Atlantis was first described by the Greek philosopher Plato more than 2,000 years ago. While many believe the story is a myth created by Plato to illustrate his theories about politics, others insist it is based on a real historical disaster. According to Plato's account, written around 360BC, Atlantis was a major sea power located in the Atlantic.

It was larger than ancient Libya and Asia Minor (modern Turkey) put together, and was 'the way to the other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent'. His account included detailed descriptions of the island - with mountains in the north and along the coast, and a plain in the south.

Its kings were descended from Poseidon - the god of sea - but their divine lineage became diluted as they mixed with mortals. By around 9600BC the island had conquered much of Western Europe and Africa and enslaved its enemies. This date would make the city nearly as old as the end of the last ice age and pre-dates the earliest recorded city states, found in what is now Iraq, so seems rather unlikely.

After a failed attempt to invade Athens, the entire island sank into the sea 'in a single day and night of misfortune'. Over the centuries, scholars have attempted to locate the real Atlantis - believing the account was based on a real ancient superpower.

One of the most plausible theories is that Plato was describing the Minoan civilisation on Crete and the neighbouring island of Santorini which was devastated by a massive volcanic eruption around 1600BC. Some believe the Atlantis myth was inspired by the Black Sea floods of around 5000BC - an event that may have also generated the flood stories which appeared in the Old Testament.

It has remained a tantalising mystery for thousands of years, but now a U.S. led research team believes it has found the legendary lost city of Atlantis. Scientists claim to have pinpointed the exact location of the metropolis under mud flats in southern Spain.

The team of archaeologists and geologists are convinced that Atlantis -swamped by a tsunami - is submerged just north of Cadize Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford, Connecticut, who led the international team, said: 'This is the power of tsunamis.

'It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that's pretty much what we're talking about.'

The team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site then surveyed it with a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology. Buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park they found a strange series of 'memorial cities,' built in Atlantis' image by the refugees who fled the destructive tsunami. Atlantis residents who did not die built new cities inland, claimed Freund.

The team's findings were unveiled yesterday in Finding Atlantis, a new National Geographic Channel special. Freund said the 'twist' of finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats. He said: 'We found something that no one else has ever seen before, which gives it a layer of credibility, especially for archaeology, that makes a lot more sense.'

Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis some 2,600 years ago, describing it as 'an island situated in front of the straits called the Pillars of Hercules.' These pillars were known as the Straits of Gibraltar in bygone times.Using Plato's detailed account of Atlantis as a map, searches have focused on the Mediterranean and Atlantic as the best possible sites for the city.

Freund says tsunamis in the region have been documented for centuries with one of the largest reported in November 1755 hitting Lisbon with a 10-story tidal wave. Debate about whether Atlantis truly existed has lasted for thousands of years. Plato's 'dialogues' from around 360 B.C. are the only known historical sources of information about the iconic city.

Plato said the island he called Atlantis 'in a single day and night... disappeared into the depths of the sea.' Experts plan further excavations at the site where they believe Atlantis is and at the mysterious 'cities' in central Spain 150 miles away to more closely study geological formations.

Atlantis has been 'discovered' many times in the past. In 1997, Russian scientists claimed to have found it 100 miles off Land's End. Three years later, a ruined town was found under 300ft of water off the north coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. An American architect used sonar in 2004 to reveal man-made walls a mile deep in the Mediterranean between Cyprus and Syria.In 2007, Swedish researchers claimed the city lay on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, which was submerged in the Bronze Age.

And as recently as February of this year, what appeared to be grid-like lines that resembled city streets were spotted on Google Earth - in the ocean off the coast of Africa. Sadly Google itself quickly debunked the suggestion, explaining that the lines were left by a boat as it collected data for the application.