Atlantis. The last king of Tartessia, in what is now Southern Spain, is noted by Herodotus to have been Arganthonios, who is claimed to have ruled from 630 BC until 550 BC. Similarly, Ephorus a 4th century BC historian describes Tartessos as ‘a very prosperous market.’ However, if these dates are only approximately true, then Atlantis cannot be identified with Tartessos as they nearly coincide with the lifetime of Solon, who received the story of Atlantis as being very ancient.
The existence of a ‘Tartessian’ empire is receiving gradual acceptance. Strabo writes of their system of canals running from the Guadalquivir River and a culture that had written records dating back 6,000 years. Their alphabet was slightly different to the ‘Iberian’. The Carthaginians were said to have been captured Tartessos after the reign of Arganthonios and after that, contact with Tartessos seems to have ended abruptly!
The exact location of this city is not known apart from being near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River in Andalusia. The Guadalquivir was known as Baetis by the Romans and Tartessos to the Greeks. The present day Gulf of Cadiz was known as Tartessius Sinus (Gulf of Tartessus) in Roman times. Cadiz is accepted to be a corruption of Gades that in turn is believed to have been named to after Gaderius. This idea was proposed as early as 1634 by Rodrigo Caro, the Spanish historian and poet, in his Antigüedades y principado de la Ilustrísima ciudad de Sevilla, now available as a free ebook(i).
In 1849, the German researcher Gustav Moritz Redslob (1804-1882) carried out a study of everything available relating to Tartessos and concluded that the lost city had been the town of Tortosa on the River Ebro situated near Tarragona in Catalonia. The idea received little support.
The German archaeologist Adolf Schulten spent many years searching unsuccessfully for Tartessos, in the region of the Guadalquivir. He believed that Tartessos had been the centre of an ancient culture that was Atlantis or at least one of its colonies. Schulten also noted that Tartessos disappeared from historical records around 500 BC, which is after Solon’s visit to Egypt and so could not have been Atlantis.
Otto Jessen also believed that there had been a connection between Atlantis and Tartessos. Jean Gattefosse was convinced that the Pillars of Heracles were at Tartessos, which he identifies as modern Seville. However, Mrs E. M. Whishaw, who studied in the area for 25 years at the beginning of the 20th century, believed that Tartessos was just a colony of Atlantis. The discovery of a ‘sun temple’ 8 meters under the streets of Seville led Mrs Whishaw to surmise that Tartessos may be buried under that city. Edwin Björkman wrote a short book,The Search for Atlantis in which he identified Atlantis with Tartessos and also Homer’s Scheria.
More recently Karl Jürgen Hepke has written at length, on his website(a), about Tartessos. Dr. Rainer W. Kühne, following the work of another German, Werner Wickboldt, had an article published in Antiquity that highlighted satellite images of the Guadalquivir valley that he has identified as a possible location for Atlantis. Kühne published an article(b) outlining his reasons for identifying Tartessos as the model for Plato’s Atlantis.
Although there is a general consensus that Tartessos was located in Iberia, there are a number of refinements of the idea. One of these is the opinion of Peter Daughtrey, expressed in his book, Atlantis and the Silver City in which he proposes that Tartessos was a state which extended from Gibraltar around the coast to include what is today Cadiz and on into Portugal’s Algarve having Silves as its ancient capital.
It was reported(c) in January 2010 that researchers were investigating the site in the Doñana National Park, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, identified by Dr. Kühne as Atlantis. In 2011, Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford garnered a lot of publicity when he visited the site and expressed the view that it was the location of Tartessos which he equates with Atlantis.
A minority view is that Tarshish is related to Tarxien (Tarshin) in Malta, which, however, is located some miles inland with no connection to the sea. Another unusual theory is offered by Luana Monte, who has opted for Thera as Tartessos. She bases this view on a rather convoluted etymology(e) which morphed its original name of Therasia into Therasios, which in semitic languages having no vowels would read as ‘t.r.s.s’ and can be equated with Tarshish in the Bible, which in turn is generally accepted to refer to Tartessos. Giorgio Valdés favours a Sardinian location for Tartessos(f). Andis Kaulins has claimed that further south, in the same region, Carthage was possibly built on the remains of Tartessos, near the Pillars of Heracles(j).
