Nan Madol Ceremonial Sites Of The Saudeleur Dynasty In Micronesia

The Micronesian island of Pohnpei is home to fascinating ruins.
The Micronesian island of Pohnpei is home to fascinating ruins.

Nan Madol is an important ceremonial and archeological site which serves to shed light on the lives and activities of the members of the Saudeleur Dynasty who ruled this part of the world from the 13th to the 16th century.

5. Description and History

Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, the ruins of Nan Madol are located on the eastern coast of the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. The impressive site is composed of almost a hundred man made islands connected by numerous canals and occupies a space approximately 0.93 miles long and 0.3 miles wide. Nan Madol once served as the political and ceremonial capital of the Saudeleur Dynasty, a civilization that ruled the island from about 1100 to sometime in the 16th century. Composed of bath and meeting houses, temples, and tombs it’s estimated that some one thousand people, made up of mostly the ruling class, once lived in Nan Madol. As well as residential areas, the ruins also include a burial or mortuary sector and a central walled tomb specifically designed for use by members of royalty.

4. Tourism and Education

Nan Madol was named a US National Historic Landmark in 1985 and a UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site in 2016. Due to the deeply rooted religious beliefs of the Saudeleurs the ceremonial ruins are considered to be sacred with many local residents believing it to be haunted. To this day the exact nature of the religious ceremonies which took place in Nan Modal are unknown. In local Pohnpeian language Nan Madol references the site’s many canals and translates to “places in between”. Because of these narrow waterways the site is sometimes called the "Venice of Micronesia". Due to factors such as the remote location of the site, a lack of local resourses such as food and fresh water, as well as disputes as to ownership it’s estimated that under a thousand visitors tour Nan Madol every year.

3. Uniqueness

Nan Madol is unique due to its status as the only known ancient city constructed on top of a coral reef. Such an engineering feat seems a daunting task which must have taken a significant effort over a long period of time. Many modern inhabitants of Pohnpei believe that Nan Madol was constructed by ancient kings using magical powers. Contray to this theory archelogists have surmised that heavy basalt boulders were put on rafts and transported to the site then levered into place using tree trunks. The large stone structures, some 16 meters high, were transported up ramps made of logs and placed on top of one another without the use of mortar.

2. Nature, Sights, and Sounds

Because of the unique geographical location of Nan Madol the ceremonial ruins occupy a distinctively beautiful landscape. In terms of plant growth the dense jungle growth inherient to Nan Madol mixes with mangrove trees as well as well as a variety of tropical scrubs which flourish in the area. The ancient ceremonial landscape is dominated by swamps, waterways, dense forests, lagoons, barrier reefs, and mountainous terrian. Pohnpei's highest peak reaches a height of some 2,595 feet over sea level. Natural material such as basault and coral reef material was also used in the construction of the ceremonial sites of Nan Madol

1. Threats and Conservation Efforts

The 18 square kilometre Nan Madol site is currently considered to be in danger by UNESCO because of environmental threats caused by typhoons, water erosion, and unregulated tree and shrub growth. Both of these factors have resulted in detoriating the integrity of the ancient stone walls and assorted structures. Efforts are underway to ensure preservation of this historic ancient site. A variety of references in pop culture have served to bring attention to and raise awareness of the ruins of Nan Modal. Over the years the location has inspired various works of literature including the short story “The Call of Cthulhu" by American author H.P. Lovecraft..


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