Since 2008 artist and bell-maker Marcus Vergette has been developing the multi-site installation series Time and Tide Bells in various coastal spots across the UK. The installations consist of two bells, one upside down on top of the other, set up in tidal zones so that the waves ring the lower bell during high tide. The work references the many legends of sunken cities of which the church bells can allegedly be heard ringing on the coast on certain sundays. (see also the post here)
In 2010 the project installed also a bell in London. Meanwhile there are seven other “Time and Tide Bells”installed across the island. You can check for the locations here.
A common theme in Northern European flood myths are the church bells of submerged cities. This motive can be found all along the ccoasts of Brittany, Wales, England, Germany and Poland. The popular folk song “Bells of Aberdovey” relates to the legend of the sunken kingdom Gwydneu (more commonly known as Cantr’er Gwaelod) off the coast of Wales. The song is most likely not an original folksong at all but a composition from 1785 for an English Opera with lyrics in English not Welsh. The today popular Welsh version was first printed in 1905.
About the motif of submerged bells see also the art installation by Marcus Vergette in this post.
A Welsh legend tells the story of the sunken land Gwydneu (also known as “Gwydno” and later Cantre’r Gwaelod, “antref Gwaelod”, “Cantref y Gwaelod” and in English “: “The Lowland Hundred”) off the coast of Wales, UK.
It first appears in the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin, considered to be the oldest book written in Welsh and dating from the middle of the 13. Century. Several later and differing versions of the legend exist. But as the BBC here writes:
“Whichever version of the legend you choose, it is said that if you listen closely you can hear the bells of the lost city ringing out from under the sea, especially on quiet Sunday mornings, and particularly if you’re in Aberdyfi [also known as Aberdovy], which is famous in Welsh folk legend as being the nearest place on dry land to Cantre’r Gwaelod.”
Here is the poem from the “Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin” in a modern English translation. The name “Seithenin” in the first line refers to one of two sons of the legendary ruler of Gwydneu, Gwyddno Garanhir. It was the princes’ duty to guard the floodgates that protected the low lying land:
Seithenhin, stand thou forth, And behold hte billowy rows; The sea has covered the plain of Gwydneu.
Accursed be the damsel, Who, after the wailing, Let loose the Fountain of Venus, the raging deep.
Accursed be the maiden, Who, after the conflict, let loose The fountain of Venus, the desolating sea.
A great cry from the roaring sea arises above the summit of the rampart, To-day even to God does the supplication come! Common after excess there ensues restraint.
A cry from the roaring sea overpowers me this night, And it is not easy to relieve me; Common after excess succeeds adversity.
A cry from the roaring sea comes upon the winds; The mighty and beneficent God has caused it! Common after excess is want.
A cry from the roaring sea Impels me from my resting-place this night; Common after excess is far-extending destruction.
The grave of Seithenhin the weak-minded Between Caer Cenedir and the shore Of the great sea and Cinran.
FloodZone is an ongoing photographic series by Anastasia Samoylova, responding to the environmental changes in coastal cities of South Florida. The project began in Miami in 2016, when Samoylova moved to the area and experience living in a tropical environment for the first time. The works display in an impressive way the ambivalences and the fluid frontiers between city and sea in a community exposed to frequent floodings. I am particularly impressed who artist Samoylova expands the topic and visual themes onto popular imagery and the everyday in the urban scenerie.
The producers write on their website: “What do you get when you combine underwater fantasy with SCUBA technology? Why, you get mermaids, gliding and twirling to the soundtrack of children’s fairy tales or popular music. […] In the shows the mermaids (and mermen — called princes) discreetly take mouthfuls of air from the slender breathing tubes while they perform. Even with the air tubes, though, it’s clear that part of being a mermaid is being able to hold your breath for quite a while.”
Interestingly, the audience is seated in a giant glass tank, turning the concept of aquarium inside-out: “The mermaids are swimming in a natural spring; the 500-seat theater is embedded in the side of the spring 16 feet below the surface.”
The park is a business venture by the famous performer and sports swimmer Newt Perry, a former Navy soldier who became a celebrity by appearing in over 100 of filmmaker Grantland Rice‘s “Sportlight” short films over a period of three decades. Newt Perry, once dubbed “The Human Fish”, went on to became a much sought-after film advisor for Hollywood.
“The stories from Haida Gwaii and Aboriginal Australia neatly illustrate the three main sources of information from which we can today discover details about once-inhabited, now-underwater lands: science, memory and myth. Each can be complementary, meaning that when they are read correctly they may yield information that is unique. But, of course, if we are biased, even subconsciously, and demean or dismiss things like memory and myth because we do not know how to interrogate them, then we are likely to end up with an incomplete picture of the past. The purpose of this book is to try to rectify the situation, to demonstrate that each of these three information sources is potentially valid, something that gives a roundness to the past, a multidimensionality to history that personalises it and makes it more relevant to us today.
For now, perhaps more than ever before, the past is relevant to the future. In a world where we are confronted by global change that is as contemptuous of human endeavour and individual aspiration as it is dismissive of political borders and agendas, understanding how our ancestors were affected by comparable changes and how they overcame these is at once a lesson in coping as well as a beacon of hope.”
Australian Geographer Patrick Nunn opens a book of his with the following story told by a Chief of the Haida people of Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands).
“Young recalled, his people lived in northwest Haida Gwaii in a large village across from Frederick Island. One day, a group of children playing on the beach noticed a stranger some distance away, wearing a fur cape of a kind never before seen in Haida lands. Running up to her, one cheeky boy lifted the cape to expose the stranger’s back, the sight of which made the children laugh and jeer.