A more radical idea was put forward in 2012 by the Spanish researcher, José Angel Hernández, who proposed(g)(h) that the Tarshish of the Bible was to be found on the coast al region of the Indus Valley, but that Tartessos was a colony of the Indus city of Lhotal and had been situated on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar!
There is an extensive website(d) dealing with all aspects of Tartessos, including the full text of Schulten’s book on the city. Although this site is in Spanish, it is worthwhile using your Google translator to read an English version.
North Africa has received considerable attention as a possible location for Atlantis since the beginning of the 19th century. Gattefosse and Butavand are names associated with early 20th century North African theorists. They, along with Borchardt, Herrmann and others have proposed locations as far west as Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, on through Tunisia and Libya and even as far east as the Nile delta.
One of the earliest writers was Ali Bey El Abbassi who discussed Atlantis and an ancient inland sea in the Sahara. The concept of such an inland sea, usually linked with Lake Tritonis, has persisted with the Chotts of Tunisia and Algeria as prime suspects. There is acceptance that a seismic/tectonic convulsion in the vicinity of the Gulf of Gabés cut off this inland sea from the Mediterranean. Diodorus Siculus records this event in his third book dating it to around 1250 BC. If such an event did not occur, how do we explain the salt laden chotts? However, proving a connection with Atlantis is another matter.
Whether this particular geological upheaval was related to the episode that destroyed parts of ancient Malta is questionable as the Maltese event was one of massive subsidence.
It should be kept in mind that Plato described the southern part of the Atlantean confederation as occupying North Africa as far eastward as Egypt (Tim.25b & Crit.114c). This of course conflicts with the idea of the Atlanteans invading from beyond ‘Pillars of Heracles’ situated at Gibraltar since they apparently already controlled at least part of the Western Mediterranean as far as Italy and Egypt.
*One of the principal arguments against Atlantis being located in North Africa is that Plato clearly referred to Atlantis as an island. However, as Papamarinopoulos has pointed out that regarding the Greek word for island, ‘nesos’ “a literary differentiation between ‘island’ and ‘peninsula’ did not exist in alphabetic Greek before Herodotus’ in the 5th century BC. Similarly, there was not any distinction between a coast and an island in Egyptian writing systems, up to the 5th century BC.” In conversation with Mark Adams[1070.198] Papamarinopoulos explains that in the sixth century BC, when Solon lived, nesos had five geographic meanings. “One, an island as we know it. Two, a promontory. Three, a peninsula. Four, a coast. Five, a land within a continent, surrounded by lakes, rivers or springs.”
Personally, from the context, I am quite happy to accept that the principal city of the Atlantean alliance existed on an island as we understand the word. This was probably north of Tunisia, where a number of possible candidates exist. However, it may be unwise to rule out a North African city just yet!
Another argument put forward that appears to exclude at least part of North Africa is that Plato, according to many translations, he refers to Atlantis as ‘greater’ than ‘Libya’ and ‘Asia‘ combined, using the Greek word, ‘meizon‘, which had a primary meaning of ‘more powerful’ not greater in size. Atlantis could not have been situated in either Libya or Asia because ‘a part cannot be greater than the whole’. However, if Plato was referring to military might rather than geographical extent, as seems quite likely, North Africa may indeed have been part of the Atlantean alliance, particularly as Plato describes the control of Atlantis in the Mediterranean as far Tyrrhenia and Egypt.*
Meropes, according to Ignatius Donnelly, was the name applied by the classical writer Theopompus to the inhabitants of Atlantis. This reference is to be found in the works of Aelian (Bk III, Chap. XVIII) that in fact does not mention Atlantis but refers to a huge distant continent that may in fact, as some speculate, have been an early reference to America. Peter James also supports[047.293] this view of Meropes being ‘an oblique reference to Atlantis’ .
