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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Philippine Atlantis: The Lost Island of San Juan


We all have read the story behind the mysterious disappearance of some famous cities in the world. The Lost City of Z, in Mato Grosso region of Brazil, Lost City of Atlantis," one terrible night of fire and earthquakes" which caused the city to sank into the sea, as the Great Philosopher Plato has described. The lost kingdom of Lyonesse was a mass of land in Britain's Isles of Sicily. The Golden City of El Dorado, which people searched in the countries, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and northern Brazil, also known as the Kingdom of Gold. And The Lost City of Kalahari in Southern Africa.

Lost Island of San Juan, Philippine Atlantis
Image: Philippine Lifestyle News
Cities that were lost, never found and remained a mystery. With the rich culture Philippines have, unique traditions and beautiful geography, it is also covered with unexplainable mysteries. One is the Lost Island of San Juan (St. John) in the northeastern tip of Mindanao.


During the 16th to 18th century, records show the existence of the Island of San Juan in the map. But it was in the map designed by Murillo Velarde in 1734, that the Island mysteriously vanished. Cartographers made some documentation through the maps they created throughout the years; it was believed to be bigger than Bohol or as big as Panay Island, was part of the Mindanao mainland.

In the year 1537, an old map made by cartographer Gaspar Vargas labelled it as the Island of San: Joā which soon was known by the Portuguese. It was also identified as the town of Cebu in the year 1570 by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius in his work Asiae Nova Descripto.

Years later, in 1601 map of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas printed in Madrid—"Historia General de Los Hechos de Los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano" recorded that the Island got separated from the northeastern of Mindanao.

Since then, the Island of San Juan was included in the map made by Sir Robert Dudley (1646, Dell'Arcano del Mare, Florence), Dutchman Jan Janssonius (1656), and Vincenzo Coronelli (1690).

Lost Island of San Juan, Philippine Atlantis
Image: Ayala Museum, Twitter 
And in the year 1750, a French cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin completed the Philippine map, and the Island of San Juan was still shown. Although dozens of maps recorded the very existence of the Island, it was last seen on a British map of Herman Moll in the 18th century and last heard from the friar-chroniclers Buzueta and Bravo in the same year, after that it got wiped-out from the succeeding published Philippine map.


Theories, opinions, thoughts, insights and rumours arose on the mysterious disappearance of the Island. Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, an antique map collector, thought that it was swallowed by the sea like what happened to the lost city of Atlantis, or shaken by an earthquake.

One idea raised was that through river bifurcation of Agusan River, which was drawn by old cartographers, separated Mindanao and San Juan, and silted reattaching the islands which map makers recognize San Juan as a part of the peninsula not and Island.


In the second edition of the book Philippine Cartography written by great Filipino historian Carlos Quirino the map crafted by Herrera in 1601 and afterwards, du Val, Dudley, Sanson, Tirion, Coronelli, Hondius, Janssonius derived their maps and said that Island of San Juan was a made-up island, just based on imagination.

But in 1665, Antonio Pucini identified San Juan as San Sio (Siargao in the present day) through the cartographic board game he created. Although there is a probability that it is true, it was not given any credit since it was just a board game and did not support details. Therefore, the puzzle of the missing Island went on for years.

Lost Island of San Juan, Philippine Atlantis
Image: FilipiKnow
Finally, years after years, Jesuit maps were drawn and gave us more precise documentation, which supports the theory of Antonio Pucini in his board game. Islas Carolinas, the scattered archipelago of tiny islands in the western Pacific Ocean was said to be situated where the Island of San Juan was allegedly located. Which was supported by the maps inhabitants of Islas Carolinas (Caroline Island) provided.


The two islands were listed, Palau and Sonsorol, located off the northeast side of Mindanao, the apparent location of Island of San Juan. Lies at the latitude of 5-6o, the said location of the Island of San Juan, has the same area as of Sonsorol according to the Genoese navigator, Antonio Gavāo.

Beliefs have said, and documentations were shown. Unlike the famous lost cities in the world that were lost and never found, Island of San Juan was an exception, what a whimsical quirk of faith, the true identity of the Island, Siargao Island—now known for its tremendous and amazing waves, a misplaced Micronesian archipelago.

Written by Kris De Vera Estrella, IFY Books

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