Facts about Nan Madol

19 facts about Nan Madol

Venice of the Pacific

Nan Madol is a medieval city located on one of the islands of the Micronesia Archipelago, in the Pacific Ocean. This relic of distant history has nothing to do with the ancient past of the Mediterranean shores or closer artifacts of Asian culture. Nan Madol as the first cultural object in the Pacific island areas has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and only now has the chance to reach the consciousness of people around the world.
Nan Madol is located on the island of Pohnpein, the main island of the Micronesian state of Pohnpein.
The island is inhabited by the majority of the population of the state, about 34,000 people. It belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia and is the most cosmopolitan of the islands belonging to the federation. The island has both the state capital (Kolonia) and the capital of Micronesia (Palikir).
Nan Madol is built on 100 artificial islets formed on the reef, separated by canals.
The detailed city maps contain 16 names of islands and islets. Among them, Nan Douvas draws attention, where the highest wall of the entire complex is rising. Behind it there are four crypts in which the kings of the Saudeleur dynasty and their successors Nahnmwarkis were buried.
The islets form a complex which is divided into two parts: Madol Powe and Madol Pah.
Madol Powe - upper Nan Madol, occupies the north-eastern part of the complex and contains a large number of smaller islets, while Madol Pah, i.e. the lower Nan Madol (southwestern part of the city) is characterized by larger islands, in a smaller number.
We have only an approximate idea of the size of Nan Madol, the full size of this city was hidden for centuries by the mangrove forest.
The entire city area was protected by a coastal band, behind which were islands that formed the necropolis and residential settlement, as well as temples and monuments that symbolized power.
Construction of the city probably began around 1200 CE and consumed about 630 thousand tons of basalt.
Basalt was probably transported from another part of the island, because there is no quarry near the city.
The size of islets ranges from 160 to 12,7 thousand m2  and the total building area is 750 000 m2.
The islands are made of coral pebbles and basalt boulders, which are surrounded and strengthened with basalt columns weighing from 0.5 to 5 tons. The boulders were laid in layers and formed foundations up to 2 m thick. The external wall was made of boulders weighing 50-60 tons.
According to the calculations of the scientists, the structures were erected by the effort of a huge number of workers during several hundred years.
The creation of such a complex should take about 200-300 years of continuous, almost every day labor of the entire archipelago population.
The builders of Nan Madol did not use pulleys, levers or metal tools.
This means that to build a city they had to move almost 2000 tons of stone per year for over 300 years.
There are no written sources about the history of the island, it is known only from oral transmissions.
The history of Pohnpei is divided into four periods: the period of people, the period of Saudeleurs, the period of Nahmark and the period of foreigners. The island was inhabited about 2,500 years ago by settlers who came to the island gradually, using canoes.
Agricultural communities formed over time united around the 10th-12th centuries under the leadership of the chief, the so-called Saudeleur.
And it was the Saudeleurs who began building Nan Madol around 1200 CE. The Saudeleur dynasty was the first organized government to unite the Pohnpei population, ruling from around 1000 to 1628. They ruled with a strong hand, pulling tribute from the rest of the island's society to maintain Nan Madol.
Nan Madol was the elite residence of the nobility who took care of the burial and funerary activities guided by priests.
The population of the city was about 1,000 people, although it is recently assumed that it never exceeded 500 people.
The name of the city of Nan Madol means "spacing between", which probably refers to the channels between the islets.
Nan Madol is not the original name of the island, the original name is Reef of Heavens.
Each island served different purpose.
Some prepared food, others built canoes or extracted coconut oil. One of the islands served as a royal funeral home. The small island of Idehd was a religious center. Ritual ceremonies led by priests  were held here.
Thirty-four islands formed an administrative center, and also houses of aristocracy.
On a separate island were the residences of Saudeleur and his family.
Two islands were intended for holy eels.
One had a holy eel that was fed with turtles' guts. The second holy eel was kept on an island where clams were bred.
Legend says that the first rulers of the city were brothers Ohlosohpa and Ohlosihwa, who reached the island in the company of gods.
The brothers were newcomers from a distant land south of Pohnpei. They arrived with 17 men and women in a large boat, looking for a place to settle. Their appearance was different from the natives, especially the height - they were very tall.
The natives described the brothers as "witches" because according to stories from local people, they were supposed to raise huge megaliths with the help of a "flying dragon". The brothers ruled wisely and fairly, but their successors treated the natives as slaves, forcing them to work, collecting high commissions in the form of agricultural produce and fish. Over the years, a noble class emerged from the descendants of the newcomers and natives who entered into family ties with the new arrivals. Olosohpa himself married a local woman and started a dynasty of 16 successive rulers.
It is surprising that an island was chosen as the city's construction site, where there is no access to drinking water or arable land.
Everything had to be delivered from outside.
One of the Oceania researchers, who was the first to describe Nan Madol  at the end of the 19th century was the Polish ethnographer Jan Kubary.
On the basis of oral stories of islanders who still remembered the names of individual islets of Nan Madol, German ethnographer and archaeologist Paul Hambruch in 1910 made a map of the islets.