The Greek historian Strabo wrote (Book VII) of an island with an advanced culture called Meropis and its inhabitants Meropes. He also supports the reality of Plato’s story.
Jean Gattefossé contended that the Atlas Mountains of North Africa were also known as the Meros. He believed that these mountains had previously bounded a large inland sea that has been referred to as both the Meropic and Atlantic Sea.
*Frank Joseph has speculated that “Merope was probably the name of an allied kingdom or colony of the Atlantean Empire in coastal North Africa, perhaps, occupying the southern half of present-day Morocco” [104.186].
In 1898, the American novelist, H.H. Buckman (1858-1914), published Merope or The Destruction of Atlantis , which uses a fictional account of the final days of Atlantis as a backdrop to what is classified by some to be an early example of science fiction.*
Meropes is also an ancient name for the inhabitants of the Greek island of Kos.
Auguste Rousseau-Liessens (1894-1954), a Belgian, was of the opinion that the Pillars of Heracles were located in the Gibraltar region. To support his view he wrote a book, in French, that was recommended by the renowned Jean Gattefosse.
Rousseau-Liessens concluded that the plain of Atlantis was four-sided with sides having a ratio of 1:2:3:4 giving the dimensions of those sides as 184, 368, 552 and 736 km.
Bibliographies of Atlantean Studies are to be found in most books on the subject and on a number of internet sites. Understandably, these compilations are usually a reflection of the various authors’ theories and prejudices.
Bibliographie de I’Atlantide et des Questions connexes.
Another French website with an extensive bibliography relating to mythology is:
Thorwald C. Franke offers an extensive list of German language titles at
http://www.atlantis-scout.de/Kommentierte%20Atlantis-Bibliographie.pdf [currently being reconstructed]
Franke has also drawn up a list of what he considers to be the best introductory titles on the subject of Atlantis in both German and English.
Rainer Kühne has published an impressive list of references to Atlantis in the scientific literature.
A Portuguese bibliography has been compiled by Manuel J.Gandra
The Atlas Mountains stretch for over 1,500 miles across the Maghreb of North-West Africa, from Morocco through Algeria to Tunisia. The origin of the name is unclear but seems to be generally accepted as having been named after the Titan. Herodotus states (The Histories, Book IV. 42-43) that the inhabitants of ancient Mauretania (modern Morocco) were known as Atlantes and took their name from the nearby mount Atlas. Jean Gattefosse believed that the Atlas Mountains were also known as the Meros and that a large inland sea bounded by the range had been known as both the Meropic and the Atlantic Sea. Furthermore, he contended that Nysa had been a seaport on this inland sea.
The Atlantic Ocean as defined by modern geography stretches between the Poles and is bounded on the west by the Americas and on the east by Europe and Africa. The word ocean is taken from the Greek ‘okeanos’ which in turn has been suggested to have a Phoenician origin. Okeanos or ‘ocean river’ is first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, a term that was employed by many ancient writers to refer to an ocean that they believed encircled the then known world.
It seems that ‘Atlantic’ was a term first used by Herodotus, about a hundred years before Timaeus was composed by Plato and over a century after Solon’s famous visit to Egypt, to describe the seas beyond the Pillars of Heracles (Histories I. 202). If this is correct, then we must ask what term was used prior to Herodotus? If it was Okeanos what body of water, if any, did the term ‘Atlantic’ apply to at the earlier period?. There have been suggestions that the word referred to the western Mediterranean.
George Sarantitis has proposed that the term used by Plato, Atlantikos Pelagos, can be more legitimately interpreted as ‘Atlantean archipelago’!(d)
However, some researchers, such as Alberto Arecchi(f), have asserted that the name was given to a very large inland sea in what is now North Africa bound by the Atlas Mountains. Jean Gattefosse was a leading exponent of this during the first half of the 20th century.Sarantitis has expanded on this idea, proposing(c) a vast network of huge inland lakes and waterways in what is now the Sahara, which has, in his view, allows a more acceptable interpretation of Hanno’s voyage. Others such as Diodorus (3.38), as late as the 3rd century BC, used the term ‘Atlantic’ to describe the Indian Ocean. It is quite clear that ancient geographical names did not always have the same meanings that they do today.
