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The Walls of Atlantis
By Doug Fisher

I recently came across an interesting argument claiming that the capital city of Atlantis was unrealistically large based on the diameter of its outermost wall. Relying on the popular interpretation of Plato's account which establishes a fourth circular wall having a diameter of 14.5 miles (23,5 kilometers), the argument was put forth in the form of a simple question:


Figure 1 - Artist's rendition of the capital city of Atlantis depicting the common belief that beyond the three walls of the multi-ringed capital existed a fourth circular wall lying 50 stades (5.7 miles/9,2 km) beyond the outermost ring. The entrance through this wall can be seen in the lower left corner.

"The total area of the royal city of Atlantis (443 sq.km) would have been so great that it exceeded that of today's London with 303 sq.km and 3,2 millions of inhabitants. Atlantis - a city greater than today's London?"

Meanwhile, Jim Allen of 'Atlantis in Bolivia' fame also addresses this fourth wall arguing on his website that the existence of this wall invalidates my proposed location of the capital city in South America's Paraná Delta since the wall would have extended so far out beyond the city complex so as to straddle the very wide confluence of the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers not just once, but twice, which I agree would have proven one of the greatest engineering feats of the past and the most puzzling.

However, the biggest problem with both of these concerns exists at their very core, that an extensive fourth wall was ever truly described. This article addresses this very common misconception that actually originates with the English translation of Plato's account where the translators had a bit of trouble juggling context. Regardless of whether or not Atlantis existed, Critias, the individual providing the original description, would have had a clear vision of what he was attempting to portray, and the following analysis will take a closer look at the text and help convey that original vision.

Here is the passage in dispute:

"[117d] And after crossing the three outer harbors, [117e] one found a wall which began at the sea and ran round in a circle, at a uniform distance of fifty stades from the largest circle and harbor, and its ends converged at the seaward mouth of the channel. The whole of this wall had numerous houses built on to it, set close together; while the sea-way and the largest harbor were filled with ships and merchants coming from all quarters, which by reason of their multitude caused clamor and tumult of every description and an unceasing din night and day." - Critias by Plato; translations by R.G. Bury unless otherwise noted.

It would appear from this translation that Critias was indeed describing a wall that fully encircled the circular capital city, paralleling its outermost ring at a distance of 50 stades (5.7 miles/9,2 km) with the ends of the wall converging at the sea. (Fig. 1) With the multi-ringed city having a diameter of 3.10 miles (5,0 km), this would put the wall at 14.5 miles (23,4 km) in diameter and over 45 miles (72,4 km) in circumference.

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