The Sacred Moray Eel of Nan Madol

Nan Madol is an impressive architectural wonder featuring complex stone buildings, canals, and pools. In this Micronesian version of Venice, huge basalt columns, each weighing several tons, are meticulously placed to construct impressive megalithic platforms and temples on numerous small islands, evoking amazement and admiration. Located amidst the Pacific Ocean and encompassed by mangrove forests, this archeological site holds the same level of significance as the pyramids.

The Sacred Eel of Nan Madol
Nan Madol, during the time it was still inhabited, was also home to a mysterious sacred eel

The Megalithic Venice of Micronesia

In the center of Nan Madol are man-made islands built with great care using large basalt stones brought from far away quarries. The technique used to move and pile the stone blocks at Nan Madol still baffles experts.

Sacred Eel of Nan Madol: Archaeological Mysteries of the Pacific
The ancient city of Nan Madol consists of 92 islands
(By CT Snow from Hsinchu, Taiwan - the ruins of Nan Madol in Pohnpei, CC BY 2.0)

The main island of Nan Madol is called Pan Kadir, and it was the seat of all kings who ruled the archipelago. Islanders translate its name as "Place of Proclamations," but it can also mean a "Forbidden City" or "The Protection of Taboo." Nan Madol itself can be translated as the Place of Spaces because Madol in the Micronesian language means narrow space or gap.

The Megalithic City of Giant Columns 

The Religion of Nan Madol: The Worship and Cult of the Sacred Eel
Nan Madol is the biggest archaeological site of the Pacific
(By CT Snow from Hsinchu, Taiwan - Nan Madol ruins in Pohnpei, CC BY 2.0)

Columnar basalt, a type of volcanic rock that naturally forms in hexagonal or polygonal columns, is the primary material used in constructing Nan Madol. These stone columns made of basalt were extracted from different spots on Pohnpei Island, and were subsequently moved to the location using advanced but unidentified methods. Local folklore claims that this feat was accomplished with the help of magic.

One theory suggests that the basalt quarries were situated in U and Sokhes on Pohnpei island, over 13 kilometers from Nan Madol. According to reports, the builders of Nan Madol transported stone blocks through great distances by dragging them behind rafts (likely under the water surface), circling the entire island, and then moving them up with the help of inclined ramps to the desired construction site. While this theory may seem intriguing, it has not been proven yet.

How Was Nan Madol Built? Exploring Unknown Technologies and the Cult of the Sacred Eel
Nan Madol is a built from basalt columns
(By Patrick Nunn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The basalt columns are arranged in a horizontal manner similar to timber logs in classic log cabins, with each layer placed at a right angle to the previous layer, forming a crisscross design. This smart technique enables the building of tall walls and structures by ensuring structural stability and strength.

The outer walls of Nan Madol are remarkably massive, with heights that can reach 16 feet (4.9 meters) and widths that extend up to 17 feet (5.2 meters). 

The Real World of Earthsea

Mysterious Site of the Pacific and Micronesia: Nan Madol, What We Know

Nan Madol is composed of around 92 man-made islets. The islets differ in their sizes and shapes, forming a complicated network linked by a canal system, similar to streets.

Small groups of islands branch out from the center, each with its own distinct buildings that serve various purposes. The clusters are organized in a slightly concentric formation, with the main ceremonial space at the center. 

A collection of seawalls made from large basalt stones encircles the entire complex, offering a defense against the waves from the ocean.

Nan Madol's 92 Islands 

In Nan Madol, many small islands were inhabited by priests who carried out various tasks such as cooking, building canoes, and making coconut oil. Every island had its own unique function: Dapahu was used for making food and building canoes, while Peinering was exclusively for making coconut oil. The islets of Peinkitel, Karian, and Lemenkou had taller walls surrounding graves. Standing out among the others was Nandauwas, with walls ranging from 5.5 to 7.5 meters (18 to 25 feet) high surrounding a central tomb in the main courtyard, built for the initial Saudeleur. Nandauwas offered spectacular views of the nearby islets and canals, representing the power of the Saudeleur dynasty in the area. 

Of course, Nan Madol did not have access to fresh water and food; Pohnpeians provided essential supplies of food and water to Nan Madol by boat as tribute while the Saudeleur dynasty was in power.