The confusion does not end there as some ancient writers have identified the Strait of Sicily as the location of the Pillars of Heracles and the waters of the Western Mediterranean as the Atlantic, with some identifying Tyrrhenia as being in the Atlantic.
Most important of all are the comments of Plato himself who refers to the Atlantic in Timaeus (24e) when Atlantis existed noting that ‘in those days the Atlantic was navigable’, implying that in his own time it was not. Consequently, he could not have been referring to the body of water that we know today as the Atlantic. Furthermore, Aristotle seemed to echo Plato when he wrote(e) that “outside the pillars of Heracles the sea is shallow owing to the mud, but calm, for it lies in a hollow.” This is not a description of the Atlantic that we know, which is not shallow, calm or lying in a hollow and which he also refers to as a sea not an ocean. So, what sea was he referring to?
Since other seas have been called Atlantic, we are therefore forced to consider possible alternatives that are also compatible with the other known features of Atlantis. The three leading candidates are
(i) the Western Mediterranean,
(ii) the Tyrrhenian Sea (which is part of the Western Mediterranean) and
(iii) the inland sea in North Africa, sometimes referred to as Lake Tritonis, favoured by Arecchi, Sarantitis and others.
I am personally inclined towards the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Pliny the Elder writing in the first century AD mentions a number of islands in what we now accept as the Atlantic Ocean. These include the Cassiterides (Britain), the Fortunate Isles (the Canaries), the Hesperides, the Gorgades and an island ‘off Mount Atlas’ named Atlantis. Understandably, Pliny’s comments have led to extensive controversy, particularly the identification of the island off Mount Atlas.
*In fact, there is even some dispute about the location of the Mount Atlas in question, as there were a number of peaks known by that name in ancient times. Richard Hennig is cited by Zhirov[458.58] as describing the ‘utter confusion’ among ancient authors regarding the location of Mount Atlas.*
Ignatius Donnelly was convinced that Atlantis had been situated in the Atlantic opposite the entrance to the Mediterranean. His theories were to predominate for over half a century and are still popular today. The late Gerry Forster, a British writer, has a 50-page paper supporting Donnelly’s contention posted on his website entitled The Lost Continent Rediscovered(a) .
In order to add scientific credibility to Donnelly’s views the discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was offered as confirmation of the existence of Atlantis as parts of the ‘ridge’ would have been exposed when ocean levels were hundreds of feet lower during the last Ice Age. Today, the Canaries and the Azores are just remnants of what were once larger landmasses.
When Alfred Wegener advanced the theory of Continental Drift, later replaced by that of Plate Tectonics, was first presented, some atlantologists assumed that a mechanism for the disappearance of Atlantis in the Atlantic had been found. However, when the slow rate of movement was fully realised, the theory also sank as an explanation for the demise of Atlantis.
In April 2009 the media burst into one of its occasional ‘Atlantis found’ phases, when it was reported that evidence of an underwater city had been identified 600 miles west of the Canary Islands using Google Earth. The co-ordinates were given as 31 15’15.53N and 24 15’30.53W.
The site appeared to show a grid-like street system, which was estimated to be the size of Wales – a highly improbable, if not impossible size for a Bronze Age city. Apart from which, what appeared to be ‘streets’ would have been kilometers in width. Google responded with the following explanatory statement:
“what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process. Bathymetric (sea-floor) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea-floor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data.” It did not take long before one commentator suggested that this statement was a cover-up.
By early February 2012 Google had corrected what they called ‘blunders’ contained in the original data, which in turn removed the anomalous image(b). No doubt conspiracy theorists will have their appetites whetted by this development.
