There were some strange lands and places that medieval people thought were real. Sometimes based on legend or literature, it would take centuries and many people searched for them before they realized they never existed. Here is our list of ten medieval places you won’t be able to visit!
The Arthurian Tales had their stories taking place all over Britain – some were loosely based on real places, while others were completely fictional. Camelot first emerged in these stories in the 12th century, and in French works it soon found itself set at the main castle and court for King Arthur himself. While some places have claimed to be the home of Camelot, no evidence has emerged that shows this castle was a real place.
2. The Kingdom of Prester John
In the 12th century, a story emerged that a Christian kingdom existed somewhere in Asia and that its ruler Prester John was fighting the Muslims and pagans in an effort to help the Christians of Europe. The idea may have emerged from garbled reports of various wars in the East and the fact that a large Christian population – the Nestorians – lived throughout Asia.
Once it became clear that no such land existed in Asia, a new version of the legend had Prester John coming from around Ethiopia, which had its own Christian ruler.
Medieval people reported the existence of various islands that existed in the Atlantic Ocean – while map-makers often included them, these phantom islands never existed. The most well-known of these Hy-Brasil, which was said to be located to the west of Ireland. Legends told that it was cloaked in mist, except for one day every seven years. People searched for this island (with several claiming to have found it) until the 19th century.
A few different comedic tales from the Middle Ages made use of the ‘Land of Cockaigne’ a utopian place where people could just sit around and do no work, have lots of sex and eat what they want – it even rained cheese! This parody of Heaven would eventually be known in English as “Cuckoo-land”.
Ancient authors wrote about an island called Thule, which was said to be northwest of Europe. With the discovery of Iceland in the ninth century, some writers equated this with Thule, but others continued to believe that another island, somewhere north of Britain also existed.
From the 9th to the 13th century there are various references to a place called Kvenland, located somewhere in Scandinavia. A Norwegian traveller named Ohthere who visited England around 890 CE reported that:
The Kvens sometimes make depredations on the Northmen over the mountain, and sometimes the Northmen on them; there are very large meres [freshwater] amongst the mountains, and the Kvens carry their ships over land into the meres, and thence make depredations on the Northmen; they have very little ships, and very light.
Historians have come up with many theories of where Kvenland might have been, with one likely candidate being somewhere in what is now northern Finland.
7. Suddene, Westernesse and Reynes
The author of the Middle English romance King Horn created three fictional lands for his work – Suddene, Westernesse and Reynes – which were vaguely placed around the British Isles.
8. Gates of Alexander
Medieval legends emerged telling of how Alexander the Great built some great wall or gate in the Caucasus region to prevent the Biblical enemies, Gog and Magog, and other barbarians from invading the civilized world. It was even believed that if these races broke through the Gate, it would signal the Apocalypse. Some historians believe that the legend may have been based on the fortress and walls of Derbent, which was built in the sixth century.
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, written in the 14th century, was a very popular source of information about the world. However, it included strange tales of what could be found in the lands of Asia. For example, Mandeville wrote about a large island called Dundeya, which he said was south of Sri Lanka. This island ruled over another 54 large islands, which were home to diverse peoples:
In one, there is a race of great stature, like giants, foul and horrible to look at; they have one eye only, in the middle of their foreheads. They eat raw flesh and raw fish. In another part, there are ugly folk without heads, who have eyes in each shoulder; their mouths are round, like a horseshoe, in the middle of their chest. In yet another part there are headless men whose eyes and mouths are on their backs….
10. Saint Brendan’s Island
Like Hy-Brasil, St.Brendan’s Island was one of the many phantom islands that one can find in medieval maps. It was based on the 9th-century story of the Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator – it tells of how in the 6th century St. Brendan and 16 other men travelled by sea looking for the Garden of Eden. Eventually, they came across a ‘blessed’ island full of vegetation, where they stayed for some days. By the later Middle Ages, mapmakers were placing this island in the Atlantic, sometimes off the northwest coast of Africa.