Mysterious pools

Mysterious and Unexplained Architectural Feature of Nan Madol: Water Pools
Nan Madol is full of pools, the purpose of some of which is unknown
(By Uhooep - Own work,  CC BY-SA 4.0)

Multiple pools and reservoirs are strategically incorporated into the architectural design of the Nan Madol complex. A lot of these pools were utilized to collect rainwater, as Nan Madol does not have any natural springs or wells. Nevertheless, the purpose of a few of them remains unknown. According to local folklore, the pool next to the main ceremonial site was home to a sacred creature, specifically a sacred moray eel, that received offerings. Later on, in a standalone paragraph,  we will provide a more in-depth discussion about this revered eel.

The early legendary history of Nan Madol

The beginnings of Nan Madol are still unknown as there are no written records to provide clarity. In order to understand the origins of this mysterious site, we must look at local stories and legends. Archeology has revealed to us that Nan Madol's construction started in the 8th century AD and lasted for many centuries, reaching its height in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Besides that, nothing else.

The Tale of Two Brothers

Nan Madol was founded by two brothers, Olosohpa and Olosihpa, of unknown origin
Nan Madol was founded by two brothers, Olosohpa and Olosihpa, of unknown origin

Legend has it that the origin of Nan Madol starts with two brothers, Olosohpa and Olosihpa, arriving from a mysterious land. They spoke an unfamiliar language and looked different from the native Nan Madolians. Brothers reportedly arrived at Nan Madol in search of the perfect location to worship their god Nahnisohn Sahpw, who appeared in the form of a sea eel.

These brothers were allegedly skillful magicians able to move stones with magic. With the help of their magical powers, they started constructing the intricate network of islets and stone structures that would later form Nan Madol. The brothers worked tirelessly, moving massive basalt stones from distant quarries and stacking them with precision to form the platforms and buildings. 

According to legend, before settling in Nan Madol, they tried three different locations around the island, which were later abandoned.

Firstly, they chose the plain near the banks of the Sokhes. However, this place did not suit them for very long. They therefore set out to build a city in a place called Nette, which was also abandoned.  Then in the U region, but even that did not meet their expectations.

Exploring Submerged Islands in Nan Madol: Underwater Archaeology
“The Cliff Of the Heavenly Sun“

 Finally, the brothers set their eyes on the coast of southern Ponape, on a cliff that they began to call “The Cliff of the Heavenly Sun.“ On the foundation of “The Cliff Of the Heavenly Sun“, submerged in the sea, they constructed their massive work, comprising ninety-two artificial islands. Certainly not alone. Tens of thousands of workers had to build the islands. Their work involved gradually raising one artificial island after another from the sea, and constructing buildings on them according to a precise plan. This monumental task took years, possibly even decades, to reach completion.

The Kings of Nan Madol: Saudeleurs

After many years, one of these brothers, Olosipa, passed away, and the other brother assumed the role of a dictator, a sole ruler with absolute power. He then added the royal title to his name. From then on, he was known as the Saudeleur, the ruler of Deleura (Deleur being the customary name for the area where the Nan Madol complex is located). He became the first monarch of the entire island. 

Unexplained Nan Madol Building Technology: The Mystery of Ancient Times
Architecture of Nan Madol is monumental without comparison in all Pacific region
(By Uhooep - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

After the first Saudeleur, there were always others. Always the sons of the previous ruler. According to tradition, there were a total of 16 Saudeleurs at Nan Madol. Some Saudeleurs became known for their good deeds, but many of them were known rather for their bad deeds. For example, Olosop's great-grandson Sakone Muei won the epithet Terrible as Ivan the Terrible. He introduced the death penalty for those who consumed food, including fish and other sea animals designated exclusively for the Saudeleurs. Similarly, the Saudeleur Saraiden Sap instructed the inhabitants of the island to present the first fruit, the initial harvest of any crop, to the rulers of Nan Madol.

Basalt Stones of Nan Madol: Unexplained Technology and Ancient Aliens
The highest walls of Nan Madol stand at approximately 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall, towering over humans walking closely by
(By Patrick Nunn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Saudeleurs became increasingly tyrants and unstable, sparking a resistance movement. According to legend, the destruction of the Saudeleurs, but also of Nan Madol itself, came from the neighboring island of Kosrae. A certain man named Isokelekal, who considered himself a descendant of the god of thunder, gathered three hundred and thirty-three of the best men and went to Nan Madol, specifically to the region of U. There, he asked the local inhabitants what they thought about the rulers of the island and came to the conclusion, that people generally dislike Saudelers tyranny and would welcome a new king.