*Nine years later, on April 3, 2018(g), the UK’s Express regurgitated the same story!*
As usual people will believe what they want to believe.
Alberto Arecchi, born in 1947, is an architect and professor of Design and history of the Art, in Pavia in Italy, where he lives. He is president of the Cultural Association Liutprand. He has spent fifteen years in Africa working on international development projects. He is the author of many books relating to European History.
Arecchi has also written about Atlantis in Atlantide, Un mondo scomparso, in which he builds on investigations originally begun in the 1920’s by F. Butavand and Jean Gattefosse. Arecchi’s book contains a number of radical ideas:
(i) it supports the theory of an extensive Sicilian land bridge between Europe with Africa,
(ii) it locates Atlantis off the coast of modern Tunisia and
(iii) it posits the existence of a large inland sea, the original Atlantic ‘Sea’, in part of what is now the northern Sahara, where the chotts of Algeria and Tunisia now are.
He claims that all this ended around 1225 BC when seismic activity in the region caused the land bridge to disappear and the dam that contained the inland sea to rupture and Atlantis to vanish. His date is based on the interpretation of Plato’s 9,000 ‘years’ as 9,000 lunar cycles. Arecchi further claims that the Gibraltar Dam was breached around 2500 BC. He also envisages the Maltese Islands connected to both Sicily and Tunisia prior to this breach.
An outline of his understanding of the Atlantis story, in Italian and English, can be found on the Internet(e) in a 2004 paper entitled Empire of Atlantis: From the Mediterranean to the New World, in which he reviews the evidence of Mediterranean influences in the Americas and particularly the work of the controversial Barry Fell.
The suggested Sicilian land bridge was more than a possibility if the Gibraltar Dam was a fact. By cutting off the waters of the Atlantic, desiccation in the Mediterranean would have brought the level of its water below that of the Atlantic, creating at least two very large inland lakes and exposing the Sicilian land bridge. Diaz-Montexano supports the idea of this isthmus or land bridge, an idea reinforced by the comments of both Strato and Seneca.
However,in November 2011, I came across an Italian website(b) that included two articles by Arecchi which offer maps of two different locations for Atlantis. Nave di Atlantide? includes the North African site mentioned above. La Vera Atlantide incorrectly attributes Atlantis as a unified and much enlarged Balearic archipelago to Arecchi. I contacted Professor Arecchi who confirmed that he is only advocating a site 100 miles SE of Malta (see map above). The reference to Mallorca in the other article he attributes to a “free-interpretation” of his only thesis.
Arecchi’s book, referred to above, is now available as a free pdf file(c), unfortunately it is in Italian and pdf files are sometimes difficult to translate. I believe this book to be an important contribution to the Atlantis debate so if I can find an efficient means of translating it, I will post it here. In the meanwhile an abstract of his book, in English, is available online(d).
As a supporter of the idea of Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean, I find Arecchi’s concepts quite credible, although I would like to know more about the scientific evidence underlying them. An English translation of his book would help.
(c) http://www.liutprand.it/Atlantis.pdf (Italian)
René-Maurice Gattefossé (1881-1950) was the brother of Jean Gattefossé. He also wrote about Atlantis in the 1920’s. He was a chemist by profession and is credited with the coining of the term ‘aromatherapy’ in 1937. He had an interest in a number of esoteric subjects and was probably one of the first to suggest that a very ancient civilisation had existed on Antarctica that subsequently spread to Atlantis, which he identified as a large island in the Atlantic. He died in Morocco at the home of his brother, Jean.
Jean Gattefossé (1899-1960) was an advocate of a North African Atlantis and wrote two books on the subject. Earlier Gattefossé together with Claudius Roux published an extensive bibliography in a volume, which contains a list of 1,700 books and articles relating to Atlantis.
According to Atlantisforschung.de(a) Gattefossé wrote to Egerton Sykes in 1959 declaring his belief that the Pillars of Heracles were situated in Tartessos now known as Seville, “where they are a tourist attraction.” The same link has interesting additional information about Jean and his brother René-Maurice.