Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia

Nan Madol ruins on Pohnpei Island (CT Snow/Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0).
Micronesia (Federated States of) (Kolonia, Nett, Palikir)
Location: N6 50 23 E158 19 51
Date of Inscription: 2016
i. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
iii. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
iv. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
vi. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
Property : 76.7 ha
Buffer zone: 664 ha
Ref: 1503
Situated on the densely forested island’s southern coast of Temwen (pronounced chum-one) in the municipality of Madolenihmw, Nan Madol consists of more than 100 man-made islets. It is linked by an extensive network of canals in a lagoon off the south-east coast of Micronesian island of Pohnpei. It was constructed with huge walls of basalt and coral boulders. These islets of giant megalithic structures surround the remains of stone palaces, temples, tombs and residential domains built between 1200 and 1500 CE. These ruins represent the ancient city, capital and ceremonial centre of the Saudeleur dynasty, which ruled the island of Pohnpei during the vibrant period in Pacific Island culture.
The huge scale of the edifices, their technical sophistication and the concentration of megalithic structures bear testimony to complex social and religious practices of the island societies of the period. The origins and construction of Nan Madol is still shrouded in mystery. Some of the basalt rocks making up the base of the structures weigh upwards of 80-90 tons, yet they have been there for over 1000 years, piled neatly on top of each other.
The site’s name means “spaces between,” an allusion to the network of canals that both separate and connect the various structures. When inhabited, each islet had its own distinct purpose. Some were used as royal tombs, hospitals, or for the preparation of food and coconut oil, while others were for the pounding of sakau – the potent form of kava still heartily consumed on Pohnpei today. One islet is even said to have served as kind of ancient stone aquarium housing sea turtles.
A recent geological study found that more than 40 percent of the hexagonal basalt columns at Nan Dowas, the main ceremonial center of Nan Madol, were inexplicably moved from Sokehs on the other side of the island to the ancient city by means which no one has yet been able to convincingly explain. While some archaeologists assert that the remainder of the huge columns were transported from other quarry sites on the island – none of them particularly close by – Pohnpei’s oral history says that all of the rocks and coral boulders came from Sokehs. That, however, has not been geologically proven.

According to Pohnpeian legend, twin sorcerers Olosohpa and Olosihpa built Nan Madol—a sacred space to worship their gods and the seat of the future Saudeleur Dynasty. These brothers used, what local elders refer to as, “black magic” to move the massive basalt stones from one side of the island to the other. Recent archaeological research confirms that the stones are indeed from a quarry in Sokehs, located more than 40 km away from the ruins. Needless to say, many scientists and researchers of Nan Madol still wonder about the “how” behind these structures.

Oct 09 2016 – Rediscovering Nan Madol, the ‘Venice of the Pacific’; Bill Jaynes; Sunday Post

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