After the adults called their children away, the woman went to sit alone on the sand near the ocean’s edge. The water rose to her feet, so she got up and moved a little distance up the beach. The water again reached her feet and so it went on until the ocean had climbed higher than ever before. It became clear to the Haida that their homes would shortly be flooded, so in panic they tied logs together to make rafts and, taking to the ocean, were able to save themselves.
Young explained that because these crude rafts could not be steered, each drifted to a different place, a story that could be a distant memory of the time — thousands of years ago — when the first Haida peoples are known to have been dispersed by the rising of the ocean level here.”
Patrick Nunn goes on to conclude: “Young’s story can be read as myth, especially the detail about the stranger and the unfamiliar fur cape she wore. […] But ist is also science, a distant echo of ancient people’s explanations of what happenend to them […] 12.700 years ago.”
Patrick Nunn stresses the point that stories llike these must have been passed on orally for around 500 generations, an astonishing cultural achievement that defys the notion of oral culture as short-lived or deficiant. See also this article by Nunn for aeon.co magazine here.
The Belgian animation movie and comic book from 1972 and 1973 is set around an artificial lake in a fictious mountain state in the Balkans. We do not learn much about the history of the lake but Tintin explains during the landing flight that a whole town had to be evacuated in order to create the lake. We also learn that the locals think of the lake as a bad place or as cursed, implying that the flooding was not at all desirable, possibly it was experienced as an act of cruelty and arrogance towards the local population.
As Tintin finds out eventually the buildings of this submerged town now serve as hideaway for the story’s villain.
Later in the story, there is a submarine chase in the town’s streets. The movie makes much humorous use of the strange intactness of the architecture of the submerged city, for example when Capt. Haddock in his submarine ponders over a “Do not enter”-street sign whether to ignore it or not. In the comic book, Haddock cusses at the other submarine just like a typical driver in any city traffic:
This illustrates quite well the peculiar condition and uncanny of submerged cities.
At the climax of the plot, the submerged town is once again destroyed, this time by explosives set within the villain’s hideaway. In an interesting revearsal of the function of a flood meter above water, the explosives are triggered by a flood meter, measuring the rise of the water entering into the building that is below the lake’s surface. When the room become fully flooded, the buildings of the submerged town explode, sending a massive tsunami-like wave across the lake’s surface.
This probably mirrors and repeats the situation the town got submerged in originally. And it signals the second and presumably final destruction of the town.
This classic Tintin comic story around an underwater city in a lake appeared first as a movie and a year later as a comic book. While the movie poster displayed various imaes from the movie in a rather playful manner, the first french language book edition had a much more dramatic cover, clearly shifting the focus of the story towards disaster narrative.
The movie poster from 1972:
The cover of the Belgian comic book from 1973:
At least two other covers appeared for different editions of the story:
In the Belgian classic comic series Blake and Mortimer there appeared in 1955 an adventure set in the mythical city Atlantis. It’s the seventh story in the series which started in 1950.
What I find noteworthy is that the city Atlantis here undergoes several metamorphosis: It was once a city (and state) on land. It then got submerged due to seismic events. The citizens however survived and formed a new community in a subterranean system of caves. In the story this “new” Atlantis gets flooded and destroyed once again and the citizens evacuate once more, this time into space.
Since the plot is quite complicated, I mostly quote here from the respective wikipedia entry.
Professor Philip Mortimer takes his vacation to São Miguel, an island of the Azores. In a cave in the extinct volcanoe Sete Cidades he finds a radioactive rock and cannot help making a rapprochement with the orichalcum mentioned by Plato, the mysterious metal of Atlantis.
The comic then tells the following version of the myth:
12,000 years ago, Atlantis ruled the world from an island in the middle of the Atlantic (an island of the Azores) . But the collision between Earth and a huge celestial body caused the immersion of the continental coasts and island. The few survivors of the Atlantean civilization then decided to build a new and secret Atlantis in the bowels of the Earth. Since then, the Atlanteans, much more evolved than the inhabitants of the surface thanks to the immense energy source that constitutes the orichalcum, watching the surface of the Earth thanks to what earthlings call flying saucers.
Blake and Mortimer climb down into a labyrinth of caves and eventually arrive in Poseidopolis, the capital of subterranean Atlantis. Here they get caught in a political uprising to overthrow the royal reign of the state. The uprising results in disaster: Atlantis is flooded a second time, when the flood gates that hold back the ocean are accidently opened. The monarchy then engages the evacuation that had been planned for a long time: the departure of the Atlanteans to another planet with an armada of spaceships. While the Atlanteans prepare to join other skies, the other ethnos of this subterranean world, the so called barbarians, are facing extinction in the rising waters. Blake and Mortimer are released and evacuated by a submarine. Back on land, on the shores of the caldera of Sete Cidades, they attend the majestic departure of Atlantean ships inot the sky.
The connection between the submarine and outerspace was not an uncommon one in the 1950s as Helen M. Rozwadowski explains in her essay on submarine utopias in the 20. Century. Both – the deep sea and outerspace – held promises of alternate existences for an otherwise doomed human civilization. This also becomes evident in the oeuvre of one of sci-fi’s most important authors, Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote three volumes of non fiction books about the Great Barrier Reef. See my post on Rozwadowski’s essay here.
Original vesion of the comic book in french language here.