QuickCheck: Is there a lost city in Johor?

The Linggui Dam area is supposed to be where the lost city of Kota Gelanggi is supposed to be located.

LATE last year, we ran a story concerning the 'lost city' of Lembah Bujang and we received a fair amount of comments disputing it being the oldest and largest “lost city” in the country. The name that kept being brought up was Kota Gelanggi, a legendary lost city deep in the jungles of Johor, somewhere in a forest reserve near the Liggui Dam. To set the record straight, we're taking a dive into the subject, to see if there is any historicity in the claim that Kota Gelanggi exists. Is it true that the lost city of Kota Gelanggi exists?



In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source is an artefact, document, diary or any other piece of evidence that can be tied directly to the subject being studied.

In the case of Kota Gelanggi, this would be a letter written by an ancient merchant while he was actually in the city or if we were to find the city itself, that would be classified as a primary source itself.

Secondary sources are usually documents or recordings that discuss primary sources. They involve generalisation, interpretation, analysis or evaluation of primary sources. These sources could be written hundreds of years after the event and are usually not contemporaneous with it. In Kota Gelanggi's case, its mention in the 17th century Malay literary work Sejarah Melayu would be considered a secondary source.

This article would be considered a tertiary source as it is primarily discussing secondary sources.

In fact, the only evidence we have so far of the city's existence are from secondary sources, such as the aforementioned Sejarah Melayu, and the folk histories of the Orang Asli living in the area.

In fact throughout the years the Orang Asli living in the area have insisted the city did exist and have offered to take explorers there numerous times.

Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt, a colonial administrator, was reported to have said that the Orang Asli in the area were more than willing to take people to the site in the late 1920s.

In the present day, Orang Asli elders from the Lingui Dam area have confirmed its existence and even say they have seen the city first hand.

However, the area is apparently considered pantang (taboo) by the Orang Asli as they say it is full of vengeful spirits and tigers.

According to some sources, the city of Kota Gelanggi was part of the Thai Nakhon Si Tammarat Kingdom (13th century to 1782) and was one of its 12th “Naksat city” - which was a chain of 12 interlinked cities that surrounded and protected the capital of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

In fact, some claim that “Gelanggi” is a mispronunciation of the Thai word Ghlong-Keow or "Box of Emeralds".

However, some scholars say that while the city might have been one of the Naksat cities, Kota Gelanggi itself predates it and is actually from the Gangga Negara era (2nd century to 1025/26) and was raided by the South Indian Chola dynasty conqueror, Rajendra Chola I.

This makes it a very old city, however, not as old as the Bujang Valley complex in Merbok, Kedah which at its most conservative estimate predates Gangga Negara by a good 100 years or so.

All in all, while there is no direct evidence of the city's existence, there is enough secondary evidence to warrant further study.

The location of the city is roughly known and there are people living today who say they have actually seen its ruins so it beggars belief that not more has been done to find Johor's apparent lost city.


1. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2005/02/06/1000yearold-image-of-temple-may-be-that-of-kota-gelanggi/

2. http://www.siamese-heritage.org/jsspdf/1971/JSS_062_1m_ChandChirayuRajani_ReviewArticleBackgroundToSriVijaya.pdf

3. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41502950

4. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/true-or-not/2022/12/26/quickcheck-is-there-a-039lost-city039-in-kedah-larger-than-angkor-wat

5. https://history.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/history_source_types.pdf

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