The End of Nan Madol

Isokeleke conquered Nan Madol by using the Trojan War ploy. Isokelekel appeared at the gates of Nan Madol with his retinue and introduced himself as a prince from a distant land appealing to Saudeleur hospitality. The ruler of Nan Madol accepted Isokeleke on the condition that if they wanted to stay on the island, they must lay down all their weapons. Isokelekel agreed, however, he concealed the additional weapons on the nearby island. 

One night, Isokelekel's retinue overpowered Nan Madola guards by seizing the hidden weapons and launching an attack. Despite Saudeleur managing to escape with most of his servants, his departure from Nan Madol triggered a civil war on the island. Following numerous battles, Isokelekel emerged victorious by defeating the troops of the last of Saudeleur. Desperate to evade Isokelekel's soldiers and humiliating fate, Salauder sought refuge in the mountains and miraculously transformed himself into a fish at a waterfall to elude his pursuers. Legend has it that the last Salauder persists as a fish on the island even today.

After Isokelekel's death, his son ascended the throne of Nan Madol, but he no longer used the title Salauder, instead he called himself Nanmarki. After a time, Nan Madol was also gradually abandoned by Isokelekel's descendants, who moved rather to the mainland, and since then Nan Madol has been the city of ghosts as we know it today.

Many Mysteries of Nan Madol

Next to the island of Pan Kadir, the residence of Salauders, lies Crocodile Island, where the highest royal official, some form prime minister, lived. The island of Crocodiles features a large stone courtyard where visitors had to disarm before proceeding further. Furthermore, only men had permission to continue further. Nearby is the royal pool, where, according to legend, the Sauledeurs used to bathe. However, instead of saltwater, fresh mountain stream water was brought to them daily in bags for bathing.

The Sacred Eel of Nan Madol and the Turtle Island 

At a distance of 10 meters from the island of Crocodiles lies another island called the Turtle island. Several mysterious water tanks have been preserved here. The largest water structure on the island is the Nan Weias reservoir, which held significant importance. 

The Religious Beliefs of Nan Madol: Cult of Sea Turtles
One of the islands of Nan Madol bears the name Turtle Island

Sea turtles were kept there due to their crucial role in the religious rituals of Nan Madol. One more thing is worth mentioning, on the island of Turtles,  there is visible a peculiarly shaped rock that has the exact shape of a turtle. Just a pure coincidence?

The raised turtles were transported from the island of Turtles to another nearby island known as the island of Eel (Ided).

If Crocodile Island was the administrative center of Nan Madol, then Eel Island was undoubtedly its religious center. The most important ceremonies occurred in the inner sanctuary, which measured twenty-five by twenty meters. In a hidden underground chamber with a small surface opening, a large moray eel was housed. The eel was regularly feed by the turtle meat, which the priests were preparing for him in the oven in the western part of the island. 

Megalithic Tombs and Underwater Pools of Nan Madol: Sacred Geometry
In the underground pool, reached by steep steps, resided the sacred eel

The American Smithsonian expedition of 1963 used a sample from one of Nan Madol's oven to determine its earliest historical date. A sample measured with radioactive carbon showed that ovens were demonstrably used as early as 1285.

Once the turtle meat was cooked to perfection, it was presented to the eel. If the eel refused the meat, it was seen as a signal of displeasure from the god, namely Nahnisohn Sahpw. That's why they asks the eel for forgiveness for themselves, then for the Sauleders, and finally for the people.

Even after the fall of the Sauledeurs, the worship of the sacred eel was preserved for a while. Inside the sanctuary, the eel then guarded the javelins and three hundred and thirty-seven enchanted stones belonging to Isokel's retinue.

However, after the gradual abandonment of Nan Madola by Isokelekel's descendants, the worship of sacred moray eel ended. What happened to the eel is unknown. Whether he returned to the sea or just passed away because the delivery of turtles ceased we can only theorize.


Nan Madol, this Venice of the Pacific is full of secrets. Nan Madol continues to defy the explanation.The enigmatic vibe it gives off is a powerful indication of hidden mysteries waiting to be unearthed within our collective past. By highlighting the significance of animals in this ancient complex, we demonstrate the profound connection between humans and animals that has persisted in various forms throughout human history. Whether it's at home or on distant islands in the middle of the ocean.


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