Diving Into the Past: Greece’s Underwater Treasures
Water and Greece are seemingly the same side of the coin. The role of water and the seas is inextricably linked to the country, known as the seafaring nation. The ancient Greeks had to be masters of the sea in order to conquer the last frontiers. And that they did become. And even now with Greece the single biggest player in commercial shipping, the seas are revered and respected. The relationship is a deep and mysterious one.
As such, it comes as no surprise to find out that Greece is in fact the world’s biggest shipwreck junkyard, with an estimated 1,500 of them scattered around the country’s coast. Greece is teeming with underwater antiquities. So much so, that scuba diving around areas of interest was prohibited to the general public for fear of looting and damage. It wasn’t until the middle noughties that legislation relaxed and some contingencies were set up. And they are starting to bear fruit.
The first one up is in Crete; Olous. Fittingly, too, as it’s the Minoan civilization that first sprung up from the deep Med as the first ever structured settlement of its kind. Situated in the popular Elounda, this underwater city was once a pulsating center of Minoan trade and crafts. Once the low tide comes around the ancient city walls are uncovered, although you don’t have to wait for that to happen. Down on the sea bed you’ll see the remnants of a couple temples with various coins and mosaics depicting Zeus.
One of the most riveting underwater dives for all things ancient has to be Pavlopetri on the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese. It is believed that this submerged ancient city is 5,000 years old, dating back to Minoan times, and was in fact doomed to its fate some 1,000 years ago by the shifting tectonic plates that invariably cause havoc in this part of the world (one can only imagine what lies underneath Santorini).
The real zinger though, is Peristera on the island of Alonissos. As part of a concerted effort by the Greek authorities to showcase its glorious maritime past, several shipwrecks have been earmarked to open for the public, and this is the first one. The Peristera wreck is a 5th Century BC cargo vessel carrying thousands of amphorae stocked with what is believed to be wine. Just off Alonissos near the rocky outcrop that is known as Peristera, this might just be the single most exciting scuba diving opportunity in Greece right now. At just 30 meters depth, it is an easy dive for most people. And that means you better book your tickets pronto. As an added bonus, the Alonissos Maritime Park (the only certified in Europe) offers some equally beguiling experiences. This is after all, the last refuge of the Monk seals in the Med.
But that’s not all. It’s worth mentioning that dozens of other shipwrecks from earlier times (much earlier in fact) actually are good to go right now. They include WW2 submarines, commercial and passenger vessels of the last century, WW1 jet fighters and even freighters.
You know you’ve hit the jackpot when you see x marking the spot.